Reader finds the imposition of culture [that is assumed to be Islamic, disturbing.

In several articles on "Islam - The Modern Religion," I have found myself disagreeing on issues that some people consider haram.  The articles in question concern beards "Shaving The Beard: A Modern Effeminacy" by Abu' Abdillah Muhammad al-Jibaly, two articles on dance "Yes? No? Let's dance tonight . . .?" by William Orr and "The Islamic Ruling on Dancing" by A. Idris Palmer and an article on Halloween "HALLOWEEN - a pagan festival," author unknown.

In reading these articles, I have wondered how much these articles are based upon cultural differences between myself and the authors. Al-Jibaly's article on beards is a prime example. Al- Jibaly presents many arguments for the wearing of beards, that the shaving of beards is a disobedience to Allah and to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), an imitation of disbelievers and of women, etc.  I do not have any objections to men wearing beards; however, I prefer to remain clean-shaven. Anyone seeing me would hardly consider my shaven face to be effeminate. Nor do I consider those Muslim men who are beardless to look effeminate as well. In fact, as I view photos of Muslim men from around the world, I am struck by the numbers of men who are clean- shaven or wear, at most, a mustache. It seems to me that many Egyptian and Iraqi men wear only mustaches.  Many American Muslim men who I'm familiar with are also clean-shaven, like myself.  I suspect that the expectation to wear a beard has more to do with cultural differences.  I can strive to follow Muhammad's (pbuh) example just as easily clean-shaven as I can by wearing a full beard.  To me, the essence of being a Muslim comes from within, rather than from outward appearances.

The articles on dancing by Orr and Palmer probably have less to do with cultural differences than the Al-Jibaly's article or the anonymous article on Halloween.  Orr limits his argument against dance by talking about modern ballroom dancing, although he soon says, "Dancing is sex pure and simple, and impure sex."  Palmer's article makes no distinction between ballroom dancing and the entire range of dance.  My objection to these articles, Palmer's in particular, is that they are too sweeping in their condemnation.  Contrary to Orr's assertion, not all dance is sex.  Are the ballets "Swan Lake" and "The Nutcracker Suite" sex?  Hardly.  I have seen dance used to portray many emotions, not just love or lust.  The article on music, "Music and Singing Haram?", strikes me as being well-balanced.  The limitations that it suggests for music could easily be applied to dance as well.

The article against Halloween urges Muslims not to participate in the holiday, primarily because of its origins and history.  The author points out, correctly, that Halloween developed out of the ancient Celtic festival, Samhain.  However, what the author neglects to point out is that there are other, independent origins to the holiday.  In central America, the Aztecs celebrated "Dia de Los Muertos" (Day of the Dead) that was coopted into the Catholic Church as a part of the Halloween season.  Dia de Los Muertos extends over three days, October 31 (Halloween), November 1 (All Saints' Day) and November 2 (All Souls' Day), the latter two of which are holy days of obligation for Catholics.  Thus, Halloween for certain countries and regions of countries (including the state in which I live) has other cultural and religious significance that the author never alluded to.

Another argument the author makes is that "Muslim parents must teach their children to refrain from practicing falsehood, and not to imitate the non-Muslims in their customs and festivals."  I find this to be a very poor argument from several perspectives.  Take, for example, the Olympics. Not only is this event well attended by Muslims and non-Muslims, but the origins of the Olympics go back to the days when this athletic festival was dedicated to the gods and goddesses of Olympus.  Should Muslims abstain from the Olympics because non-Muslims started and attend the competitions or because its origins go back to the days when Greek polytheism was practiced?

And how about those of us who live in non-Muslim communities? Shall we isolate ourselves from our neighbors because they do not share the same religion?  Is not their culture our culture too?  In America, a religious community that isolates itself from the mainstream culture is viewed suspiciously as a cult.  This is a position Muslims do not want to find themselves (or Islam) in.  Nor should we isolate ourselves when non-isolation can bring about the acquisition of knowledge.  Even the knowledge of the customs of other cultures, Muslim and non-Muslim, can be of benefit to us.

For better or for worse, I was born and raised in the American culture. I read the Koran and try to live my life as best I can according to Islamic precepts.  But when it comes to matters of culture, I'm going to rely upon American culture because that is what I'm most familiar and comfortable with.  If that means not wearing a beard, participating in a dance, or celebrating Halloween with my neighbors, then so be it.  I am answerable to Allah and my own conscience.

J.D.
 

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