Islam is not the Arabisation of religion and culture, indeed.

A friend of mine was flipping through my new issue of Muslim Girl a few nights ago. She came upon a photo shoot entitled, Winterize Your Hijab, which showcases a model wearing different winter knit fabrics as headscarves.

She scoffed at the model: She doesnt even look Muslim!madrasah1

Why not? I asked. Because shes white?

Akh, here we go again.

Now, the conflation of Islam with Middle Eastern people isnt new. To begin with, all Middle Easterners are not Muslim and all Muslims are not Middle Eastern. In fact, Arabs make up only 18% of the worlds Muslim population, according to Reza Aslan, author of No God but God. But due to terrorism perpetrated by a few Middle Eastern people, and those oh-so-lovely film clips of angry, bearded brown men burning the US flag, the Middle East and Islam are often mixed up.

Looking within our own community, many Muslims themselves (those of both Middle Eastern origin and non-Middle Easterners) see Arab culture as a proxy for Islamic authenticity. This may stem from the fact that the Holy Quran was revealed to the Prophet (peace be upon him)who was an Arabin Arabic. Naturally, there is value of learning classical Arabic and reading the Holy Quran in its original form. Knowing classical Arabic can also aid in reading the ahadith (a collection of the Prophets sayings, teachings, and traditions), and reading about Islamic law and history.

Baladas Ghosal of openDemocracy.com defines this phenomenon as [a] process of homogenization and regimentation the Arabization of Islam puts greater emphasis on rituals and codes of conduct than on substance But although getting caught up in rules and regulations often can make one miss the bigger picture, its important to note that this Arabization is more of a cultural issue than a religious one.

Since the original Muslims were mostly Arab, everything associated with them their culture, names, and family structures has been associated with Islam. But this presents a problem since the vast majority of Muslims in our current world are not Arab. Passing off Arab culture as Islam in this regard is inaccurate, exclusionary, and disrespectful of other Muslims cultures.

Converts to Islam illustrate the issue even further. If a Latina converts to Islam, for example, she may decide (or those at the local mosque may urge her) to take a Muslim name, like Fatima or Khadija (which are also Arab names). But why cant Lucinda be a Muslim name? What makes a name Muslim?

I know of many non-Arab converts who have taken Arab names upon their conversion. But why? Whats wrong with the names their parents gave them? There isnt anything in the Holy Quran that mandates Muslims to have Arab names. Changing your name from Carmelita to Khadija isnt going to get you into Paradise any quicker. Changing ones name doesnt change ones ethnicity or personality. But having an Arab name makes one seem more Muslim, because of the way Arab culture is seen as synonymous with Islam.

Another excellent example is clothing, which mostly affects Muslim women. The niqab (the face-veil) was rarely seen outside of the Arabian Gulf until recently. Most Muslims see the niqab as a byproduct of Arab culture. It is only recently that the niqab has been interpreted as religiously authentic instead of a cultural expression. A minority of women in Canada, the U.S., and Europe now wear niqab because they believe it is religiously mandated.

But sometimes brothers get in on the cultural dress-up, too. For example, Morgan Spurlocks TV show, 30 Days, featured a white West Virginian man living as a Muslim for 30 days. They showed him often in a kufi and salwar kameez which is like a long tunic over pants. As with the niqab, this isnt Muslim clothing, its a South Asian cultural dress. But since Pakistan is sometimes erroneously considered part of the Middle East, its considered authentically Muslim. This seems especially silly considering the fact that the majority of the Muslim men in the TV special were wearing Western-style clothes: jeans and T-shirts or button-up shirts.

What is troublesome about all this is that most Muslims who are non-Arabs complain that theyre not seen as Muslims because theyre not Arab (or ethnically Middle Eastern, in some cases). But when non-Arab Muslims take Arab names or wear Arab clothes under the guise of Islamic authenticity, were all reinforcing the idea that were not really Muslims unless we have some link to Arab culture.

The internal projection of Arab culture upon Islam has spread outside the Muslim community as well. If youve ever watched a TV special on Islam, theres always oud (an instrument similar to the guitar or lute) or ney (similar to a flute) music playing, to make it sound mystical and Arab, and thus authentic. And theres always a gratuitous shot of the desert in there, just to make sure we think that Islam derives from the tribal culture of the Arabian peninsulas deserts instead of from Allah (swt).

The real danger is that Islam is getting buried under all this cultural expression. It is possible to be Muslim without being Middle Eastern, without having a name like Mohammed, and without wearing dishdashas (the long robe worn by most men in the Arabian Gulf states) or niqabs. We should reconsider why Arab-ness is, all of a sudden, next to godliness.

Fatemeh Fakhraie runs the website Muslimah Media Watch and is a regular contributor for Racialicious.

 

Extracted frompatheos

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