Culturally religious? or Religiously Cultural?

Culturally religious? or Religiously Cultural?


Culture verses religion. An ongoing struggle for many Muslims around the world. Culture includes the customs, ideas and habits, and originate from people. On the other hand, religion, Islam, is the belief that came from Allah and the Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

The differences between the two seem quite apparent.

Unfortunately, that is not the case as often, one’s culture influences how they practice their religion. This can blur the clear line made between the two. Overlapping culture and religion not only leads to confusion, but possible chaos.

Many ‘issues’ that concern Islam portrayed in the media are in fact culture confused with an Islamic practice. For example, the religion of Islam is peaceful and does not encourage such acts as “honor killings”, racism, oppression of women or many other wrong practices that make their way into the news.

Some of these issues exist due to the thought that Islam advocates a patriarchal system in society.

Muslim women are perceived as oppressed, often turning to the hijab, burka and niqab to ‘illustrate’ their oppression. Cultural enforcement of male superiority within Islamic countries force women to subjugate themselves to patriarchal laws derived from misconceptions of the Quran, often leading to the denial of rights Islam has granted them with.

Time and again both the Quran and hadith mention the roles and rights of individuals in society, but despite that, cultural practices come into play, some even taking away individual basic human rights that culture supersedes. One major problem that makes its way into many Muslim families, and one that particularly young girls or boys have been coaxed to, is forced marriages.

This is largely carried out in Muslim communities around the world and thus assumed to be an Islamic practice by the non-Muslims. On the contrary, forced marriage is a forbidden act in Islam, with no exception to this rule.

The majority of scholars are of the view that if either party disagrees with the marriage, then the marriage contract is not valid. The question I would like to present is why does a practice like this exist when the Quran explicitly forbids it: “O you who have believed, it is not lawful for you to inherit women by compulsion. And do not make difficulties for them…” (The Quran: an- Nisaa’ 4:19).

It is not Islam that should be scrutinized, but instead the actions and teachings of those who interpret and practice it incorrectly. The reality is that Islam is not in fact patriarchal, but rather, the first religion to ever give women their rights. Islam encourages women to do things that culture of contemporary Islamic society forbid. We have countless of examples that exhibits successful and powerful women in Islam:

  • Khadija Khuwaylid- the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad was a very successful businesswoman and one of the elite figures of Makkah.
  • Nusayba b. Ka’b al-Ansariyya was a companion of the Prophet and she is most remembered for her part in the Battle of Uhud in which she carried a sword and shield and fought against the Makkans. She cast herself in front the Prophet Muhammad from enemies to protect him and as a result sustained
  • Khawla b. al-Azwar is known for her participation in the Battle of Yarmuk against the Byzantines and often described to having fighting skills compared to the famed Muslim general Khalid ibn al-Walid.

Why does the battle between culture and religion exist? Muslims come from all over the world, from different traditions and cultures. Religion and culture can live together in peace, provided that religion takes priority. We need to draw a clear line between the two in order to avoid confusion. A religious viewpoint always overrides a cultural one.

One begs to ask the question then, are you culturally religious or religiously cultural?

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