*The following is a small excerpt from a paper I wrote, If you are interested in the full text or works cited, please ask. *
While one’s morality is the manifestation of guidance, their intuition is the result of acquired knowledge and introspection. In the Alchemy of Happiness, Al-Ghazali states “Nor are such intuitions confined only to those of prophetic rank. Just as iron, by sufficient polishing, can be made into a mirror, so any mind by due discipline can be rendered receptive of such impressions”. The acquisition of merely any type of knowledge does not guarantee profound intuition. Rather the knowledge must be sufficient in that it is from the right cloth and of the right length of thread, i.e. the right quality and quantity; this is for the individual seeking knowledge to discern. Furthermore, in alluding to a mirror, it suggested that the internalized knowledge must then be reflected outwardly in character, as knowledge without action is only a dead letter.
One’s morality may be greatly influenced by their culture. Culture is the enactment of ideologies and often varies geographically. The generational teachings that constitute a culture may serve various agendas, either contributing to objective achievements or in the oppression of a scapegoat. I will not make a case for what makes a culture right over another, but it is worth highlighting than an individual may exercise autonomy in choosing which aspects of a respective culture they wish to follow, with recognition of the associated implications. In the cultural context, knowledge is useful in preserving the integrity of traditions, while also preserving dignity in the face of oppression or ignorance.
It is narrated in the authentic book of the prophetic tradition, Bukhari and Muslim, that during an Eid celebration, Ethiopians celebrated outside the prophet’s mosque with spears in their hands, dancing to the rhythm of leather drums. The prophet’s companion, Umar ibn al- Khattab was inclined to interfere in the joy of the Abyssinians, as their means of celebration was not aligned with the celebratory practices Umar ibn al-Khattab was conditioned to through the Arab culture. The prophet ﷺ seized the interference and stated to the converts, “Play your games, sons of Arfida, so the Jews and Christians know there is latitude in our religion”. The prophet ﷺ made a point to bring his wife Ayesha to enjoin in observing the celebration—lifting her on his back so that she could witness the celebration clearly and so that they could bond in appreciation of the Abyssinian culture.
In doing so, the prophet ﷺ made clear that the Arab tradition was not a prerequisite for adhering to the Islamic faith, but rather, that Arab customs are lawful within the premises of Islamic law, and that the customs of any other culture are religiously valid when they are in accordance with the Quran and the messenger’s teachings.
In Islam, many Muslims believe that abiding by the teachings of Islam is paramount; however, this does not mean that individuals reject all aspects of their culture. Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, an American Muslim theologian indicates that Islam is a vast tradition and like a river, a means of purification for the heart and soul, reflecting the patterns of the bedrock it runs over. Just as water runs on top of the bedrock, Muslims believe that religious observation rank above cultural obedience. It is up to an individual who wishes to practice Islam to discern which religious and cultural practices they choose to participate in. In Islam, it is believed that every person will be held accountable for their actions on judgment day, and so many Muslims discern between culture and religion on the premise of what serves them best in the pursuit of attaining heaven as outlined by the Quran.