The way I think about the world is different now. My experiences and interactions with people since moving to America have molded me into a different person.
Pakistan is a Muslim country and religion is the most integral component of it. It dominates politics, media and even daily conversations. Like most people in Pakistan, I was brought up in a religious Muslim household and I was taught a set of norms to follow from a young age. Growing up, I was only given the perspective of my religion and, for a very long time, I believed I was blessed to be born in a Muslim family because I was told it was the only way to ascend to heaven. I was also told all non-believers will burn in hell.
Until I was 15 years old, I grew up with a limited view of the world that prevented me from establishing meaningful relationships with different people.
In 2013, my move to a multicultural society in Dubai enabled me to interact with people from different faiths on a daily basis. Those interactions made me question practices I had been taught in the past. It made me realize that every person, religious or not, has desirable attributes, so I started to better appreciate different cultures and rituals.
While Dubai made me more accepting and open-minded as a person, most of the changes in my personality occurred after I moved to the United States.
The time I have spent at Lehigh so far makes me realize that moving to the U.S. to pursue higher education has changed my life for the better.
Ever since I arrived, the majority of the people were much more welcoming and friendly than within the two previous countries I lived in.
Three weeks into freshman year, it all dawned on me.
How can my God be so cruel that all the non-Muslims will burn in hell?
This realization changed how I perceive the world forever.
I started to question everything rigorously. I questioned what it means to be a Muslim in the 21st century, and how society in Pakistan always puts religious interests before anything else — even before the interests of the country. The kind of thought process that exists back home hinders Pakistan from progressing as a country because religion becomes an obstacle in a lot of issues where it has no place.
I feel liberated to be living on a campus where the point of views of people from various ethnicities, cultures, sexual orientations and backgrounds are accepted, and we can all have productive discussions on important issues, even if we disagree with each other.
I have learned so much about myself by talking to people who are drastically different than me. I have come to realize how limited freedom is in my country since old traditions are forced on children from a young age.
If people deviate from religion, society collectively judges and bad-mouths them. Back home, I would feel guilty all the time for not fulfilling every religious requirement expected from me. I consistently thought I wasn’t doing enough to deserve a place in heaven.
My discussions with modern Muslims and people of different faiths have made me accept myself for who I am. They have also changed my beliefs. I no longer believe that my religion is the only way to go to heaven. I no longer feel guilty for not fulfilling every requirement.
My journey of self-exploration has surprised me. I feel like now, I have a closer connection with God than I did in the past, because nothing seems forced. I now consider myself a modern Muslim who accepts people for who they are while still maintaining a connection with my roots.
I am thankful to have had the opportunity to write a column this semester and share my perspective with people from all over the world. The platform provided to me is proof that there is ample opportunity in America to make your voice count without any judgment.
I also know I would have never gotten the opportunity to write articles on such controversial topics back home because society is just too narrow-minded.
I now look back to the confused person I was my first day of Lehigh and realize how much I have grown with immense satisfaction.
So, thank you America!
Saad Mansoor, ’20, is an assistant lifestyle editor and columnist for The Brown and White. He can be reached at [email protected].