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