Religious Restrictions Affecting Cultures

by Kevin McLeod
Despite being shot in the head, Malala Yousafzai continues to advocate for girls' education.

Despite being shot in the head, Malala Yousafzai continues to advocate for girls' education.

Cultures in which most of the population adhere to a specific faith are often distinguished by practices related to that faith. Faith-based restrictions shape local culture and law. Religions dictate what adherents may eat and when, determine how, when and who may engage in sex, limit dress options and freedom of movement based on gender, and establish who can assume leadership roles. These restrictions may be harshly enforced or widely ignored, depending on prevailing regional attitudes.

Diet

Muslims categorize foods as either halal (permitted) or haram (forbidden). Forbidden foods include pork, carrion, any meat from an animal that has died on its own, any meat that has not been prepared in accordance with halal requirements, and alcohol. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food until after sundown. Jewish dietary restrictions are similar -- pork and shellfish are forbidden or restricted, varying with degrees of orthodoxy. Wine is forbidden unless it is kosher. When meat is eaten, you are expected to wait six hours before consuming dairy products. Among Hindus, beef is forbidden and vegetarian diets are widespread. Some Christian faiths avoid eating meat on Fridays, and Mormons forbid alcohol, coffee and tea.

Sexual Behavior

Christians promote abstinence until marriage and forbid all but monogamous marriage, with the largely historical exception of some Mormon sects. Islam permits multiple wives with conditions, but not multiple husbands. Homosexuality has historically been forbidden in Christianity and Islam. It continues to be fiercely suppressed in some regions, primarily among Muslim nations in east Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Among Western Christians, the cultural grip of this tenet has loosened and legalization of gay marriage is becoming more common. Christian attitudes toward birth control, once quite strict, have similarly relaxed in recent decades.

Gender

Men have been privileged in Christianity and Islam for centuries; women have been barred from serving as clergy until recently. Modern Islam continues to restrict the movement of women. In Saudi Arabia today, women are not permitted to drive or ride a bicycle on their own, and must be accompanied by a family member when going outside the home. Among the Amish in America, both men and women have specifically permitted clothes; fundamentalist Islam demands women wear burqas, a full body and face covering.

Speech

The Islamic prohibition against graven images of the prophet Muhammad gained widespread attention in 2005 when riots broke out following publication of satirical illustrations in a Danish newspaper. According to the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life, as of 2011, laws against blasphemy (cursing or expressing contempt for a god) are still enforced to varying degrees in 32 countries. Laws against apostasy (abandoning a faith or converting to another faith) are enforced in 20 countries, some by death penalty. Laws forbidding defamation of religion (negative speech against any faith) exist at some level in 87 countries.

Education and Health Care

Religious restrictions have affected health care for men and women worldwide. In the U.S., access to comprehensive sex education is limited to nonexistent in many areas, with the Guttmacher Institute reporting that “About one in four adolescents aged 15-19 (23% of females and 28% of males) received abstinence education without receiving any instruction about birth control in 2006–2008, compared with 8–9% in 1995.” In some fundamentalist Muslim regions, education for girls has long been suppressed or absent, an issue that came to the fore following the 2012 shooting of 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai by a Taliban militant in retaliation for her promotion of education. Today, the literacy rate for Pakistani women is 40 percent.

About the Author

Kevin McLeod has written about culture, technology, social change, employment and the deaf community since 1985. He has worked with high school students, psychiatric patients and editors, all fine sources of chaos and drama.

Photo Credits

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