Unique Aspects of Muslim Culture
Many people wont recognize Muslim culture, even though they see it almost every single day. That’s right. Every time you see a news story about Muslims in any part of the world, you are seeing some aspect of Muslim culture.
It’s in the way we eat.
It’s in the way we talk.
It’s even in the way we dress.
Many of these similarities are present in most, if not all, Muslim societies.
Even though there are over a billion Muslims throughout the world. Even though we speak hundreds of different languages. Even though we live in dozens of different countries. We still share a common Muslim culture.
This culture is embedded in our common beliefs that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His messenger.
For instance, have you noticed how Muslim women tend to wear similar clothing? Even though the hijab is mandated by the Quran, it’s surprising to see that so many Muslim women voluntarily choose to cover their hair. Yes, in some countries wearing the hijab is mandatory. But that’s the exception, not the rule.
Another example of almost universal Muslim culture is that most Muslim men wear beards. Now, if you live in the west (or Egypt) you probably won’t see this as often. But in most Muslim countries, the men don’t shave their beards off.
Now here’s one aspect of Muslim culture which you would probably never see unless you happen to be Muslim also. Muslims always eat with their right hand! Even left-handed Muslims eat with their right hand.
As for the left hand – that’s generally relegated to bathroom use. Hence, we don’t use our left hand to eat with.
Origins of Muslim Culture
But where does Muslim culture come from? Who made it up? Did it just fall from the sky?
Not exactly. There are several sources of Muslim Culture, but I’ve narrowed them down to the three most prevalent ones.
- The Quran – the Noble book of Allah Almighty.
- The Hadith – the statements and traditions of Prophet Mohammed (May Allah be pleased with him).
- Local tradition.
The Quran and Muslim Culture
Many aspects of our culture is derived from the Quran. Some things that Muslims do almost subconsciously are actually mandated, or encouraged, or allowed by Allah in His holy book the Quran. For example:
- Women wearing the hijab and other Islamic dress standards.
- Greeting other Muslims with “As-Salaamu Alay-kum.” This greeting is standard amongst all Muslims the world over.
- Saying Bismillah (In the Name of Allah) before doing just about anything.
- Saying Inshallah (If Allah Wills) when speaking of future events.
The Hadith and Muslim Culture
Many practices that are prevalent in the Muslim world were never mentioned in the Quran. Instead, these practices were derived from the practices, sayings, traditions, and stories of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companions. These traditions are called Hadith.
Here are some examples of Muslim culture that come from the Hadith:
- Men growing their beards and trimming the moustache.
- Using the right hand to eat with and the left hand for the bathroom.
- Using a miswak (stick used for cleaning teeth).
- Shaking hands when greeting someone.
Local Customs and Muslim Culture
There are also many practices amongst Muslims that were never mentioned in either the Quran or the Hadith. Most of these practices were introduced by the societies and cultures that accepted Islam. Here are some examples:
- Men kissing each other on the cheek when greeting (Middle East)
- After greeting someone, putting their hand to your head (West Africa)
- Prostrating when one’s child has reached 40 days old (Pakistan)
Difference between Muslim Culture and Local Culture
As you can see from above, Muslim culture can cover a wide variety of subjects. However, I believe it is important to differntiate between what is truly Islamic and what is just culture. Many things that are done today are not supported by the Word of Allah in the Quran or the teachings of Prophet Muhammad in the Hadith. Many things that Muslims practice today, are simply local customs taken as Islamic culture.
Now I’m not saying that these local customs and traditions are haraam, or forbidden, in Islam. I’m just saying that most of them have no basis or foundation in the Islamic religion. For certain, some local practices are definitely forbidden in Islam. And some of them are okay.
But we should know which parts of Islamic art and culture are truly Islamic and which parts are not.
And Allah knows best.