What takes priority – respect for someone’s culture or your principles?

weddingcoupleI am getting married this weekend and I know how hard preparing guest lists can be. So I cannot imagine how this couple felt when one of their  guests, the British MP Jim Fitzpatrick,  turned up with his wife at the Muslim ceremony only to walk out when he discovered that men and women would be segregated.

” I don’t blame him” says Kia Abdullah who had a segregated wedding herself.

“It shows a lack of interest… to engage with people of different backgrounds,” says Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the former head of the Muslim Council of Britain. But how far should you go to engage with people of different backgrounds?

This isn’t just about Islamic customs or even about weddings. I’ve had several messages from my non-Hindu friends who will be attending my wedding asking what they should and shouldn’t wear (cleavage and legs are fine) and what they should and shouldn’t do (drink alcohol is fine, eating meat is not) and I’ve really welcomed their interest. 

We’re not disputing whether or not you should respect another culture, but where do you draw the line? Where do you do what you want at the risk of offending others?

36 Responses to “What takes priority – respect for someone’s culture or your principles?”

  1. 1 steve
    August 17, 2009 at 19:46

    Respect for someone’s culture. not obeying the rules, even if it’s segregated, would be like bringing pork to a synagogue or a mosque.It would be like smoking in someone’s home who is a nonsmoker.

    • 2 Hassana Balde
      August 18, 2009 at 12:00

      It is not because i do not do like you, then i am old fashioned. I must respect people and let them do whatever they want because it is the life issue. If i can’t stand someone food attitude i will tell him politely i dislike please can you stop for instance smoking . The problem is not a matter of culture but a question of taste. Food and brewery are cultural. I wrote my memoir on the confrontation of cultures and i find exciting talking about this topic

  2. 3 Tom K in Mpls
    August 17, 2009 at 20:02

    It depends on where you are. It is simple respect which should go both ways. Any proper guest should respect their host first. Then the host try to accommodate the guest short of compromising their principles. If this fails, both should try to end it well and make a point of not meeting under the same circumstances again.

  3. 4 gary
    August 17, 2009 at 20:41

    Wow! It all depends upon ones principles, doesn’t it? Or maybe not? Cultural differences run the gamut from relatively trivial issues like appropriate colors of clothing to the more life altering injustices manifest in cultural caste systems and gender specific mutilations. I try to accommodate cultural differences by accepting practices that do not violate fundamental human rights. My personal guide to these rights are the Ten Commandments; but other, excellent summaries do exist. By their measure, cultural requirements that require separation of the sexes during any sort of ceremony do not violate human rights, because one may always choose not to attend, as did Mr. Fitzpatrick. However, the electorate might be wise to question the suitability of an MP who has shown such a lack of social adaptability.

  4. 5 jamily5
    August 17, 2009 at 21:39

    This guy had to know that there would be differences when he went to the couple’s wedding. Maybe, yes, they should have prepared him for the shock. But, in my opinion, he was plain disrespectful. when you are at a function and the host is another culture, you should respect that culture unless: it is in direct opposition of your morals. If there is no harm in observing such rules, then, you should respect the rules. Besides, it wasn’t his marriage.

  5. 6 Rob (UK)
    August 17, 2009 at 23:35

    I think there’s a difference between asking someone to do something (e.g. sit away from their wife) as opposed to not do something (eat meat). I would have problems with the former, but not the latter.

  6. 7 Bert
    August 18, 2009 at 01:18

    Typically, one would honor the customs of the culture.

    This case is more nuanced. The segregation of men and women at weddings is not required. Apparently Jim Fitzpatrick and his wife had attended many Moslem wedding cerimonies before this one, and that was never an issue. What made this different was that this segregated ceremony is a new attempt at radicalization of Islam in that region.

    Is this information false? I read the article you pointed to, so it only makes sense to divulge all the information.

    If this is true, I think it changes everything. Given the climate we are living in, it is appropriate to oppose such radicalization efforts, since they are in conflict with the host culture.

  7. 8 Ramesh, India
    August 18, 2009 at 02:40

    In every muslim marriage men and women are segregated. If the MP has any objection to such thing, he should have enquired about it beforehand. Walking out after actually going to the wedding is too rude on his part. Some of the british MPs seem to be going through a lot of confusion. The foreign secretary David Milliband is quoted as justifying terrorism in some circumstances. Well, what can I say except laugh!!

  8. 9 Deryck/Trinidad
    August 18, 2009 at 03:08

    If you go to a function or someone’s home you should respect their culture and if what they ask you to respect isn’t acceptable to you, you should leave. It all depends on the circumstances and the persons involved.

    • 10 Ramesh, India
      August 18, 2009 at 10:54

      Deryck, Yes, the MP has every right to leave. The muslim council of europe is asking the MP to brush up his social skills!! It is apparent in this case who should learn what!! Unbelievable to make such a small issue(MP wanting to sit with his wife) into kind of a war!

  9. 11 Ramesh, India
    August 18, 2009 at 03:17

    Krupa, I googled on the news of this specific incident and found what you said in the first paragraph is somewhat misleading – “when he discovered that men and women would be segregated”.
    The fact was
    Mr Fitzpatrick said they had no idea they would be separated and when it became clear that his wife would be forced to sit in a different hall, they walked out.

    Sorry Mr. Fitzpatrick, for laughing at you. I must say the hosts were too rude to force the MP ccouple to sit seperately. Grow up muslim brothers and sisters. It isn’t a big deal to let the couple sit together.

  10. 12 Dennis Junior
    August 18, 2009 at 03:49

    First off:

    Krupa, congrats to you and your partner for getting married…..

    =Dennis Junior=

  11. August 18, 2009 at 04:50

    I’m sure it would have cost Jim Fitzpatrick a limb or two to have sat apart from his wife for a few hours. I mean, he would have been in mortal danger, as his wife would have been his last line of defence in any threat.

    Yes, I was being sarcastic.

    His actions displayed his intolerance to different cultures. It was extremely rude and unbecoming for him and made doubly worse by the fact that he is an MP, a public figure. Didn’t he hear of the phrase: “When in Rome, do what the Romans do”?

    In places where many cultures converge, it is important that people from various backgrounds seek to understand and appreciate the differences between themselves.

    Fundamentally, it is about showing due respect in return by observing the hosts’ culture. If it doesn’t put me in mortal danger or compromise the walk in my faith, I don’t see why I shouldn’t do it.

  12. 14 scmehta
    August 18, 2009 at 06:16

    The basic principle should be to respect each other’s culture and sentiments; It’s a mutual understanding born out of love and tolerance. However, in the present times of chaos, created due the senseless extremist-mindset (intolerance towards others beliefs/faiths), such kind of retaliatory show of hard-feelings or grouse is understandable.

  13. 15 NSC London
    August 18, 2009 at 11:01

    “His actions displayed his intolerance to different cultures.”

    I’m not sure who said this, but it is the standard hyper-liberal response to virtually any criticism of Islam (and we can pretend that this isn’t about Islam, but the stark reality is that it is in fact about Islam). I personally don’t have a problem with an MP rejecting the gender segregation at this wedding as it is symptomatic of one of the primary incompatibilities with Islam and western civilisation.

    Why do we in the west never point the finger back at this “religion of peace” and challenge Islam’s intolerance?

  14. August 18, 2009 at 11:22

    The respect for other people’s culture should take priority when you deal with other people, your principle is for you; you must learn to draw the line.

  15. 17 patti in cape coral
    August 18, 2009 at 13:22

    I think as it is this couple’s wedding, things should be however they want them. It was the MPs right to leave if he found this unacceptable, but as they were gracious enough to invite him to the wedding, I don’t think it would have been a terrible thing for him to bend a little. I don’t think it would have killed either side to bend a little, actually. Had it been me, I would have attended and followed the rule of gender segregation because:

    1. I wouldn’t want to mar what is supposed to be one of the happiest days of this couple’s life, it’s about them, not me.
    2. I would be curious to see a Muslim wedding, as I never have,
    3. I would assume that this couple would also respect my culture, as they cared enough to invite me to their wedding.
    4. I don’t mind being separated from my husband for a couple of hours (is that how long the wedding takes?)

  16. 18 Jennifer
    August 18, 2009 at 14:18

    I think principles should take priority. I would wonder why someone would go to something that would be such a conflict of principles for them…Why do men and women have to be separated at weddings? I wouldn’t like that at all.

    Congratulations on getting married! 🙂

  17. 19 Linda from Italy
    August 18, 2009 at 14:27

    I think the line should be drawn when the cultural issue is perceived as conflicting with your own principles. Sometimes it’s necessary to offend if you feel something is unjust.
    I smoke, eat meat, including pork, and drink alcohol and only dress “modestly” these because I feel the state of my body has put me long past miniskirts and skimpy tops and I don’t like the aesthetic effect.
    I would accept the need to go outside for a cigarette, as is common almost everywhere these days in Europe and N. America in any shared environment, I would be happy to eat veggie food and not mourn the lack of a sausage or ham sandwich and no alcohol probably means I might have a crafty “something” in my handbag to pour into the fizzy pop. On that subject, some years ago I went to a wedding in London between two evangelical Christians, originally from Ghana, and no alcohol was served, even for the toasts. However, at the off-licence round the corner there were plenty of people of assorted ethnic origins and religious persuasions stocking up on “liveners” and the pragmatic approach was that the hosts had done their bit by not providing alcohol but would live and let live if anyone brought some in for their own consumption.
    Things like gender apartheid are definitely where I would draw the line, as would banning a gay person from bringing his/her partner in that precise role. I would not fear “giving offence” because such attitudes are equally “offensive” to me.

  18. 20 Monica in DC
    August 18, 2009 at 14:53

    If you are truly someone’s friend, you will suck it up for their sake. Plus, does it really hurt to learn something new about someone else’s cultural traditions?

  19. 21 Ibrahim in UK
    August 18, 2009 at 15:59

    Generally I would think that principles and values take priority. Most of the time, the principles would include respect for others and their cultures, especially when voluntarily attending a ceremony of their culture.

    But is this really culture vs principles? It’s probably more likely to be assumptions and miscommunication.
    Had the MP known beforehand that there would be segregation at the ceremony, would he have attended? Maybe they would then have been prepared and invited some friends to keep each other company during the ceremony.

  20. 22 Dinka Aliap Chawul-Kampala,Uganda
    August 18, 2009 at 16:28

    If you are one of the invited guest,then your works is to eats,interact with people and enjoys but not to change the things from where inviter had already organized theirs to your own benefits.

  21. 23 Jasmine G
    August 18, 2009 at 17:41

    Sounds a lot like the Sarkozy – Burkini argument, doesn’t it?

  22. August 18, 2009 at 17:59

    When in Rome do as the Romans do.

    The only option is to out Roman the Romans. It tends to make them feel good about themselves. And that is the essence of being a good vistor and ambassador.


  23. August 18, 2009 at 18:20

    Cultural respect should be a two way traffic? Jim Fitzpatrick,could have been accomodated quite easily,even with a separate table and two chairs,one for him and one for his wife. Guest could be told that that is what they wanted.

  24. 26 T
    August 18, 2009 at 18:38

    As a courtesy, if you go into a situation that involves other cultures, the least you can do is to prepare for it. If you bring a gift when invited to a dinner, why can’t you study about culture ahead of time?

  25. August 18, 2009 at 18:49

    I usually follow the culture of the host or I simply wont attend the event.

  26. 28 viola
    August 18, 2009 at 21:08

    Manners should go two ways. Non-muslim guests should have been warned in advance that the sexes would be segregated. Then, if the invitation is accepted, the guest must honor the host’s rules.

  27. 29 Dan, outside Boston
    August 18, 2009 at 21:39

    I’m somewhat ambivalent on this subject, as I can see both sides in the issue. I do have to wonder if Mr. & Mrs. Fitzpatrick were invited as family friends, or for their status as an MP and his wife. The reason I ask is because if the answer is the former, then as family friends the Fitzpatricks should have made the best of the situation and not marred the day for the bride and groom. However, if it was the latter, then the family had the responsibility to make the Fitzpatricks comfortable as they were VIP guests. The only thing I find indefensible in the whole situation is both groups commenting publically on the matter. This should have been kept private (well, as private as a wedding with 800 guests can be, of course!).

  28. 30 Tom K in Mpls
    August 19, 2009 at 00:57

    Hey people, a lot of you seem to say ‘values and principles’ as if it exists on only one side of this specific case. While you may not agree with the ‘principles and values’ of those on both sides, I am quite certain they do exist.

  29. 31 Tan Boon Tee
    August 19, 2009 at 03:41

    The main reason the world has been swarmed with conflicts is the lack of sincere respect for one another. One’s superiority complex cannot be used as the benchmark to gauge the acceptability of others’ culture.

    If one has such strong principles of his own, why offend people unnecessary by attending the function and quit immediately?

    Be respectful to everyone, including your enemy, irrespective of cultures and ethnicities. Only then, we can look forward to a better tomorrow for ALL.

  30. August 19, 2009 at 10:11

    Personally I believe in the adage:

    Migrants should be prepared to integrate into the culture of the host nation in exactly the same way as when you are a guest in someone’s house, you obey their house rules – you do not seek to impose your values upon them.

    Many immigrants try to do that.

    August 20, 2009 at 20:31

    Do as Romans do? Some situations are very intricate. Where the issue is about two cultures and different language, I think both the host and the invited person have equal rights and non them should bend the others will. It is okay to walk away with apology and I am sure the MP may not be the only one who went away before the ceremony was over. What we are discussing has to take into account the prominence of these guests. It is unfortunate to use excuses like these for political vengeance.

    You can’t use social ceremony to convert someone to a new way of life. If the ceremony is yours, you need to be accommodating. Further, there are only two most important people in a wedding; the bride and the bride groom followed by a circle of family and friends.

  32. 34 Jim Newman
    August 21, 2009 at 21:32

    Hello again
    In principle I think persons should be respected and should respect each other. Let’s consider different cultures as different clubs or associations. Each has it’s own set of rules but they are all subordinate to the laws of the land where they operate. That would mean that, for example, in France, mutilation and stoning would be punished by law no matter which association, club or culture practiced it.

    August 22, 2009 at 07:31

    @ KRUPA

    By the way, weddings are still fascinating things this side of our Kilimanjaro. I nearly forgot to say, HAPPY WEDDING TO THE GRANDMA OF THE HOUSE. I have a feeling that you will now be able to spend the rest of you life like a young girl after this wedding. I hope grandpa to see the pictures which should include the grandpa and great granddad.

    And? What is it I wanted to say? Oh! I forgot to recommend Mt. Kilimanjaro as a wedding cake with its bit o icing sugar at the top. If it is not too late, tell me to DHL it to you at my expense right away. Its just right here behind my typing desk.

    Happy wishes from me to you and your very best choice life partner.


  34. 36 ras
    August 24, 2009 at 16:11

    why can’t our principle be to respect other peoples’ cultures.
    that solves the problem, atleast for me.

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