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Is Islam a Religion, Culture, Nationality or Ethnicity?

06 July, 2020
Q Is Islam a religion, culture, nationality, or ethnicity?


Short Answer: 

  • “Islam is a religion, but not in the usual sense.
  • Islam covers all aspects of life, such as politics, economics, and culture.
  • But Islam is not a nationality or an ethnicity. “Muslims come from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, North America, and so on. And each of these groups also participate in their own local cultures.”

Salam (Peace) Dear Karmen,

Thank you for contacting About Islam with your question.

Is Islam a religion?

The answer is that Islam is a religion, but not in the usual sense.

Religion is defined as “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe… usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

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Islam is all of the above, but it is also much more.

Islam is a way of life based on the guidance of God given in the books of God and the example of the prophets of God.

Islam literally means “peaceful submission” (to the One True God).

It was the religion of all the Prophets of God, including Prophet Adam (the first man), Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and the last Prophet—Muhammad (peace be upon them all).

There Is No Secular/Holy Divide in Islam

Usually religion is understood to mean a private relationship between man and God.

While Islam has this relationship with God component, it is also comprehensive in the sense that it involves all the aspects of life as lived by humans.

Islam covers all aspects of life, such as politics, economics, and culture–as it is a divinely revealed religion that gives norms and principles that are meant to govern human life in its varied aspects.

It is for this reason that the misunderstanding of Islam being political or economic arises.

Islam: A Practical, Woke Religion

But the teachings of religion are applicable not only to the private sphere of human life.

For instance, religious values, such as truthfulness, altruism, equality, and fraternity of all humans apply to all spheres of human activities.

So, can we or should we bypass the question of equal justice to all humans in the socio-political or financial areas of human life? Islam says we cannot and should not. 

In fact, Islam does not recognize any kind of separation between religion and life.

A Muslim is required to submit himself completely and without reservation to the will of God in all his affairs.

God Almighty in the noble Quran orders Muslims to declare:

Say, “My prayers and sacrifice, my life and death, are all for God, Lord of all the Worlds” […] (Quran 6:162)

Of course, there are religions that do not worry about the practical application of justice to the affairs of humankind, and promote a spirituality that is alienated from the daily lives of people.

They leave the political and economic realms entirely to the visions of human rulers or politicians who sometimes follow Machiavellian strategies.

Islam teaches that Muslims should always strive to see that justice is done, giving justice a very high value. 

Is Islam a Culture?

From a sociological point of view, “culture” may be defined as the complex of the beliefs, morals, practices, objects, and lifestyle common to the members of a group or society.

In this sense, Islam has common “cultural” elements.

For instance, Muslims all over the world pray five times a day as a congregation in a mosque.

They do not consume alcohol or drugs; and for a whole month they fast during day time, etc.

However, Muslims come from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, North America, and so on.

And each of these groups also participate in their own local cultures (excluding the parts of those cultures that Islam prohibits).

Therefore, Muslims have common Islamic values but are also very diverse.

Also, since Islam covers political and economic aspects of human life, it cannot simply be called a culture.

So, the answer to the question is that Islam is not just a culture, though it possesses and promotes a distinctive culture characteristics of its own.

Is Islam a Nationality?

A “nationality” is usually a legal relationship between an individual and a state. The term normally signifies a geographical boundary.

Islam is transnational and its adherents are spread over different countries in different continents; they are nationals of many, if not most, countries.

It is important to note that Islam does not encourage people to divide based on their country of birth or domicile.

While patriotism for one’s country is fine, Islam is strongly opposed to the idea of nationalism.

This is a vehemently passionate affinity for one’s country that makes a person hate the nationals of other countries, an attitude, not allowed for a Muslim.

While nationalism tends to divide humans; Islam unites humans–preaching One God and one humanity.

Is Islam an Ethnicity?

In the Quran, God Almighty says:

People, We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should recognize one another. In God’s eyes, the most honored of you are the ones most mindful of Him: God is all knowing, all aware. (Quran 49:13)

The above verse makes it extremely clear that Islam would bring the entire human race under the principle of One God, as it does not give any tribe, race, or nation precedence over another.

In short, people’s ethnic identity is not all a criterion for their worth according to Islam.

It should be underscored that the concept of the oneness of humanity based on the Oneness of God is central to Islam.

And Allah knows best.

I hope this helps.

Salam and please keep in touch.

(From Ask About Islam archives)

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