Culture and Islam

“As-salámu ‘alaikum wa rahmatul láhi wa barakátuh!”

“A-úthu billáhi minash shaytánir rajeem. Bismilláhir rahmánir raheem.

All Praise is due to Alláh, We praise Him and we seek help from Him. We ask forgiveness from Him. We repent to Him; and we seek refuge in Him from our own evils and our own bad deeds. Anyone who is guided by Alláh, he is indeed guided; and anyone who has been left astray, will find no one to guide him. I bear witness that there is no god but Alláh, the Only One without any partner; and I bear witness that Muhammad, sws, is His servant, and His messenger.

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem! Ya Ay-yuhal-latheena ‘aamanut taqul-laaha, haqqa tuqaatihee wala tamu tun-na, il-la wa antum Muslimoon.”

O You who believe, – Fear Allah, as He should be feared, and die not except as Muslims.

Ya Ay-yuhal-latheena ‘aamanut taqul-laaha, wa qooloo qawlan sadeedaa. Yuslih-lakum a’maalakum wa yaghfir lakum thunoobakum, wamay yu-til-laaha warasoolah, faqad faaza fawzan atheemaa.”

O You who believe, – Be aware of Allah, and speak a straightforward word. He will forgive your sins and repair your deeds. And whoever takes Allah and His Prophet as a guide, has already achieved a mighty victory.

In the opening verse of Sura An-Nisaa’, Allah says:

O mankind! Show reverence towards your Guardian-Lord Who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, his mate and from the two of them scattered (like seeds) countless men and women;― Be conscious of Allah, through Whom ye demand your mutual (rights) and (show reverence towards) the wombs (that bore you): for surely, Allah ever watches over you.`

My Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today’s topic is about Culture and Islam. What is Culture, and what is Islam? Is there a difference? Is there an Islamic Culture? How does culture and Islam interact and overlap? There is a great deal of confusion on this subject. The confusion is not only in the minds of people looking at Islam from the outside. Many Muslims, themselves cannot tell the difference between their tribal and ethnic culture and the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah.

Let’s be clear about this. Islam is one thing. Tribal, ethnic culture is another. The two are not the same. Culture has many shades of meaning. Its Latin root refers to something that’s cultured, cultivated, as in a garden. Our meaning here is about the shared values, attitudes and practices of a group, for example an ethnic or national culture.

Although some aspects of culture can be positive, and some can be neutral, there are other aspects of culture that are bad, unjust and downright evil. Sadly, many children grow up developing a strong resentment towards Islam, because their parents impose intolerable burdens on them, cultural burdens, in the name of Islam. Some examples are: the oppression of women, denying girls the right to education, genital mutilation i.e. female circumcision, forced marriages and so-called ‘honour’ killings. None of these despicable and barbaric practices has anything at all to do with Islam. They are pre-Islamic traditions that are totally forbidden for Muslims. Yet some uneducated Muslims behave as if this is part of their religion. Sensation-hungry journalists often seize items like this and tag the words Islam and Muslim to spice up their story. These journalists betray the ethics of their profession, which ought to be about uncovering the truth. Instead, they promote crude stereotypes based on downright lies, just to sell a few more papers. But even worse than shoddy journalism is the inexcusable ignorance of Muslims who claim that these abominable tribal abuses are somehow Islamic.

So, how do we distinguish between Islam and Culture?

Whether we are conscious of it or not, every one of us is swimming around in an invisible ocean of culture, fed by many streams and rivers: Western culture, Arab culture, Pakistani, Malay, Somali or Bangladeshi culture. Each one is a world of values, assumptions and prejudices that informs our cultural...

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