Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education

The Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education (NFIE) is a non-profit, tax exempt, religious and educational organization dedicated to serve Islam with a special focus on Tasawwuf(Sufism),

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Islam and the Cultural Imperative - Dr.Umar Faruq Abd-Allah - Nawawi Foundation

For centuries, Islamic civilization harmonized indigenous forms of cultural expression with the universal norms of its sacred law. It struck a balance between temporal beauty and ageless truth and fanned a brilliant peacock’s tail of unity in diversity from the heart of China to the shores of the Atlantic. Islamic jurisprudence helped facilitate this creative genius. In history, Islam showed itself to be culturally friendly and, in that regard, has been likened to a crystal clear river. Its waters (Islam) are pure, sweet, and life-giving but—having no color of their own—reflect the bedrock (indigenous culture) over which they flow. In China, Islam looked Chinese; in Mali, it looked African. Sustained cultural relevance to distinct peoples, diverse places, and different times underlay Islam’s long success as a global civilization. The religion became not only functional and familiar at the local level but dynamically engaging, fostering stable indigenous Muslim identities and allowing Muslims to put down deep roots and make lasting contributions wherever they went. By contrast, much contemporary Islamist1 rhetoric falls far short of Islam’s ancient cultural wisdom, assuming at times an unmitigated culturally predatory attitude. Such rhetoric and the movement ideologies that stand behind it have been deeply influenced by Western revolutionary dialectic and a dangerously selective retrieval and reinterpretation of Islamic scripture in that light. At the same time, however, the Islamist phenomenon is, to no small degree, a byproduct of the grave cultural dislocation and dysfunction of the contemporary Muslim world. Culture—Islamic or otherwise—provides the basis of social stability but, paradoxically, can itself only flourish in stable societies and will inevitably break down in the confusion of social disruption and turmoil. Today, the Muslim world retains priceless relics of its former cultural splendor, but, in the confusion of our times, the wisdom of the past is not always understood and many of its established norms and older cultural patterns no longer appear relevant to Muslims or seem to offer solutions. Where the peacock’s tail has not long since folded, it retains little of its former dazzle and fullness; where the cultural river has not dried up altogether, its waters seldom run clear.
Human beings generate culture naturally like spiders spin silk, but unlike spiders’ webs the cultures people construct are not always adequate, especially when generated unconsciously, in confusion, under unfavorable conditions, or without proper direction. Unsurprisingly, Muslim immigrants to America remain attached to the lands they left behind but hardly if ever bring with them the full pattern of the once healthy cultures of their past, which—if they had remained intact—would have reduced their incentive to emigrate in the first place. Converts overwhelmingly African-American—are often alienated from their own deep indigenous roots and native cultural sensibility through the destructive impact of culturally predatory Islamist ideologies from abroad.
All the same, Muslims in America have been silently forging sub-cultural identities over recent decades around our mosques, in Islamic schools, at home, and on college campuses.2 Some of these developments are promising. The upcoming generation has produced a number of notable Muslim American writers, poets, rap artists, and stand-up comedians. We experiment with dress (special dresses from denim, for example) and coin words (like fundamentalist) as parts of our daily speech. Cross-cultural and interracial marriages have increased and show that many Muslim Americans now find themselves more Muslim and American than Indian, Pakistani, Syrian, Egyptian, or anything else. In other ways too, the young generation shows signs of cultural maturity and is connecting on positive levels often unthinkable to their parents. Many of them are comfortable with their American identity, while cultivating a healthy understanding of their religion, pride in their past, connection to the present, and a positive view of the future. But, despite positive signs, much of the cultural creation taking place over recent years around the mosque, school, home, and campus has been without direction, confused, unconscious, or, worse yet, subconsciously compelled by irrational fears rooted in ignorance of the dominant culture and a shallow, parochial understanding of Islam as a counter-cultural identity religion.3 The results—especially if mixed with culturally predatory Islamist ideology—may look more like a cultural no-man’s-land than the makings of a successful indigenous Muslim identity.


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