Does Islam Restrict Me from Practicing My Culture?

29 June, 2017
Q Hello, I am a non-Muslim, or to be accurate, irreligious. However, by birth I am a Hindu. Being brought up in a Muslim majority country, I was constantly harassed and ridiculed by my teachers, schoolmates and neighbors. In fact in one incident, my home was pelted with rocks then we were yelled at calling us kafirs. Due to this, I hated Islam when I was growing up. I thought that Islam teaches its adherents to behave in such a way without realizing that it is the action of some Muslims that degrades the name of Islam. However, beginning this Ramadan, I had an epiphany, that I should find the truth about Islam which I blindly hated previously. I am beginning to love Islam as I am learning about it. This could be also due to the fact that I am lost spiritually. I was strictly following Hinduism without realizing that idol worshiping is forbidden although it is clearly stated in the Vedas that it is a sin to worship idols. Majority of Hindus also do not read the Vedas or Gita and just follow what is being told to them. On the other hand, when I am researching about the Vedas and Quran, I do find some similarities between them. My question is, does being a Muslim restricts me from practicing my culture? This is because I love my language, my traditional attire, and also my cultural dance. Sorry for my long rantings.

Answer

Salam (Peace) Dear Sharan,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

In fact it is very depressing and sad to know that you were ridiculed and maltreated by your Muslim neighbors for being a non-Muslim. Islam clearly prohibits any disrespect given to others on the basis of their race, color, or beliefs. Allah Almighty in the Quran says:

{O men! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware.} (Quran 49:13)

A person’s real worth is based on their sincerity in following the commandments of God, and not on any external or incidental difference.

As regards race or color, it is something beyond us and we cannot change it. And as for beliefs one can hold on to them or reject them. But no one has any right to compel another to change his or her beliefs.

One can only advise or at most argue with manners with another to alter one’s beliefs. Allah Almighty in His Holy Quran categorically states:

{Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error […]} (Quran 2:256)

We can see that according to the Quran, religious belief is a matter of individual choice:

{Say, “The truth is from your Lord”: Let him who will, believe; and let him who will, reject (it) […]} (Quran 18:29)

We need to congratulate you on your sense of fairness which prompted you to state that it is the misguidance of some Muslims and not the teaching of Islam that prompted them to mistreat you for being a Hindu.

You have discovered that many things people are taught about Hinduism are really against the teachings of the Vedas. This is a fact most Hindus are unaware of. And also you recognize that there are several similarities between the teachings of the Vedas and the Quran.

In fact this points to the common origin of both these scriptures, namely God Almighty. Indeed, Islam means Surrender to the Will of the One True God of the universe, and the rejection of any deity or god or object considered worthy of worship.

Islam was the Religion of all the prophets of God who came to different peoples in different lands throughout history. Indeed, the Holy Quran commands Muslims:

{Say: “We believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, and that which has been vouchsafed by their Sustainer unto Moses and Jesus and all the [other] prophets: we make no distinction between any of them. And unto Him do we surrender ourselves.”} (Quran 3:84)

As Muslims (i.e. people who surrender themselves to Allah), it is our duty to pay equal respect to all the earlier prophets who came to the peoples of other lands in other times, and their followers also should be given due respect. In cases where there is a difference, there could be healthy exchange of ideas or dialogues. 

It is a fact of history that the followers of some of the earlier prophets in course of time lost their way for various reasons, and were misled to worship the idols of “gods” and “goddesses” who were alleged to possess supernatural powers.

It was often believed that these “gods” could be intercessors between people on earth and the True God. Islam most emphatically rejects the belief in such mediators or “gods” and “goddesses”, as such belief amounts to polytheism or idolatry.

Islam is the Way of Life in accordance with the Will of God, and a Muslim is one who follows that way. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the Last of the prophets sent by God; and it was he who was sent from God the perfected Religion of God for mankind.

As for the Hindu culture you wish to practice, there are some aspects that do not agree with the fundamental principles of Islam. We do not say that you should reject all of your present culture. Only the few parts that we are commanded to leave for our own good. 

Once you become a Muslim, your first allegiance is to Allah and His Prophet; and therefore in matters where there is a clear injunction given in the Quran and the Sunnah (Prophetic Tradition), you should follow it. You need to see that no activity of yours invalidates or goes against the explicit teachings of Islam.

You know that many of the Hindu art forms – whether they are paintings, sculptures, music or dance – contain elements obviously antithetical to Islam’s concept of a pure life. A new Muslim is well-advised to abstain from those to get as close to Allah as possible.

As for your native language there is no problem. But in the case of dress or the food you consume, you can keep these custom as long as you dress modestly and avoid haram (impermissible) foods.

You may have noted that many of the Muslims of South India, for instance, speak the same language spoken by their Hindu neighbors, wear the same dress (with modesty), eat more or less the same food (avoiding the haram), and follow more or less the same life style. And they are Muslims by faith and practice.

I hope the foregoing answers your question.

Salam and please keep in touch.

Please continue feeding your curiosity. Find more info in the following links:

https://aboutislam.net/reading-islam/living-islam/maintaining-culture-conversion/

https://aboutislam.net/shariah/contemporary-issues/tariq-ramadan-identity-culture/

https://aboutislam.net/reading-islam/living-islam/islam-one-thing-culture-another/