The Position of Culture in Islam – Dr Umar Faruq Abd-Allah

Is Islam and the culture mutually exclusive? Or can Islam enrich an existing culture?

What is a Cultural Imperative?

As Dr. Umar Faruq Abd Allah explains, good cultural conventions have the power of law. They are given the same priority that law has, as long as they do not actually contradict Islamic law. Unfortunately, this is an idea that we have lost over the past 200 years.

This does not, of course, mean that we begin to drink alcohol if we come to a culture in which alcohol is prevalent. This only applies to cultural practices which agree with the rules we follow as Muslims. What this means is that Muslims are never aliens, no matter where they go. This was the way Muslims lived for a thousand years. This is why scholars called Islam a crystal clear river; because it is pure and clear, reflecting the color of the bedrock.

Therefore, if the culture was Chinese, Islam would look Chinese. If the culture was Indian, Islam would look Indian. If it goes to Europe, Islam would look European–such as Bosnian culture, which was a beautiful European Muslim culture, destroyed during the genocide.

Story of the Ethiopians in the Masjid

In the time of the Prophet Muhammad, Allah bless him and give him peace, a group of Ethiopians came to Medina to meet their Prophet for the first time. They fasted the month of Ramadan, and on Eid day, they celebrated with the people of Medina. Filled with joy, they began singing in the masjid, beating drums and dancing with spears. When Umar ibn al Khattab tried to stop them, thinking that it was disrespectful behaviour, the Prophet intervened and told the Ethiopians to keep playing.

This teaches us that African Muslims remain Africans. Just because they become Muslims, does not make them any less African.

The Mosques of China

In China, there are many mosques that beautifully reflect the cultural customs of those times and places. For example, in the city of Shiyan in Northeastern China, there is a mosque with a rather short minaret. In China at that time, the Chinese culture did not like tall buildings in the central Confucian area. To respect that, the Chinese Muslims built a minaret that suited their purpose, but was in line with the cultural customs at that time. In addition, the mosques were surrounded by the gardens with the traditional Chinese designs, designed to bring peace and comfort to the heart. By passing through the gardens, people became prepared to enter the mosque ready and focused for prayer.
Beyond architecture, Chinese Muslims used their culture in many others ways. For example, they refined Arabic calligraphy in a way that suited the Chinese pen, writing phrases like, “There is no God but Allah,” and the 99 Names of God, from top to bottom, using the unique Chinese brush strokes.

Indonesia and Malaysia

The first mosques in Indonesia and Malaysia were built with the structures of the Sacred Mountains in mind. These structures were compromised of four pillars, and three or more layers of roofing, and were always used to built temples. By using these structures to build their mosques, the Muslims were able to have a mosque that was respected as a sacred place in line with the customs at the time. This did not mean that their religion was compromised in any way.
They would also build huge drums outside the mosques. In the forest-thick areas, voices could not be heard, and neither could the adhan. The people’s culture had developed a complex drum language, which could be heard for miles. In this way, the Muslims were able to call people to pray with the drums, although they would also call the adhan to fulfill the Sunnah.
There are pools of water in the mosque courtyards, in which the people had to wade through before entering the mosque. In the rice-paddy civilization, the peasants would spend a lot of time in muddy fields, and mud would be spread wherever they walked. Rather that to have an enforcer yelling at people to clean themselves, which would deter them from coming again, the Muslims decided to build the pools instead, which would ensure that the mosque remained clean without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Islam and Culture

Muslims are not cultural predators, and Islam has not come to destroy culture. The governing concept was, “unity in diversity.” Today, cultures are being destroyed through the global mono-culture, which is not a culture. Because of this, usually the way we dress doesn’t carry a specific message of our identity.

Resources for Seekers

Spiritual Artists, Social Media and Third Spaces: An Interview with Mustafa Davis

In this wide-ranging conversation, acclaimed photographer, filmmaker and media consultant Mustafa Davis joins the podcast to discuss the arts, the marketing of Muslim organizations, his own cautionary tale in social media and the third space movement.

Our thanks to ImanWire for this beneficial recording. 

My Parents Disagree With My Choice of Spouse. What Do I Do?

Answered by Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil

Question: Assalam aleykum,

I want to marry a man but my parents disagree because 1) He is a different nationality and my parents do not speak English 2) I want to marry and move away because we cannot practice Islam here. What do I do?

Answer: Assalam alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuh,

I pray this finds you well. May Allah reward you for reaching out to us.


Dear sister, this is a delicate situation.

Your parents love you, want what is best for you, and are afraid of the unknown. In their minds, marrying within the culture worked for them, and they believe that this will work for you. Unfortunately for them, their plan will not work for you, because your worldview, priorities and values are different to theirs.

This is a heartbreaking paradox that plays out in so many Muslim migrant families, all over the world, and especially in the West.


Please consult a compassionate local scholar who can advocate for you and your prospective spouse. Is there a community elder or an elder in your family who can speak to your parents? Most parents find it very difficult to listen to their children, especially when they do not see eye-to-eye about emotionally-charged topics. An older, calm, objective voice would probably do more good.


Please perform the Prayer of Need as many times as you want, and the Prayer of Guidance up til seven times.

The time before the entry of of Fajr is a special time. Use that time to make heartfelt dua.


Please do everything within your power to persuade your parents. In most cases, parents can be won over through patience, wisdom, and excellent character. It may take time, but please persist and do your best to win them over. Perhaps your brother can help to advocate for you.

I do not encourage rushing into marriage without their blessing, because breaking their hearts is a major sin. Marriage is a huge transition, even in the best of circumstances. You will need the love and support of your family, and if they are not on good terms with you, then you risk more than your relationship with them. You risk the happiness of your own marriage. The first year of marriage can be a very trying one, and it is even more difficult without the support of your family.

In the worst case scenario where they continue to oppose your choice of marriage, then please speak to a compassionate local scholar before you decide to marry. This is your absolute last resort, and not your first.

Moving away

Are your parents still in good health? Do you have other siblings who can help to care for them? If so, then it would be permissible for you to move away after marriage, especially because you fear for your deen in your location. Please make it a point to visit them and call them as often as you can. Continue to treat your parents with excellent character.

I encourage you to enroll in these two courses once registration opens:

1) Marriage in Islam: Practical Guidance for Successful Marriages
2) Excellence with Parents: How to Fulfill the Rights of Your Parents


Trust that if Allah has written for you to marry this man, then it will come to pass. No amount of worry and stress will change what is written for you. I encourage you to read Surah Al-Waqiah to help with your provision.

I pray that Allah grants you what is best for you in this world and the next.

Please see:

Love, Marriage and Relationships in Islam: All Your Questions Answered


[Ustadha] Raidah Shah Idil

Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil has spent almost two years in Amman, Jordan, where she learned Shafi’i’ fiqh, Arabic, Seerah, Aqeedah, Tasawwuf, Tafsir and Tajweed. She continues to study with her Teachers in Malaysia and online through SeekersHub Global. She graduated with a Psychology and English degree from University of New South Wales, was a volunteer hospital chaplain for 5 years and has completed a Diploma of Counselling from the Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors. She lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with her husband, daughter, and mother-in-law.

Ethics of Healing – Dr. Ingrid Mattson

We need to step back and look at our community holistically and ask ourselves: is this a healthy community? How is the Muslim community at a global and domestic level?

Join Dr. Ingrid Mattson at an interdisciplinary theological conference regarding the relationship between ethics and medicine and its direct impact on the Muslim community and  polity. She invites the listener to ponder on the relationship between ethics and medicine in the context of the community.

“As Muslims we are a work in progress as a community. Being a Muslim is fundamentally about becoming rather than being and there are times when we are in flux more than certainty and uncertainty makes humans anxious,” states Dr. Mattson.

Our age and communities have become defined by change and mobility. We have never been as mobile as we have been today, and it’s not going to end.  If there is no accurate understanding of the demographics of a particular community there can easily be corruption and wrong-doing even if it stems from well-intentioned minds and hearts. What defines our regulatory bodies? Our policies and concerns? What connects our communities in the hospital setting?

“Chaplains are equipped to be the bridge between medicine and ethics,” declares Dr. Mattson.

Chaplains bring the healing presence that the Prophet (SAW) represented. They bring full presence and the human touch. We have evidence that touch is healing, presence is healing and caring is healing and that is the tradition of the Prophet (SAW). These actions are the healing and human presence in the medical setting.

We are grateful to Initiative on Islam and Medicine for the video. Cover Photo by  Alex E. Proimos


Resources for Seekers :

Are Culture and Religion Mutually Exclusive? Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah (3-part series)

What is the connection between religion and culture? What does Islam say about the place of culture in our lives? Do cultural norms conflict with religion, or do they have some sort of authority? And what do art, science, and history have to do with it all?

In this illuminating three-part series, Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah debunks some of the most commonly perpetuated myths on the supposed clash of culture vs. religion.

We are experiencing a crisis of knowledge, he says. The Muslims historically all sought knowledge with vigour, and that was what solidified their identities. This led to the wealth of culture and civilization that they became famous for.

But how do we translate that identity into modern life? Watch now and find out!

Interested in learning more about Islamic thought and civilization? Sign up for Ustadh Ali Ataie’s course The Bible Through a Muslim Lens, offered completely free as per our commitment to Knowledge Without Barriers.

Resources for seekers on culture verses religion

Photo by Daniel Mennerich

Why Halloween Should Be Off The Cards – Imam Zaid Shakir

When Imam Zaid Shakir wrote a Facebook Post on why Halloween practices and customs should be avoided by Muslim families, he caused quite a stir. In response, he wrote this lengthier explanation that is truly worth reading:

halloween-imagineMy recent post on Halloween has created quite a stir. That being the case, I would like to clarify a few issues. First of all, the intended audience of that original post was Muslims, some of whom had asked me to write something on the issue. It was not intended for “pagans,” nor was it intended to question their beliefs, per se. Rather, I was calling into question the actions of some Muslims who engage in practices informed by beliefs alien to our religion.

Secondly, the style and brevity of what I wrote was dictated to a large extent by the fact that it was a Facebook status, and not an academic dissertation. I say this in response to the complaint by some that the post was not rigorous enough, or that it did not display the full, nuanced complexity of the Muslim legal tradition. As our scholars say, “Every situation has an appropriate level of speech.”

Finally, relating to the final line of the original post, which stated, “Halaloween is Haram.” Many question such a bold declaration and ask for the reasoning behind it. That is what I intend to provide in the balance of this essay even though it will be very lengthy. I will admit from the outset that I meant Halloween is Haram, and carelessly used the term “Halaloween” metaphorically to indicate the actions Muslims may undertake imitating the practices of other communities around Halloween, i.e. Halloween parties, wearing costumes etc. This issue will be discussed later.

To begin with, Halloween began as a religious festival dedicated to Samhain, the Lord of Death in some ancient European belief systems. Various sources relate that on October 31st Samhain would dispatch spirits to attack and harass humans. As time passed, in those parts of the world celebrating this festival, this day and its night became increasingly darker, characterized by belief in wandering ghosts, goblins, zombies, vampires, black cats, bats, demons and other symbols of the occult and underworld. The day also gradually took on significance for Devil worshippers, some of whom came to believe that October 31st was a day the Devil’s help could be invoked for divinations (seeking knowledge of future events) concerning marriages, health issues, financial decisions, etc.

The first objective of the Divine Law (Maqasid al-Shari’ah) is the preservation of monotheism and the worship of Allah. Pursuant to this objective, idolatry in all of its manifestations has been forbidden in Islam, as well as actions and practices described by our scholars as constituting disbelief or those that are seen as leading to disbelief. Belief in a God of Death, Samhain, who has the power to act independently in creation, is idolatry and disbelief with Muslims, and therefore Haram, or forbidden.

Similarly, to invoke the Devil for any purpose, is also idolatry and disbelief.

Allah mentions in the Qur’an, “They call on none other than the rebellious Satan, Allah has cursed him (4:116-117).”

To specifically invoke Satan for purposes of divination is an even more egregious form of disbelief.

Our Prophet, peace be upon him, has mentioned in this regard, “Whoever affirms the truthfulness of a sorcerer, an astrologer or a fortune-teller has rejected faith in what has been revealed to Muhammad.”

Again, this rejection of faith is compounded when the one allegedly informing of the future is Satan.

Satan’s role in Halloween rituals and symbolism is also found in the tradition of the Jake o’ lantern. The candle in the Jack o’ lantern, symbolizes Irish Jack trapped in Purgatory between Heaven and Hell. The origin of the light in the Jack o’ lantern, now usually represented by a candle, began as a burning coal thrown by Satan to Jack after he was turned away from the gates of Hell. Jack placed the glowing coal into a turnip, which would become a pumpkin in North America, and used it as a lamp to illuminate his path as he wandered through the earth, trapped between Heaven and Hell. After Jack’s passing, for some, the candle came to represent the Jack himself. In any case, to adorn the interior or exterior of our homes with such a symbol is something forbidden in Islam, because it involves use of religious symbolism which has no relation to proper Muslim teachings.

An alternative explanation of the significance of the Jack o’ lantern, that it is used to ward off the evil spirits that abound on Halloween, is also idolatrous to Muslims, as it is attributing to the creation powers that are reserved by God. Namely, the Jack o’ lantern warding off evil. We affirm as one of the foundations of our creed that it is Allah, Almighty God, who is the sole source of all benefit or harm, not anyone or anything in the creation.

Almighty God mentions in the Qur’an, “If Allah tests you with something you deem harmful there is no one who can relieve you from it except He… (6:17).”

I mention this to say that a religious celebration infused with various layers of idolatry and Satanic influences is clearly forbidden in Islam. To reiterate, Halloween, in its original conception, practice and symbolism is forbidden in Islam. That being the case, it becomes incumbent on those advocating Muslim participation in the practices of Halloween to demonstrate, with evidence (Dalil), that the day and night are free of the idolatrous and Satanic influences that evolved around it.

If it can be shown that such influences continue to be present, then the ruling of those practices and the symbolism surrounding them being forbidden (Haram) stands. This line of reasoning is consistent with a legal concept known as the continuity of the original ruling (Istishab al-Asl). Again, if it can be shown that Halloween continues to involve idolatrous beliefs or practices which clearly constitute disbelief by the standards of Islam, then the original ruling of such practices being Haram or impermissible to partake in, stands.

We know that Halloween continues to be a religious holiday celebrated by those whose beliefs are antithetical to those of Muslims. Samhain, the festival which gave birth to Halloween, is currently celebrated October 31st each year by Wiccans and Satanists, and is the highest of all their holidays. A witch has been quoted in USA Today as saying, “Christians don’t realize it, but they’re celebrating our holiday with us. …We like it.” The symbols of darkness, evil and idolatry, as we Muslims understand them: ghosts, goblins, witches, demons, vampires, etc. continue to be associated with this day by those groups who celebrate it in ways consistent with its ancient origin. Hence, the original ruling concerning it, as mentioned above, stands.

As for the argument that one’s intention (niyya) is the determinant of whether Halloween is lawful or unlawful, this is a baseless. Specifically, a good intention cannot render an unlawful action, lawful. Our scholars have captured this concept in the following expression, an-niyyatu’l hasana la tubarriru al-Haram. Hence, a good intention, such as the desire that our children not feel out of place on this day among their peers who may not be Muslim, cannot justify involvement in practices and with symbolism that are forbidden in our religion.

Something unlawful can only be rendered temporarily lawful by absolute necessity and not by one’s whims or intentions. Hence, the legal maxim, “Absolute necessity renders the unlawful temporarily lawful (al-Darura tabihu’l Mahdhurat).” For example, if one is threatened with starvation and the only food available is pork, it is temporarily permissible to eat the pork, something normally forbidden, in order to sustain one’s life. Once the absolute necessity justifying the consumption of pork passes, it is no longer permissible. No one can claim that celebrating Halloween is an absolute necessity, which could, in their view, justify it being lawful. Furthermore, no one could claim that it is a need (Hajah), or beneath that, in terms of legal justification, an embellishment (Tahsiniyya).

Some claim that Halloween is an American custom and custom is a legal consideration (al-‘Ada Muhakkamah). This maxim has no relevance here. Custom is only a legal consideration when it does not contradict or conflict with established rulings or principles of Islam. This is clearly not the case with Halloween, which conflicts with many Islamic rulings and principles, as we have shown. Therefore, one cannot claim its permissibility based on custom.

A related idea is that the symbols of Halloween, some of which we have mentioned above, and all of which have been incorporated into the costumes commonly worn on the day and night of October 31st, no longer have any religious or idolatrous significance. Contrary to this claim, as we have mentioned above, these symbols continue to be part of active religious ceremonies undertaken as part of extant Wicca and Satanist rituals. This renders those symbols and the practices and costumes associated with them off limits for Muslims.

There is another legal principle that becomes relevant here, namely, “Being pleased with disbelief is itself disbelief (Al-Rida bi’l Kufr, Kufr).” In this area of legal thinking the crux of the ruling of disbelief is something that is intangible, namely, pleasure. This intangible quality is found in the concept, “Business is predicated on mutual pleasure (Taradin) between the contracting parties.” In areas such as this, the intangible quality has to have a tangible manifestation in order for the ruling to be meaningful. In the case of business, mutual pleasure is expressed by an offer and acceptance (Ijab wa qabul). Contemporarily, this is accomplished through offering money and accepting a receipt, signing a contract, a handshake or other tangible actions largely defined by custom.

Pleasure with disbelief is likewise expressed through tangible manifestations. In the case of Halloween, such actions as wearing costumes representing skeletons (dead spirits returning to life), witches, zombies, sorcerers, vampires or fairies, placing Jack o’ lanterns on one’s doorsteps, choosing October 31st for “Halaloween” parties, trick or treating and other actions can all be interpreted as expressions of pleasure with Kufr. That being the case, even if a Muslim disagrees with Halloween or “Halaloween” being Haram, it is something he or she should avoid out of fear of involvement in practices or accepting symbolism that can be viewed as expressions of pleasure with disbelief.

Were we to accept for the sake of argument that Halloween is an innocent, commercialized holiday (which opens an entirely different can of worms) an insightful scholar would still likely find it something to be forbidden, based on the concept of blocking lawful means to unlawful ends (Sadd al-Dhara’ia). This idea holds that if something that is lawful in and of itself will likely become a mean to something unlawful, then that otherwise lawful mean becomes unlawful.

In our society, which is becoming increasingly un-Godly, occult practices and symbolism are systematically becoming normalized as part of the socio-cultural landscape. Seemingly innocent and innocuous manifestations of Satanism and the occult are becoming recruitment tools into darker and more dangerous beliefs and practices. In my estimation, which is shared by many others, Halloween, as it is commonly practiced and understood, is one of those seemingly innocent and innocuous manifestations of the nefarious forces that are subtly leading many Muslims, as well as others, to engage in practices which would have been unthinkable a generation ago. Any door with the potential to lead to those dark spaces must be slammed shut.

Saying this is not to deny that there are many aspects of the cultural life of our society that Muslims should and actually do proudly embrace. However, in my view, Halloween must not be one of them. Furthermore, a “Halal” Halloween, or Halaloween, will not protect our children from Halloween’s pervasive influence. As George Lakoff explains in his seminal book, “Don’t Think of an Elephant,” if you tell a person to refuse to think of an elephant, the first thing he or she will do is to think of an elephant. If everything in our schools, mass media, theaters (it is not coincidental many of our darkest horror films are centered around Halloween) stores and billboards are bombarding us, and more significantly, our children, with images and messages filled with the traditional symbols of Halloween, having our children engage in a Halal version will not stop them from thinking about the “real thing,” especially when the “real thing” is so pervasive in our culture.”

We need to be honest with our children and tell them unambiguously that we are Muslims and there are some things we do not believe in or practice because they are antithetical to our religious teachings. The Jehovah’s Witness, Hasidic Jews, the Amish and others do so with great force and clarity. Tawhid, or upholding Divine Oneness, lies at the core of our religion. If it is compromised our religion will soon follow. We must assiduously guard our faith, especially during these perilous times.

In conclusion, neither this nor the original Halloween post are meant, as some have implied, to be dismissive of the position or opinions of others. Nor are they meant to be offensive. I am only trying to warn my Muslim brothers and sisters of a great danger that is creeping up on our community. I believe in open discussion and freedom of opinion, but I do have strong positions on many issues. That does not necessarily make me right, nor does it make someone holding an opposing position wrong. This is how I see this particular issue, as unambiguously Haram, at many different levels, however, I respect the position of those who may see it differently. I also do not wish for anyone to take my position on the issue of Halloween as a blanket condemnation of all western holidays. Each one has to be considered on a case-by-case basis, as each is unique and distinct. May Allah guide us all to what He loves and to His good pleasure.

Imam Zaid Shakir
New Islamic Directions

Sh. Hamza Yusuf: Islamophobia Production and Re-Defining Global “Security” Agenda for the 21st Century – Video

Sh. Hamza Yusuf: Islamophobia Production and Re-Defining Global “Security” Agenda for the 21st Century


An important lecture by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf on Islamophobia, at University of California, Berkeley, Boalt Law School.