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Have I Become a Cultural Muslim?

written by Kaighla Um Dayo

have-i-become-a

When I converted to Islam nearly 8 years ago, I had no idea there were literally millions of Muslims in the world who are Muslim only in name.

Some one who calls themselves Muslim, but has no connection to their creator can be called a “Cultural Muslim”. Cultural Muslims wear hijab, for example, only because it’s a cultural demand in their family/society; they only pray at Eid prayers and only because it’s a family/cultural obligation. They fast one day of Ramadan to feel like they are part of the festivities, but otherwise have no connection with God on a deeper level.

The cultural Muslim is not unlike the “Christian” who my former pastor lovingly called part of the “CEM crowd”, or those who only attend church only on Christmas, Easter, and Mother’s Day.

Turns out, there are millions of Muslims who are only called such because their parents’ parents’ parents were practicing. “Muslim” has become synonymous with “good, kind person of Arab/Indian/Pakistani/Indo/Malay origin” in much the same way as “Christian” has become synonymous with “good, kind person who is American”.

New Muslims cannot imagine that a day will come that they themselves could become a Cultural Muslim. And yet, I am here to say: it can happen to anyone.

I realized I had become a Cultural Muslim when the day came that I had more fear and trepidation at the idea of removing my hijab than I did about skipping prayers.

The idea of removing my outer religious identity was more crippling than the idea of actually not being Muslim anymore. If faced with the choice to maintain my hijab but neglect my prayers, or remove my hijab for safety reasons in America (Trump), but maintain my prayers, I searched my heart and realized that I preferred the first option.

This, my friends, is a severe disease of the heart.

But why do I openly admit this to you, dear reader? Because too many converts come into Islam—and too many heritage Muslims start practicing Islam—with such zeal and fervor that they do not adequately prepare themselves for the day when the fervor flares out. I know because it happened to me. 

It’s kind of like being in a formerly passionate marriage: when that passion has fizzled out, there must be something under the passion to keep the marriage alive and healthy, something deeper and more reliable than passion, lust, and infatuation.

Likewise, the day will come for all those who feel the zeal when, because of this reason or that reason, they will burn out and begin to question if they are still on the right path, and they will need to have something deeper than zeal to keep them going. 

When this realization hit me like a ton of bricks, I took some time and really investigated the deeper issues inside. Ultimately, I came to understand these things, and maybe they will help you, too:

  • People cannot save me when I face Allah. My dearest friends and spouse and children and parents will not even think of me on that day. “Allah will talk to everyone directly, without a translator. The person will look to his right, and will not see anything but his deeds. Then the person, will look in front of himself and will see nothing but the hellfire facing him. So protect yourself from Hellfire even by giving a charity of half a date.” (Reported by Imam Bukhari)
  • On that day, {their tongues, their hands, and their feet will bear witness against them as to their actions.} (Surat An-Nur, verse 24). {And they will say to their skin: ‘Why did you bear witness against us?’ They will say: ‘Allah has caused us to speak, as He cause all things to speak.’} (Surat Al-Fussillat, verse 21) I can just imagine my hijab, for example, speaking against me, saying “She wore me because it pleased her friends.” “She wore me because it pleased her husband.” “She wore me because it made her seem more pious.”
  • The first thing Allah will ask me is about my prayer. Not my hijab. Not my education. Not my loyalty to my country or friends or family or tribe. First, my prayer“The first thing the people will be accountable for on the Day of Judgment is prayer, Allah will say to His angels (even though he already knows) : “Look at my servants prayers. Were they complete or not?” […]” -Prophet Muhammad (Reported by Imams Ahmad, Abu Dawood, An-Nisa’i, and Al-Hakim)
  • God will only accept my good deeds if I have a pure heart: {And disgrace me not on the Day when (all the creatures) will be resurrected; The Day whereon neither wealth nor sons will avail, except him who brings to Allah a clean heart [clean from Shirk (polytheism) and Nifaq (hypocrisy)].} (Surah ash-Shu’ara, verses 87-89)

At the end of all things, it will only be my heart that saves me (or not), and what good will my struggling because of hijab or striving for my religion be if I did it to seem pious, or to please my family, or because I had finally found an identity to cling to and didn’t want to give it up?

I cannot willingly give up my soul while clinging tightly to my hijab and other outward shows of Islam. I cannot willingly toss aside all the work I have done on my heart by working to impress people around me rather than working to please Allah. 

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