Community, Culture, Social

Does becoming more ‘religious’ mean becoming more Arabized?

As a Muslim, does becoming more ‘religious’ mean becoming more Arab-like or Arabized?

Once I moved to the UK, I began noticing a strange recurrence amongst some in our Muslim community. That being, the more ‘religious’ some non-Arab Muslims get, the more Arabized they become. I take issue with this, not because I feel that it is cultural appropriation, but because it is not at all necessary in trying to become a better Muslim.

The Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) says in a famous hadith:

‘All Mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab. A White has no superiority over a Black nor does a Black have any superiority over a White, except by piety and good action.’

Holy Quran says something similar:

‘O Mankind, 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.’ (48:13)

From this Quranic verse and the above hadith, we can draw that God created us as one human race, beautiful and unique in our differences so that we may get to know one another, with none being superior to the other except in good deeds.

However, in an attempt to increase our connection with God, some non-Arab Muslims have fallen into the trap of Arabizing themselves in the process. There are many examples of this happening in the UK, especially amongst the youth, one being the use of thobes amongst men and abayas amongst women – both being traditional garments worn by Arab people, which is more common in the Middle East. Of course, there is nothing wrong with wearing these clothes for reasons such as preference, comfort, etc… however, it is sometimes suggested by some that wearing an abaya ‘full time’ (for example) is the pinnacle of wearing hijab. I find this very strange, as from what I understand the physical hijab is more about wearing loose clothes that cover certain parts of the body and not a specific piece of clothing, therefore, it wouldn’t matter whether it is your shalwar kameez, Western clothing, African clothing, Malaysian wear etc, as long as it meets the requirements of the physical hijab. Why, therefore, is there such a strong relationship made between abayas and Islam despite it being more so Middle Eastern/ Saudi Arabian cultural clothing?

Similarly, amongst some Muslim men, one of the most peculiar things I’ve observed is that many non-Arab, Muslim, British youth sometimes wear the traditional Middle Eastern keffiyeh to look more ‘Islamic’. I find this very strange. What is the use in wearing something that has absolutely no relation to you (or your religion)? Becoming more culturally Arab does not equal becoming a more pious or practicing Muslim.

Another aspect in which this ‘Arabizing’ occurs is in language. Many times when making a point, especially in relation to Islam, non-Arab or non-Arabic speaking Muslims, throw in Arabic words as if to accent their speech – with words like yaani and khalas being the prime suspects. This occurs in everyday language, with a point being made thoroughly in English and Arabic words thrown in out of the blue. I personally don’t understand the significance of this. Yes, the glorious Quran was revealed in Arabic, but it’s the message in the Quran that makes the religion what it is, not so much the language specifically, though it is a beautiful one.

It seems to me that many non-Arab Muslims in the UK (and maybe elsewhere), especially the youth, are going through an identity crisis. Religion and culture are being confused in an attempt to try and connect more with our faith. I feel that falling into this trap is quite dangerous and self-colonizing, as it contributes to feelings of inferiority amongst non-Arab Muslim communities, as well as putting Arabs on an (unnecessary) pedestal in comparison to others. This is not only unIslamic, but it defeats the idea of Muslims being one Ummah, all equal in the metaphorical eyes of God.

Islam was revealed for all of humankind. It was initially and formally revealed to Arabs in the period of ignorance, not because they are chosen people or because the culture(s) is superior, but because there was a lot of corruption and injustice in that society at the time. I am of the belief that we can embrace and love our faith, whilst still embracing our own unique cultures, backgrounds, and personalities.

What do you think?


By Zainab Mullah

This guest account has been created to allow people to share their opinions, thoughts and ideas on The Muslim Vibe. Get in touch with us if you would like to share an opinion, thought or idea on The Muslim Vibe.

9 Comments

  1. Ahmed Bhana – you are incorrect. The arab way of clothing is not islamic clothing. The Islamic prescription is for modest clothing, so a pair of jeans is just as modest as a thobe. But to the larger point, it goes beyond just clothes. The mannerisms and speech patterns also become arabized. Take a white convert who goes overseas to study “sacred islamic knowledge” when they come back they will speak English with an Arab accent as though they were an immigrant.

  2. This is a good article and hints at a more sinister side to arabisation. From being a tremendously diverse people we are now being more and more homogenised.
    Ultimately this is damaging as narrows what is perceived as Islamic and not. Come to Northern UK towns and see how the uniform of a Muslim has become standardised. It’s disheartening.
    All the men appear to have exactly the same beard for goodness sake!
    We’re not sheep. We have been given personalities by the almighty.

  3. The writer’s perception is wrong, what the non Arab muslims are trying to follow is the sunah way of dressing in line with simplicity in dressing cod prescribed by Islam.

  4. Seriously this article mentions so many of my pet peeves. I’ve met so many people that slip in random, non- Islamic Arabic words and don “Arab” dress and they don’t even have Islamic manners or a basic understanding of the religion. People just miss the point- that’s the main problem. Religiousness isn’t measured by how Arab you are.

  5. Allahumma barik lah Mohammed Ahmedullah hit the nail on the head in saying:

    ‘Those who are involved in the anti-Arabisatoin drive are usually very westernised individuals themselves. Highly westernised Muslims, who wear mostly western clothes and live mostly western lifestyles, are lamenting that Muslims are adopting more and more Arab ways and Arab culture at the expense of their own local culture.

    As this involves a serious double standard it means that most people who are engaged in the anti-Arabisation drive do not see the contradiction involved in their position. I strongly believe that some sinister forces have put this idea in some Muslim people’s head with a desire to create more disunity among Muslims and get the worldwide Muslims to become more distanced from the Arab world. Sorry for the conspiracy theory.’

    Correct so it’s OK for these people to make the arguement in English language and having adopting western traditions and customs but it’s not OK for me to wear a black abayah and make effort to learn Arabic so that I may converse in the language.I have met the people who make this arguement and they tend to me be religiously very moderate or non practicing people who complain that we are imitating Saudi Arabian interpretation of the deen.How can we start attributing interpretations of deen to specific countries.Our actions should be based on knowledge of Qur’an and Sunnah not our perception.If there is a basis for it then we should be doing it even if it’s against our pride .The idea that Arabisation is to put down ones own culture and to elevate Arab culture is nonsense.The same people don’t take issue with other aspects of henna,Shisha or Arabic food but the ways in which people practice faith which they deem too conservative.

    I have also met those who have become this way because they say that Arabs are racist,unjust and ignorant and they have had some negative experience with them which has forced them to want nothing to do with the culture and people.I have relatives like this.They get upset at the prospect of putting Arabic culture and language on a pedestal.This is from pride, pure ego.Notably it is mostly i men who take this stance as it seems men take alot of pride from their identity.

    Personally,I am drawn to Arabic culture and language,I love the abayah and even some of the traditions of the people.I also speak my language and love my country.It is not a competition.I want to get as close to the legacy of the Prophet salalaahi ‘alaykum wasalaam and his companions as I can.Rather we need to be MORE arabised.How do so many of us speak English but not the language of the Qur’an.People see honour in speaking English.All our countries Education systems are based upon it.It is the language of the dunya.Yet we don’t speak the language Allah CHOSE to communicate with us.The one the Qur’an was revealed in.The one the Prophet salalaahi ‘alayhi wasalaam spoke, thought,dreamt in.The language will draw us nearer to a better understanding of this time.
    Also,it’s worth noting that dressing in Arab clothes should be an issue when people wear abayah and thawb.In my own society there wasn’t really a traditional, convenient way for women to cover.They had a Bedouin culture and their study and underand standing of the deen was surfave levelmThey knew the basics.Arabs on the other hand have been studying, researching,curating and documenting so much in regards to Islam.The abayah and jilbab are modest, comfortable, convenient and even stylish and a natural go-to outfit for many occasion.If women want to cover their face then so be it.Why do you lampast that but you don’t lambast all the things we do to imitate western celebrities and movie stars.Such as these hip hop and pop nasheeds that cover famous songs.Its bonkers. Also imagine next time you’re at the masjidvor you go hajj or Umaah how amazing it everyone or most people spoke Arabic.They wouldn’t have little groups here and there they would be more like to interact and socialize and act more like an ummah and Allah knows best.

  6. Bismillah wa As salaamu alaikum.

    I find the people probably take the dress to honour the our beloved Mesenger Muhammad sallallahu alaihi wa sallam and his people.

    The language part, I feel, to be wonderful because Allah certainly chose Arabic with a purpose. And speaking it connects us to the manifest Word and to whom it was eevealed , Allah have peace and blessings on him.

    It may not be necessary to completely ‘Arabise’ but i mean as i come across many cultures, I absorb a lot and connect well. Also it brings remembrance of the stories of old. I find value in this.

    As salaamu alaikum.

  7. I totally concur with Zainab Mullah that donning Arab dress has no relevance to religiosity. Muslims are blessed with many cultures, each as valuable as other. And espousing to celebrate one’s culture and heritage is neither anti Arab or unIslamic. It amuses me when some of our young try to be more Arab than Arab.

    The diversity of humanity is to be celebrated. I’d rather have a salad bowl with each ingredient retaining is taste and color than a melting pot – colored soup with artifical flavors. Sorry Heinz.

  8. EID CELEBRATIONS AROUND THE WORLD SHOW THE FUTILITY OF ANTI-ARABISATION DRIVES

    Happy Idul Fitri

    By M Ahmedullah

    Looking at pictures of Eid celebrations from around the world, posted on Facebook, including from the UK where a diverse group of Muslims from around the world and local converts live, one sees so many different types of traditional attires, hats and jewelleries that are being worn with pride and enjoyment. Similarly, there is an incredible variety of food shared and eaten. However, there is one thing in common among Muslims from across the world, that is, that in most countries and most Muslim communities in the UK a sizeable number of people are wearing what would be described as Arab dresses or dresses with an Arabic influence.

    In recent years there has been a growing worry being expressed that more and more Muslims are going through a ‘cultural Arabisation process’ and adopting more conservative and hard-line Wahhabi and Salafi ideologies. This is thought to be true among people in many majority Muslim countries as well as countries with a minority Muslim population.

    I have recently read an article by Kenan Malik, who argued against the thesis of Trevor Phillips by asserting that, rather than not changing, Muslims in Britain have indeed changed, but in the direction of more conservatism. I have also heard and read many articles about the Arabisation of Bangladeshi society, the associated increase in Wahhabi and Salafi influences and worries about the future, as a result.

    Recently, Malaysia has also become embroiled in the debate and many people have started to worry about the Arabisation of the Malaysian society, arguing that, rather than the Malays incorporating Islam into Malaysian culture, a growing number of Malays have started to replace Malaysian Islam with an Arabised version. According to them, this has resulted in more intolerance within Malay society and has created new problems with respect to religious diversity in the country. There have been many discussion, public meetings, conferences and articles exploring the issues, their dangers and how to combat and reverse the Arabisation process.

    In Bangladesh and with respect to the Bangladeshi Diaspora similar issues have emerged. I remember a Bangladeshi origin female journalist who lives in America wrote in a journal, during the height of the 2013 Shahbagh Movement that demanded the hanging of Kader Mollah, that their movement was the ‘silent majority rising up against the use of religion to bully, the issuing of bewildering fatwas, the adoption of Arab dress and Arab ways, the blatant distortion of the past, the peculiar assault on our culture…’ and ‘rising up against …. the adoption of Arab dress and Arab ways’.

    Why do I think the anti-Arabisation drive is futile? One of the main reasons is the involvement of a double standard. If you look at Muslims societies around the world any Arabisation process among some people is often defined as a Wahhabi / Salafi interpretation of Islam, which is said to be causing major problems with traditional Islam and local cultures. Focusing on an element of change within society and ignoring other elements, such as the westernisation of Muslim societies, is bound to create intellectual and moral problems for the people who are expressing worries about Arabisation.

    Further, the people who are allegedly becoming more Arabised are often explained to be making the change due to their inferiority complex with respect to their own traditional cultures. However, the so-called Arabised individuals and groups in question will not see their lifestyle changes in this way but due to a desire to become more Islamic. As such they will see a Westernised Muslim attacking an Islamised Muslim, which they will find odd and hypocritical.

    Another reason is the use of the notion of local culture to challenge and check the so-called Arabisation of Muslim societies. In Bangladesh, the idea of Bengali culture became a very powerful force against Islamisation in East Pakistan and subsequently in Bangladesh but only because of the crazy system in place during the Pakistan days. As the effects and memory of the Pakistani period dissipate further and further from our experience the use of the idea of Bengali culture to challenge Islamisation is bound to have diminishing returns in the new Bangladesh and within the Bangladeshi Diaspora.

    Those who are involved in the anti-Arabisatoin drive are usually very westernised individuals themselves. Highly westernised Muslims, who wear mostly western clothes and live mostly western lifestyles, are lamenting that Muslims are adopting more and more Arab ways and Arab culture at the expense of their own local culture.

    As this involves a serious double standard it means that most people who are engaged in the anti-Arabisation drive do not see the contradiction involved in their position. I strongly believe that some sinister forces have put this idea in some Muslim people’s head with a desire to create more disunity among Muslims and get the worldwide Muslims to become more distanced from the Arab world. Sorry for the conspiracy theory.

    Rather than adopting an ideological and hypocritical focus, it would be better to work hard to understand the totality of the dynamics of social changes taking place in Muslim societies as well as the wider world, including specific changes within sections of society, and learn to respect and tolerate people’s personal choices and choices made by families and communities.

    In a globalised world people will adopt to outside influences and cultures from far-away places, if they enhance or give greater meanings to their life. Let people become more Arabised, Indianised, Westernised or anything else, if they want to. What is most important is to explore and make sure that people’s personal choices, individual liberty and freedom are not sacrificed, but are advanced.

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