Chemistry of Religion and Culture – Osama Fattouh

Islam is a highly diverse religion with adherents all over the world. In my case, I am the son of two Syrian immigrants who are Sunni Muslim. With Muslims being from all around the world, intersections between culture and religion create slight differences in the way Islam is practiced. For example, Muslims greet each other or say goodbye with the phrase “Asalamualaikum” which simply means “peace be upon you”; however, you will commonly hear Muslims from Pakistan or India say “Allah Hafiz” for a goodbye, which means “May God be your Guardian”. Most of the differences in Islamic practice are small like this.

Unfortunately, the intersectionality of culture and religion can create problems when Muslims conflate their country’s culture with their religion. A prime example of this is the role xenophobia has in marriage. Like other countries around the world, many Islamic countries foster xenophobia, meaning that members of one country hold unfair prejudice against members of another. You will see many Muslims telling their children that they must marry someone from their own country or from a country that is “favorable”. The parents would say that Islam justifies this, when in reality nowhere in the religion does it state you have to marry someone from your country.

This example is one of many that Muslims around the world will experience. With globalization, Muslims need to have a better understanding of their religion now more than ever—particularly in places like the United States where the Muslim population is ethnically diverse. If allowed to divide Muslims from one another, the culturally-diverse expressions of Islam endanger the Ummah.

The Muslim community, or the Ummah as the Prophet calls it, is very important to maintain. Muslims are supposed to work together and help each other rather than fight over problems that are insignificant. How is the Muslim Ummah supposed to help and support people of all religions across the world if we are not even working together?

Luckily, the new generation of Muslims in America are from all across the world and have grown up together in the Mosques, forging beautiful relationships with one another across national differences. Muslims in the new generations are friends with Muslims and non-Muslims from around the world. Embracing this diversity within the Ummah is helping it become more cohesive, interconnected, and ultimately stronger — allowing Muslims to be able to help humanity and improve the lives of everyone.

What are some intersections between culture and religion that you have observed within your own religion? Do these intersections cause any problems, if so how can they be resolved?

4 thoughts on “Chemistry of Religion and Culture – Osama Fattouh”

  1. Hi Osama,

    Thanks for your post. Similar to xenophobia in marriage, I’ve read and heard that cultural ideas about veiling and women’s dress have in many people’s eyes become mixed into religion, even though their origin was actually not in religion. To answer your question, while there isn’t really an atheist culture, I do have family who are Catholic and flirt with Sedevacantist ideas (that is, the idea that the current Pope is illegitimate). They are very conservative, attend only Latin mass, etc. From what I’ve heard, their grievances are more about subsidiary cultural things and politics than church doctrine; they still believe in the Trinity and everything. For them, I think the only things that would resolve it would be a more politically favorable Pope and a Vatican III to roll back past reforms, but both of these things grow ever more unlikely every year.

  2. Osama,

    I don’t think I could’ve said it any better! While we might not call it the same, the idea of a greater community of people who practice and are affected by our faith is diverse. When I saw how you use Ummah, I thought of our term called ‘Sat-Sangat,’ which immediately gets used to describe all Sikhs. However, the term Sangat/Sat-Sangat, means “fellowship of the seekers of Truth” and isn’t that everyone, like all humans? Hence, the issue of culture and religion. Xenophobia in marriage is a huge issue. This happens within the same country (India) because of cultural practices like the caste system, and inter-religious marriage. And when Sikhs from India take their culture with them after immigrating, the culture becomes even more tightly kept in fear of losing it to the ‘foreign’ one they become a part of. There are problems with the clash between western and the desi cultures, because here, the caste system is not a part of society. There is that freedom to practice our faiths more accurately, yet culture seems to be more important. I myself am struggling with these issues of negotiating culture and religion and don’t have an answer. Hopefully we’ll get one soon!

  3. Hi Osama,

    Your post was great, in explaining some of the issues when it comes to xenophobia in countries and people that practice Islam. As a Afghan Muslim myself, I grew up hearing that rhetoric , yet what I actually think is that Allah encourages us to marry who wish as long as they are believers and righteous and I see this explained well in this verse:
    “O Humankind, 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.” 49: AL Hujurat

  4. Hi Osama,

    This is a post that really resonates with my experience in different denominations of Judaism. There is a lot of conflict between different Jewish groups because of ideological differences. Reform Jews are often insulted as being lazy or not real Jews, Orthodox Jews are often told they’re discriminatory and outdated, Conservative Jews are told they don’t have a strong sense of who they are, and the list of insults goes on. It’s not so much a product of culture, but these divisions are really painful to see.

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