Culture Versus Islam

Culture Versus Islam

This is an interesting article which addresses a major problem in most Muslim communities. Although it has been written specifically for Malay Muslims, just replace the word Malay in this article, with say, Bengali or Indian or Pakistani and you will get an article fit for any culture. The author is a Malay who wrote this letter to members in his immediate community. – ITMR WebmasterIslam is a religion. But, to many Malays, Islam is a culture. It is a practice handed down by their fathers, and their father’s father before that. It is something they do out of habit rather than out of the education they have received. That is why the converts or the “Born Again Muslims”, if I may be permitted to use this phrase, make better Muslims.

Converts learn the religion from scratch and throw away their old beliefs on becoming Muslims. The Born Again Muslims re-learn the religion and are able to differentiate between Islam and the Malay Adat, and are brave enough to reject what is unIslamic though they run the risk of being branded fanatics.

The majority of Malay Muslims confuse between what is religion and what is culture. They take both as one and the same and, on many an occasion, practice religion as if it was part of the Malay culture, or adopt some of the old cultures thinking they are doing an Islamic thing.

Sometimes even the culture over-rides religion and they rush out to implement a cultural practice as if it would be unIslamic in not doing so. Culture takes precedence over everything else and, if they miss one or two obligations in Islam, like praying or fasting, it does not matter as long as that so called “adat” has been safely implemented.

For example, they would spend hours dressing up a bride for a wedding ceremony. Never mind that the
bride has to miss her Maghrib prayers because of this. Allowing her to do her Maghrib prayers would mean the preparations would be interrupted or delayed, not to mention her hair, which had been carefully set at great expense of time and money, would get all messed up.

The house would need to be cleaned and everything would need to be nicely set up in preparation for Eid/Hari Raya. This would mean they would have to miss the last day of fasting or else there would be no energy left for the great task ahead of them. Impressing the guests who would be visiting for Eid/Hari Raya is more important that fasting.

Is it not a Malay proverb which says, “Biar mati anak, jangan mati adat”? In other words, culture is so important that they would sacrifice their child as long as the culture is protected. They would not sacrifice for Islam.

How did this come about? Islam is very specific and explicit. Islam is the ultimate and everything else comes later. How could, therefore, culture stand between the Muslim and his religion? Even more important, how could the Malay get so confused that he could not differentiate between religion and culture and allow himself to practice Islam his way; religion as a culture.

Malays were Hindus long before they became Muslims. In fact, a good part of Indonesia, where the Malaysian Malays originally came from, is still Hindu. Even in those parts of Indonesia which have become predominantly Muslim, you can still see the remains of the Hindu religion and many of their dances and so on still retain this culture to a certain extent.

The Malay Sultans of early Melaka had Sanskrit names, proof of the Hindu influence. They became Muslims not through the influence of the Arabs, but through the influence of the Indian merchants who came to Melaka to trade.

That is why our brand of Islam is the same as in India and we find some differences when comparing our practices to that of the Middle Eastern Muslims.

The nation at that time owed their loyalty to the Sultans. When the Sultans converted to Islam the nation followed suit without any questions asked. They became Muslims due to the tradition of loyalty to the Sultans rather than because they were committed to the religion.

Here alone was reason enough for the weak following of the religious principles. The people were just doing what the Sultan asked. The old cultures and traditions were retained and practiced side-by-side with Islam. The early Malay Muslims were one confused lot of people and, to some extent, this confusion still remains.

In fact, you can still see aspects of Hindu culture in our so-called “Islamic” practices. Take the lighting of lanterns on the last seven nights before the end of Ramadan. This is modelled after the Hindu religious celebration of Deepavali, the festival of the lights.

What about the wedding ceremony mentioned earlier? Very much a Hindu practice where the bride and bridegroom sit on a stage so the world can see them see and to receive the blessings of the crowd who sprinkle scented water and flowers on them.

Many acts the Malays do in the name of religion is not Islamic at all.

In fact, some are even contrary to religious beliefs; bida’ah or shirik; and compromise the principles of the Islamic faith. These practices are not only sinful but makes a mockery of the One God fundamental because that forbidden practice acknowledges the existence of other forces equally powerful.

For instance, take the practice of consulting bomohs. Most Malays believe in the powers of the bomoh and many actually go to see them for assistance.

Bomohs are nothing but witch doctors. In the Western terminology “witches” are servants of the devil as they draw upon the powers of the forces of evil. The Malays swear by the power of the bomoh rather than do their Hajat prayer to get their wishes fulfilled. Bomohs use the Koran, spirits of dead people, bones of humans, and so on, to “pray” for help.

It must be remembered that though the bomoh uses the Koran it is not used for reciting the verses but as talismans or “tangkals”. The Koran is not taken in its spirit or substance but in its physical form, as an object of magic.

Sometimes the verses are recited but only for “fixing things”. The “client” may want the bomoh to help them get a job promotion, a contract they have tendered for, the love of a woman or man, and other worldly desires. In extreme cases the bomoh calls upon the “powers” of the Koran to harm an enemy or as a prevention, called “sekatan”, from an enemy who is suspected of using another bomoh to give this client bad luck or make him sick.

Islam, or the powers of Islam, is treated as something magical or mystical, and who better to call upon the magic of the Koran or the verses of the Koran than the black magic man, the bomoh. Of course, every bomoh would claim he is doing things the Islamic way and that there is no shirik in what he is doing. This gives the Malay the feeling of security, that he is not offending God in his actions or creating an associate to God.

Many religious people, those well learned in Islam dare not speak out.

They realise that this is a very sensitive area to venture into. In fact, some of these religious people even contribute to the belief by themselves offering mystical services. The Malays believe that these religious people have a closeness to God due their “ulama” status and how better to reach God than through these people.

One reason why the Malays are so gullible may be because Islam was an “imported” religion. Malays choose to be Muslims only when it suits them and revert to their old cultures and traditions freely.

Consider the concept of water and oil; they do not mix. Oil stays on top and does not contaminate the water below it. What we do not realise is, oil chokes life in the water by blocking the flow of oxygen.

In the same way, the belief in other forces other than Allah “kills” the fundamentals of Islam. Without this fundamental belief, their Islam is just as “dead” as the life in the water below the oil. It is time the religious authorities and the ulamas speak out. Re-education is required.

You are either a Malay or a Muslim and, if to be a proper or good Muslim means we have to be less of a Malay, than let it be so.



Salwat-O-Salam Aap Pay Ya Fatima Zahra(SA)

Salwat-O-Salam aap pay Ya Fatima Zahra(SA)–chorus
Hum aaye hain pursay kayliye Fatima Zahra(SA)–chorus

Hum daytay hain pursah tumhe Abbas-e-jari(AS) ka
Aur Akbar-e-dilgeer(AS) ka Ya Fatima Zahra(SA)
Salwat-O-Salam aap pay Ya Fatima Zahra(SA)–chorus
Hum aaye hain pursay kayliye Fatima Zahra(SA)–chorus

Zainab(SA) kay pisar Aun-O-Mohammed(AS) ka bhi pursah
Aur Asghar-e-baysheer(AS) ka Ya Fatima Zahra(SA)
Salwat-O-Salam aap pay Ya Fatima Zahra(SA)–chorus
Hum aaye hain pursay kayliye Fatima Zahra(SA)–chorus

Abbas(AS) jo Lashkar ka tha Sarwar(AS) kay Alamdar
Derya pay ussay qatal kiya Fatima Zahra(SA)
Salwat-O-Salam aap pay Ya Fatima Zahra(SA) –chorus
Hum aaye hain pursay kayliye Fatima Zahra(SA)–chorus

Pamaal kiya Qasim-e-baypar ki laash ko
Kubra(SA) ko bhi Baywa kiya Ya Fatima Zahra(SA)
Salwat-O-Salam aap pay Ya Fatima Zahra(SA) –chorus
Hum aaye hain pursay kayliye Fatima Zahra(SA)–chorus

Kanoon say Sakina(SA) kay otta’ray gaye gauhar
Zainab(SA) ki bhi cheyni hai Rida Fatima Zahra(SA)
Salwat-O-Salam aap pay Ya Fatima Zahra(SA) –chorus
Hum aaye hain pursay kayliye Fatima Zahra(SA)–chorus

Bayrdee pehna’yee dohri badan zakhmi kar diya
Sajjad(AS) pay yeh zulm kiya Fatima Zahra(SA)
Salwat-O-Salam aap pay Ya Fatima Zahra(SA) –chorus
Hum aaye hain pursay kayliye Fatima Zahra(SA)–chorus


Astaghafirullahi Rabbi Wa Atubu Ilayhi

Astaghafirullahi Rabbi Wa Atubu Ilayhi Verily, I seek the forgiveness of Allah, who is my Lord and Sustainer,
and I turn to Him in repentance

The above prayer is derived from the following verses of the Holy Quran1:

Transliteration English Translation
Qul yaa – ‘Ibaadiyallazinna ‘asrafuu ‘alaaa ‘anfusihim laaa taqnatuu mir – Rahmatillaah: ‘innallaaha yaqfiruz – zunuuba jamii – ‘aa. ‘Inahuu Huwal-Gafuurur-Rahiim. Say: O My servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the mercy of Allah; for Allah forgives all sins; for He is oft forgiving, most merciful. (39:53)
Wa ‘aniibuuu ‘ilaa Rabbi-kum wa ‘aslimuu lahuu min-qabli ‘any – ya -tiyakumul- ‘Azaabu summa laa tunsaruun. Turn ye to the Lord (in repentance) and bow to His will before the penalty comes to you; after that ye shall not be helped. (39:54)

Let us now recite the prayer for forgiveness with humility, courage and conviction.

  1. A. Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an, 1253.

Lessons from the Supplications of Amir al-mu’minin

Lessons from the Supplications of Amir al-mu’minin, Hazrat Mowlana Murtaza Ali (a.s.) as recorded in Nahjul-Balagha

KHUTBA-811 (A lesson about how to pray for His forgiveness) Lord! Forgive my sins which Thou know better than I. Lord! If I repeat these sins please let Thy forgiveness cover them again. Lord! I have always promised myself to obey Thy commands and have always broken these promises. Forgive this weakness of mine. Lord! I have always declared that I shall come near Thee but my mind (has) opposed this, forgive this fault of my mind. Lord! Forgive the sins committed by my eyes. Forgive my vicious and sinful utterances, and forgive my inability to resist temptations. (Ameen)

KHUTBA-2292 (Following is one of the prayers often repeated by Hazrat. Through this prayer he teaches us that not only wealth but contentment is also necessary to keep one’s dignity.) O Lord! Protect my prestige and dignity by making me free from wants, by teaching me contentment and satisfaction with what You have granted me. And please God do not let abject proverty and destitution lower my status and position in the eyes of society and force me to go begging from those who are wicked and vicious. Lest I may lose nobility of my character and start praising those who give me anything, and slandering and back-biting those who refuse to come to my help and lest I forget You altogether and overlook the fact that You and You alone can bestow anything and everything if You like, and prevent everything from reaching anybody if You so desire. Verily You have Power and Might to do as You desire. (Ameen)

KHUTBA-2313 (This prayer teaches what to ask of God and how. It further explains the attributes of persons who may be considered as the friends of God.) O Lord! You love your friends more than they have ever been loved by anybody. You are the best and the most speedy Helper of those who rely upon nobody else but You. You know their secrets. Everything which is hidden in their minds is an open secret to You. You are fully aware of the depths of their knowledge and the flights of their imaginations. Your friend’s highest ambition is to be in Your vicinity and Your favour. If remoteness from Your realm and Your favours disturbs and worries them, they get solace out of Your praise and recollection. If calamities and misfortunes befall them, they seek Your protection. They know that You are the master of everything and nothing can happen but with Your permission.

If I am confused and perplexed in asking of you the best of Your favours, then Lord lead me and guide me to beg of You of only such things as will be eternally beneficial to me, and looking to Your benevolence, mercy and grace in granting favours, I feel that such guidance will be neither too big for You nor a novelty. O Lord, please decide my case on basis of clemency and forgiveness, and not on the principle of justice and true reward. (Ameen)

KHUTBA-2394 (While burying the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.), Hazrat delivered the following short sermon.) O Prophet of God! I love and respect you more than I have loved and respected my parents. Your death put an end to the prophethood, to (the) revelation and to your messages from the Lord. While death of other prophets had not resulted in this way. Your death caused your Ahlay Baith (progeny) to be so grieved that every other grief was forgotten; the grief of your separation became common sorrow and everybody felt it. If you had not ordered us to be patient and not to lament and bemoan loudly, we would have kept (on) weeping and lamenting ceaselessly, though all this weeping, lamenting and bemoaning could not have been comparable with the actual loss of your separation. But death is an inevitable event, nobody can turn death back and nobody can stop it from coming. Please remember us before God and please do not forget us. (Ameen)

End Notes

  1. Jafery, Syed Mohammed Askari. Nahjul Balagha: Sermons, letters and saying of Hazrat Ali, Khutba 81, 46.
  2. Jafery, Syed Mohammed Askari. Nahjul Balagha: Sermons, letters and saying of Hazrat Ali, Khutba 229, 197.
  3. Jafery, Syed Mohammed Askari. Nahjul Balagha: Sermons, letters and saying of Hazrat Ali, Khutba 231, 198.
  4. Jafery, Syed Mohammed Askari. Nahjul Balagha: Sermons, letters and saying of Hazrat Ali, Khutba 239, 202.


  • Jafery, Syed Mohammed Askari. Nahjul Balagha: Sermons, letters and saying of Hazrat Ali, Tahrike Tarsile Quran, New York, 1981
  • Great Benefits of Salawaat

    A’uzu billahi minashaitanir rajim
    I seek refuge in Allah from the outcast Satan.

    Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim
    In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.

    Allahuma salli ala Muhammadin wa aale Muhammad
    (O Allah! Bestow Peace on Muhammad and his Descendants)

    “Lo! Allah and His angels shower blessings on the Prophet. O ye who believe! Ask blessings on him and salute him with a worthy salutation.” (33:56)

    ‘Innallaha wa Malaaa-‘ikatahuu yusallunna ‘alan-Nabiyy:
    Yaaa – ‘ayyuhallaziina ‘aamanuu salluu ‘alayhi wa salimuu taslimma

    عن رسول الله(صلى الله عليه وآله) : من عسرت عليه حاجة، فليكثر الصلاة عليّ فإنها تكشف الهموم والغموم ، وتكثر الأرزاق، وتقضى الحوائج .


    It is narrated from the Prophet (SAWA)

    Whosoever has a difficulty in getting his need fulfilled, he may repeat Salutation (Salawat) on me , because it removes the difficulties and uncomfort, increases the income (Rizq) and fulfills the needs.

    Benefits of Reciting Salawat upon the Prophet  Undoubtedly Allah and His Angels send blessings on the Prophet. O’ you who believe! Send upon Him Blessings and salute Him with all respect. (Al-Qur’an- 33:56)(1) The one who recites Salawat (Durood) once Allah sends ten blessings upon him, eradicates ten of his sins and inproves ten of his grades. (Mishkat)

    (2) On the Day of Judgement the nearest person to me, from amongst the people, would be the one who would have recited Salawat the most in this (mortal) world. (Tirmidhi)

    (3) (Truly) a miserly person is he who (when) heard my name being mentioned did not recite Salawat in my favour. (Mishkat)

    (4) You decorate your meetings by reciting salawat on me because your salawat would (turn out to) be the Divine Light for yourself on the “Day of Judgement.” (Jamih us-Sahih)

    (5) Recite salawat on Friday in abundance because it is the “Day of presence of angels (for witness).” On this day Angels present themselves (in my court). And undoubtedly when any one from amongst you recites salawat in my favour then before he has finished his recitation of salawat in my favour, his salawat reaches my court. (Jamih us-Sahih)

    (6) In the magnificent night of Friday (i.e. the night between Thursday and Friday) and the luminous day of Friday recite salawat in my favour abundantly, because your recited salawat is presented to me (by the Angels). (Jamih us-Sahih)

    (7) Recite salawat on the day of “Friday” and the “Friday Night” (The night between Thursday and Friday) excessively because who-so-ever does that, I shall stand witness to him and would be his advocate on the “Day of Judgement.” (Jamih us-Sahih)