It is necessary for countries to have a better understanding of each other. This will lead to the development of a universal village. However, a universal village should not be taken to mean a village with a homogenous, all-embracing culture. It has to be a village with cultural diversity. This can happen only if we learn to not just tolerate other cultures but also respect them and abstain from ridiculing them. To expect that all the countries around the world will have the same Western culture is not only unhealthy and undesirable but also an impossible goal to attain. Any effort by a dominant nation to impose its culture on the rest of the world will be resented by other countries. There is no such thing as a supreme, monolithic culture that has only virtues and no weaknesses. Diversity will add only richness to the world. In other words, we should aim for social globalization with diversity and respect for each other’s culture and religion. We should use wisdom for taking whatever is good in other cultures and avoid what we consider to be otherwise. This is what is meant by unity with diversity. To try to impose our own culture on all other nations is the wrong way for bringing about social globalization. There is no denying of constant reforms, tolerance and mutual respect. Cultural diversity is one of the basic characteristics of a human society and is an asset indispensable to the progress of humanity. Cultural diversity is to show the respect to the beliefs and practices of the adherents towards different religions. It is the basic tenet of Islam. As far as social integration is concerned, the Qur’anic verdict is very clear. The Qur’an says: Do not revile those to whom they pray besides Allah (6:108). In other words the Qur’an forbids Muslim from reviling the religious icons or gods of other human beings. Why? Because, as the Qur’an says: they will unknowingly revile God out of enmity. This is again because Thus we have made the actions of all people attractive to them. The religion of every society is very attractive to them. They are not going to leave it. To ridicule ones religion and values and culture will prompt them to ridicule our own religion and culture and thereby create a conflict situation. This is, thus, the worst way of bringing about globalization. The Qur’an also says: Do not argue with the people of the Book except in the best possible manner except those who have committed injustice. And tell them that we believe in that which has been revealed to us and that which has been revealed to you. Our God and your God is one and to Him we submit. (29:46) So, if our God and their God is the same, and we have all been created by Him, then why revile each other? However, this is not happening. What is prevailing in the Western world at the moment is the continued reviling of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), and the Qur’an. This is a reflection of arrogance and bigotry and not of tolerance and understanding. How can the incident of flushing the Qur’an in the toilet in the US (Guantanamobay) be accepted by the Muslim world as a friendly gesture? And how can globalization take place in such an atmosphere?’ Social and economic globalizations are closely interrelated. It would be difficult to have economic integration without social integration. And it may not be possible to create social integration without creating more goodwill and harmony among the people. The desecration incidents that happened in the US and other numerous similar incidents in Europe are not recent phenomena that have taken place as a result of 9/11: they reflect an attitude of mind that has been prevalent for centuries. It was reflected in the Crusades, and then in the continued attacks on the Qur’an, the Prophet Mohammad (s.a.w), and Islam. Such behaviour is not going to bring international harmony or globalization. The Quran assures us that we can live together in peace and harmony, with people of other faiths. Islam advocates the utilisation of cultural dialogue and commonalities for maintaining peaceful co-existence. Peaceful co-existence is favoured by knowledge, learned from other cultures and supported by multi-culturalism. Diversity is one of the laws of Nature; it is not something human beings can claim is man-made. The Holy Quran states that diversity is created by God for us to benefit from. The book acknowledges people of other faiths on the recognition that all humanity has been created in the nature of the divine. Madina, during the time of Prophet Mohammad (s.a.w) consisted of a diverse society where there were many Arab tribes living together. This society was regarded as the first Islamic society, which was shaped on the basis of cultural diversity. The Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) has encouraged maintaining unity to his companions, establishing brotherhood, promoting justice, preserving equality and looking forward to living in peace. The guidance left by Prophet Mohammad (s.a.w) in the form of his speech and actions, is sufficient for Muslims as well as non-Muslims all over the world. Diversity is a natural phenomenon created by God and we are bound by the laws of Nature to this diversified world, where religions and cultures exist next to each other in the same lands and countries. The Quran assures us that we can live together in peace and harmony with people of other faiths. Islam is a religion that maintains peaceful co-existence and integration within a society by putting disputes aside and emphasizing more on the concept of unity and brotherhood. Like water gushing from a spring and flowing downstream into rivers, Islam has spread from the land of Arabia to all four corners of the earth. There are approximately 2 billion Muslims globally, spanning throughout the continents and across many countries, adopted by people of various ethnicities and cultures, making Islam the second-largest religion in the world behind Christianity. The current world population is 7.9 billion as of July 2021 according to the most recent United Nations estimates elaborated by Worldometer. From those who live in the icy cold Arctic of Norway to those living in the dry arid desert of Africa, Islam has been adopted by people as part of themselves, practising the commandments of Allah (s.w.t.) and the beautiful path left by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). However, though the core message and principles of Islam are undiluted in most of these societies, the way of practising Islam in their lives differs from one another due to their different circumstances. For example, there are differences between Muslims in Indonesia, a country that has a tropical climate, where the religion is dominant and has been passed down for generations, and Muslims in the USA, a country with four seasons, where the religion is a minority. The question is, do these differences mean that one of them is in the wrong? Or perhaps one of them is a more accurate version of Islam?
The reality is that Islam in these places is like the rivers that originate from the same spring; its taste and colour change depending on the riverbed and the type of soil, but it doesn’t negate its purity and quality. Though how Islam practised is different in certain aspects, it is still within the permissible boundaries of the religion. They differ on the surface due to their physical and social environment. Despite the differences, they share the same tenets of Islam. The Quran says, 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 noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. (Surah Al-Hujurat, 49:13). The existence of different cultures and societies is acknowledged and embraced in Islam in this verse. Islam, assertively, affirmed that humankind was created into two kinds that each one, biologically, only relates to one gender identity, male or female. Nevertheless, the deviation from the global formula does not preclude the potential that could be happened. For example, in the case of ambiguous genitals. In the Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) terminology, this case namely khunṡā. In a case like this, it can be accepted because it is an absolute decree of God. This is different from the transgender phenomenon that is known as mukhannas—it refers to men that resemble women—and mutarajjilāt—it refers to women that resemble men. Mukhannaṡ is considered as illness an abnormality caused by depression. The depression affect their mind and encourage them to keep behaving even to identify themselves as women. It is also the same with mutarajjilāt. This behavior is considered as deviation from human nature and God’s provision and therefore strictly forbidden in Islam. The Islamic view on the transgender problem can be found in the sacred text of Islam, it is al-Quran, though not specifically described. A more specific explanation about this problem can be found in redaction of hadith prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), as a second authoritative source after al-Quran. It also notes that each tribe — or society — has its own distinctive features that separate it from one another, and it goes to show that these differences are not at all condemned or disapproved but respected as part of creation. Islam doesn’t seek to radically change a society’s culture. To do so would be against the holistic nature of Islam as it sent to all of humanity. As the Prophet (SAW) reportedly said, after permitting the playing of drums and singing by the Abyssinians in the mosque, إVerily, I have been sent with a lenient, upright religion (Musnad Imam Ahmad) What Islam seeks to do is preserve what is good in society and eradicate what is bad, as seen during the time of the Prophet (SAW). The community in Mecca at the time practised several traditions that brought ill to society, such as gambling, drinking, burying of daughters and sharing of wives. While these practices were prohibited by the Prophet (s.a.w.) there are instances where the Prophet did not prohibit cultural practices by his community. Some even pre-dated his prophethood. Aisha (r.a.) reported: The Messenger of Allah s.a.w. came to my house when two girls were beside me singing songs of Bu’ath (a tribal song about the battles between Aws and Khazraj). The Prophet laid down and turned his face to the other side. Then, Abu Bakr (r.a.) came in and spoke to me harshly, saying, “Musical instruments of Satan near the Prophet?” The Prophet turned his face toward him and he said, “Leave them alone.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari) Another instance, also reported by Aisha r.a: It was the day of Eid and the Abyssinians were playing with shields and spears (a cultural performance). Either I asked the Prophet or he asked me whether I would like to watch and I said yes. Then, the Prophet made me stand behind him while my cheek was touching his cheek and the Prophet was saying, “Carry on, O tribe of Arfidah.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari) Imam Al-Ghazali said in his magnum opus, Ihya’ Ulumuddin “All of these traditions are reported in the two authentic books, Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, and they demonstrate that singing and playing is not unlawful.” Imam Al-Ghazali then continues saying that we can derive lessons from these two narrations. Amongst others, two lessons that were deduced by Imam Al-Ghazali is that it is permissible to perform such an act, undoubtedly it is part of the culture of the Abyssinians to dance and perform. Secondly, the fact that the Prophet s.a.w said towards the performers “Carry on, O tribe of Arfidah” as a request that they should continue to perform. The above hadiths show that it is permissible to be Muslims while preserving our cultural identity through practising our cultural traditions, as the Abyssinians did in the presence of the Prophet, with an expression from him to continue their activities. The versatility of Islam has allowed it to adapt in diverse climates without negating its core values and principles, thus enabling Islam to manifest through a variety of cultures in the world, be it through clothing, cuisines, and architecture. A good example of this practice would be how Islam was first introduced to the Nusantara indigenous community by the Wali Songo — known as the nine saints of Allah (s.w.t.) responsible for the spread of Islam in the region. Through adopting the local culture, traditions and arts, many were attracted to the values and beauties that Islam presents. Gamelan, a piece of traditional ensemble music, was used to teach Islamic principles in the songs. Wayang Golek, a traditional puppet theatre, was also used to share stories pertaining to the tenets of Islam to the locals. They never intended to educate Islamic principles at the cost of one’s culture nor imposed a specific Islamic culture. Another example would be in South America, where there has been a growing number of Latin American Muslims in Chiapas, Mexico. Though their number is small — around 500 — they find strength in their faith by practising what Islam teaches. Through the guidance of Muslim scholars, they have adapted Islam while still holding on to their cultural identity. One of the ways apparently seen is through their clothing; the women wear a wool skirt tied with a string belt, a colourful blouse, a small sweater, and the hijab. Thus, not only are they identified as Muslims because of their hijab, but they also make it known that their religion doesn’t disconnect them from their indigenous community. As Muslims, we should always practice what is said in the Quran, Show forgiveness, enjoin what is good, and turn away from foolishness (Surah Al-A’raf, 7:199) Though Islam doesn’t deny us the right to embrace our cultural traditions, there might be practices that are against the commandments of Islam. As seen in the Arab community before the arrival of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) certain cultural practices had to be abandoned as they do not bring benefit and only harm the society. Only then can we enjoin what is good in our culture and the teachings of Islam to bring benefit to ourselves and our community. Learning about other cultures helps us understand different perspectives within the world in which we live. It helps dispel negative stereotypes and personal biases about different groups. In addition, cultural diversity helps us recognize and respect “ways of being” that are not necessarily our own. In brief, cultural diversity is important because our country, workplaces, and schools increasingly consist of various cultural, racial, and ethnic groups. We can learn from one another, but first we must have a level of understanding about each other in order to facilitate collaboration and cooperation.
( Authors write regularly on Islamic topics for “ Kashmir Horizon” exclusively. Views are their own)