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Are You Maintaining Your Culture After Conversion?

Datum: 15 april 2014 | Waar: OnIslam.net

For those who are not born into Islam but accept it as a religion, their choice has a profound and significant impact in their day to day life.

Islam is not just a religion that affects the heart and mind, but a religion that requires a great amount of deeds as well; not only to discontinue to perform some deeds, like committing adultery or consuming alcohol, but also to start to perform acts of worship to the Creator and acts of kindness to the creation.

The acceptance of Islam therefore has a direct impact on the entire day of the believing man and woman, from the early morning prayer to all the deeds and interactions he or she has up until sunset and beyond.

The changes the acceptance of Islam encompasses are so numerous, that sometimes we lose sight over what it should or should not alter. We sometimes start doing new things we don't have to and abandon what we could have kept.

When we were being invited to Islam, the da'ee (the one who invited us to Islam) explained to us that Islam is not a religion for Arabs only. We started to read the Quran and read that Allah says:

{And in no way have We sent you except as a constant bearer of good tidings and a constant warner to the whole of mankind; but most of mankind do not know.} (34:28)

Also, we started to learn about the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who stated in his farewell sermon:

"There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab and for a non-Arab over an Arab, nor for the white over the black nor for the black over the white except in God-consciousness."

Yet, now that we have accepted Islam and are trying to shape our day to day life, our deeds and even our personal identity based upon our newly accepted religion, we are constantly being affected by Arab culture.

This because either the people in our countries who have invited us to Islam are of Arab decent or because all of the material we are gathering to learn about our new religion was written and produced (and later translated) in the Middle-East.

We watch the movie 'Ar-Risallah' (The Message) and read about The Biography of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the setting is the dessert of the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, the Quran itself is in Arabic and we are now adding Arabic words to our vocabulary, greeting each other with the words 'asalamu alaikum'.

Don't get me wrong; this in itself is not a problem! But sometimes, we see that we progress too far while reshaping our lives. Yes, we throw away all the prohibited items within our household, but we replace them with new items. And before we know it, we find ourselves living in houses with an Arabic couch, cooking Moroccan soup while watching Egyptian soaps on TV. This is ridiculous.

Accepting Islam as a Lifestyle
We have to be fully aware of the implication of accepting Islam as a lifestyle. Islam is much more than just 'a religion', as it impacts more areas than just the heart and mind.

But while accepting this lifestyle, we have to make sure we don't lack purity in our approach; the purity to accept that which is part of Islam, even if it might be difficult or appears to be a challenge at first, but also purity not to attribute contemporary Arabic cultural elements to our religious endeavor, especially those contemporary Arabic cultural elements conflicting with Islamic principles.

For a convert to Islam to stop smoking cigarettes is a good thing, but to start smoking shisha 'because he is now a Muslim' is ridiculous. For a convert to start listening to Arabic pop music 'because he is now a Muslim' is ridiculous. For a convert to now put paintings of desert landscapes on his wall 'because he is now a Muslim' is ridiculous.

This is not only a problem because it springs from a misunderstanding of what Islam is all about, but also because it may harm your physical wellbeing. Taking Islam as a cultural identity instead of a religious identity also causes you to abandon that which makes you who you are. This might even afflict your steadfastness in the future.

Maintaining Your Cultural Identity
Islam clearly identifies what is good or even required in life and what is bad or even prohibited in life. It sets clear boundaries that one should respect and maintain. But within those boundaries, Islam still gives you the freedom to be who you really are. All parts of the culture which you grew up in - humor, architecture, cuisine, clothing, preferences, social ethics etc - form who you are as a person. And for everything that is within the boundaries of Islam, there is no need to change.

For instance: I am Dutch. I live in a country of windmills, big open spaces without hills. The fields are filled with cows and sheep. We drink lots of milk. We drink tea without sugar. We put cheese on our bread, mayonnaise on our French fries. We eat around six o'clock. We wait in line. We wash our cars almost every weekend. We wear suits without ties. We go for a walk in nature. We watch soccer. All of this is my cultural identity. It forms who I am. Islam is my religion, Holland is my home. If I deny this, I am lying to myself.

If a convert tries to abandon his cultural identity, he or she makes it very hard for themselves with nothing to gain. The acceptance of Islam should be based on purity. It is to accept Islam as it is, nothing more. And yes, one should abandon what we consider unlawful, but nothing more. Trying to become an Arab is not a requirement; it is also an unnecessary difficulty. You will fail if you try to be or become that which you are not.

Those who mistakenly mix accepting Islam to denying their own cultural identity often fail at the latter, with damaging consequences to the former.

We should challenge ourselves and those around us to approach Islam with purity and not to mix it with contemporary cultural elements.

So be yourself and don't leave the many positive sides of your culture behind!