Differentiating Islam from culture

The religion of Islam does not condone – and it actually condemns – practices such as dishonourable “honour killings,” racism or tribalism, oppression of women, banning women from obtaining education, and many other un-Islamic practices that make its way to the sensationalised news. If a Muslim, or a Muslim-majority region, practices these despicable acts, it is not because of Islam, but despite Islam.

The religion of Islam has wrongly been attacked on numerous occasions for the cultural practices of Muslims in certain places in the world. There are certain areas of overlap: People’s religion influences their culture, and culture influences how they practice their religion. But in Islam there is a clear distinction between the two.

Muslims from different parts of the world have varying cultures even though they share the same religion. Many of the countries that are commonly called “Islamic countries” – which in reality are merely “Muslim-majority countries” – practice an amalgam of Islamic practices and pre-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 hang on to many others.

For instance, consider cooking certain types of food and distributing them among the poor at certain times of the year; visiting graveyards and the shrines, and praying for the deceased. These practices performed by Muslims are given an Islamic dimension, Yet they are not Islamic practices.

So then, what is an Islamic practice? Islamic practices and beliefs are those that have roots in the Quran and the Sunnah (traditions) of Prophet Muhammad. Any belief or practice, even if common among some Muslim – majority country, which does not go back to the Quran or the Sunnah, is not an Islamic belief or practice. It is unfair to judge Islam by un-Islamic and inappropriate actions of some who call themselves Muslims. Every action of every Muslim is not necessarily based on Islam.

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