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5 Steps to Break Free from Perceived Cultural Confines

Posted on Jan 04, 2017

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This post is about redefining the parameters we live within and creating the Power Life you love.  Society is telling us our identity, and our faith is associated with layers of wrongness.  I’m here to tell you that your identity, in all of its complicated bliss, is beautiful regardless of what others - including the media, your elected officials, possibly your own friends and family have to say.  I’m here to tell you it’s ok to preserve your cultural identity, and your religious identity even when you are being bombarded with all the reasons you should let go – it’s our time to hold on.

Growing up a first-generation American is not an easy task.  You struggle to fit in, but you are never unaware of your “otherness”.  It wasn’t easy when I was growing up and I didn’t even have the pressures of social media weighing down on my consciousness.  Peer pressure demanded I do what was cool, while family pressure demanded I do what was right.  And 20 years later I see our youth struggle with the same issues.  Society is telling us to let go of our faith and our culture, that’s the cool thing to do – it definitely is the easier option.  But what do we do if we want to maintain the links that tie us to our families, our faith and our culture?

1) Find Your Truth. My high school seniors and I read Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me and the final task was a Legacy Project. The essence of this project was to identify the individuals who sacrificed and built the lives of relative luxury they are fortunate to have today.  The point is - we are not a lone spec.  Who we are is based on the beautiful stories and struggles of those who came before us.  If you are blessed to have those individuals around today, sit them down for a chat.  Ask your parents, uncles, and elders about their stories because their truth makes up your identity – and that is our path to clarity.  These conversations pave the way to your truth, the path to your self-love; it is our collective path in holding on. 

2) Create a Power Circle. Your Power Circle is the group of friends who will keep you in check when you start getting out of line.  This is a genuine crew who will stand with you not only when you’re smiling, but when you’re trying to figure things out.  This is the crew that will remind you of Allah (SWT), they will give you the truth even when the truth is not easy to hear.  This is the raw circle of love, power and compassion you want to create for yourself.  

3) Don’t Let the Sparkle Fade. Years after my high school graduation, I bumped into a friend and she asked me – ‘what happened to your sparkle, Ahlam?’  I was struggling to find clarity at that point in my life, and it was apparent.  When you’re passionate about a cause, a talent or career option, or even an idea - don't let the sparkle fade. Think hard about what makes you happy, and how you can turn this happiness into a life investment – without veering out of your faith, or identity.  If you’re not careful, the sparkle of your youth begins to fade if you don’t find something that fulfills you spiritually on the daily.  Hush the noise around you, listen intuitively to what your instincts are telling you, and follow it.

4) Learn the Art of “Perspective Taking.”

Let’s just throw this out there – not everyone will support your dreams and aspirations, and they will use religious or cultural righteousness to justify their reasoning. When you genuinely try to understand the other side, it is empowering. Recently, I stumbled across a TEDx talk “How to Speak up for Yourself” by Adam Galinsky, a renowned social psychologist. In this talk he speaks of ‘perspective taking’. What this means is when you’re in a position of negotiation, conflict resolution – or in our case, life resolution– take in the perspective of the other side. He illustrates this idea by telling a story. A man walks into a bank and wants to rob $2,000 from the teller, instead of panicking the teller asks him, ‘why $2,000 specifically’? He responds by saying that his friend needs $2,000 or else he’ll be evicted. The teller then goes on to say, ‘well, you don’t need to rob a bank, you need a loan, come with me to start the paperwork!’ I know this may sound unrealistic but it illustrates the idea of ‘perspective taking’ perfectly. When you find yourself in a position questioning your culture, identity, faith, or fighting for your dreams – seek reason. This is the beauty of Islam; there is nothing without reason. Often, perimeters are put around us for legitimate reasons. However, we must be able to distinguish between cultural and religious practices and when we realize decisions are being imposed on us because of outdated cultural practices, we must have the courage to speak up for ourselves.

5) Don't Despair.

There may be times when you think you haven’t done enough with your life. Or maybe you gave up an opportunity to please your family that you may sometimes regret – what I want you to remember is that anything done for the sake of Allah (SWT) is never lost. Do not ever think it is too late for you to reset, and begin a path of dominance in your own life. Building upon the circumstance you find yourself within.

Ahlam Yassin is an educator, grad student, 24/7 on-call mom and writer. Visit her blog:


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