Religion Vs. Culture: Where does Islam fit?
Do Muslim minorities in non- Muslim countries practice one Islam? Or are there multiple Islams such as Spanish Islam, Canadian Islam, American Islam, French Islam, or Italian Islam? This question becomes necessary when we see new Muslim immigrants to non-Muslim countries holding tight to their home traditions and customs in a defying attempt to preserve their religion. This approach results from failing to realize the difference between the two folds of Islam: unity and diversity.
When it comes to belief, doctrine and practice, Islam is one and unites all Muslims across the globe on the basis of the Quran and Prophetic sunnah which form the foundational bedrock of the Islamic Shari'ah.
Muslims around the globe resort to these scriptural texts and sources and adopt the religious practices and rituals of Islam in a harmony and unity that consolidate them into one faithful ummah regardless of their cultural background, ethnic origin or national identity.
The dynamic part of Islam comes in the form of diversity and manifests itself in two levels. The first level is interpretational diversity of scriptural texts. It is this diversity that led to the establishment of the various schools of jurisprudence. The second level of diversity is cultural. The fact is that the principles of Islam, when it comes to social affairs and dealing with people, has always been guarded with and subject to cultural traditions and customs. Throughout Islamic history, Muslims in Africa and Asia maintained their way of life without transgressing the principles of Islam and kept the Shariah intact. A process of cultural selection went underway to keep what did not contradict Islamic principles. Consequently, Muslims in their different societies did not abolish their cultural practices altogether and this is evident with Arab Muslims, Turks, Asians and Africans.
Western Muslims are no different as they are trying to create a Western Islam that fits the Western culture yet preserves Islamic principles. This process encourages us to observe our cultural practices with a critical eye, selecting only those cultural practices that do not contradict Islamic principles and that respect its religious creed. Separating between culture and religion is not an easy job especially for the first generation Western Muslims though it is easier for the second and third generations since they were born and raised in the host country and are more apt to adopt its culture and absorb its language. This may result in a generational conflict because new generations are not satisfied with some of the elements of the culture their parents carried from their country of origin. These elements are seen by younger generations as both un-Islamic and contradictory to the culture of the host country that they are more familiar with. This process of acculturation and cultural integration occurred in many countries where Muslim minorities reside. The new Muslim generations in Europe and the US are fully embracing Islamic principles, adhering to their Western culture and equally proud of their European and Western heritage.