The Sharing Group Discussion on the Extent a Muslim Minority Should Identify with the Majority Culture

 بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Brother James Harris asked on The Sharing Group, on the 26th September, 2014, “To what extent should a Muslim minority identify with the culture of a majority non-Muslim culture that surrounds them?  Does ‘fitting in’ ever mean ‘selling out’?”

Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: The million dollar question!

Sister Ishq Ain Sheen Qaaf: You will always stick out like a sore thumb; the square that will never fit through a round hole.

Brother Daniel I. Montenegro: What does ‘fitting in’ mean, Brother James?

Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: Not if you are a white man with little to no facial hair in Europe, at least.

Sister Ishq Ain Sheen Qaaf: You will in a crowd of non-white people with beards.

Brother James Harris: That is what I was hoping we might get some idea about, Brother Daniel.  I have often been told that we should not imitate the ‘kuffar’, but what exactly does this mean and where do we drawn the line?

Sister Fatima Price Khan: Did you have something particular in mind when you posed this question?  I would think it would depend on context.  And I do not believe Islam can be separated from the culture of the people who practice it; it becomes part of the culture.  There is no culture-free Islam.  So if Muslims are a minority in a place, they are still part of the overall culture, even if they belong to specific subcultures.  That would be true whether we are speaking of Muslims who have been acculturated in the US, or various Muslim communities in India, or Muslims in Vietnam, or Kenya, or wherever.  We are not ever entirely separate from our cultures.  There are forms of British Islam, American Islam, and so forth.,  If, by this, you mean accepting something valued in the majority culture when it goes against some important Islamic tenet - suppose the broader culture performed human sacrifices or something - then sure,  Muslims should guard against it and participating would be selling out one's Islamic mores.  But then authorities from both communities will use that as a way to be divisive: “don’t go to Christmas parties”, “don’t say Merry Christmas”, “don’t go throw Holi colours with your neighbours”, “don’t eat your neighbours’ gifts of sweets on Diwali”, “don’t even eat food touched by your non-Muslim neighbours”.  It becomes a way to promote isolationism.

And from the majority community, they will say, look at those alien Muslims and say, “They don’t belong here,” even if they have been here for 1,000 years; “They threaten our national identity with their differences, they spoil our culture, don’t eat food they cook, don’t mingle with them…” and so forth; that kind of thinking is easily exploited.

Brother Hossein Turner: They should take the good things of the culture, and leave the bad.  Too many are isolationist and ghettoised.

Sister Rebecca Rhouni: You are selling out when your birth name is ‘Khaled’ and you become ‘Kyle’ or ‘Connor’ and drink Budweiser, not because you have an issue with drinking but because you want to fit in.

Brother Yusuf Abdulrahman: Salaam, everyone.  In my humble opinion, Islam is a path to personal excellence and noble conduct, rather than a community that requires protection.  The question is more likely to be answered meaningfully by immigrant communities worldwide, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, who have a desire to maintain their cultural norms, practices, food, languages and so forth.  I find it difficult to see how Islam has a culture of its own.  Pakistani Muslims have a culture, as do Arabs, Malay, and British convert Muslims.  That culture is the product of their habits and practices mixed with their practice of faith.  As a white British convert, there is little that distinguishes me ‘culturally’ from any other British person of a similar social background, except that I refrain from certain social practices because I do not believe them to be conducive to excellence.  My culture is who I am, and I need not adapt a distinct culture to fit in with the Muslim community, nor ‘sell out’ to maintain a connection with my heritage.  The confusion regarding what Islam means leads to this perceived duality.  The job of the Muslim, again, according to my limited understanding, is to pursue excellence, and that means struggling to act appropriately in every situation.  Culture is not fabricated or intentionally constructed as a project, it forms organically from people negotiating new situations.  Much love to all.

Brother James Harris: Thanks, Sister Rebecca.  Now, is changing one’s name to ‘Kyle’ the same as drinking?  One is cultural and the other is violating an injunction.  I ask these things because for many converts their cultural world suddenly becomes a non-Muslim one, and there is pressure to disassociate from the culture they grew up in.

Sister Sky Hi: I've always been told by trusted a’immah to cherry pick the good in your culture and keep it and weed out the bad, because every culture has bad characteristics.  So, for example, I am American.  One bad thing I gave up was saying the pledge of allegiance to the American flag which is haram and kept the good like being nice, talking to people or like we are very melting pot.

Brother Yusuf Abdulrahman: Brother James, often young Muslims in the West reject the culture they grew up in because it was completely inappropriate for their new surroundings.  Attempting to reproduce the culture of the homeland somewhere else inevitably fails.  The issue has been raised as regards the Hanafi opinion that women should pray in the home, and that as a result many mosques do not have a designated women’s prayer area.  In London for example, women are treated, ostensibly, the same as a man would be, free to go wherever they wish, yet they are not entitled to enter the mosque?

Brother Dan Oo: As Shaykh Abdul Hakeem Jackson, the scholar, has said, and I am paraphrasing, when a white man converts, he commits cultural suicide.  It is an interesting idea.  Maybe that is why converts get twice the Reward?

Sister Rebecca Rhouni: I see it as being about intentions.  While a name is cultural, abandoning it to mask one’s religion is not all that different than drinking to fit in, although as you say the latter is violating an injunction.  Some people shorten their name or take a nickname so it can be pronounced; this is vastly different in my opinion, than becoming ‘Kyle’.  This is also why I see a difference between a convert still embracing or struggling to let go of some religio-cultural practices, such as a Christmas tree, different than an immigrant Muslim embracing this practice when it was previously completely foreign to them if it is being done to appear less Muslim to the non-Muslim population.

Sister Adita El Sadani: My personal opinion, and I hope not to offend anyone, is that one must be true first to one’s faith, belief and morals; before one’s culture.  This is even more so the culture of another in order to fit in.  In my life as a Muslim, I have recently found I am better if being true to who I am than ‘fitting in’.  I may not be invited to the hijabi circle outings, but I do not get in the cat fights they get into from socialising too much.  Too often, I see American woman trying too hard to be Pakistani or Arab.  They even change their accent to a foreign one, but I truly see it more as a maturity issue or even not knowing who they are as a person.  Too many, even outside Islam, have no real sense of who they are.  So to me, it is selling out and not being true to oneself.

Brother James Harris: Thanks, Brother Dan.  I would say there are certainly plenty who do indeed commit cultural suicide.  It is a problem.

Brother Hamayoon Sultan Qurayshi: I have been called a coconut before.  I ignored it but it is an example of how some see the culture of the motherland as akin to a second set of fiqhi rules - that to not follow is akin to apostasy.  The media scrum to attack Islam and Muslims has also recently caused me to question to what extent I will ever fit in, and whether I will ever be accepted as British.  But I have no option but to try; I like Monty Python, I know how to queue, and I get sarcasm – I am British!  The alternative is to move to ‘Muslim’ lands and get my head chopped off by some Wahhabi nutcase.

Brother Abdulkareem C Stone; Not caring about what others think about you is often flaunted as a virtue but I think it is the root of bad character.  We often hear this, “I only care what Allah and His Rasul think of me,” or “I don’t care what those kuffar think.”  There is something seriously wrong with these sentiments.  Considering and caring about how others perceive you can only be from good manners.  Popular media indoctrinates us that the assertion our identity is a right, and no one has a right to judge us for our appearance.  This is a very modern secular idea which continually strives to atomise society by over emphasising the individual over community and family.

Brother AbdRohim Sinwan: Even with Muslim-majority societies, it is not unusual for Muslims not from the majority culture to fit in, (voluntarily or coerced, to the majority culture.

Brother Hamayoon Sultan Qurayshi: But back to my comment above, I have, al-Hamdulillah, never directly been the victim of racism that I remember - the closest I have ever gotten is from Muslims who chastised me for being ‘too white’, hence ‘coconut’.  If I remember correctly, that was during an argument about how Pakistani's need to integrate more within the UK rather than harking back to a country that our parents and grandparents left behind due to a lack of economic opportunities.

Sister Nimali Rodrigo: Brother James, I think people misuse the word ‘kuffar’.  It does not mean our majority non-Muslim society.  ‘Kuffar’ are people who know the truth and reject it.  In the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) time, I think it would have been very difficult to distinguish between a pagan Quraysh and a Muslim.  They looked the same and had the same names and culture.  Islam regulated some of it but certainly did not divorce people from it.

Brother Tarek Sourani: In my little understanding, Islam is not a culture, but rather a cultural filter to refine the person.  That is why I can sit in a bar with friends and drink a non-alcoholic beer and afterwards go to prayer.

Brother James Harris: I think that this is an important issue that many converts need to discuss when they embrace Islam.  I remember meeting a young man who converted to Islam and then left again because he said he could not go on ‘being something I am not’, or that it was ‘too hard’, when engaging with a largely culturally Muslim community.  It was obviously an issue for him that he could not resolve.

Brother AbdRohim Sinwan: I have the impression that, an example of a Muslim community that retains much of the native British identity, can be found in Norwich.

Brother Martin Harrison: Brother James Harris, it is so sad to hear cases like this where converts to Islam are being expected to adopt a foreign culture as part of becoming a Muslim.  This is so irrelevant.

Brother AbdRohim, they have their own culture in Norwich.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Within the Singaporean, Malaysian and Indonesian context, it was once seen that converting to Islam meant becoming Malay or its equivalent.  The term we use is ‘masuk Melayu’.  There is no disrespect to Malay culture, but in the last decade or so, we have greatly emphasised that becoming Muslim does not mean that we automatically have to adopt Malay culture.  I consider that an anathema to what the religion is about.

What do have now, as a result of a lot of hard work and lobbying over the last three decades, is a convert centre of our own, sermons in English at selected mosques, and classes in English when once, all this was conducted in Malay.  We encourage the converts to practice their own culture except where it contradicts the religion, to speak their own languages, and to dress in their cultural norms.

At least in Singapore, the Malay identity has not become politicised.  As per the Malaysian Constitution, at one time, it was understood that for someone to convert to Islam, was to enter the Malay race since being Malay was defined as being Muslim also.  As such, we do not have that concept of ‘Ketuanan Melayu’, and the need to be subservient to the sultans as leaders of us in religion.  I could never countenance this ‘daulat’ to any sultan, as some have been advocating.

Sister Fatima Price Khan: It is so interesting to hear how conversion works socially in different contexts.

Brother David Rosser Owen: Actually, the Norwich folk got their start from Shaykh Nazhim (q.s.) when in Bristol Gardens in 1974, and Abdul Qadir as-Sufi was still stuck in California; Brother abdu'Rashid may have also had some experiences with them.  So, if Islam is a religion rather than a particular cultural expression, why cannot an indigenous British Muslim be a Muslim within his or her own culture?  And if not, whose culture are they supposed to adopt - Pakistani, Arab, Malay?

Brother William Voller: Yes.  Why not, indeed?  How much in your life living and working in the UK is against Islam really?  Brother James Harris, you make the interesting distinction with culture and injunctions, but how many are actually applicable anyway?  There is no qadhi, no khalif, no jurisdiction.  Is being zealous benefitting one and others?  I suppose you might start asking what Islam is anyway.  I certainly do not think the priority is to remove the ham from your sandwich.

Brother Arvind Ashaari Parhar: I had the exact same experience as Brother Terence described when converting in Singapore.  Having to come to terms with adapting to a Malay-ised version of Islam, somehow I kind of miss that to an extent now that I am in Australia.  When I got married in Sydney, I started to get surrounded by cultural traditions of the Lebanese.  Interestingly, I found there was a distinction between the local Lebanese trends amongst the youth to what their parents had first brought and it somehow embedded a ghetto-type attitude with trendy haircuts resembling cast from The Last of the Mohicans, semi hip-hop street gear and spoke a Leb-lingo of English which consisted of Lebanese words and American street slang with an Aussie accent.  Most of Lakemba mosque would be filled with this stereotype.  I sure did not fit in well enough from my docile Southeast Asian upbringing!  You would find the odd Indonesian or Somalian youth who would try hard to blend in with the crew by adopting the trend and talking the lingo.

Brother James Harris: My commiserations, Brother Arvind.

Brother Gabriele Marranci: The question can be also turned on itself: how much a majority should accept a minority which may not fit or be able to be part of it?  My issue with both potential questions is that we are discussing of labels and what I call ‘group identity’ which ultimately is always a creation of human imagination.  Hence, I tend to dismiss such debate.  My question is: how do you as individual feel to be and what this means for your own life?

Brother William Voller: Good point, Brother Gabriele Marranci.  My brother bought up an interesting example the other day.  A friend of his would defend his wife’s culture to burp after a meal.  My brother said okay, but why is my culture not to burp not any less important?  It is a paradox!  I thought I guess she could, but as long as she is aware she would offend people where ever she went.  So it boils down to a tradeoff and a kind of Kierkegaard type ‘do whatever you can live with the consequences of.’  How realistically useful is it to refuse to shake hands really?  Does it really bring a benefit?  Sometimes, we say that here in the UK, it is the land of the kuffar or worse, but none of those can be justified Islamically.  Perhaps it is more like Dar al-Aman, the Abode of Agreement, so to disregard the norm is a kind of treachery.  That said, societally speaking, where is the line?  Can you leave the mu’amalah wholesale and be Muslim privately and in an ethical sense only?  If not, then really, what are the benefits?

Brother Tim: Taking a leaf out of Niebuhr’s work on types of Christian ethical attitude towards culture, it might be helpful to ask what position you hold:  Islam Against culture, Islam of culture, Islam above culture, Islam and culture in paradox, or Islam, the transformer of culture.

Brother Gabriele Marranci: I am sure that so many Muslims will be questioned by Allah (s.w.t.) in the Day of Judgment about shaking hands, instead of what they have thought and done.  At the end of the day, for all that we think and do in reality in all our life, shaking hands is the last things we need to worry about.

Brother Tim: I was just making a point in relation to the original post; why use a foreign phrase if you can use the language of the given culture you are in?

Brother Hamayoon Sultan Qurayshi: Muslim identity, especially with immigrants and descendants, is intertwined with Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, and other languages.  This will evolve naturally over generations; rapid change with no link to the past fuels extremism so it must be gradual and organic.  Arabic is, however, necessary for understanding the religion so we cannot do away with it.

Brother Tim: Who needs Urdu and Farsi; I have not even heard the case for Arabic yet?

Brother Hamayoon Sultan Qurayshi: Arabic, Urdu, and other such languages are part of us as children of immigrants.  Our cultures will evolve organically over time but we do not yet have strong Western Muslim cultures.  Many important books about traditional Islam are untranslated, though Saudi oil money has produced bastardised translations of certain classics with which to warp our minds.  Our identities as Western orthodox Muslims will not be complete until a sufficient body of the classical texts are faithfully translated.  Until then, Arabic, Urdu, and Farsi are I feel necessary so that traditional Islam can be accessed by our young.  But we must be open to this change.  This is what annoys me about our immigrant communities and their descendants - not that they speak other languages but that they actively resist the evolution of a new culture.  Even if we do manage to create a Western Muslim Elysium for ourselves here, Arabic is the language of the Final Revelation so to understand it properly would still require Arabic.

Brother Tim: Brother Hamayoon, you sound like you are making an argument for Arabic as the language of the Qur’an as above culture then?  I rephrase my 5 questions above: to what extent is the Qur’an against culture, of culture, above culture, in paradoxical relation to culture, or the transformer of culture?

Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: There is a hadits that says roughly, one is on the Diyn of his friend.  We worry what our friends think of us and the more we love them, the more we will dress to impress them.  So in this sense, we should turn this question on its head, and really ask ourselves, who do we really love and then be bold enough to say does this person makes me remember Allah (s.w.t.).  Do I feel excited about doing good when I am with them and when I leave them, does Islam make more sense to me and my confusion has subsided?

Brother Hamayoon Sultan Qurayshi: Brother Tim, ‘above culture’ gives it a connotation of superiority; I do not really want to say that.  Muslims must learn their national languages, English for us obviously, with as much passion as we do Arabic.  We must learn other foreign languages too as this will help us to better understand their speakers.  Trying to understand others through our own eyes only is doomed to failure.   But Arabic is central to understanding ourselves as Muslims.  Even if the aforementioned Elysium does come about, there will always be new issues that a full and proper understanding of Arabic will help to resolve.

Brother Tim: But it is treated as superior as a principle of faith, is it not?

Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: The Prophet’s (s.a.w.) speech was the most superior of all humans ever.  And the Arabic of the Qur’an Revealed to him is the most superior.

Brother Tim: Superior to what?  All languages or just other forms of Arabic?

Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: All languages.

Brother James Harris: In terms of what specific characteristics?

Brother Hamayoon Sultan Qurayshi: Correction: Learning English and other languages also is essential to understand ourselves too, not just others

Brother AbdRohim Sinwan: The only speech of the prophets that I know of are Classical Arabic, Ancient Aramaic and Ancient Hebrew.  Perhaps there are other languages that unknown prophets from other parts of the world would speak?

Brother Hamayoon Sultan Qurayshi: Arabic is superior to other languages?  Culture is made up of many influences and languages, and putting Arabic on a pedestal suggests it is more equal than others; I do not believe that. But Arabic is a vital part of the mix for us as Muslims.  English, French, Spanish, Latin, Ancient Greek too.

Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: The superiority of Qur’anic Arabic reflects the superiority of the heritage of the Prophet (s.a.w.), language and eloquence being the supreme achievement of any community.

Brother Hamayoon, sorry but I am not sure what ‘more equal than others’ means here.

Brother Hamayoon Sultan Qurayshi: Brother Abdulkareem, it was an Animal Farm reference.  All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.  One of our challenges today is a perceived divine right to rule, and superiority over the ‘kuffar’.  We refuse to engage because we consider the other to be beneath us and not worth learning.  To move forward, I feel we need to break free of these self-imposed shackles.

Brother AbdRohim, if every community has received a guide, would the Semitic languages have been the only ones used by them?  I do not know but other languages must have been used.

Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: There is a lot of truth to that.  This is a theme that has been dealt with extensively in academia since the collapse of certainty during the first part of the twentieth century in Europe.  But relativism has been used to great success in persuading the world there is no truth and no superiority.  Many people refuse to accept that any one man is superior to another and once they convince themselves of that accepting prophethood becomes more difficult.

Brother James Harris: I suspect that this is because the idea that ‘one man is superior to another’ can mean a lot of things, and in the past couple of hundred years, and especially in the 20th century, that idea would have to be very carefully qualified when used.

Brother Yusuf Abdulrahman: Fascinating.  The Arabic question is very important.  It is important to remember that messengers were Sent to every people, and those who bear the Truth will continue to be Sent to all peoples until the end of time.  A people cannot understand the message if it is not in their own tongue.  Hence, whilst I believe that an in depth comprehension of Arabic is required for scholarship, and always will be, the common Muslim is not required to become learned in the language.  The objective of our faith is excellence, and now thanks to the dedicated work of our predecessors and contemporaries, we have numerous resources in the English language, sufficient to facilitate an understanding of the principles that, when lived, result in excellence.  In essence, everything is Planned by the One, place the good of others before yourself, love your neighbours and so forth.

The issue with Arabic in the contemporary Muslim community is that the study of the language is deemed an aspect of personal development, which I still find difficult to believe, but would be more than willing to hear an explanation of how it could be, and so religiosity is synonymous with the mastery of a foreign tongue, and the insertion of Arabic phrases into our discourse demonstrates piety.  Hence, we cloak our inner disbelief in the Arabic language, and believe we have ‘done religion’.  We are just as frustrated, rude, and arrogant as before.  You will find that Arabic classes are always full in Islamic institutions, but classes or gatherings that encourage uncomfortable personal awakenings and a realignment of our worldview have very few takers.  If our perception of what it means to be Muslim changes from ‘membership of a community and all the trappings that go with it’ to ‘a truly excellent and noble human being’, then we may reconsider our priorities, as assimilation into a foreign culture exerts a minimal impact upon how excellent and noble you are as a person.

Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: We must also accept that the culture the swahabah embraced from the wider context of the seventh century Arabs was the best culture of mankind.  The ‘ulama have tried to preserve that culture despite immense odds and have inevitably shown fallibility as well.  In this day and age, I think new methodologies can assist and supplement trying to assess what that culture was, such as anthropology but we will always access that culture of Madina primarily through institutions rooted in historically Muslim countries.  And we must as a religious duty honour and acknowledge that Allah (s.w.t.) has Blessed these people in said institutions far more than us.

Brother Hamayoon Sultan Qurayshi: Rasulullah (s.a.w.) was indeed the best of mankind and superior; I would never argue otherwise.  But it is precisely because of this erosion of certainty, that we have this quandary in which ourselves we find.  A search for certainty is leading people to extreme forms of expression.  That which requires certainty, let us be certain about it.  But we do need to be more open about other things.

Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: We need to engage with the ‘ulama; that may mean searching for ‘ulama who best can understand our situation, but when we cut any contact with people taught the fundamentals of Diyn in the Arabic language, in an authentic chain back to the Prophet (s.a.w.), we will lose our way in Diyn.

Brother Yusuf Abdulrahman: Thank you, Brother AbdulKareem.  I think it very much depends who we believe the ‘ulama to be.  It is common today to reject anyone who does not cling to traditional curricula, who has not studied a given series of texts, and who has not mastered the Arabic language.  We need to begin to listen to each other, our challenges, our experiences, creating a horizontal forum for expression like this group that is not dictated by a select few scholars who usually hold very similar perspectives.  That is not to say that their views are not important or not to be respected, but ‘ask a scholar’ is not an answer to the existential questions I face daily.  I have to be comfortable in my faith; I have to be able to be myself whilst personifying Islamic values, not Muslim cultural values, in my life.

A person I know, who embraced Islam from the Hindu tradition was informed he should leave home because of his parents’ faith, and he did.  He was told not to reflect, that his perspective was irrelevant, and that this path is do this or get out.  Saying ‘he asked the wrong scholar’ is not the answer.  I believe faith is about deep, penetrating change to the way we see the universe, about returning to my primordial excellence.  It is not a programme of training to make me into someone else.  Hence, until I am empowered to make my own decisions and to be confident in them, I believe that faith remains at the surface level.

Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: Most certainly, I agree with you.  I will just like to reemphasise something.  If we are ill, we should not learn medicine to get better, but neither should we refuse to go further than what is convenient for a cure.  Finding the correct ‘ulama requires so much deep penetration, self-reflection and sacrifice.  That is the nature of the ‘ilm of Diyn.

Brother James Harris: Learning Arabic is certainly not for everyone.  Some people are just not inclined that way.  I feel strongly that those who have not had the chance to study the language or find it too difficult are necessarily deficient in their depth of understanding of Islam or their closeness to Allah (s.w.t.).  In fact, I have met many people with a solid understanding of Arabic who have defective characters.  ‘Knowledge’ has, unfortunately, nowadays become with many Muslims, a stick to beat others with and to judge them, and this attitude misses the entire point of the purpose of learning.

Brother Hossein Turner: The language of the Qur’an is certainly not Arabic.  It is far greater than that, for it is actually the Book of Creation and the ‘Arabic’ Qur'an is just a distillation of this - diluted for people who are at a certain limited level of understanding.  Yet, this Arabic text is the key to the Book of Creation, the Greater Qur’an.  This is my understanding of Ustadz Nursi’s (r.a.) position, but I may be wrong.

Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: Any one disempowering others with knowledge, know that that is manipulation.  The Qur’an repeatedly Warns against this.  This is why people using the highest of knowledge to secure paltry and petty gains have the lowest place reserved for them.  This is also due to putting people of the pursuit of knowledge.

But as to whether those people are Forgiven for not acquiring knowledge is another factor.  The man in trouble with the law would be ridiculous if he thought all solicitors were corrupt and therefore did not seek legal representation.  The role of the ‘ulama is invaluable even if they are not exemplary characters.  At a practical level though, it is important to find ‘ulama we respect and respect us.  There has to be a compromise at some level; sometimes it may be appropriate to wear an Islamic hat or dress.  There is a religious obligation to respect the ‘ulama.  For instance, it would be inappropriate to turn up to a court house wearing casual clothes.  The situation with the ‘ulama is unfortunate in this day and age but we are collectively responsible to ensure those committing themselves to learning are secure.

Brother Hossein Turner, I did not want to respond to your statement but it worries me the certainty you show in saying the Qur’an is not in Arabic.  This is a very old and complex debate with many subtleties and nuances.  And one in which there is no decisive ijma’ upon.

Brother ELias Attia: I think what is missing above is a historical look at how Islam spread to countries, and did not convert populations overnight.  The question originally posted assumes that the Muslim minority has a different culture than the majority.  In many places, historically, they did not.  You can easily ask the question to what extent must an Arab living in Pakistan adopt the culture of the majority.  Should we expect that the Arabs assimilate?  What forms ‘culture’ versus culture that is specific to Islam?  I do not think this has been answered above.

In modern contexts, we are looking at communities that ‘appear’ in a generation and are mostly migrant communities.  In the past, this was not the case, although it happened through different means.  But even if there was an invasion, the invaders would go back home.

Brother James Harris: The spread of Islam in the Middle East and North Africa saw enormous migration and settlement of Arab tribes from the Arabian Peninsula, whose descendants remain there until today, in addition to migration the other way too.  This settlement played a crucial role in the Arabisation of these regions.  In Southeast Asia, there was a huge influx of Arabs from Yemen to Indonesia and Malaysia, and these Yemenis adopted the customs of the non-Arab communities they lived in, in addition to they themselves influencing the cultures there too, of course.  This even led to the spread of many aspects of Indonesian culture among the Arabs of Hadhramaut in Yemen, in terms of language, dress and other customs, that survive until the present day.  The Arabic dialect of Hadhramaut has a lot of Indonesian loan words, and this is in what could be considered the heartland of ancient Arab culture.  The strength of the Yemeni Arabs who spread Islam to many non-Arab civilisations was in the clarity of their message, and openness to engage when they lived among other civilisations.  A rigid, fixed attitude to the non-Arab people and cultures they encountered would have undoubtedly ended up in failure to influence those cultures.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Perhaps, for the individual convert, it might be helpful to throw out everything that that has a hint of culture and focus on building that relationship with the Divine.  The Muslim majority are often not cognisant of the fact that they are imposing their cultural norms, and it becomes another burden.  They should put aside anything that is viewed as 'Malay', 'Pakistani', 'Arab' or its equivalent.  And they should put aside this supposed need to know Malay, Urdu, or any other language.  As for the Arabic, it is the language of the Qur’an, and it should be tackled in its time and place.  If we do not know our place, how can we be sure where we are going?  People should not come to Islam to become cultural orphans.

When someone has changed their entire worldview, and upset their social network, this is not even important.  Fixing the social network is.  Mending the relationship with the family is.  In my case, the last thing I cared about was what the Muslim think. I did not know them, I did not care for their language and their culture.  And I was not interested in assimilating. It is only when I was centered, that I could consider the broader context.

Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: In Britain, we are fortunate to have many learned people and institutions.  We have a wide spectrum of cultural backgrounds.  The major texts are taught here.  This is predominately in the medium of Urdu.  There is a certain cultural context which reinforces the integrity of the language.  This context is undoubtedly imbued in the history of Muslims in India, of which the struggles with, as well as compromises with the British is a part.  The preservation of cultural identity is a social necessity but also a religious one.  The passing down of the inheritance of the Prophet (s.a.w.) requires a certain amount of conservatism especially in such periods of rapid change.  I am not naïve; I have experienced much prejudice and rigidity on cultural issues and, as a result, suffered a lot.  I am under no illusion that these institutions are not full of problems.  They are inadequate for the task of establishing Diyn here in this land on their own.  They have to open up to the British people.  But we, the British people, who have entered into Islam, have to be careful not to negate their importance.  I find many British Muslims blame their own shortcoming in Diyn on the shortcomings of Asian Muslims which does not help anyone.

Brother abdu'Rashid Craig: Of course, we used to call it ‘turning Turk’ over here.  My family never really got over it - at best you could describe it as an armed truce.  And yes, Brother David Rosser Owen, I did as you well know have a few encounters of the close kind in Bristol Gardens, before, during and after.  That is probably best left alone as far as this group is concerned.  But I have found it interesting at least to explore other cultures and begin to understand where Diyn ends and they begin.

Brother Omar Grant: The Prophet (s.a.w.) told us to speak to a person according to his understanding, and if that statement is thought about a great deal, the supposed issue of Islam and cultures is resolved.  As to the supposed piety implied by the use of Arabic, then I would suggest that people should then wonder why, in the Qur’an, the Creator Points Out that diversity, including language, is an intrinsic part of Creation for a very obvious reason.  The only language which might be truly described as ‘divine’ is the language of the heart, a language which very few religious people learn to speak.

Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: Leaving aside what ‘divine’ means, without understanding Arabic, one cannot teach the shari’ah; without being guided in shari’ah, we cannot get close to Allah (s.w.t.).  We all must do our best to ensure the teaching of Arabic is maintained in our country and then the foundations of Diyn.

Brother William Voller: This thread has moved on a lot.  With what you said about Arabic, one wisdom might be as a uniting language?  An academic language, perhaps like Latin in forming Europe?  It does not necessarily make it superior or to over write the vernacular.  So if that is a reason, maybe we could use another language if it facilitates unity?

Brother James Harris: Academic qualifications do not equate with closeness to the Divine.  My earlier comment was not referring to teaching qualifications.

Brother Robert Hinrichs: I think I can give a unique view of this.  I was born and raised here in the USA, and I have lived in several parts of the USA.  Because the USA is so big and has such a great diversity of people from almost every country in the world, different parts of the USA have very distinct cultures.  So when I moved from one part of the USA to another, I was distinctly the outsider because I did not fit into the culture.  Now, keep in mind, I am an American born and raised in America, but I am the outsider because I now live in a different part of the USA.

When we become Muslim, we often have to give up some aspects of the culture we grew up in to comply with Islam.  This alone makes us an outsider within our own culture not because we are now Muslims but because we have given up some of the aspects of our culture that defines the culture.  Culture is a set of rules, beliefs, practices that are deemed by a majority of the local population to be acceptable norms of that society.  These rules, beliefs and practices change from place to place and what may be acceptable in one place may not be so in another.

Because being Muslim requires us to give up some of these rules, beliefs and practices we will no longer be a part of that culture and subsequently become outsiders.  So as Brother Terence said, we have to throw out all that is cultural and just focus on Islam first and try to keep intact the parts of our life that will most often fall apart, relationships with family and friends, which is also required in the Qur’an.  Culture must be separated from religion to give meaning and definition to either.  Once we have become confident and knowledgeable in our religion then we can deal with the culture we live in.


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