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A basic Introduction of Culture and its meaning

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 5444 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The word culture is generated from Latin word of cultura which means care, or cultus that means civilization. (Harper 2010) It can be defined as complicated system of behaviors that share and practice by a given group of people or society. This includes beliefs, values, knowledge, laws, habits and material objects. (Andersen and Taylor 2007) Cultural and society are intertwined and they cannot be separated from each other. Society refers to groups of people who stays in the same region and follows the same laws executed by their countries. (Kendall 2010) Hence, people in the same region will normally perform the same culture. (Brinkerhoff et al 2008)

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Some socialists view culture as ‘a way of life’ (Mohanthy 2005) regards to people ways of thinking and behaving. (Macionis 2005) Culture also refers to activities or symbols that created and adopted by people to deal with certain issues in order to survive in their environments and accepted by their society. (Brym and Lie 2007) Further, it can also be a tool to unite the society so that everyone can rally together by having the same culture, same direction. (Andersen and Taylor 2007) For example, Malaysia is famous as rich cultural heritage because of having different races with diverse cultures that bring people together (Boey 2007) especially through the latest One Malaysia concept. (Bernama 2009)

Culture is shared and transmitted from generation to generation for future guidance. (Kendall 2010) Different cultures will be shared when there are various races and ethics groups. (Andersen and Taylor 2007) This can be explained further by the culture of distributing red packets during Chinese New Year by Chinese. This culture of giving red packets does not only share by Chinese in fact it has been adopted by Malays in distributing green packets during Hari Raya celebration. (Faroukaperu 2010) Thus, culture is learned and not born instinctively. (Andersen and Taylor 2007)

Next, culture is changing all the times and different across to places. People nowadays tend to change their cultures based on their preferences. For example, people nowadays will wear black apparels during Chinese New Year even it is prohibited by their traditional cultures. People in US will kiss and hug as their way of greetings which is totally different from Malaysia where there will be no intimate actions in greetings. This shows that even the same actions can bring different meanings when it applied in different countries because of their distinguish cultures. (ibid)

Contents of Culture

Part Two

There are two different types of culture, which are material and non-material cultures. Material culture refers to crudely (Ferrante 2008) or human made items that can be seen, wield, and share by society. (Kendall 2010) They are important as evidences to prove the existing of previous, current and oncoming society. (Epitacio and Palispis 1996) Contrarily, non-material culture can be defined as intangible concepts that will affect on how people behave. (Kendall 2010) This consists of symbols, language, values, beliefs and norms that created and followed by particular group of people in society which I will discuss below. (Epitacio and Palispis 1996)


The presence of culture is because of human capability to invent and access symbols. (Popenoe 1989) Symbols are type of tangible objects or ideas that people appoint them with denominations or purports. (Ferrante 2008) Symbols permit people to categorize their experience and extrapolate from it. This can be shown by the symbols of “daddy” and “mummy” that cannot be simply address to anyone. As the baby often heard the words, thus he knows who he should address these phrases to. (Brym and Lie 2007)

Symbols can also create patriotism, likeable or hatred because they are represented by certain tangible items. For example, national songs can stand for nationalism, roses represent likable and weapons represent hatred. Next, white colour of gown and garments are usually worn by bride and bridegroom because white stands for pureness. People might also use symbols to show their status in the society, for example the car BMW is a symbol of affluent and wealthy. Hence, whenever we see someone driving BMW, we will automatically categorize that people as rich. (Kendall 2010)

In addition, symbols of gestures that seem sinless can sometimes offend people with different cultures. The thumbs up gesture that usually express excellent can be troublesome in Australia as it means “up yours”. They have to remember that there are different symbolic meanings in different society and new symbols can be created anytime. (Macionis 2005)


Language is a type of symbols that permit people to share their concepts, allow them to consider wisely before interact with people. (Anderson and Taylor 2007) There are verbal and nonverbal languages. (Kendall 2010) Language is considered to be the most important symbol in expressing our past, sentiment and lore because it is straight forward and easy to understand. (Popenoe 1989)

Some socialists alleged that language can be used to differentiate human from animals. (Epitacio and Palispis 2007) Scientist Steven Pinker has claimed that language is what naturally born by human beings. (Brym and Lie 2007) Although animals do not communicate with each other by language, they do have the ability to learn but with limitations. For instance, parrot that will follow on what the trainers train it to be. But yet, their memories are definite and they do not have the capability to understand the meaning of its. Therefore, animals cannot pass the messages to their progeny unlike human. (Kendall 2010)

Language and culture are inseparable. As children learn their language, they will understand more about their culture and participate fully into it. The sense of belongings to their own culture can be created and through language they can share the bygone and world after tomorrow. (Ferrante 2008) Through language people can realize others’ experiences and mistakes to ensure no repetition on the same failure. (Epitacio and Palispis 2007)

Each language has their own vocabulary, pronunciation and ways of constructing sentences. (Anderson and Taylor 2007) For example, English language people will construct a sentence in the “subject-verb-objects” (The girls are playing Barbie dolls) which is different compare to Korean “subject-object-verb” (The girls Barbie dolls are playing). Korean and Chinese will first address their family surname but western people will only address their family name after mentioned their own name. (Ferrante 2008) Sometimes the same words can also pronounce differently by using American or British slang. Further, vocabulary for tomatoes is known as pomodoro in Luigi and agvabiya in Shoshanna. These clearly show the using of languages can categorize the society people are in (Brym and Lie 2007) and to shape unity within the groups. (Brinkerhoff et al 2008)

Nevertheless, Sapir-Whorf Thesis was proposed in 1930s by linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf regard to the relationships between experiences, concepts and language. (Brym and Lie 2007) This hypothesis claimed that the language people use will shape their perspective of actuality about how they look the world (Anderson and Taylor 2007) and no languages will have the same thoughts of actuality. (Popenoe 1989) However, many scientists found this thesis exaggerated the relationship between language and people concept, ways of behaving. They do agree that the language could affect their behavior and perception but will not ascertain it. (Kendall 2010)

Language also being used to differentiate gender and this can be shown by example of word “masculine” used to describe he as strong while “feminine” is used to represent she as coward. (Brym and Lie 2007) However, as time passes, many vocabularies that previously only refer to men has changed as many women nowadays are highly educated. For example, the word “chairman” in the past has amended to either “chair” or “chairperson” in organizations. (Kendall 2010)

Values and Beliefs

Values represent the perfect manners to decide the desirability regard to justice, correct versus wrong and good verse bad. (Anderson and Taylor 2007) Values are intangible notions that could form the perfectionism of society. (Popenoe 1989) Meanwhile, values also shape a person’s behavior (Anderson and Taylor 2007) and people will use their values as models to evaluate the attitude of someone. (Kendall 2010) As claimed by Talcott Parsons (1951), values are imbibed by people since they are small through their parents or environmental factors. (Popenoe 1989) Thus by evaluating the attitudes of someone, people can determine the fundamental values on what they learnt in the former. (Epitacio and Palispis 1996)

Values are reciprocal with culture. (Macionis 2005) Some cultures will value more on individualism whereas some will value more on group. Seen in this light, we can realize people in US value more on individualism as they more focus on their personal achievement rather than sharing it with others. This is totally different with Korean that is ready to share their joyful with others and they tend to be more unity. (Ferrante 2008)

Furthermore, values have mutual relationships with beliefs. Beliefs are notions and concepts that bind people together and what they perceive it should be. Some socialists claimed that beliefs are the fundamental for values and guiding people to pass through their lives even though sometimes it might be wrong or sinful. (Anderson and Taylor 2007) Cultural beliefs and values do not only influence people viewpoints but could shape their ways of behaving. (Macionis 2005)

Another example to prove that beliefs and values affect the attitude of people can be seen from Kwakiutl group who have the habit of distributing their wealthy to their people or even to their competitors. (Anderson and Taylor 2007) They believe by doing such a way their people will stay loyalty and offer them helps whenever they are in troubles. (Brinkerhoff et al 2008)

However, values contradictions always occur due to the conflicts of ideal and real culture. Ideal culture refers to the culture that someone should practice in society while real culture is what eventually adopted by people. (Kendall 2010) This can be seen by the example of China tainted milk powder by Sanlu Group that happened previously. Their only concern in making profits and ignored customers’ safety has shown the contrast of ideal and real cultures adopted by business. (BBC News 2008) (Refer to Attachment 1 page 15 to 16)


Norms refer to cultural expectations regard on what actions to be carried out when facing issues. (Anderson and Taylor 2007) Norms also act as standards to provide guideline about what are right and wrong, what should be done or forbidden by society. Even though it almost the same as values, but norms clarify how people should behave while values only provide ideas and concepts regard to behaviors. (Kendall 2010) Thus, norms can also form people attitude and decide the stability of society. (Anderson and Taylor 2007)

There are formal and informal norms. (Ferrante 2008) Formal norms are rules that have recorded and must be obeyed while informal norms refer to situations that will happen everyday. (Anderson and Taylor 2007) For instance, the compendium given to high school student is a type of formal norms and student ought to follow the rules stated. Informal norms can be seen by normal routines such as brush your teeth early in the morning and before you sleep without the necessity to remind. (Ferrante 2008) Norms also consist of prescriptive and proscriptive norms in which the former declare what actions are correct and the latter record conducts of wrongdoings. (Kendall 2010)

US sociologist William Graham Sumner (1906) has introduced norms of folkways and mores. According to him, it is informal norm that will give us discipline (Ferrante 2008) and will not have any serious circumstances even if someone breaks it. (Popenoe 1989) For example, someone is violating the folkways when he dyes his hair into green. Even though other people might view him as insane or mad, but his act never intrude anyone’s life and will not affect the society. (Brinkerhoff et al 2008)

Next, mores are important to govern the ethically of behaviors (Brym and Lie 2007) that could influence the stability of society if someone breach it. (Kendall 2010) Unlike folkways, people who commit mores will be punished more seriously, such as imprisonment or even sentence to death. This normally applies to criminal cases such as murder that against by laws. (Ferrante 2008) Incent taboo is an example of crucial mores that prohibit from having any sexual desire and intimate relationships with person that have the same kinship. (Kendall 2010) The violation of this taboo can bring unexpected shameful and punishments such as imprisonment, whipping or both can be executed at the same time. (Anderson and Taylor 2007) To sum up, folkways will determine either polite or impolite while mores will differentiate correct or evildoings. (Macionis 2005)

Laws have implemented for modulating and governing people’ attitudes and actions. (Epitacio and Palispis 1996) Laws are part of formal norms that compile and sanction by state government. (Brinkerhoff et al 2008) Most of the mores are laid under criminal laws with more serious penalties (Epitacio and Palispis 1996) while civil laws are basically for handling cases about arguments. (Kendall 2010) However, laws are sometimes flexible and pamper to certain acts which might seen as illegal. This can be shown by the example where most Chinese will have the habit of gambling during Chinese New Year. Even though gambling is an illegal behavior but many polices will just close one eye because they refer this as a way on how Chinese society share their joyful during their festival. (The Star 2006) (Refer to Attachment 2 page 17 to 18)

Lastly, sanction can also be applied for the intention to compel norms and it can either be positive or negative. (Popenoe 1989) Positive sanction refer as recompenses that someone will receive by doing adequate conducts whereas negative sanctions will be administered when someone did something guilty. (Kendall 2010) The degree of sanctions will rely on how strong the norm is being concerned. (Anderson and Taylor 2007)

However, there are formal and informal sanctions. (Popenoe 1989) Formal sanction only occur when someone in the high status with power involve in decision making process. An example of formal sanction can be viewed by the Muslim Malay model that has to receive sanction of canning because of her violation in drinking alcoholics drinks. (Mail Online 2009) (Refer to Attachment 3 page 19 to 20) Nonetheless, informal sanction is a control to assure the compliance of people or society to certain norms. For example, society in Aguaruna adopts custom of reciprocity. If someone does not interact with others, the individual will be isolated and no one will assist them whenever they need helps. (Gutierrez 2002)

Material Culture

Besides only referring to physical and tangible items, material culture also covers the process of utilizing skills for producing items (Brym and Lie 2007) using ingredients such as raw materials, or even invent through existing objects. (Kendall 2010) This clearly shows that material culture cannot not be isolated from technology that refer to the literacy and wisdom to invent, introduce, alter and convert something to maximize its usage. (Macionis 2005) Sociologists also called material culture as artifacts due to its “breeding” and usage by human. (Popenoe 1989)

Material culture plays a significance role because it shows the advancement of technology in enriching people’ life. In fact, material cultures are interdependence with non-material cultures because archaeologists can only analyze and identify the non-material cultures through the dig up artifacts left by former society. (ibid)

However, sociologist William F. Ogbum claimed sometimes cultural lag can occur due to the inability of non-material cultures to pursue with the progress of material culture. (Kendall 2010) Example of cultural lag can be shown through the technology of cloning (material culture) that is possible to clone human with the same genes, characteristics, shared values and norms. However, many people banned this technology because it is differs from their religion beliefs (non-material culture) that everyone has to pass through the process of death. (BBC News 2006) (Refer Attachment 4 page 21 to 22)

Material culture can be concluded as instruments to form human beings and vice versa. (Popenoe 1989) For example, iPhone has grabbed abundance attentions when it was first presented in the market and many people has buying it. Functions of this high end technology gadget (material culture) will be fully utilized and discovered by their buyers. Thus, material culture will form how human beings reacted meanwhile the desire of human beings to use high technology gadget nowadays have made many companies join in the fray to devise this kinds of material cultures. (Catanzariti 2009) Countless material cultures have also introduced through the advancements of technologies in the fields of Internet, telecommunication and transportation such as aeroplanes, computers. (Kendall 2010)

Part Three

Social Conflict perspective claimed culture as social item (Brinkerhoff et al 2008) because the inequality of privileged groups or society to govern social life and exploit others. (Kendall 2010) It is so called as “conflict” because it only benefits and focus on powerful groups. (Popenoe 1989) According to Karl Marx, ideas play an important role in society and thus the concept of ideology which is the shared culture beliefs emerged in order to remain their status and authority. (Kendall 2010) This can be supported by the example of ideology in ruling class where bourgeoisies, the upper class of Marxian culture have authority to exploit the lower class, proletarians either politically or economically. (Popenoe 1989)

Therefore, conflict theory asserted that culture is a type of authority in society because it is overrule by strong and wealthy groups of people or institutions. (Anderson and Taylor 2007) These groups of people could use non-material culture such as idea to influence and change people behaviors. (Kendall 2010) For example, the contents of the newspaper would filter before publish to society if it is financially supported by private organizations. They could also convert critical bad news into minor case so the reputation of the organizations will not be affected. Thus, the cultural items that produced are not necessary correct and mostly only meet the demands of this privileged group that willing to pay. (Anderson and Taylor 2007)

Conflict theory also construes culture as it will be slowly dominated by affluent big players in capitalist economic industry. These big players will gradually control and diversify their business for example by buying over other company to remain their biggest potion in the market and slowly insert their influences to society. It has been claimed that the more successful the business is, the more market the business is holding and the easier the business in affecting culture of others. Sociologist refers this as cultural hegemony, which is the only and biggest power in play. This cultural hegemony has the authority to rule everything because most culture beliefs made by these powerful people are known to be correct and perfect. (ibid)

Moreover, this theory analyze concept of cultural capital that define by French Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1984) as the lore and wisdom that own by upper class, such as the activities of playing golf and sailing that distinguish the standards of social class. (Brinkerhoff et al 2008) The reason is simple, upper class people will use their knowledge (cultural capital) to invest their money and gradually enhance their social and economic position. Therefore, the rich will becomes richer and the poor will becomes poorer. When they have more money, they will be more respected and people will start listening to them. (Anderson and Taylor 2007)

Some conflict theorists even conclude that former popular culture that originated from the public are slowly unadopted by people due to the creation of new popular culture. This can be shown by games of whirligigs and kites that were previously played by children have no longer been seen in today’s century. We will be noticed that city children nowadays only play games entertainments like PS2, Internet and mobile phones. This clearly showed that the advanced games (new popular culture) have superseded the former popular games and culture. (Kendall 2010)

Besides that, it also evokes the inequality in the term of gender and certain human rights. (ibid) For example, women will be described as weakness and timid whereas men will be defined as reverence. Gay and lesbian also addressed as deviance and absurd. All these inequalities have caused pressure that lead to right revolutions, a process of achieving victory in executing even rights under the legislation. Hence, women, gay, lesbian and many other rights have created in order to protect these vulnerable groups and maintain the stability of society. Examples of increasing women participation in workforce especially in Singapore have proven that women are changing and they can decide their own future. (Chang 2009) (Refer Attachment 5 page 23 to 24) Iowa is also the first state to legalize gays and lesbian marriage in order to enhance their pride in status. (The Associated Press 2009) (Refer Attachment 6 page 25 to 27) Nevertheless, many Muslim nations still unable to accept homosexuality and they are still being discriminated by people. (Brym and Lie 2007)

In a nutshell, this social conflict theory do not illustrate the equally distribution of human necessary but more emphasize on the relationship between culture and its disparity. (Macionis 2005)


Culture can be concluded as the characteristics of society. As the world becomes borderless, cultures easily transmit and share by people from different society. Every material and non-material culture also plays their roles in maintaining harmonization between one another and unites people together. (Kendall 2010) Thus, it is important to know and understand our own cultures (Newman 2008) and pass them to our next generations to ensure its long-lasting. (Brym and Lie 2007)

Word Count: 3283 words


Attachment 1: China Sanlu Group tainted milk powder

Chinese baby milk scare ‘severe’

Published: 2008/09/13 11:36:43 GMT


The number of Chinese babies known to have fallen ill with kidney stones as a result of contaminated milk powder has risen to 432, officials have announced.

“This is a severe food safety accident,” health ministry official Gao Qiang, said. Those responsible would be “severely” punished, he added.

Later, it was announced that 19 people had been arrested.

Tests showed the milk powder contained the industrial chemical melamine. One infant has died.

The new scare revived memories of a fake baby milk formula scandal four years ago in which at least 13 babies died.

Vow to punish

“As of 12 September, there are 432 cases of kidney stones in the urinary systems of infants according to reports from health departments nationwide,” Gao Qiang said.

“None of the milk powder was exported to other countries or regions,” Mr Gao said.

“Only a fraction of the milk powder was sold to Taiwan for food processing,” he added.

Gao Qiang said the Sanlu Group had been ordered to halt production after its products were found to be responsible.

“We will severely punish and discipline those people and workers who have acted illegally,” Mr Gao said.

Melamine is a toxic chemical used in plastics, fertilisers and cleaning products.

New Zealand-based dairy product company Fonterra Cooperative Group Ltd, a part-owner of Sanlu, ordered a recall of about 700 tonnes of powder contaminated with melamine believed to be in circulation.

Melamine has been used by Chinese suppliers of animal feed components to make them appear to have more protein.

It was linked to the formation of kidney stones and kidney failure in pets in the United States last year, leading to thousands of deaths and illnesses.

A fake milk powder scandal in 2004 killed at least 13 babies in the eastern province of Anhui.

Investigators found that the milk given to these babies had no nutritional value, and the resulting scandal triggered widespread investigations into food safety.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/asia-pacific/7614083.stm

The above news is used to show the differences between ideal culture and real culture in real business situation.

Attachment 2: Gambling

Saturday March 11, 2006

The adverse effects of gambling

Tel: (03)2260 1954/ 2134 or email

Information in this article is courtesy of the Malaysia Crime Prevention Foundation(MCPF)

Gambling is illegal in Malaysia unless it is being operated under a government licence or permit. Among the gambling activities that are considered illegal include:

Gambling in the house

Gambling in public places

Illegal lottery

Illegal bookmaking

Slot machines/ jackpot/ turfking/ fruit machine

Hawking lottery results

Gambling can easily develop into a compulsion for some of us. When this happens, it becomes a serious problem not only to the individual but also to society at large. The harm caused by those who are hooked on gambling usually spreads to the family and community.

Many problem gamblers often experience stress-related physical and psychological ill health. Problem gambling is like a disease to society and may bring these consequences to the individual who indulges in it:

Wastes time, which otherwise could be used for something more constructive.

Lose huge amounts of money, which leads to stress and disharmony in the family.

One could become a dishonest person who has to constantly worry about debts.

Gambling may be a cause of bribery.

Work becomes secondary or in some cases, totally neglected.

Health is also neglected by forgoing food and drink.

As a last resort, some may turn to criminal activities or illegal moneylenders to cover losses and continue gambling.

When a person becomes obsessed with gambling, s/he will do anything just as long as s/he can gamble.

There’s always the risk of getting caught and being charged in court.

Those who gamble will risk losing everything.

The consequences of problem gambling can be avoided by getting involved in other more beneficial activities. Among the suggestions to prevent one from gambling is to focus on spiritual development, take up sports or a hobby, or do some charity work.

Some of us resort to illegal moneylenders when we are strapped for cash, which is dangerous and unadvisable. Here are some suggested steps to take to avoid being victims of these loan sharks:

Do not be lured by promises of quick money

Do not be easily fooled into signing a form or contract by a “salesperson”

Victims should be bold enough to make a police report, revealing all information they have on schemes like these, to aid the authorities in catching the perpetrators.

Story from The Star Online.

Source: http://thestar.com.my/fightcrime/resources/story.asp?file=/2006/3/11/resources/20060316165242HYPERLINK “http://thestar.com.my/fightcrime/resources/story.asp?file=/2006/3/11/resources/20060316165242&sec=resources”&HYPERLINK “http://thestar.com.my/fightcrime/resources/story.asp?file=/2006/3/11/resources/20060316165242&sec=resources”sec=resources

The above news is being used to show that gambling is illegal in Malaysia even though it has became a norm or habit to Chinese society since ages ago.

Attachment 3: Punishment of Canning for breaking Sharia Law

Malaysia delays caning of Muslim model for drinking beer until after Ramadan

By Mail Foreign Service

Last updated at 9:25 PM on 24th August 2009

A Muslim model who is to be caned by Malaysian authorities after being caught drinking beer will have her punishment postponed until after the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno originally had been scheduled to enter a women’s prison today before being lashed six times with a rattan cane some time this week.

However, Mohamad Sahfri Abdul Aziz, a legislator in charge of religious affairs, says the caning will be carried out after the current Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. 

It began Saturday and will end in mid-September.

He says the decision was made at the last minute for compassionate reasons on the advice of the Attorney General’s office but insisted that the punishment had not been cancelled.

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a 32-year-old mother of two, insisted she is ready to be lashed six times with a rattan cane next week for breaching the country’s Shariah law, which forbids Muslims to consume alcohol.

‘I want to respect the law,’ Kartika said. 

‘Who am I to question the Islamic authorities’ laws? That is beyond me.

‘I never cried when I was sentenced by the judge. I told myself, all right then, let’s get on with it. But if you’re going to cane me, then do it in public.’

Miss Shukarno, 32, was sentenced to six lashes by an Islamic court after she was caught with alcohol in a raid on a hotel nightclub in eastern Pahang state last year. 

Amnesty International had urged authorities to ‘immediately revoke the sentence to cane her and abolish the practice of caning altogether.’

‘Caning is a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and is prohibited under international human rights law,’ it said in a statement.

But Miss Shukarno has even asked for the caning to be carried out in public to send a clear message to Muslims that they should shun alcohol.

Prosecutor Saiful Idham Sahimi said: ‘It is a good punishment because under Islamic law a person who drinks commits a serious offence.’ 

He added that a rattan cane ‘lighter than the one for men’ would be used, and that its purpose was to ‘educate’ rather than punish. 

Muslims, who make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s 28million population, are governed by sharia law. Although most alcohol offenders are fined, they can also be caned. 

Women’s rights groups attacked the penalty as being ‘too harsh’. 

Yesterday the court set a one-week period starting next Monday for the sentence to be carried out in a woman’s prison, Saiful said. Prison authorities will decide when to cane her during that period.

He said Kartika will remain in prison during that time and will be released ‘as soon as possible’ after the caning is carried out.

Caning, administered on the buttocks, breaks the skin and leaves permanent scars. Kartika said earlier that she wanted authorities to cane her as soon as possible so she can resume her life with her husband and children. 

Most alcohol offenders are fined, but the crime also carries a three-year prison term and caning.

Non-Muslims are governed by civil courts, which also impose caning for offens


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