By Alveena Salim
Culture, what exactly is it? Well even though you might think it's got nothing to do with you; you are in fact surrounded by culture all the time – be it the culture of your parents/grandparents or the western 'British' culture.
Culture is the outward expressions of your values, beliefs, lifestyle etc. So from that point of view if culture is just basically your way of doing things then Islam can be your culture right? Yep too right it can and so it should be!
But it ain't always as simple as that – you all have probably experienced or know someone who has been caught up in the clash between Islam and culture; this is when the culture from back home is mixed in with Islam and this in turn causes a major confusion.
The line between Islam and culture becomes blurred and that's when your mind starts to boggle!
Culture of our parents
It all started round and about the 50's and 60's when our parents or grandparents decided to come over here in order to work and make some cash. Not intending to stay forever they began working but ended up calling their families over and we've been here ever since.
Now when our elders came here they also bought along with them their culture i.e. their lifestyle, traditions and general customs.
Certain aspects of this culture have stayed with us whether Islamic or not and this is where the potential problems arise.
When parents/grandparents arrived here they were very careful and tried their best to hold on to their values and beliefs and when the third generation of Muslims were born in Britain and consequently exposed to the Western culture, understandably parents/grandparents started getting a wee bit worried.
Many of us don't realise and appreciate the big sacrifice that our parents/grandparents had to make in order to move here and if we did then maybe we would better understand their motives for always wanting to protect us!
I mean imagine arriving in a totally alien land where the people of the land have a different lifestyle altogether – wouldn't you be nervous about raising your children in such a place? Yeah I thought you would, so it's not right for us to totally look down on our parents/grandparents and see them as being 'backward'.
National culture v Islamic culture
So we've established that it was hard for our parents to move here but the real issue here is the outcome of this great move and more importantly how does it affect us? Cos we're born in Britain and are more familiar with the 'Western' lifestyle, some of us may find it difficult to empathise with many aspects of our parents' culture. For instance why do Asian brides always throw rice at weddings?
I mean that's just a waste of totally good food!! OK maybe I'm being too picky but you have to admit some parts of the Asian culture just don't make sense. On a more serious note some aspects of culture from many countries actually contradict the teachings of Islam but are nearly always done in the name of Islam.
So What is Islamic Culture?
You may be asking what is Islamic culture then? Well its simple really: its any aspect of culture that does not contradict the teachings of the Qur'an and Sunnah, and is not an official part of another religion.
One of the main dilemmas emerging out of many cultures that faces most youth is the ever-bugging forced marriage. We've all heard the horror stories about fathers beating their daughters or even killing them in the name of 'honour', and all this is linked to the idea of forced marriages.
We may not personally know of any crazy fathers like these (hopefully!) but I'm sure many of us are familiar with the concept. Whether it is force by physical abuse or emotional blackmail – it is totally forbidden in Islam. Islam makes itself crystal clear on this issue.
The Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) has made it clear to us that force and marriage do not mix, as stated in this hadith:
al-Khansa' bint Khidam said: “My father married me to his nephew, and I did not like this match, so I complained to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). He said to me: 'Accept what your father has arranged.' I said, 'I do not wish to accept what my father has arranged.' He said, 'Then this marriage is invalid, go and marry whomever you wish.' I said, 'I have accepted what my father has arranged, but I wanted women to know that fathers have no right in their daughter's matters (i.e. they have no right to force a marriage on them).'” [Ibn Majah, 1:602]
So if Islam doesn't allow forced marriages then why do some parents practice it?
There can be a number of reasons for this, one being lack of knowledge. Parents may not fully realise that what they are doing is wrong or it may be that they are just scared of the Western culture influencing their children so they become too strict in their ways purely because they want to protect you and in such cases it is up to you to inform them.
But this does not mean you can disrespect, shout at or unnecessarily hurt your parents. Islam instructs us to deal with our parents with kindness, love and with utmost respect at all times even in a situation like this.
Parents can NOT force their kids into marriage, so educate them with love and if they still try to force you into marriage then get a religious, respected and educated member of the community to talk to them.
Culture in Islamic weddings
There is nothing wrong with culture as long as it doesn't contradict Islamic teachings. But amongst Muslims it's always at a wedding where we cross the line.
In most weddings, especially amongst Indo-Pak Muslims we have intermixing, mendi (Henna nights) for men and women, young girls encircling the bride and groom with candles, throwing paint at each other and many other cultural traditions which have come from 'back home' and really have no place in Islam. Muslim weddings should be carried out according to the teachings of Islam.
Also there are some aspects of culture that is downright sexist! For example a woman that is divorced is looked down upon!!! The Holy Prophet (pbuh) married women that were divorced and also encouraged divorced women and widows to marry again.
Housework is just for women
…if a man does it, it affects his 'izzat' (honour). This exists in a lot of cultures worldwide! This crazy culture says that women should only do the housework and men are to come and sit on their backsides all day. Again, this is not very Islamic as the Holy Prophet (pbuh) did his chores himself. If the greatest of creation can do that then who else is to say otherwise.
Walk 10 steps behind your man!
The weirdest thing is when women are expected to walk 10 feet behind their husbands!! Come on now, what's all that about. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the husband and wife walking next to each other in public or even I would say holding hands God forbid!
Girls are locked up!
There seems to be this medieval attitude running through our communities, that girls can't get an education, they should just stay at home and learn how to cook and clean, whilst the boys can doss in the streets, get into trouble, stay out late and do whatever they want with no questions asked.
If a guy messes around it's not a biggie but if a girl is seen with a boy by a nosy auntie she's brought “shame on the family”. Such ridiculous sexist attitudes stem from the time a child is born - when a boy is born it's laddu (sweets) all around but if a girl is born its not a big deal or even a 'bad' thing!
It's sad and difficult to believe this still goes on considering Allah warned us against it in the Quran 1400-odd years ago:
"whenever any of them is given the glad tiding of [the birth of] a girl, his face darkens, and he is filled with suppressed anger. Avoiding all people because of the [alleged] evil of the glad tiding which he has received, [and debating within himself:] Shall he keep this [child] despite the contempt [which he feels for it]-or shall he bury it in the dust? Old, evil indeed is whatever they decide!" [Surah 16: Verses 58-59]
So people need to snap out of this ancient mentality and realise that Islam is NOT a sexist religion, far from it in fact! Morality is equally prescribed for both girls and boys - an un-Islamic act committed by a man or a woman carries the same amount of sin; the idea that if a man sins it ain't too bad but if a woman does it then it's really bad is unacceptable!
In the sight of God men and women are equal when it comes to reward and punishment. Also, it is an Islamic duty for every man AND woman to gain knowledge, religious or secular, so there's nothing at all wrong with a girl getting an education or pursuing a career.
Parents to blame?
Also parents need to take a reality check and remember their own youth (even though it may seem like yonks ago).
Most of our parents couldn't afford an education in the first place and so the men went out to work and the women spent their time doing the housework, which was the norm of that time.
So, parents can not expect their kid to be the perfect, traditional Paki, Guji, Bengali etc. Hadrat Ali (ra) said "Bring up your children differently to how you were brought up as they are from a different time".
Follow Islam - You cant go wrong!
In short there is nothing wrong with following ones culture as long as it doesn't go against Islam. So yeah you can still eat the food, wear the traditional clothes (I don't mean the sleeveless, skin-tight shalwaar kameez!) and speak your language etc. 'coz there's nothing wrong with all that.
At the same time there's nothing wrong if you don't follow some aspects of your culture – you ain't a bad Muslim if you prefer wearing loose jeans/top or a loose skirt and top instead of the traditional Shalwaar kameez, prefer chips to curry and would rather speak English!
Islam is more than that – as long as the core beliefs of Islam are maintained then it's all kool and the rest can sort itself out!