Saturday, 9 April 2011

Islam, Culture and "rules"

I've been meaning to blog about this for a while, and recently, I saw a tweet that contained a video that got me thinking.

The video is from Jamie's Dream School, in which he got some famous people to teach some kids, in an attempt to make lessons more interesting and interactive. I think that's what the gist was, I never watched any of it though. Anyway, here is the video:

The issues raised in this video:

The aim of this lesson was to teach the children what humans do to each other in the name of religion and belief. He tries to explain to the children why humans do this, and uses the example of burning. This was rife in England when there was a divide between the Protestants and the Catholics.

The whole debate and the points raised during the whole lesson are very thought-provoking and controversial. The bit I want to draw your attention to is 14:44 onwards.

The teacher, David Starkey, repeatedly singles out a pupil named Aysha, of Bengali ethnicity. In this incident, he asks her how important religion is in Bangladesh and the impact it has on her. She explains that religion is very important in Bangladesh and says "decisions revolve around it." She describes it as being very strict, and a set of rules of certain things she can't do, as she is not allowed to go out without a headscarf, eat pork, she can't do certain things, or see certain people.

A pupil mentions "you can't get married to other people, can you?" She doesn't answer, as another pupil asks "do you still do those things now?"

She replies by saying "No, I'm not strict, but my Mum is." Starkey picks up on this and comments that her religion produces great tension within the family, and Aysha agrees.

She then says "obviously it all changes, my Mum's old fashioned, so the things that she does, I won't do, she lives in a different time than me."

Starkey says "You could say (I don't want to be rude), that she's from the middle ages." And Aysha agrees.

Starkey also mentions that the importance of religion in the Islamic world is huge, and for Americans, Christianity is also massively important, and stems the Democrat-Republican political divide.

The lesson concludes that humans either hurt each other, or allow themselves to be hurt by others for two reasons - :

1) They want to be a martyr and die for their cause i.e. their religion

2) They will not denounce their beliefs because they feel what they believe IS the truth

My thoughts on this video: 

There is a massive culture-religion conflict amongst Muslims today, particularly those of Asian ethnicities. They see Islam as something cultural, they view praying, fasting, and wearing the headscarf as something that their parents, relatives and families do "back home", and they see such practises as incompatible with Western society. The reason why they see such practises as incomaptible is because many of their relatives or even their parents themselves stop practising Islam once they come to the UK (or wherever) for a multitude of reasons. Of course, when they were in a Muslim country, it would have been easier to pray or fast, since everyone did it, and there was a sense of community. Those who migrate to the UK can feel isolated, and feel that they have lost their roots; and ultimately, their religion that went with it.

All humans feel the need to have a sense of belonging, and most of us do want to "fit in". So, when our parents came from the Hindo-Pak countries, at first, they were completely alien to the culture and society of the UK. Racism was rife in the UK, with the rise of the "punk-rock" culture and the skin-heads, and the word "Paki" was brandished upon our parents, and they were told to go back to where they came from. They never felt a need to fit in, as they always knew they would be different, even if they shortened their name and wore western clothes. However, their children, us, the next generation, being born in the UK and with British Identities and the infamous "laal passports" felt a need to fit in and integrate with our peers. We wear their clothes, we listen to their music, we watch their TV, so we are in essence, British. But what does this mean to us?

I think Aysha's problem is a problem probably all of us (myself included) faced during our teens. Due to a language barrier, our parents failed to pass the message of Islam on to us, and because some of them stopped practising when they came here, we didn't have a clue how Islam was part of our lives. I was fortunate in that I went to an Islamic High School , I daren't think what would have happened to me otherwise. Parents have a duty to teach their children which practises are Islam, and which are culture, otherwise they'll just assume everything is culture.

There is also a sense of fear amongst Muslims at present. Fear of practising their religion to the fullest extent, because they do not want to be brandished as a "terrorist." Many Muslims from Asian cultures may also feel that Islam is out of their reach, due to the language barrier of not being able to understand Arabic. They read the Qur'an like robots, swaying back and forth in a droning tone, and memorise huge chunks. This is all well and good, but the Qur'an is the literal word of God, and you need to be able to understand what he's saying in order to receive the wisdom and guidance. There are English (and other) translations of the Qur'an that are widely available, and I think it's a duty upon us as non-Arabs to attempt to understand it as best as we can.

Just the other day, I saw a Mother and Daughter get on the bus. The Mum was wearing traditional Shalwar Kameez, with the dupatta pinned securely on her head and had an Asian accent, and the daughter was wearing jeans and a dress. The girl was young, so I'm not judging her in a religious sense, she was only 11, but it just made me think about the cultural clashes between parents who were born and raised in different countries and societies to those of their children.

Aysha feels Islam is a set of rules of things you can't do. It's interesting that she says that, because the society we are moving into, that feels more and more secular, is quick to denounce any kind of religion because of the tension it creates and the freedom it restricts. At uni, I mainly hang around with two Chinese girls- one is very understanding and asks lots of questions, the other asks but when I reply is very shocked and sees my religion as Aysha described- a set of rules and things you can't do. Some say that "rules are made to be broken", and whilst this may be true, these aren't man-made rules, these are instructions from God with divine wisdom behind them. It can be hard for us to ascertain these wisdoms, as mere mortals, but for example, the hijab is meant to be worn for a mutltitude of reasons- the main ones being to ward off evil, to enable modesty, to protect a woman's beauty so that she isn't objectified and seen as a sex-object. The instructions that Allah gives us are not so that we cannot live normally, or that so we are restricted or burdened in any way, there is wisdom behind each thing we can do, and each thing we cannot do.

"  But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not."   (2:216)

I pray that Aysha is guided to the right path, and is enabled to see Islam for what it really is, before it's too late, inshaAllah. I want to leave with Surah Al-Kafirun, to reflect upon.


Shamiya said...

brilliant post! the biggest problem with our culture being mixed with religion is that Islam becomes stereotyped on the basis of the claims of a culture for example forced marriage is a negative aspect of many Asian cultures unfortunately but for some reason it is also associated with Islam so if you're a Muslim it is assumed you may be forced into marriage! pffft it makes me so annoyed...and may Allah (swt) give Aysha the sense to see what her religion really is cos she cleary is mixing it with her culture

PS. Ive been reading your blog posts for quite some time now and you write beautifully m'A! keep the good work up!

la.noir said...

beautiful post, there is not much to add on to it...xx

syieranuar said...

wonderful post Nuby! good job on sharing it with the rest of us here :)miss u girl! xoxo

[[[ x Smiley x ]]] said...

This is a brilliant post! I totally get where you're coming from.
Have you read Western Muslims and the Future of Islam by Tariq Ramadan?

He touches upon this whole cultural issue calling it an identity crisis. Its a wicked book, you must read it!

Hope you're well :)

hijabi hippie hypo said...

@Shamiya: Ameen, I do hope she gets guided. Aw, thank you so much for your kind words! :)

@La Noir: thank you :)

@ Syierah Nuar: Thanks! :) Aw, I miss you too!

@Smiley: No I haven't, will have to check it out, inshaAllah, thanks for the recommendation. Hamdulillah, I'm well, hope you are too lovely :)