This is not an uncommon situation for many of us. We are often confused with what to do and what to follow—religion or culture. As a religion Islam is the way of life that provides all kinds of solutions in our day-to-day life. On the other hand, culture is the belief and values that prevail in the society. The culture of the Companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) can be considered as a culture of belief in one God, as Allah Most High declared clearly:
[Say: He is Allah, The One and Only, Allah the Eternal, Absolute, He begetteth not, Nor is He begotten. And there is none like unto Him.] (Ikhas 112:1-4)
If we look back to Islamic history, it shows us pre-Islamic positive values such as courage, generosity, and directness effectively integrated with Islamic values and works.
The traditional view of culture provides patterns of acceptable behavior and beliefs. It is reflected in values, norms, and practices. Culture is intangible and illusive and it can be observed at multiple levels (De Long & Fahey, 2000). Furthermore, Hofstede (1994) viewed culture as “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or categories of people from another.” In general, culture is a shared way in which groups of people understand and interpret the world. The argument is that culture is a complex system of norms and values that is shared over time and affects the types and variance of social processes and behaviors (Barney, 1986).
Cultural practices and Islam can move together if we are selective of cultural values that do not undermine a religion that has a greater and more effective role to play in human development and understanding. However, it is not uncommon now in many societies for people to try to manipulate religious rules and regulations in order to accommodate cultural practices. This can violate Islamic rules and regulations when culture contradicts religion. When it comes to marriage, many Muslims practice some values and norms that are not in line with Islamic rules and regulations. Marriage is one of the life-long decisions, and Islam provides the best way of making such an important decision. Let's have a look at some of the real situations in Muslim marriage and examine whether they are supported by our religion.
“He is a practicing Muslim and educated but not from my caste.” The caste system is one of the most serious conflicts faced in many of Muslim countries. Islam teaches us that we are brothers of one another, but in reality we are not. Much of Muslim society tries to advocate discrimination of others through caste. In marriage, the caste system plays an important role. The criterion of choosing a spouse is not what Islam recommended to us—if you are not from the same caste, the marriage proposal will not be worked out. Is this supported by Islam? The obvious answer will be “no,” but we are still practicing it because this is our culture or, as many people say, our tradition. But our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) taught us “All people are equal as the teeth of a comb” (At-Tabarani).
“I am an educated, good-looking, and pious Muslimah but nobody wants to marry me because my parents are not capable of giving a handsome dowry.” Another difficult problem that many Muslim societies face is the wedding gift (dowry) from the woman's family. The man's family always demand a huge amount that most families are incapable of paying. The success of the proposal always depends on how much the woman's family wants to pay. This demand depends on the qualification and status of the man and it can be cash money, household furnishings, a house or apartment, or even a car. But according to Islamic teachings, it should be the other way around. Islam teaches men to pay whatever amount they are capable of paying. Allah Most High declares in Qur'an:
[Give women their dowry freely; but if of themselves they give up aught thereof to you, then enjoy it as convenient, and profitable.] (An-Nisaa' 4:4)
“I came for a holiday and my parents are asking me to get married with someone I don't like, and they are forcing me by saying if I will not marry him they will keep my passport and I will not able to go back.” One of the essential elements of Muslim marriage is the agreement of both sides. Unfortunately, many of our culture avoid this issue, especially when it comes to women. Sometimes they feel the woman does not have anything to say about her marriage. Family and relatives force her to marry someone she does not like, and finally it ends up with a broken marriage or divorce. But Islam always gives an equal opportunity to women and men, and this is their basic right.
Many of the victims are crying silently behind closed doors. Please rethink about these issues and very simply hope for tomorrow that our society will overcome these problems in the way prescribed by the Qur'an and Sunnah, in sha' Allah!
- Barney, J. (1986). Organizational Culture: Can it be a Source of Sustained Competitive Advantage? Academy of Management Review. 11.
- De Long, D. W. and Fahey, L. (2000). Diagnosing Cultural Barriers in Knowledge Management, Academy of Management Executive. 14(4).
- Hofstede, G. (1994). Management in a Multicultural Society, Malaysian Management Review. 73.