Do we reject our culture?
Is an american convert to Islam committing cultural heresy? Or, otherwise said, does one need to relinquish culture once converting to Islam?
Let’s just go ahead and answer the question before we get ourselves confused.
Converting to Islam does not mean a rejection of one’s culture and cultural norms, except those aspects of the culture which are in direct contradiction to the rules of Islam. All good aspects and neutral aspects of one’s culture should be embraced. Islam is not culturally predatory. We need to be cautious of a kind of teaching that says that Islam is culturally predatory or which tries to turn Muslim converts into Arabs, Turks, Malays or other very specified cultures that are associated with Islam.
American Muslims, British Muslims and other “non-assimilated” Muslims including converts should work to reach within their cultures and take the greatest aspects of our cultures and really run with them and embrace them. We do not need to be ashamed of our cultures, even if they had oppressive pasts – for one, we don’t bear the sins of our forefathers and two, we are Muslims now carrying the deen of Allah.
The following video is titled ‘A very British Ramadan’ and was posted on Facebook, as one may follow through the link.
Culture rejecting you
There is a totally different approach to the topic at hand, which is to ask, can the Americans or the British or the (you name it) accept Muslims into their definition of their culture? How about, even if the converts happen to have a family history that dates back generations in that land? They are not accepting Muslims, so I am cast aside. This has often been the norm throughout history. British converts would set sail for Morocco and the family may set up a funeral for their family member’s death (i.e. conversion to Islam). We are not in a so much polarized world at this point.
Here is another story, in contrast to that however, A Muslim in Victorian America: The Life of Alexander Russell Webb.
How do the convert Muslims interact with the immigrant Muslim communities? On one hand, you would like to have an American, British, German, Mexican (what have you) Muslim culture, yet you only find foreign languages, biryani, Arab nationalists and other converts who insist you must also be Arab, as was the Prophet Muhammad.
We find immigrant communities accepting perhaps a simplified Islam, satisfaction with upholding only few basic teachings and often apostasy and a severe lack of understanding or motivation. I do not even mean that as a generalization, but as an issue that is common. For convert Muslims, we need to consider and reflect on how we can secure ourselves, the next generation and how to help and encourage new Muslims to advance their roles and which directions to take.
Might I dare to be a bit controversial and bring up an opinion that is not all so uncommon among many classical and serious Ulema, but which many American immigrant Muslims would not see as politically correct. That is, that without any sort of explanation or specific allowance from Ulema, that it would have been impermissible to even have left the lands of the Muslims to go live in a place of dar al-kufr, a place in which practicing Islam and raising children extremely difficult. Many Muslims cannot even fathom to consider leaving western countries to live in a majority Muslim country, but perhaps it would do them much better to do so. For many converts, there are a number of reasons for us to specifically stay in our countries of birth. For instance, we understand the culture and therefore can propagate the religion more holistically and as an indigenous subculture, rather than as something entirely foreign. Many Muslims are living in very insulated environments in the west that are often quite bad at communicating with local westerners. Oops!
Solution to sorting out Cultural Issues
Quite frankly, the vision of the immigrant communities has in a lot of ways failed us and has not reached out to us or made us feel welcome or encouraged. There may be exceptions, but this means that Muslim converts in the west must pick up the task of securing future interests and not relying on the immigrant communities to a large extent. This does not mean that we are to reject immigrant Muslim communities either.
The above video is just a short clip from the American Muslim scholar, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, who is addressing Muslim names. It is a common idea for people to find a muslim name once they have converted, however it is obviously not a commandment of the religion. It may be recommended if the name has a negative meaning.
In this clip from the same scholar (Shaykh Hamza Yusuf), it is mentioned how Islam has grown and adapted to the indigenous cultures of people where Islam spread.