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Islam and Culture in the West

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The youth of today face a dilemma.A mother walks into an Islamic school and demands that her incoming child be made afraid of God. That the teachers make her child so afraid that she wears Hijab. If she does not wear Hijab, the mother will send her back to the old country.

It is this sort of "guidance" that pushes children away from the spirit of Islam and towards the glitter of dangerous lifestyles that are not only here in the West, but thriving in almost every land.

Many in our North American community have generally failed to see the relationship between culture and religion. When strange, harsh and un-Islamic practices are pushed on young people for years in the name of religion, they rebel. Even if they want to be practicing Muslims, they state that they are against "culture".

We need to recognize that it is not possible to be a human being, to live, without having some form of culture. There is not one person in the history of this world who has not had a culture. The only issue is whether or not the culture of the people is in line with Islamic guidelines.

A great number of our intelligent, sincere children are not receiving guidance that is grounded in Islam and that is also culturally sensitive to this time and place. If they are taught only to obey out of fear and not to see the relevance of Islam to their daily lives, they will fail to see why it is important in an anti-Islamic environment.

What the mother above should have done was develop such love in her child for Allah and His chosen representatives, that the child would naturally gravitate towards wanting to obey Him. When one loves Allah, the person will have the right kind of fear, of displeasing Allah whom he or she loves. When one loves Allah, the person will realize that His commands exist for a relevant reason, they are not like random cultural traditions.

Once a child has attained that love, it then can become difficult to follow those very commands when the community's standard for what is right and wrong is merely what the parents experienced "back home."

Think back to your own childhood. Was there anyone who you remember coming to the center when he or she was small who has now disappeared? Where are they now? What is their culture? More importantly, what have they imbibed as part of their formative years?

To see where many of our young have gone, one does not need to go far. Online, there are Facebook groups such as "Shia Girls Are Hotter" filled with hundreds of disaffected, insolent youth and their rants against Hijab. While a few of these have received a decent upbringing and chosen to reject it, many more have received nothing at all. They look at Islam, and they see it as another form of control rather than the liberating force for good which it is. This is because they do not understand the relationship between Islam and culture.

There is no good in an Islam which is secularized to the point where we simply consider our faith to be a culture or where we are more proud of our culture or nationality than our faith. We as Shias are not a single race or culture in North America, and our readership reflects that.

For all of us to realistically have a chance of moving in the right direction, we need to think long term and base our actions on the guidance of Islam, not mere emotions or national fervor. If we do not do something soon, our coming generations will lose their Islamic identity altogether. Our youth need to have some compromises where cultural elements that conflict with Islamic beliefs are thrown out while the acceptable and relevant parts can be maintained.

After years of giving their children a trashy upbringing, some parents finally want to either throw them at a religious scholar or an Islamic school to "fix" their kids. The parents partook in all sorts of un-Islamic activities, and saw teaching Islam as chore, instead of seeing how Islam could be applied everywhere in their lives – it wasn't just something to teach from a textbook. So the kids lost out. Often times their children had simply hidden their true feelings for a long time until they had a chance to rebel, at which point not only did they not observe Hijab, they completely turned against Islam.

We need to develop religiously orthodox and at the same time reasonable solutions if we are to move forward. Simply taking pride in one's culture is meaningless if it does not take a back seat to Islam.

Our valuable member Islamic Insights has been with us since Friday, 04 January 2008.

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