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Thursday, 26 May 2011

Islamic Civilization and our cultural baggage


Assalamu alaikum. The greatest treasure any nation can boast of is its cultural heritage. Detach a people from their cultural civilization and you will surely destroy them. The word culture has more than 150 different definitions but for the purpose of this write-up I will take the following definition; culture is an integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning, it is a set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group. Undoubtedly as Muslims we are a group and hence there must be commonness in our values, goals, attitudes and practices that give us an identity apart from our acquired individual cultural values otherwise our Islam will surely remain detached from that of the Prophet (saw) and his honorable companions.

Coming from a part of the world that has high and unalloyed attachment to the culture and traditions of its ancestors one cannot escape being cut in the web of intellectual warfare. The battle is always between those that think their acquired cultural baggage has the solution to all their problems and those that really believe that any cultural heritage that has no connection one way or the other with Islamic civilization has to be flushed down the drain.

Today we find ourselves in a society where a thousand and one cultural values are held in high esteem at the detriment of our rich Islamic cultural values and the result is split personalities and undue hardships on the ummah. It will be a mark of insanity for me to list out all these negative values but a few will suffice inshaa Allah.

We are so active in championing the course of our cultural baggage but are quick to disown or frown at our rich Islamic heritage. One of the most important institutions is that of marriage, yet it suffers most when it comes to the issue of doing it in accordance with Islamic culture. Have we ever taken out time to study how our Master (saw) married and got his honorable daughters married out? No, and if yes then to what degree have we related to that golden heritage or how much of it have we actually put into practice? These are questions whose answers are glaringly presented before us.

In my immediate society today the whole concept of marriage from proposal to the wedding ceremony has become something else. So many dodgy traditions have crept into the system and both the bride and the groom’s family have made marriage a thing of show off. So much so that when a pious Muslim boy approaches a Muslim father for his daughter he turns him down all in the name of class-ism. You will find out that in most cases one of the parties to the marriage contract is usually overburdened. Today we have a series of marriage events that are alien to Islamic culture and these events keep fluctuating from one cultural imitation to the other. This could actually be the reason why most eligible and sincere brothers are not married yet. The undue financial stress coupled with many cultural values makes the whole thing difficult to approach.

Sadly, our parents are not helping matters; nay they are sometimes responsible for the failures in our marriages. Let me take you through the marriage of the Queen of Jannah; Fatimah bint Muhammad (saw)
When Fatimah (RA) reached the age of fifteen, proposals for her marriage began to come from high and responsible families. But the Prophet (SAW) remained irresponsive.
‘Ali (RA), who was 21 at the time, says:
‘It occurred to me that I should go and make a formal proposal, but then I thought, “How could this be accomplished, for I possess nothing.” At last, encouraged by the Prophet’s kindness, I went to him and expressed my intention to marry Fatimah (RA). The Prophet (SAW) was extremely pleased and asked, “Ali! Do you possess anything to give her in mahr?I replied, “Apart from a horse and armor I possess nothing.”

The Prophet (SAW) said, “A soldier must, of course, have his horse. Go and sell away your armor.”’
So, ‘Ali (RA) went and sold his amour to Uthman (RA) for 480 Dirham and presented it to Rasulullah (SAW). Bilal (RA) was ordered by the Prophet (SAW) to bring some perfume and a few other things and Anas (RA) was sent to call Abu Bakr, Uthman, Talhah and Zubayr with some companions from the Ansār (RA).When these men arrived and had taken their seats, the Prophet (SAW) recited the Khutbah (sermon) of nikāh and gave Fatimah (RA) in marriage to ‘Ali (RA). He announced, ‘Bear you all witness that I have given my daughter Fatimah in marriage to ‘Ali for 400 mithqāl of silver and ‘Ali has accepted.’ He then raised his head and made du‘ā saying, ‘O Allah, create love and harmony between these two. Bless them and bestow upon them good children.’ After the nikāh, dates were distributed.
When the time came for Fatimah (RA) to go to ‘Ali’ (RA) house, she was sent without any clamor, hue and cry accompanied by Umm Ayman (RA). After the ‘Ishā Salāh, the Prophet (SAW) went to their house, took permission and entered. He asked for a basin of water, put his blessed hands into it and sprinkled it on both  Ali and Fatimah  and made du’ā for them.
The sovereign of both worlds gave his beloved daughter a silver bracelet, two Yemeni sheets, four mattresses, one blanket, one pillow, one cup, one hand-grinding mill, one bedstead, a small water skin and a leather pitcher.

In this simple fashion, the wedding of the daughter of the leader of both the worlds was solemnized. In following this Sunnah, a wedding becomes very simple and easy to fulfill. In my community, a typical marriage involves series of activities that have actually frustrated many sincere people out of marriage. Expressing your willingness to marry attracts financial burden in the name of ‘kudin an gani ana so’ then comes the engagement party, then the almighty ‘kayan lefe’ then ‘kayan na gode’ which include wrappers, jewelry, laces etc where all and sundry is invited to come and have a look and most a times the effort of the innocent suitor goes in vain by the unguided remarks from family, friends and enemies. The build up to the marriage is given more priority than the marriage itself. 

Unfortunately, our parents are also duped into this and they don’t care who the would-be husband is in terms of character what they concern themselves with is the type of social image the marriage will put up in the society. Our sisters are more on the receiving end of the self induced social pressure when it comes to marriage. My innocent question is, what differences has our sisters noticed between those that had a modest marriage ceremony and those that were lavish in their spending? In fact to me the difference is the absence of blessing and true love in the later. When you are more concerned on the flamboyance of the marriage you tend to move away from the main essence of the whole thing and that is character and true love.

Remember that the people for whom you are restless just to impress in your marriage will only spend less than forty eight hours with you and you will ultimately be left with your partner and him/her attitude. And you will agree with me that anything that has no religious antecedence tend to be very flexible and open to all sorts of alterations and additions. What about the ‘Indian night’ and the ‘Arabian night’?  What about the dinner party where men and women mix freely? What are all these things? Are they Islamic? Do they represent Islamic cultural values in terms of marriage? What is wrong with a people whose rich cultural values are well documented and envied by the great civilizations but they themselves are shying away from them? 

It is sad that even when our enlightened sisters who have released themselves from the shackles of mental slavery and cultural imitation step forward to conduct their marriages in line with Islamic culture most parents frustrate their plans. To our parents Allah says:
“O you who believe! Ward off from yourselves and your families a Fire (Hell) whose fuel is men and stones, over which are (appointed) angels stern (and) severe, who disobey not, (from executing) the Commands they receive from Allah, but do that which they are commanded” Q: 66:6. It is not love nor is it a yardstick for a successful marriage that we do things that will displease Allah all in the name of tradition. 

My sisters and my brothers who are yet to get married, take up the challenge of making your marriage a befitting one and worthy of emulation in terms of spending and adhering strictly to the proper etiquette of marriage according to the Qur’an and Sunnah.