Does a single Islamic Culture exist?

Does a single Islamic Culture exist?

Over on Facebook someone copied and pasted the hadith (or at least a paraphrased version of it) “Whomsoever emulates a nation is one of them.” (Abu Dawud) on to their status.

I saw this and noticed that the person who posted this hadith has a picture of three Muslims in trainers (called sneakers in the USA), blue jeans and t-shirts and striking a pose that is culturally specific to Western culture but more specifically to American culture, the only thing that alerts you to the fact that they are Muslims are 1. the T-shirts have “Muslim” emblazoned across them and other Muslim slogans and 2. they are wearing kufis – Muslim skullcaps. Aside from these two tell tale signs, they are dressed in an overt and ostensible classic American style, one could say emulating the culture of the USA.

I posted a comment on the brother’s status:

Hadith like this need to be explained. I mean, is wearing jeans and T-shirts emulating?

You can see what I was getting at. I then get a wall-to-wall message from the brother:

salam akhi in responce…The Holy Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) has stated very clearly: “Whomsoever emulates a nation is one of them.” (Abu Dawud) From this Hadith we deduce that emulating the Kuffar is Haraam (totally prohibited) in regards to religious and social habits which are confined to them only.

It is unfortunate that we find many Muslims openly following many customs of the Kufaar ?following the celebration of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Birthdays and now even Valentine?s Day. In western countries, there is a growing social and religious integration between the Muslims and the non-Muslims. Muslims, today, are fusing their Islamic culture with that of the Kuffar. This absorbance of cultures has been achieved to such an extent that some Muslims have even abandoned their very own Islamic identity and Islamic culture. They are unable to differentiate between what is right and wrong. Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day

I then responded to this as follows:

Islam accepts (and indeed absorbs) the cultures and traditions of other societies on the condition that they do not violate the Shariah, I notice from your profile picture that you and the brothers in it have a culturally very American look, is that not imitating the kuffar? Also exactly what is “Islamic culture”, I do not believe that an identifiable “Islamic culture” actually exists, rather Muslims have their own culture based on where they are from (with the aforementioned caveat of not violating the Shariah), therefore we see Muslims from China exhibiting Chinese culture, so too the Indo-Paks have their own culture, the Turks very much have their own culture (and more distinctly so during the Ottoman period), various far-eastern Muslims and even the Arabs are culturally diverse too and display their own culture? I think it is far too simplistic to take a single hadith and apply it to all situations and conditions, when clearly there are certain criteria that apply.

As mentioned in my response, there is really no such thing as a specifically identifiable monolithic “Islamic culture” that the brother has alluded to above, when Islam embeds itself into a country, culture or society, the norms of that society are generally accepted with proviso that the practices do not violate a principle of the Shariah. Principially, the overwhelming things and actions in this world are HALAL (permissible) unless an evidence can be brought to the contrary. With this principle in mind we don’t just throw out culture wholesale, we evaluate, discard what is incorrect and accept what is good. We only have to look at the periods of Islamic conquests to realise that Islam, or rather Muslims (without objection from the ulama), took from the cultures they conquered and took what benefited and left that which did not, the culture then took on a new form specific to that time and place. Ottoman mosques resemble Byzantine basilicas, in many cases that’s what they once were, in other cases the Ottomans employed Byzantine artisans and craftsman. Chinese mosques look like Chinese temples, Indo-Pak mosques have borrowed from culturally “Hindu” (as opposed to religiously Hindu) art and craft, the influences are unmistakeable.

My last response on this thread was:

This hadith requires an exposition and needs the parameters defined, this is why we rely on rulings derived from hadith rather than an hadith on its own to establish a ruling. The wording of the hadith [in question] is general and on the face of it seems to suggest that *any* emulation/imitation makes you from that nation, additionally, as stated, it doesn’t suggest that it is a bad thing (being from the nation you emulate) since the Qur’an has stated “We have made you into nations so that you may know one another”, so immediately there is a problem of defining what is meant by the hadith.

The upshot here is that quoting a hadith and establishing it as a ruling is not correct, hadith are the raw materials which the jurists use to provide the rulings which we follow, essentially the fuqaha (jurists) operationalise the Sacred texts for us. May Allah make us of those who follow right guidance and understanding.

7 thoughts on “Does a single Islamic Culture exist?

  1. Interesting post, agree with you and it’s something I heard Shaykh BaBikr say recently when talking about clothing. He said, “I’m not wearing Islamic clothing, there isn’t Islamic clothing, I’m wearing my national dress, this is Sudanese clothing and part of my culture and this is what my father wore. If I was Pakistani I would be wearing shalwar kameez. And Shaykh Habib Ali Jifri is doing the same, he is wearing traditional Yemeni dress.” (paraphrased since it’s from my memory).

    I think many practising Muslims, especially those whose families come from the Indian subcontinent, are not only very opposed Western culture but also deride the cultures of their parents, quick to brand them “unislamic” and full of bida, when much of what they mock is actually acceptable though it may require slight tweaking.

    What I find problematic about this is not only that it’s a very narrow view which tries to rob people of their cultural heritage, but I also think it’s quite insulting to Muslims from those regions, who are essentially told that they are rejecting the Sunna in favour of Hindu culture. This isn’t fair because the subcontinental culture is not something the people from there took from Hindus or imitated, rather they always lived there and it was always their culture as people from that region, and they simply retained aspects of it once coming into Islam. This is exactly the same as what the Arabs did!

  2. An even worse situation is when people try to make that their own traditions or culture which isn?t Islamic but make out that it is.

    This is another debate by itself, but the key area to focus on is that Islam has given space for a person to integrate without having to violate a principle of the Shariah.

    Although sometimes life isn?t always easy to but then life wasn?t meant to be easy.

  3. “Islam is not a culture, Islam is a filter for culture. it keeps the good and leaves out the bad”

    Shaykh Abdal Qadir as Sufi.

  4. assalamu `alaykum wa rahmatullah
    I have seen people go to the extent of declaring various aspects of their culture as Islamic law without being able to refer concretely to the ruling of a mujtahid. I might have the resources to find the rulings proving them wrong, but not everyone does. It is disturbing to see people duping new converts into applying harshly conservative Arab or Pakistani culture as if it were Islam.

  5. To: the web/blog master
    I was until a few days ago, a member of Stephen Schwartz’s “Center for Islamic Pluralism”. Having carefully examined the agenda, in view of some of the material published on this and some other blogsites, I wrote Mr. Schwartz some correspondence. I am willing to make those letters available, since Mr. Schwartz has threatened to sue me for libel if I wwent public with the opinion that he is using CIP to forward his political ambitions. In all honesty, I don’t think Mr. Schwartz is capable of being seriously considered by anyone who personally knows him for any political office. That being said, however, I do feel that Mr. Schwartz uses the CIP handle to denigrate any Muslims he sees as being defenders of islam. I will not say what I think of his Islam since that is for God to judge. But if anyone examines a list of the Muslims that Schwartz hates, one will see a pattern: Mustafa Ceric, Tariq Ramadan, Hamza Yusuf, Yahya Hendi etc. And when I brought his attention to the fact that in the Gaza genocide, nothing was said of Islamophobia, he claimed that the event was used by many to promote Jew-baiting. That statement alone, I think, is more potent in terms of ascertaining Mr. Schwartz’s islam rather than any personal opinion I might express.
    Might I state that I don’t think ALL the people who work in CIP are of the same mindset as Mr. Schwartz. I shall await permission to post my material. Thank you.

  6. salams

    very interesting post mashallah. I agree with you. I heard Shaykh Nuh say once (paraphrasing)that Islam is like a river that flows through the different parts of the world providing sustenance and life and it reflects the different cultures and people that are upon the shore.

    I do feel however, that we(Muslims) should adopt the outer appearance of Muslims as much as possible. We should adopt shariya complient beards, hijabs and wear topi’s to at least stand out from the non Muslims in some way as the Prophet (saw) did and advised.

    Wearing trainers, shirts, suits, trousers (if they do not compromise hijab)are part of our culture and if we wear them then that surely cannot be seen to be “emulating.” Intention has a lot to do with it

    The non muslims in the Prophet’s time all wore the same clothes and yet he (saw) tried to stand out from them by wearing white (for example) or by combing his hair differently. we should at least try to adopt some of the outer symbols, like beards and a topi etc.

    good post

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