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Cultural Column: Tooba Ahmed

September 29, 2017

Lily Guillen / The Courier

Culture is something that is pretty hard to define. For the most part, when a college talks about culture, it usually refers to one’s birthplace, or the area they grew up in. Culture is often coded by area. That doesn’t seem right, though. This week I talked to Tooba Ahmed, a Pakistani-American woman born and raised in America. However, it never seemed like her “culture” was only located in birthplace. She is, for all intents and purposes, still Pakistani, even if she was born here. I got to sit down with her and just let her talk about herself, and it was one of the most remarkable conversations I have ever had, be it for this column, or for anything else. This is typically where the cliché line about how Tooba is “just like us” goes. And while she is another Scot like us, the only person Tooba is “just like” is Tooba.

Our conversation immediately turns to religion. Tooba is Muslim, something that was folded into her identity. “Pakistani culture and religion go hand in hand, at least for my family,” she said. For her family, who moved to America for the sake of their unborn children’s education, preserving what they could of Pakistan in the household was important. There were growing pains, of course. Tooba mentions not being able to go to birthday parties as a child and not going to prom with her friends. My immediate internal reaction was confusion. I mean, prom is an integral part of the American high school experience. It’s super entrenched in the culture. But then Tooba said something curious: “It is not about being right or wrong, because both sides will always have different answers.”

We talked for a little bit longer after that, and we came to a point where Tooba mentioned her favorite thing about Islam and being Muslim.

My favorite thing about Islam is the Prophet, Praise Be Unto Him.” Though Tooba struggled for a while to navigate different cultural practices in the religion she calls home, it was the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the basics of the religion that made adapting her life to Islam a lot easier. It was, for me, a rare insight into a common dilemma: how to “properly” express one’s culture, religion, or even personality. Tooba managed to laugh about Islam, but it very clearly means a lot to her to make sense of her religion. For what it was worth, it seemed like she genuinely enjoyed talking about it all, even the things I wouldn’t imagine she would enjoy discussing. But that is a part of enjoying the life one lives, I guess. Tooba isn’t just some case study about Islam, or someone to interrogate. She’s a friend, and one who deeply loves her religion. That, if nothing else, was the single greatest realization of this column.

Anthony Adams
Political Editor

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