Islamic culture; its features and diversity
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 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) “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”.
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 behaviour 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 behaviour, language, rituals, art, technology, styles of dress, ways of producing and cooking food, political and economic systems.
These features are constant and no Islamic culture can be without these features.
Some characteristics of Islamic culture:
1. God-centred or theocentric: First of all our culture is God-centred.
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 (SAWW), 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.
2. Egalitarian, tolerant and fraternal: Secondly our Islamic culture emphasizes that all people are equal.
We do not accept any colour 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 neighbours.
3. 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.
4. 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. 5. Non-exclusivist but Da‘wah-oriented and optimistic.
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.
—The writer is PhD in Islamic Studies, author and academic writer & lecturer at National University of Modern Languages Islamabad.