Islam has a distinct culture. The culture in Islam is not Arabic or eastern or Middle Eastern. It is also not monolithic. It has varieties and a rich diversity. There are elements in Islamic culture that are constant and that are universally accepted by all Muslims; but there are also elements in Islamic culture that are diverse and different from country to country and people to people. The universals are based on the Qur’an and Sunnah while the variables are based on local customs (a‘raf and ‘adat) of various people. Thus there is an Arab Islamic culture, Indo-Pakistani Islamic culture, African Islamic culture, Chinese Islamic culture and so there can be an American or Western Islamic culture. The beauty and diversity of Islamic Culture is moderation as Allah Almighty has narrated in the holy Quran:
“Thus have we made of you a Middle Ummah, that you might be witnesses over the people and the Messenger a witness over yourselves”. (Al-Baqarah 2:143)
“Say: “Verily, my Lord has guided me to a Way that is straight, a religion of right conduct, the Path of Ibrahim the true in faith, and he was not from among the idolaters.”
“Say: “Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for Allah, the Lord of the World. No partner has He in His Divinity. This is what I am commanded, and I am the first of Muslims”. (Al-An`am 6:161-163)
“O you who believe! Enter into Islam whole-heartedly; and do not follow Satan’s footsteps; for he is an open enemy of yours. If you lapse after explanations have come to you, then know that Allah is Powerful, Wise”. (Al-Baqarah 2:208-209)
Islam is a comprehensive and global religion. It covers every aspect of life. The greatest beauty of Islam is in its culture. Here I would like to talk about the salient features of Islamic culture.
What is culture? Many people think that culture means art, music or some social habits. The word “culture” has many meanings. In Arabic it is called “thaqafah.” The culture is defined as patterns of behavior and thinking that people living in social groups learn, create, and share. Culture distinguishes one human group from others. It also distinguishes humans from other animals. A people’s culture includes their beliefs, rules of behavior, language, rituals, art, technology, styles of dress, ways of producing and cooking food, political and economic systems.
Wherever we live we should develop our distinct Islamic culture and we should collaborate and interact with people of diverse cultures. Our culture is based on the Qur’an and Sunnah as well as on great human experience and learning. We have benefited from the knowledge of all people and we should be open to all knowledge in order to keep our culture strong and dynamic.
However, we should always keep in mind some basic features and characteristics of our Islamic culture. Wherever we live we should not forget these features. These features are constant and no Islamic culture can be without these features.
Some characteristics of Islamic culture:
- God-centered or theocentric: First of all our culture is God-centered. We uphold strict Tawhid(monotheism). We believe in divine guidance that came to us through God’s many prophets and messengers and finally through the Last Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon them all. We believe in life after death and the Day of Judgment. We emphasize worship and devotion: prayers, fasting, Zakat and Hajj. We also uphold that Allah has allowed us certain things and has forbidden us certain things. We emphasize the Halal and avoid the Haram.
- Egalitarian, tolerant and fraternal: Secondly our Islamic culture emphasizes that all people are equal. We do not accept any color bias or racialism. We believe in the worth and value of all human beings and all creation of God. We believe in the freedom of religion and accept no compulsion in matters of religion.
Our culture is tolerant of people of all faiths, especially the People of the Book. We believe that all Muslims are brothers and sisters. The sense of brotherhood in faith must be very strong among Muslims, regardless of the geographic boundaries or changing political or economic conditions. We also must keep good relations with all human beings, especially our neighbors.
- Dignifying and moralistic: Our culture places great emphasis on the dignity of human beings and their morality. We emphasize truthfulness, honesty, modesty (Haya’), cleanliness or Taharah.
We are against extravagance, show off, or extremism. Our Islamic culture teaches self-confidence and self-reliance. It emphasizes charity and generosity. Our culture is family-oriented with great emphasis on good spousal relations, good care of children, extended families, love and respect for the elders. We abhor adultery, fornication, homosexuality, gambling, or use of intoxicants.
Wherever we live at any time and among any people we must uphold these values. We cannot be true Muslims if our culture compromises on these principles.
- Dynamic, progressive, world affirming and not world-denying or ascetic: Our culture emphasizes struggle, change, social justice, removal of oppression and evil.
Our culture encourages learning, education, seeking of knowledge. Our Islamic culture makes no bifurcation between the religious and secular education. We believe that all knowledge is important. We must emphasize open mindedness and willingness to accept the wisdom from any source. Islamic culture promotes good art, architecture, aesthetics, health, healthy environment and clean entertainment.
- Non-exclusivist but Da`wah-oriented and optimistic: Finally our Islamic culture emphasizes promoting good things with wisdom and patience. Ours is not a dominating or colonizing culture, but it is also not an exclusivist and isolationist culture.
We believe in inviting all people to Islam without coercion. Our culture teaches to listen and dialogue with others. We believe that human nature is good and if people are given chance to know and learn Islam as it is, they will find it satisfying and fulfilling.
We strongly believe that the truth will prevail and falsehood will vanish. Our culture emphasizes patience and reminds us that we should keep working in a steadfast manner and put our total trust in our Creator, Allah the Lord and Sustainer of the worlds.
Whatever features of Islamic culture I have mentioned are based on the authentic and clear sources of our religion. Most of us believe in these features. We should always emphasize these values of our religious culture and wherever we may have shortcomings we should try to remove them. I pray to Allah to keep us on the right path and help us to promote peace and justice in this world and remove injustice and oppression.