In December, a lot of my pseudo-Christian friends get really excited about Christmas. I didn’t understand why people would celebrate a traditionally religious holiday if they weren’t really religious themselves. Many people would explain it as being culturally Christian.
It took me a couple of years after that realization to realize that I’m culturally Muslim. I grew up in a Muslim family, but I don’t really believe in any one religion now. I believe in doing good and being nice to people. My other big belief is that you shouldn’t try to limit the rights of other people if it’s not affecting you at all. In that vein, I wouldn’t say that I was Muslim or Christian or anything else.
I would say that I’m culturally Muslim though. What does this mean? It means that I have family that are Muslims, and so attacks on the religion seem like personal attacks. It means that I still remember all of the steps of wudu (the washing before prayer), the azhan (call to prayer) and the prayer itself. I liken this to people knowing all the words to Christmas carols and all of the steps of the nativity scene reenactments.
When I hear people speaking Arabic, my first thought is to say As-salam-mua-laikum (Arabic greeting) to them. I subconsciously say Alhamdullilah when I sneeze. When people pass away, I say Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un. I spit over my shoulder when I have a bad dream. Even Mark knows the phrase Astaghfirullah which is what we always heard as kids when we were doing something bad. At the same time, being culturally Muslim also means freaking out if say your fiancé says the one Arabic phrase he knows because you’re worried that you’ll get extra-profiled.
When one of the two Eids (Muslim holiday) comes around, I miss the feasts on Eid day and seeing everyone in their finest clothes at Eid prayer. I miss eating haleem (a stew) on Eid morning and doing kula kuli (the Eid hug). I always crave lamb around Eid-al-Adha because that’s traditionally the holiday where you sacrifice an animal.
I think women wearing hijab are gorgeous. When you grow up in a world of modesty, saris, and colors, you appreciate their beauty. I wrap pashmina scarves around me when I’m cold like I am wearing hijab, and I never realized it until someone said I was “Muslimming it up.”
One of the five pillars of Islam is called zakaat, which means annual alms giving. My grandpa used to say that the right hand gives charity without the left hand knowing, meaning that you should give without letting people know. There’s a similar verse in the Bible. Encouragement of charity is one of my favorite things about most modern religions.
I don’t eat halal, but I always seem to still look for the little “K” on food items to denote if it’s kosher. Kosher standards are similar enough to halal standards that some Muslims think that you can eat things prepared in a kosher fashion. I still remember how Skittles aren’t halal unless you get them in Saudi Arabia.
I am awful at shaking hands with people, especially those of the opposite sex. I grew up knowing that you don’t touch people of the opposite sex like ever. Even now, I give people a lot of personal space like I’m used to. It weirds me out when people break that bubble with ease.
One of my favorite people on Twitter Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) wrote an article about what the Muslim ID would be like. This article was a pivot point for me realizing that I was culturally Muslim. I had other friends read the article, and they didn’t understand all of the references. One of my favorites was his recommendation that the ID include color choices from “White to Caramel Latte to Mocha Brown to Beyond Mocha”. I like to think I’m Caramel Latte myself.
When Wikipedia-ing “cultural Muslim”, I found out that there are a lot of us. I also found some links talking about how there’s no such thing as a good cultural Muslim because they’re all evil, blah blah blah, Obama is a secret Muslim with a fake birth certificate. Those people can kiss my caramel latte behind.