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.

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Finding Allah Through Fasting – Dr Umar Faruq Abd Allah

Dr Umar Faruq Abd-Allah reminds us of the ultimate purpose of fasting Ramadan: to find Allah Most High.

Allah says in the Qur’an:

وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ

I did not create jinn and mankind except to worship Me. (Sura al Dhariya 51:56)

So we were created to do this. We were created to fast. We were created to pray. We were created to pay zakat. We were created to make Ramadan and Hajj and to do other types of worship like dhikr and like vows that bring us close to Allah, and so forth.

Ramadan: The Great Guest

The month of Ramadan is a great month. It is the great guest that we all welcome every year with fervor. And it’s an amazing thing that although this is the time of the year which physically is the most demanding on the Muslims as an Umma, it is the time of the year that we all welcome with great joy and great fervor. And may you find that joy in your heart every single day and every single night of this month.

The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace said, that patience (sabr) or endurance is half of faith. People who do not have sabr, they cannot believe in Allah. We have got to be able to do the things that the belief requires, and we have to be able to avoid the things the belief requires us to avoid. And that is an act of sabr, of patience and perseverance.

The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace said, said that fasting is half of sabr, so therefore that also makes fasting one-quarter of Iman.

The Gate of Worship

And the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace said, said that fasting is the gate of worship (bab al ‘ibada). And he urged his blessed wife Aisha, Allah be pleased with her, to always keep knocking at the door of God. So she asked what is that door. And the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace said, said it is hunger. That is, it is fasting.

So we ask that we utilize this month properly. This is a great month. This is a unique opportunity. And this is what our lives are all about. The month of Ramadhan is of course conspicuously the month of fasting, because that is the main thing that we do during the daylight hours. Of course also it is the month of prayer because during this month standing up in prayer doing tarawih is one of its important elements.

We want to join these two together with the same intensity and never forget that the same wisdom that is there in the divine legislation for fasting is also there in the divine imperative that we pray special prayers in Ramadan.

Making Up for Lost Prayers

Of course we need to remind ourselves that some of us may have had lapses in our lives and there may have been days and years when we didn’t pray. And if that’s the case, then in Ramadan and also at other times of the year, you should have a very diligent program to be making up all the prayers that you missed.

Because this is a debt that you owe to Allah. And in the month of Ramadan, if you have prayers that you haven’t made that’s what you should be doing. You should be making them up and not praying tarawih when others are praying tatarawih. You should be making up your prayers.

This is very, very important: until the obligatory prayers are made up there is no room for voluntary or for supererogatory prayers. You have to focus just on the obligatory prayers and then making up those prayers that have been missed.

You need to sit down you need to make a list. You need to determine reasonably how many prayers did you miss and then begin to work at that. Keep a record of what you’re doing in any case. This is a great month. The act of worship, of prayer, is one that is in its entirety and act of heedfulness.

Practice Heedfulness with Each Breath

In prayer we go into the prayer with Allahu Akbar. We invoke Allah to envelop us in the Hadra, in the presence of His absolute greatness that makes all creation fade in His glory and greatness.

And when we pray we aspire to attain that kind of prayer that the great Sahaba and the great Salaf had in which they would not even be aware of who was on their right hand or their left hand as they prayed and they wouldn’t be thinking about anything but Allah until they came out of it. That’s the nature of prayer.

One of the amazing things about fasting is that fasting doesn’t require that kind of total
heedfulness. The more heedful that you are in fasting then the greater the fast is, the more lofty it becomes, the more fulfilling. So we should be heedful of every breath we take in the days of Ramadan. Every moment that we spend.

The mere fact of giving up our passions for food and drink and marital relations and the other things that are not allowed during the time of fasting, this in itself is sufficient to plant the seed of heedfulness, so that it grows into a great tree that bears fruit.

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"Modern Physics Does Not Believe in Red Apples" – Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah

“Modern physics does not believe in red apples” – Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah quotes the physicist Dr. Wolfgang Smith.

Modern physics says that red apples are only two dimensional in their existence, which we humans perceive as red apples. However, Muslims believe that red apples exist in their third dimension, says Dr. Umar. Great Muslim scientists  of the past studied science for self knowledge, as the believer’s worldview is that we are the blueprint of the world and the world is a blueprint of us. Hence, when we study the world, we are studying ourselves.

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Cover photo by Christopher Woo. Our thanks to Umran TV for making this video available.


What is a Zawiya? An Answer From Dr Umar Faruq Abdallah

Mosque? Seminary? Sufi lodge? What exactly is a zawiya, and what is its function? Dr Umar Faruq Abdallah explains.

Take a tour of a  zawiya in Rosales, and listen to Dr. Umar and other attendees, explain the role of a zawiya, in the historical and modern contexts.

Some consider it a retreat, to spend time with other students and scholars. Some consider it the home that they never had. Others consider it a place of patience and gratitude. Yet others consider it a manifestation of God’s beauty

Yet they all agree on one thing; it’s a place that connects you to God.

Photo by Victor.

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Overwhelmed by Beauty and Truth, by Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah

“No knowledge without practice, no practice without knowledge.” From China to Portugal to Morocco, past Islamic civilizations were filled with great beauty and truth, soothing and nourishing the souls, recounts Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah.

However, modern catastrophic changes destroyed this beauty, by betrayals of the Prophetic message through violations of the truth. Watch Dr. Umar explain the correlation between beauty and truth, and how we can reconnect with our original purpose.

Photo by Mario Duran

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Living Right With This Planet

There are many crimes perpetrated in the modern world. The crimes against this planet, the tyranny of human beings against animals and the natural environment, are probably the worst, argues Dr Umar Faruq Abdallah.

As part of this tour of Malaysia, Dr Umar delivered this unequivocal condemnation of our violation of all that God has bestowed upon us, beginning first with a scathing attack on the mass food production industry.

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Cover photo by Юрий Бухановский.

VIDEO: Dr Umar Faruq Abdallah in Conversation

Dr Umar Faruq Abdallah
For almost forty minutes, Dr Umar Faruq Abdallah answered questions from Nazir Ahmed Ghani of Subh e Noor, a Pakistani channel. The topics ranged from animal rights to sufis who don’t follow Islamic law, if dhikr serves any purpose and how a man’s religiosity affects his treatment of his wife, the intense pressure of being in the modern world and whether scholars are responsible for the disunity in the Muslim ummah. Lots of food for thought.

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