Saidatina Aishah r.a., the Prophet’s wife related to us:
“By Allah! I once saw Rasulullah s.a.w. standing outside my room while some men from Habsyah were inside the masjid, playing with their spears. He then covered me with his shawl so I could watch them.” [Hadith reported by Imam Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
In another narration, it was further explained that this event occurred during the celebration of Eid. It was reported that Umar ibn Al-Khattab r.a. was displeased upon witnessing theatrics of the people of Habsyah taking place in the Prophet’s Mosque.
However, the Prophet s.a.w. instructed Umar to leave them alone, as it was part of their culture.
The story just showcases how Islam remains to be relevant throughout time by being flexible. Islam instils values without forcing people to part from their cultures and traditions. We have witnessed how Islam prospered in the Malay Archipelago, and how these nations embraced the teachings of Islam whilst retaining their cultural identity.
As an example, village or kampong residents were accustomed to beating the beduk – or a large drum – whenever an announcement had to be made. This practice was continued even after the arrival of Islam. Residents began using it as a means to announce prayer times in their area. Another example is how cultural motifs – Malay or Indian origins – were incorporated into the design and construction of local mosques.
The compatibility between tradition and religion is not limited to customs and art – it also extends to include culture as well. A prime example is how family values have always been an essential part of our culture. The young respecting their elders, children supporting and caring for their parents. Such a positive culture is highly valued and encouraged in Islam.
The message of Islam is directed to all of humankind. It is not limited to any certain race, tribe or clan. The worth of a Mukmin is not attributed to his ethnicity or lineage, but the good qualities he exhibits – qualities which emanate from a heart filled with true faith in Allah s.w.t. Allah s.w.t. mentions:
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” [Al-Quran, surah Al-Hujurat, verse 13]
We should not assume that we are unable to be good Muslims without abandoning our culture, customs and traditions. Culture does not decrease, nor does it reduce our faith. We were reminded in the khutbah last week that a positive tradition that brings benefit is one that should be upheld and continued.
Such is Islam. It recognises the role of social norms in a community, to the extent that there exists a maxim in Fiqh which states: ”Custom is authoritative” when no other religious injunction exists.
This principle permits one to feel confident in his faith and be at ease with traditions that do not contradict with Islamic values. Thus, Muslims living in the Malay Archipelago, for example, need not feel as though their faith is incomplete should they not abandon tradition, or because they are living far away from the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.
History bears witness that when Islam arrived at these shores, it did not do away with local customs unless they were in contrary to Islamic values.
Islam teaches us that a person’s love for his religion does not go against his love for his country, race or culture. In a hadith related by Ibn Hibban, a noble Companion named Fudaik asked the Prophet s.a.w. about migrating to Madinah. Fudaik had chosen not to migrate, but to remain with his clan who were not Muslims instead. The Prophet s.a.w. replied:
“O Fudaik, establish your prayers, perform your zakat, and stay away from vices. And continue to reside in the country of your countrymen as you wished.”
In another narration, the Prophet s.a.w. mentioned:
“All land is Allah’s land, and all humankind is God’s servant. And wherever you find goodness, then (you may choose to) settle there.” [Hadith reported by Imam Ahmad].
These hadiths give us guidance that a person can be a Muslim – an exemplary Muslim, at that – wherever he may be. He contributes to the peace and prosperity of any community within which he lives. He is constructive and productive, so much so that his kindness will be appreciated and presence will be felt by everyone around him.
Islam’s flexibility allows a person to fulfil his obligations to Allah s.w.t. while living his life with confidence. Remember, the teachings of Islam were not spread by force, nor were they made to eradicate a culture.
May Allah grant us a true understanding of our beloved religion.
*This article is taken an adjusted from Friday Sermon of Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) on 12 October 2018 / 3 Safar 1440.