Interview for a School Paper
by Wael Abdelgawad
Monday, December 11, 2000
Zawaj.com's been getting a lot of publicity lately, al-Hamdulillah, and I find myself in the position of being contacted by individuals and the press and asked for interviews and comments. It has forced me to think about my own opinions on various subjects, and to consider the degree to which my thinking and actions are Islamic. I recently received an email from a reader named Aslihan Tolon, who wrote:
Dear Mr.Wael Abdelgawad;
Below are the questions which Aslihan posed to me, along with my answers:
1) Question: What do you think is the most important message Zawaj.com gives to fellow Muslims?
Answer: I've tried to use Zawaj.com to communicate a number of important messages. One is that the Muslim world is full of varying customs and traditions, and as long as these differences are within the boundaries of Islamic permissibility, they are a blessing from Allah and a cause for celebration. After all, Allah has said in the Qur'an that he made into different nations and tribes that we may know one another. We should take pleasure in getting to know our different customs, languages, and cultural heritages. Unfortunately, when it comes to weddings, too many Muslims have become pathetic imitators of the West, parading down the aisle in a tuxedo and a white dress, exchanging rings, and ending with a party with music and dancing. These are not Islamic customs and have never been a part of our cultural heritage. We Muslims have rich and wonderful traditions which are slowly being forgotten and discarded. Take a look, for example, at any of the recent features in our Wedding Customs of the Muslim World section. One of Zawaj.com's missions is to reacquaint Muslims with the vast cultural treasures in their possession, and to remind them of the value and worth of these treasures.
Another critical message is that in the course of re-acquainting ourselves with our traditions and customs, we must take those which are beautiful and proper, and discard those which are un-Islamic. We especially must eliminate racism, classism, and general superficiality in choosing a marriage partner. I've tried to use Zawaj.com as a forum to encourage Muslims in choosing a husband or wife to focus on taqwaa, imaan, moral uprightness, and kindness, rather than ethnic background, economic class, wealth or appearance. Another bad custom which must be left in the dustbin of history is the oppression of women. In some Muslim cultures women are denied the fundamental rights which Islam has given them, such as the right to choose a husband, to own property, and to divorce. We have an opportunity, especially in the West, to dispense with these archaic and un-Islamic customs and to build a new Islamic culture based upon the pure Qur'an and Sunnah. Hopefully, Zawaj.com can play a role, even if only a minor one, in the building of this Islamic culture.
2) Why did you decide to make a webpage about Islamic wedding customs?
I started it as a hobby around the time I was planning my wedding. As it turned out, Zawaj.com grew in popularity very quickly and took on a life of its own, along with placing great demands on my time and finances. I actually thought at one time about shutting it down. However, I realized that Zawaj.com was fulfilling an immensely important role in bringing people together, bringing them joy, educating them, and helping to solve their problems. I've received so many emails thanking me and asking Allah to bless me for creating this site; also my columnists, Bilqis and Yusuf, have received much praise and gratitutde; there's no way I could let all of these grateful readers down. So I have continued to dedicate my time and money to Zawaj.com, and I ask for my reward from Allah (swt). Insha'Allah, my intentions in doing this are good and right, and if it benefits the Muslim people, al-Hamdulillah, I am honored to have been of service in Allah's cause.
3) Based on your experience of Zawaj.com, how do you think "traditions" are formed in a culture?
I can't speak about traditions in general, but when it comes to Islamic traditions, I think that people carry their pre-Islamic baggage into Islam with them, and then combine it with Islamic traditions and customs from the Qur'an and Sunnah, and from the Muslim world, in order to cobble together a new cultural identity which may be fully or partially Islamic. I believe this is a process which should be subjected to intense Islamic scrutiny; in other words, we must put all of our so-called customs and traditions under a high-powered lens and analyse them in terms of the Qur'an and authentic Sunnah, discarding those which are jahiliyy and retaining those which conform to the Qur'an and Sunnah. In this way we can incorporate the best habits of the Muslim people, while avoiding some of the traps that older Muslim societies have fallen into.
For example, a Mexican who becomes Muslim may decide to change his first name but keep his last name. He might continue enjoying tacos, enchiladas and tamales but use only halal meat in their preparation. He might continue wearing cowboy boots and trousers, but switch to longer, looser shirts and begin wearing a kufi. He might attend a jumu'ah prayer where the khutbah is in Spanish, but his prayers of course would be in Arabic. He might continue raising animals on his ranch, but go out of his way to treat them with great kindness and compassion. These examples are a bit stereotypical and I don't mean to offend anyone. This is merely an explanation of the process by which a new culture, unique but consistent with Islamic teachings, can be formed.
4)How do Islam and Muslims interact with and apply these traditions in their own lives?
Hopefully, the answer to question number three works for this question too.
5) What constitutes a Muslim identity?
A Muslim identity is distinguished by the testimony that there is none worthy of worship but Allah, and that Muhammad is His messenger. That should be followed by adherence to the other pillars of Islam, and by practicing the Qur'an and Sunnah to the best of one's ability. A Muslim identity has absolutely nothing to do with race, ethnic background, ancestry, or one's ability to speak Arabic, Urdu, Farsi or Malay. Every Muslim must learn his prayers in Arabic, and learning Arabic is commendable as it is the language of the Qur'an, but it is not in any way a prerequisite for being a good Muslim.
An Islamic identity should also incorporate brotherhood and sisterhood, compassion, spirituality, a non-material lifestyle, dedication to social justice, and a concern for the welfare of all living creatures and of the planet itself. This isn't a zero-sum process, but rather a gradual and constant struggle to conquer our evil impulses, become better Muslims, and grow closer to Allah.
If these answers have been helpful, then all praise is due to Allah; if any of these answers are wrong or misleading, then may Allah protect you from the errors of men. And Allah knows best.
Copyright Zawaj.com. Author is Wael Abdelgawad. Reprints are acceptable with notification, acknowledgement and a link back to Zawaj.com.