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The Culture of Muslims

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‘ For every one of you we appointed a law and a way, and if Allah had pleased He would have made you a single people, but that he might try you in what He gave you. Therefore vie with one another in doing good. You will all return to Allah and He will inform you about that which you differed.’’

(The Holy Quran5.48)

The culture of Muslims has ever been bound by geographical or climatic considerations, for Islam is a universal path and therefore accessible to all peoples. In 1990 it was estimated that there were over one million Muslims living in disparate geographical areas covering several million of square miles stretching all the way from China and the Pacific Rim to the Atlantic, as well as in Europe and more recently North America, Muslims have thus inhabited every possible climate and terrain. The Arabian heartland of Islam mainly encompassed the desert regions where scattered group settled in oases, and nomadic pastoralists inhabited the vast but still habitable areas around the cities. Cultivated areas in the great river deltas where ancient cultures once flourished, such as the Nile Valley, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and elsewhere, were farmed by peasant-folk. The mountains, hills and the forests found more toward the northern areas of Muslim lands were also home to many. Muslims are represented in every race, ranging from Chinese and Mongolian to Turkic, Aryan, Semitic, African, European and India.

The Culture of any people is based upon sets of values and perceptions which motivate them to behave in a particular way and there are several factors that underlie the distinctiveness of Muslims culture. It is primarily, of course the Din and courtesy of Islam —–the behavioral patterns, practices, and the perceptions of life —- that have unified the Muslim people and which enable us to talk about an ‘’ Islamic culture.’’ Because Muslims believe in the One All – embracing God and that this life is a preparation for the next, their perception, evaluation, and living of life’s experiences are shaped by the extent to which this understand has been absorbed into their lives and transformed their outlook.

When different races, tribes and nations assimilate the Din deeply and correctly, one finds that they first identify themselves as Muslims before nations, societies, or races. Equally, when Islam does not become deeply rooted in the people, the national, cultural or other group identities take precedence over their faith to the detriment of its application. Although Islam naturally united the Muslim peoples, one cannot claim that is produced cultural uniformity. Everyday life in Indian Muslim household in Delhi was not the same as that of its Moroccan counterpart in Marrakesh. However, they would have shared their love for The Last Prophet (PBUH), their attitudes towards family honor (especially regarding their womenfolk) and toward their land, animals, and shrines. Their festivals would be similar and they all aspired to do on Hajj. But Indian family would also be very conscious of class or caste considerations and other related customs as an impinging legacy of Hinduism, which would be alien to the Moroccan.

A second factor in uniting the Muslims masses was the inevitable use of Arabic. Because the Holy Quran and the traditions were in Arabic, Muslims naturally learnt it and that common denominator of language generated a basic sense of connection between them.

A third unifying factor underlying Muslim culture is general uniformity of the religious rituals, especially the Salat and Hajj. The connective power of collectively performed, meaningful rituals is nowhere more epitomized than in the great universal and spiritual market place of Hajj. The once yearly pilgrimage brings truly diverse people together, placing them under the eye of God on a platform of equality in worldly status, humbled and dispossessed of any material or social power.

The unifying characteristics of Islam touch upon every aspect of life from the way a Muslim regards water (whether it is ritualistically pure to enable its use in ablution); to modesty regarding one’s body (for both men and women); to protecting women from the harsher aspects of public life; to the etiquette of conducting fair and just business transactions; to upholding honorable conduct in war or peace. The entire spectrum of human experience is provided for in the Din.

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