As an Australian Italian Muslim, when I see issues in the media or people in general discussing events about Islam, it bothers me that these issues are getting depicted as “problems with Islam,” the religion, when they are in reality problems of culture or habitual traditions of some Muslim-majority region.
I think most Australians would agree with me that it would be unfair to judge a religion (whether Islam, Christianity or any other religion) by the practices it does not condone.
The religion of Islam does not condone and actually condemns practices such as dishonourable “honour killings,” racism, oppression of women, banning women from obtaining an education, and many other un-Islamic practices that make their way to mainstream media. If a Muslim or a Muslim majority region practices these despicable acts, it is not because of Islam, but despite Islam.
On numerous occasions, I have observed peoples comments stating that culture dictates religion, yet culture and religion are two separate elements.
Take for example the recent event of Muslim women in Saudi Arabia who are being discriminated by having their activist rights denied, on trial or silenced for their activism.
Yet, in Islam, women scholars taught judges and Imams. The Prophet’s (s) wife Khadija was his employer at the time.
Allah also states in the Qur’an (4:1) that “men and women are created from one soul.” The verse in Qur’an here starts off with absolute equality in creation. If Allah has made men and women equal, then who are we to deny the rights of women as can be seen in the Saudia Arabia.
Interestingly, some scholars in Islam have further stated that there is a divergence between what Islam says about the rights and status of women and the way in which legislation and state policies in Muslim countries deal with the issue.
In America, for instance, a vast amount of authors and “experts” have wrongly attacked the religion of Islam for the cultural practices of Muslims in certain places in the world.
Polls have shown that about 70% of the American public acknowledges being unfamiliar with Islam. Hence, it is not a surprise that most Americans cannot distinguish Islamic religious practices from cultural practices by Muslim majority countries.
In order to explain the differences between Islam and culture, I think it will be useful if you could imagine a Catholic family in Australia, another Catholic family in Italy, and a third Catholic family in Africa. Although these three families have the same religion, they will all have different cultures.
They will eat different types of food and will listen to different types of music. Their style of clothing will be different and, of course, their languages will be different.
More than likely, they will have certain cultural and traditional practices that are not derived from Catholicism. I think the same would be true for Jewish families in the world too.
In the same way, Muslims from different parts of the world will have varying cultures even though they share the same religion. For many Muslims, as with other people of other faiths, their cultures play a strong role in their lives.
Many of the countries that are commonly called “Islamic countries” which in reality are merely “Muslim majority countries” that practice Islamic/non-Islamic practices.
More than 10 centuries ago, when Islam became the predominant religion of the part of the world that today is Muslim majority, those countries already had very distinct and very patriarchal cultures, as many remain patriarchal today.
After embracing the religion of Islam, many of these cultures abandoned some of the pre-Islamic cultures and traditions, but they hung on to many others.
So then, what is an Islamic practice? Islamic practices and beliefs are those that have roots in the Qur’an (which Muslims believe to be the last and unchanged revelation from God) and the Sunnah (traditions) of Prophet Muhammad (s).
Any belief or practice, even if common among some Muslim majority country does not go back to the Qur’an or the Sunnah, is not an Islamic belief or practice.
Just as it is unfair to judge Christianity for un-Christian and inappropriate actions of some who call themselves Christians, it is unfair to judge Islam, by un-Islamic and inappropriate actions of some who call themselves Muslims.
Just as every action of every Christian is not necessarily based on Christianity, every action of every Muslim is not necessarily based on Islam.
I would love to just urge people all around the world to not judge everything they see on TV and in the same way too, to not judge Islam by the media and cultural news that finds its way to their TV sets.