Looking around me, after the Jumuah Salaah, at our local masjid here in Dubai, I am struck by the assortment of women, depicted in their dress – the gulf abaya, Indian/Pakistani salwar kameez, north African Jelabiya, brightly coloured Somali wraps, Turkish coats, Indonesian burkhas, Iranian chadors as well as numerous fusion fashionista’s like myself, who love mixing and matching any of the above…!
I am spurred on by this thought, to reflect on the universality of our religion, which can hold under its banner, so many different people, from so many diverse backgrounds. Listening to the banter and chatter of the women around me, I pick up about 7 different languages, the women next to me cannot understand a word of the English I am trying to communicate to her, nor can I comprehend her native Malay, and yet when we stand up to pray, side by side, the Arabic language unites us as no less than sisters! I recall now, that I once read a very apt statement, “Islam is fluid, not flexible, in that it does not need to compromise on its ideals to fit into a society, rather inherent in its makeup is its ability to fit into all societies”.
I take a quick tour of the Muslim world in my mind, and examine the different cultures that compose us, and I marvel at the nature of this religion which is so tolerant as to encompass believers from every corner of the earth. Islam was sent as a universal religion, applicable to all mankind, in their natural states, no matter what culture a person belongs to, if he/she professes the tawheed, we are brothers/sisters of one another. Islam is not here to categorize everyone into the same model, but to enhance the characters and lives of individual men and women, so that they may live and love in harmony with others, nature and Allah.
Allah Himself says “we have created you into different nations and tribes, that you may know each other.” In order to know each other, we must be different, for if everyone were the same, what would there be to know?
Not only in culture are we diverse, but in ideology as well, whether it be theological, philosophical or political. Sadly, these differences have become a weak point in the ummah, and the cause of much turmoil. Muslims the world over need to remember, that no matter our creed, caste, sect or affiliations, the fundamentals of our religion will never change, we all submit to the will of Allah, and proclaim the greatness of the message brought by His prophet (PBUH)
The very success of Islam as a way of life is based upon its acceptance of every human being regardless of ethnicity and custom. Looking into the portals of Islamic History, we see nations which flourished under Muslim rule, precisely because of Islam’s sensitivity towards different cultures. Sheikh Umar al-Muqbil writes “When Islam spread beyond the borders of Arabia; they never called the people to dress like the inhabitants of the Hijaz region. They left each people to their own manner of dress. The reason the Companions did not command the people who entered into Islam to change their style of dress is because norms of dress are regulated by custom and culture, and the only requirement is that the norms of dress should comply with the broad dictates of Islamic law – for instance, the dictates of modesty.”
Another aspect of the beauty of our diversity is marriage. Allah commands us to marry believers, beyond this there is no specification of what color or culture a person should be in order to be eligible, and I delight in meeting Muslims from the most unusual parentage, in the melting pot of cultures that Dubai is, like Brazilian-Palestinian, Chinese-African, etc. This is one of the ways Islam spread, and still spreads, and through intermarriage we find a wonderfully unique way of da’wah.
The fact is, in our dress, language, customs, traditions, interpretations and opinions, we Muslims will always differ. However, we must begin to recognize each other beyond these arbitrary divisions, for example, the next time you see a brother or sister praying differently to the way you learned, take the time to get to know that persons background, instead of judging him/her as ignorant, you will be pleasantly surprised to realize in how many different forms of the same gesture Muslims stand before Allah. Never think of your way as the right and only way, Insha Allah every small stride that each believer takes towards another will be a stepping stone to overcoming internal prejudices that plague our ummah today.
The power of our diversity should be harnessed and channelled into constructive projects, forums and healthy debate, which allow all to be heard and none to be undermined, so that our differences do not become our weakness’s but our strengths! Only after we face our inner demons, can we, as a united ummah, face the world, which so violently opposes our way of peace and patience.
The Prophet (PBUH) has said “Wisdom is the lost property of the believer, where he finds it, he takes it.”