Islamic Culture versus Cultural Islam

What is the difference between Islamic Culture and Cultural Islam?

Cultural Islam is commonly called as ‘folk Islam’ by the missionaries. They always point out that if you want to reach these Muslims you can’t come at them through Islamic culture or fundamentalist who wants to practice Islam just like the way it was originally practiced because it will not work on them. But if you want, you can come through folk Islam. What the people practice in village? What the ignorant people practice? This is the root of cultural Islam through which missionaries can come toward us. Because it doesn’t have any proper foundation of Islam, this is weak. So it can be dismantled at any time. All you can do is read the stories of so called people who converted from Islam to Christianity; there are many of them in Internet. But if your faith is weak then don’t go, but if you know what Islam is and if you really want to see how fake Islam or ‘mislam’ upgrades, you can see in the life of the people who converted to Christianity. They will tell you, ‘I grew up in a Muslim community or Muslim village then these or that happened to me and so and so and then I realized that Islam is not right. Then I met these nice missionaries, a lovely man who took care of me, who showed me the true love that God has for human being and so forth…’

So the section where they talk about what happened to them when they were in Islam, if you know what true Islam is, then you will understand that what happened in that person’s life is cultural folk of Islam, they were victims of folk Islam. Folk Islam means Islam of the common people.

So we all know that this is a danger and shaytan is the backer of this kind of Islam. He is there begging, inviting people to stand firm with traditional Islam. I am sure we all are familiar with some element of Traditional Islam in our own countries. Traditional Islam means Islam of tradition, which we were taught from the time we were children that you must respect the tradition. When you question about the tradition you are told, ‘If this was good enough for your father, your grand father and your great grand father then it should be good enough for you. So don’t question the tradition. Accept it.’ So you grow up with these traditional commitments to defend it and to protect it. Tradition of course is completely opposite to any kind of change. Traditional approach was, “change is bad”. That’s why back in 18th century, when Mohammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab started a movement to call people go back to the origin of Islam as it was known at the time of Prophet Mohammad (ﷺ), he was looked at as an evil man, because he wanted to change the tradition. He was labeled as an evil man and his movement was called Wahhabi movement and the word Wahhabi around the Muslim world came to mean extreme, heretic, deviant, evil, and then anybody who has called for change things to comply according to Qur'an and Sunnah, people label him as Wahhabi. That was people’s response, in complete opposition to any kind of change.

So when people are invited to follow Qur'an and Sunnah, or to do what Qur'an and Sunnah say, they say, ‘That is not the way of our forefathers, that is not our tradition, we don’t do things that way here,’ and actually same thing was said 1400 years ago, same words.

Allah recorded these things in Qur'an about 5-6 different places. In Surah al-Ma’idah, verse 104, Allah says,

And when it is said to them, "Come to what Allah has revealed and to the Messenger," they say, "Sufficient for us is that upon which we found our fathers." Even though their fathers knew nothing, nor were they guided?[1]


So the traditional folk or cultural Islam is a standard of shaytan to oppose guidance. Shaytan uses it to keep people firm in misguidance and to feel themselves right in defending their way of forefathers and peoples custom.

So we see, this is a big challenge in front of us. But the only way to go forward is to meet that challenge. The sources of cultural Islam or traditional Islam are basically four:

  1. The pre Islamic practices: These are the things that Muslims used to do before Islam reached their land.
  2. Adopted practices or the practices that Muslims adopted from other culture or societies.
  3. Religious innovation which Prophet (ﷺ) cursed in every khutbah.
  4. Fanaticism or factionalism, which raised among Muslim in different groups, each opposed to the other ripping up the ummah.

These are what is in front of us today. These are only few examples just to make it real. We have to realize that this is a real threat in our Muslim societies today and we have to eradicate it. We have to re-establish Islam by removing these things, by correcting it. That is the only way forward. And Prophet Mohammad (ﷺ) was the example of change, one who, came and reformed the culture and evil culture of Saudi Arabia with good. It had a culture, which buried its girls alive; Islam came and prohibited this evil, corrected and reformed and made that change. That why Allah called us in Qur'an,

“Indeed, Allah confers blessing upon the Prophet, and His angels [ask Him to do so]. O you who have believed, ask [Allah to confer] blessing upon him and ask [Allah to grant him] peace.”[2]

That‘s why we ask Allah’s peace and blessing upon Prophet Mohammad (ﷺ) because he (ﷺ) was an example of change, reformation. He (ﷺ) is the guide for us to reform ourselves, our societies and to bring them back to the moral ideal.


[1] [Qur'an 5:104]

[2] [Qur'an 33:56]

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