Umar Faruq Abdallah’s and Tariq Ramadan’s views on the relationship between culture and religion in Islam

One of the misconceptions in the Occidental discourse on Islam is that the latter is a monolithic entity. Islam has spread far and wide across the planet. It has a significant presence from China in the East to Spain and Northern Africa toward the West. And through this broad range, there is considerable diversity and variety in the expression of the religion. While maintaining the core principles of Islamic law and jurisprudence, each region has assimilated its own local flavor into Islamic practice. Islam not only moves along the cultural scale but also along the temporal one. In the 13 centuries of its existence, the religion has accommodated itself reasonably well with changing Zeitgeist (with a few exceptions). Author Umar Faruq Abd-Allah and Tariq Ramadan state this truth in their respective articles. In a way, they are reiterating Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism, whereby the East is seen as the eternal ‘other’ to the more progressive and liberal Western civilization. In any given context, culture is the dominant social paradigm compared to religion. But this fact is often suppressed or overlooked in Western scholarships on Islam, probably because its suits their political purposes.

In the post-colonial world, especially, the process of cultural diversification within Islam has accelerated, giving rise to new identities and definitions. A case in point is the relatively smooth assimilation of Muslims from Indian subcontinent into mainstream British society, as shown by the recognition and popularity of novelists Salman Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi, etc. It then follows that while religion offers solutions for universal concerns of human existence, culture gives it the necessary context and serves as the substrate for its operation. Hence, there is no inherent conflict between the two entities. More importantly, as both authors seem to suggest, a critical analysis of Islam the religion divorced from its cultural underpinnings is not only intellectually lazy but also potentially dangerous.