By Nadeya Hussain –
Religion and Culture. While these two terms can often overlap, it is important to note that they are not interconnected.
In Islam; there is a clear distinction between the two, as there are differences between cultural practices and religious practices.
In the simplest, Religion and Culture can be described as follows:
- Religion – An organised system of beliefs, rules, world views, and rituals based on the belief that there is one God. No culture is barred from practising it.
- Culture – Collective rituals and customs that people share; a way of life.
Although they share a close link, they are two separate concepts.
Islam teaches us to follow the holy book (Qur’an), which is the main book to follow and is the word of God.
We learn about the roles, beliefs, and meanings of Islam and its practices from the Qur’an.
There are practices such as praying five times a day, giving to charity, fasting, pilgrimaging, and maintaining your faith, otherwise known as the “5 pillars of Islam”.
These are the basic teachings of Islam, which are based on our faiths and beliefs.
Culture v Religion
The term ‘Muslim culture’ does not exist. Here’s an example to help explain this.
Three Muslim families live in different countries, but they all practice Islam and follow its values and beliefs. They have, however, distinctly different cultures.
Cultural practices in Turkey, Africa and Pakistan will all be slightly different to each other. Although they follow the same religious rules, the environment they live in means their lifestyles are different.
A specific cultural belief may be acceptable for one family, but another family may have cultural beliefs that are completely different from their own.
An example of a cultural tradition that often gets mistaken for a religious practice are Muslim weddings.
In Islamic tradition, a wedding is a simple ceremony, but as a cultural difference, Muslim families typically celebrate their large weddings over a week-long period instead of one single event.
Here are a few more examples of how the cultural ‘tradition’ differs from religious practices:
- Culture: Men have more rights than women.
- Religion: Men and women have equal rights.
- Culture: A man doesn’t need to provide child support after a divorce.
- Religion: It is obligatory upon the husband, after divorce, to provide for the child’s expenses.
The most important thing to remember is that cultural practices tend to change as time passes, whereas the fundamentals of religion remain constant throughout time. It can’t be changed as it is written in the Holy Book.
Religion can influence a culture and lead to cultural practices, but not all these practices are what is written in the Qur’an and therefore are not consequently religious.
The issue arises when family members adopt a culture from society and pass it on to the younger generation (also known as “shared knowledge”), claiming it to be part of their religion.
In essence, this is where problems occur; when people and the media believe that cultures around the world are based on what the Qur’an says.
For example, honour killings, women being prohibited from driving, and women being restricted from doing ‘men’s jobs’ can be pointed out. As a result, all of this shows women to be marginalised and trapped in Islam. In reality, this is a cultural issue.
In Islam, Muslim women have rights. The Qur’an states: “And for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women” (Qur’an, 2: 228).
These rights, however, are being taken away from women by society and culture. One example could be looking at the fact that women were not allowed previously until 2018 to drive in Saudi Arabia, but in the same land, the wife of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) rode camels.
This validates the assertion that culture is not related to religion.