My life growing up in California has continually been shaped by the fact that I'm a Muslim Pakistani American. I'm faced with the same day-to-day challenges as any other boy my age, but the way I meet them is very different because of my culture and religion. The way I choose to live my life often seems unusual to my peers, and as a result, my principles are sometimes questioned.
One thing that seems to set me the farthest apart is that my culture and religion do not accept the American concept of dating. Any teenager living in America knows how big an emphasis is placed on having boyfriends or girlfriends, both in society and in the media. On television any show that's meant for a teenage audience covers the topic of dating nearly a hundred times. At school it's the only thing kids seem to talk about. Thus you can see how significant the fact that I don't date is in my life and how hard it makes it just to fit in. All my closest friends either have girlfriends or want to, which makes it difficult to have a conversation with them without this topic arising. I'm occasionally asked why I don't date or whether my culture accepts only arranged marriages. I reply by explaining my personal view, which is that dating couples act in a way that only married couples should. The kind of relationship they share should exist only where there is a commitment, or else the relationship becomes meaningless. If or when I date, it will be in pursuit of a companion with whom I can spend the rest of my life. Then the love that will exist in that marriage can be far more valued, appreciated and respected by both partners.
At this stage of life, the last thing someone wants is to stand out as different. But blending in isn't easy in my case. In my religion, it's mandatory to pray five times a day, including one time that happens to be during school hours. When I'm out with my friends playing sports or hanging out, I sometimes have to go aside and do my prayers. My friends know what I'm doing, but that doesn't make it any less awkward. I really stand out during the month of Ramadan, when I have to fast, not eating or drinking during daylight hours.
I'm sure that here in America there are many other kids like me who have different cultures or beliefs that set them apart. It's not easy to continue to practice your culture when you're surrounded by people who don't do the same as you do. This includes those who have the same culture as you but choose to ignore it and encourage you to ignore it too. But I believe we must grasp and accept our differences because it is these differences that make each of us who we are.