بسمالله الرحمان الرحيم
In the name of Almighty God, the most gracious,the most merciful. All praise be to he created who created man into many nations and many cultures and tongues. All praise be to he that gave us the ability to reflect on the creation and to understand the truly miraculous nature of our existence. May the peace mercy and blessings of God be upon all of his messengers from Adam to Muhammad.
In the last posting, I talked about the need for Muslim unity via absolute willful adherence to the Qur'an and the Sunnah, or example of our messenger Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. However I realize that to some that may come off as "too conservative".
When we look to many converts to Islam, we often find people who are extremely zealous, and seem to have abandoned their native culture for that of an "Arab" one. You never see them outside wearing anything other than a thobe, they often don't trim their beard, always have a miswak (Arabic toothstick), etc. And, when you ask them where they are from, you are shocked to learn that they are from Cleveland or Philly originally. While there is nothing "un-Islamic"about these things, and I admire these brothers' and sisters' Islamic spirit, it is not entirely "necessary".
When we look at the structure of house, there needs to be sturdy foundation and connections that hold the house together. This is represented by the Qur'an and Sunnah. However within the house, each room has it's own unique flavor. This is represented in Islam by "cultural diversity".
Islam is in no way opposed to cultural diversity. Allah says, "We have created you in pairs, men and women, and divided you into nations and tribes so that you may come to know one another (not to turn against each other) and the best amongst you is those who are most righteous." If Allah so willed, he could have created us all EXACTLY the same. We could have been all the same color, speak the same language, have the same foods, etc. But, we don't. That's not the way God Almighty created us. Cultural diversity is as much a part of Islam, as it is part of being human. The prophet, peace be upon him, when sending his followers out to spread the message, instructed them to "speak in the way that they understand". One interpretation of this is that it means to speak the language of the people. There are believe it or not some Muslims who refuse to converse in any other language than Arabic because that was the language and therefore "sunnah" of the prophet. This is most certainly one aspect of the hadith's meaning, to speak the local language, however it means more than that. It also means to use the things that are culturally influential to teach the message of Islam, in the way that it relates to them.
The Qur'an itself is an example. The major cultural force of the Arabs at the time was poetry. Great poets were the "Michael Jacksons" of their time. So, when Allah revealed the Qur'an, He did so by using that most powerful cultural force. So when the prophet instructed his followers how to teach the message of Islam, he told them to utilize the cultural forces that exist in that nation. An example of that is how Islam spread into the Indian subcontinent. One of the major factors that introduced Islam to these people was the use of Qawali music by Qawali musicians who had embraced Islam. Qawali music was, and even still is, a powerful cultural force amongst the "Desi" folks.
In the entire history of Islam, it has taken on many different "looks", but it is always the same faith. A good friend of mine once said, " Islam is like a river, as it flows over different types of rock and earth, it appears different in color and consistency, but ultimately it's all the same water."
So, when we say that Muslim unity can only come from absolute adherence to the Qur'an and Sunnah, that doesn't mean that one has to become "an Arab". If you are an Arab then I suppose that's ok. But, if you are Indian, then there is nothing wrong with embracing and celebrating your culture, so long as you are still obeying the Qur'an and the Sunnah. If you are African, then there is nothing wrong with celebrating your African heritage and Islam even encourages it, but you must always put God first and obey Him and his messenger over your culture. I am an American. I'm a very proud American. I'm proud of the principles that this country was founded upon. I'm proud to be of Irish descent, who braved a new world in order to flee an oppressive regime. I'm an American Civil War buff, and have a particular interest to the perspectives of the people of the Confederacy in that war. I enjoy Friday night high school football games, marching bands, rock 'n' roll, cheese cake, pizza, burgers, and am not afraid to proudly stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the Star Spangled Banner. But, Allah, God Almighty, and our beloved prophet Muhammad, may God's peace and blessings be upon him, always come before my culture, and contrary to some beliefs, Islam and American culture are NOT incompatible. My wife is Somali. We knew when we decided to be married that the only way for it to work was for us to always put our faith ahead of our culture, but at the same time celebrating our cultural diversity and teaching it to our children. So whatever you are American, Canadian, British, French, German, Hillbilly, whatever... and you are a Muslim, don't feel torn. Be proud of who you are. Celebrate who you are. Study your history and heritage, and you'll be surprised at how much your heritage and your faith have in common.
...And Allah Knows Best...