Following the Quran and Sunnah: Solidifying Unity

New Muslims Between Religion and Culture
As long as our cultures do not over-ride their jurisdiction, we should celebrate our traditions. But otherwise, Islam comes first...

If you are new to Islam, you are probably riding the high wave of faith, excited about learning new things in the faith and experiencing a sense of liberation in studying the Quran and the Sunnah.

Of course this is a general reaction for new Muslims coming to Islam, but there are some situations where the new faith becomes a little confusing.

When Religion Becomes Muddled with Cultural Assimilation

There are many instances where Islam becomes confused with cultural nuances and this often happens with second generation Muslims who are often taught Islam from a hand-me-down perspective.

If new Muslims are learning about the faith from them, then it is most likely that they will follow the same route. This doesn’t make born Muslims inferior to new Muslims nor does it make learning about Islam (from born Muslims) something that is difficult or dangerous, but it is a good reminder that studying the faith takes perseverance and it is important for everyone to distinguish between religion and culture.

Some people may say that this is no big deal for Muslims to be culturally-inclined, because Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) celebrated all cultures and called everyone to Islam regardless of their backgrounds. And this is definitely true. But as much as he engaged in this form of dawah, he also reminded that sometimes Muslims get lost in their practices that they forget to check whether their form of worship or their lifestyle of choice is in line with Islamic principles laid out in the Quran and the Hadith.

The Perfect Religion, Perfected by God

The way Muslims need to revere this particular verse, is to practice Islam the way it has been prescribed.

As followers of the seal of Prophets, Muhammad, who was given the last Message to Mankind, it is important for Muslims to remember this one single verse:

{This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed My Favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion} (Al-Ma’idah 5: 3)

Islam has been perfected by God and therefore there is no need to make any changes, especially with respect to religious matters. The way Muslims need to revere this particular verse, is to practice Islam the way it has been prescribed.

In matters of worship, anything that is created on the pretence of religious worship is considered an innovation, especially when there is no supporting Quranic injunction of Hadith to solidify the need for such form of worship.

Innovations of the prescribed forms of worship like prayer, Zakat, fasting, Hajj, remembrance and the recitation of the Quran need to be strongly shunned in order to prevent believers from becoming confused and following paths that were not even prescribed by Prophet Muhammad and not practiced by his Camaraderie, the best Muslims of all times.

In fact, many of us find it difficult to even adhere to the Sunnah with respect to worship but add to our hardship (or maybe ease) we end up creating new forms of worship just so we can follow them. Everything that we do with respect to worship needs to be traced back to the Quran and the Sunnah and needs to be avoided even if we may believe that they are good for us. If they were good for us in the first place, they would be prescribed by God!

Prophet Muhammad said:

"… The most truthful speech is the Book of Allah. The best way is the way of Muhammad. The worst of affairs are the novelties and every novelty is an innovation and every innovation is misguidance and every misguidance is in the Fire." (An-Nasa'i)

Besides these forms of worship, it is common to see cultural innuendoes when it comes to certain rites, like funeral rites, adaptations seen in weddings, certain “innovated” ways in reading the Quran, and certain festivities that are celebrated in some cultures due to beliefs relating to Islam. Examples of festivities include the birth of Prophet Muhammad and Isra’ Mi’raj (the miraculous Night Journey).

All these forms of “worship” become confusing for Muslims. In the Quran, God reminds conversations that have happened in the past, due to ignorance and misguidance "When it is said to them:

{‘Follow what Allah has sent down.’ They say, ‘No! We shall follow what we found our fathers following. What! Even though their fathers were void of knowledge and guidance?’} (Al-Baqarah 2:170)

Similarly, if Muslims decide to follow what is cultural even if it does contradict Islamic teachings, then we would also be following the routes of our “fore-fathers” in spreading our faith. We are still choosing culture over faith. We may still be Muslims, but we may be committing err in ways we do not know, and that is why – in whatever we do – we need to be conscientious of what has already been decreed in our perfected religion.

“But it is in Our Culture, So We Should Do It”

There have been instances where Muslims say that it is “in our culture” to perform certain matters. They may be as simple as reading the Quran on a certain day at a certain time, or in a certain manner, which has not been prescribed in Islam.

Having good intention alone is not good enough if the action that one intends contradicts the Quran.

Of course, reading the Quran brings multi-folds of rewards and the Holy Scripture will intercede for the reciter on the Day of Judgment. In addition to that, the more verses the reciter reads, commits to memory, studies and practices, the higher his or her position will be in Paradise! However, saying that reading the Quran in a certain way is a must or on a certain day (without prescription through an authenticated hadith), does give way to misguidance.

When a Muslim insists on a certain cultural prescription, it may not seem harmful or misguiding at first, but after a while, if this cultural prescription garners a following, these types of practices quickly become something that is assimilated with Islam, and people forget to check if it’s even directed by the Quran or the Sunnah! Imagine new Muslims coming to Islam and getting confused between religion (an entire practice that is simple and straight forward) and culture (practices that can become cumbersome and burdensome). This is not a good start to Islam.

Certain feelings of “showing off” can also surface, as those who propagate certain practices may feel more “religious” than others, and those who do not follow their footsteps may be labeled as being “rebellious” or “disrespectful” to their culture, when this is not so, as they are staying away from these methodologies of worship that are not prescribed by God and His Messenger.

Also, committing to forms of worship in such a way gives to divide. A certain community of culture x could insinuate to a community of culture y, “We are better than you because we do this particular worship, this way.” And this could bring about a dehiscence in the nation, when the prescribed religion is one for the entire nation – creating harmony and understanding between all Muslims.

“But it’s a Matter of Good Intentions”

Of course it’s a matter of good intentions. But again, with the best of intentions, one would want to emulate the life of Prophet Muhammad, who was described by Aisha “The walking Quran.” Having good intention alone is not good enough if the action that one intends contradicts the Quran. God knows best why this is, and that is why the entire Quran is revealed for mankind. Why change it when most of us are even unable to practice a good fraction of it?

For the best of intentions, we need to spend time reading the Quran, studying the Sunnah and taking up a new piece of knowledge every day to digest and practice. This is what happens when we have the best of intentions. We do not need to create new matters to justify our intentions.

{Say, O people of the Book exceed not the bounds in your religion, trespassing beyond the truth. Nor follow the vain desires of people who went astray in times gone by, who mislead many and strayed from the even way. Curses were pronounced on those among the children of Israel who were disbelievers, by the tongue of David and of Jesus son of Mary, because they disobeyed and persisted in excesses.} (Al-Ma’idah 5: 77-8)

As mentioned, having mere intentions is not enough, as it is obligatory to have good intentions at all times to please God and to be obedient to Prophet Muhammad at all times and not trespass the boundaries out of desire.

“It is Better than Not Partaking in Worship”

In some cases, a certain culture or community would say: whatever we practice is good rather than not indulging in worship at all. Is this really true? Do we have an excuse not to worship? Do we have an excuse just to wait for a particular rite, and then only perform a certain form of worship? Worship has already been prescribed for Muslims, let’s just practice it the way it has been done and do it all the time, according to the Sunnah.

Popularly in Funeral Rites, for example, there are accompanying cultural beliefs about how they are meant to be carried out, over and above what is already prescribed in the Quran and Sunnah. All sorts of gatherings and feasts to mourn the dead ensue, all in the name of worship.

Islam is for all of Mankind. The Quran was composed for everyone to read and for all Muslims to follow.

“It is better than not partaking in worship,” can’t be a good excuse, because again, worship has already been prescribed for us. Worship is every day in fact. And in the case of funeral rites, there is a time and place for everything, as cited by the narrations of Hadith that support each act of worship and matters of non-worship. Non-worship includes caring for the family, bringing them food and consoling them for their loss of the deceased, rather that burdening them, inciting them to host a gathering in their home. Because of all these acts are cited in the Sunnah, there are great blessings that accompany them.

What About Non-Religious Affairs?

In worldly matters, there is flexibility in jurisdiction as everything is considered lawful, unless mentioned as unlawful. This is different in matters concerning worship, where everything is unlawful, unless prescribed.

In worldly matters, flexibility in how we eat, how we prepare our meals, how we raise our children, how we sleep and how we travel are permitted unless mentioned otherwise. But of course, there is a Sunnah for nearly everything, and it is recommended that we follow how Prophet Muhammad conducted his affairs. When one studies his life and his tradition, a grand relief follows, as it was a simple and articulate one, full with wisdom and blessings. Variations in a Muslim lifestyle are encouraged to celebrate diversity and differential acts are not instantly innovations unless a person insists on practicing something that is not a Sunnah as a Sunnah. But for matters of worship that rally around belief in one God, then we already have pre-ordained guidelines to honor and follow.

Islam, Culture, Born Muslims and New Muslims

Islam is for all of Mankind. The Quran was composed for everyone to read and for all Muslims to follow. In Prophet Muhammad’s farewell sermon, he reminded that no single person of any race is better than any other person of the same or different ethnicity, except in God-consciousness. Although the Prophet reached out to all cultures and encouraged Dawah (call to one God) to communities around the globe, the underlying common factors of Islam lie in the Quran and the Hadith. As long as our cultures do not over-ride their jurisdiction, we should celebrate our traditions. But otherwise, Islam comes first, over and above even the smallest differences between and within communities, solidifying unity within the Muslim nation.
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Maria Zain is freelance writer by night and a homeschooling mother of four by day. She currently writes for an assortment of publications but has a wish to dedicate more of her time to charitable work, while championing the message of Islam through her work.

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