Friday, December 10, 2004

Islam and Dominant Culture:Sexuality and Spirituality

Islam’s encounter with dominant culture:
Spirituality and Sexuality

1. Recent events, especially in Europe and North America have forced us to consider an important question: How do Muslims minorities in the West encounter dominant culture?
2. Examples of recent issues that have placed this question in the spotlight: the murder of a Dutch filmmaker; the Hijab issue in France; the proposed mandatory training of Imams in Germany and the recent supreme court decision of same-sex marriage in Canada.
3. Definition of Culture: shared set of customs, values, beliefs etc. transmitted from one generation to another or expressed individually or collectively in any given society. Dominant culture is that which is accepted and expressed in society as the norm.
4. Two assumptions about dominant culture that must be challenged: -
a. All expressions of dominant culture that do not have their origins in Islamic texts, history or civilization should be shunned.
b. All expressions of dominant culture have the acceptance of the majority of the people.
5. Three categories in which expressions of dominant culture can be categorized:
a. That which is totally alien to Islam, and contravene its laws, its spirit and are expressly forbidden e.g, the overt sexuality expressed in the public sphere (more of this later).
b. That which is in line with the laws and Spirit of Islam, and in many cases stem from values that are integral to the Islamic worldview.
c. That which is neither prohibited by Islam, nor is there any express text or historical legitimacy to determine its permissibility.
6. The golden rule in areas of Mu’amalaat is that the “basic principle is the permissibility of things”, unless there is express prohibitions. Our manner and style of dress, as long as it fulfills the basic conditions of dress in Islam, will be permitted – no matter how far away it is from “traditional Islamic garb”. Another example is music, which have taken on Islamic tones, and we enjoy listening to it. The opposite is true of the area of ibaadaat – prohibition of any act of worship, unless sanctioned by the Qur’an/Sunnah.
7. One example of an express prohibition that Muslim minorities have to encounter on a daily basis is the overt sexuality that we find in the public sphere. More recently, in Canada, the legalizing of “same-sex marriages” is another issue Muslims will have to deal with in our encounter with dominant culture (although this falls under one of the assumptions that the majority accepts it – take a look at the vehement rejection by certain Christian and Jewish faith communities).
8. Sexuality in Islam should not be denied, nor rejected as an aberration. Allah created us with instincts, emotions etc. that must be fulfilled.
9. Islam prohibits the expression of our sexuality except within the confines of marriage; and the blessed Prophet has encouraged young people to get married so that they can guard their chastity. The designation of the sexual act between a husband and wife as a sadaqa is an indication of the nexus between spirituality and sexuality in islam.
10. Marriage is therefore the outlet for the sexual fulfillment between members of the opposite sex – and Islamic traditions are full of advice, prohibitions, permissions and approaches to a fulfilling sexual union with one’s spouse.
11. Dominant culture must therefore never be viewed with a defeatist nor totalitarian attitude, but must be engaged by Muslims using the principles of the maqaasid of the Shariah, experiences of Muslims as minorities throughout history and a genuine effort to find a nexus between what is acceptable in the West and the Islamic Tradition.


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