Is it possible to be a British Muslim?

Is it possible to be a British Muslim or is that a contradiction?

Allah Almighty said in the Quran:

And to Allah belongs the east and the west. So wherever you [might] turn, there is the Face of Allah. Indeed, Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing. (2:115)

Islam is not the property of one country or place. It is all over the world and each country its own culture. All Muslims share the same values and principles and fundamental belief in One God.

Their main concern and focal point is Allah Almighty, but their geographical location could be anywhere.

There is no contradiction between being Australian and Muslim or Chinese and Muslim or British and Muslim. Whether you are in Britain or Indonesia or Brazil or the US, we do not worship the land, we worship the Lord of the land.

The Prophet (peace be on him) lived in Makkah but when he was persecuted, he left his homeland and migrated to Madinah. He and his companions left. Some settled in Abyssinia and others came with him to Madinah where they were immigrants as most Muslims in Britain are today.

Where do we belong?

Our children are second generation; they have little affinity to the country where their parents came from.

Do we need a cultural identity in addition to our Islamic identity?

Culture is defined at your way of life. The dictionary defines it as the ideas, customs and habits of a group of people. As Muslims don’t ‘belong’ to a culture, we belong to Islam. For this reason, when there is conflict between a social norm and Islamic guidance, we put the divine revelation first. It overrides deviant cultural practices.

We may be the children of our culture – whether it is Asian or Arab or British, but we cannot accept culture when it contradicts Islamic principles. We have to follow Islam, especially when cultural norms are unfair and unjust and bring harm to individuals and society.

Are Muslims misfits?

Is it easier to practice Islam in a so-called Islamic country rather than somewhere where Islam is alien to them?

It depends on the host nation. When the first-ever Muslim migrants arrived in Abyssinia, the host community was very accommodating, merciful and fair towards them, so they lived peacefully. If the society is open-minded, fair and just, Muslims can live and practice their deen without any significant problems.

Conversely, it is possible to be alienated by your own people, as the Prophet (peace be on him) was, and if you are being persecuted for your religion, by people of your own culture, you have to leave to preserve your life and identity. This is why Allah Almighty said in Surat al Nisa:

 ‘But was God’s earth not spacious enough for you to migrate to some other place?’ These people will have Hell as their refuge, an evil destination (4:97)

Is there a risk our religion and our identity as Muslims will become diluted as we are absorbed into the indigenous, mainstream culture?

How do we retain our identity and not lose it over the generations?

This is an important question. What is our identity? Our identity is who we are. As Muslims we are the children of the revelation, and we follow the revelation. We belong to Allah Almighty and His Prophet (peace be on him). And we follow their commands.

Our identity is not Pakistani or Arab or Malay for example. This is an important point to understand. We are the worshippers and servants of God. This is our identity.

In this country we are British Muslims. We have this dilemma that if we integrate with society, we might lose our identity. Not really. If we understand and practice our principles, then there is no fear that our identity will be diluted. But we need to know our limits.

Know who you are, your history and your origin as a Muslim, and you need to be proud of who you are.

One of the problems we have is that we have weak personalities. Many Muslims don’t know who they are. They are shy to show their identity because they are scared not to fit in and they are always struggling to fit in and be part of the group and not feel rejected. The quick fix for them is to delete their identity to be one of them, but they can’t be one of them, because they have no sense of their real identity.

How can you be true to your identity?

A Muslim is defined by his beliefs and actions. If you love something and care about it, you learn about it. You read about it and find out as much as you can about it and the latest news about it.  If you are interested in knowing about your religion, you need to increase your knowledge.

Seeking knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim.

Anas ibn Malik reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:

“Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.” (Ibn Majah)

How do you know what the limits are and where to draw the lines?

It is important to know your limits. You need to learn the basics of Islam and accordingly you can find out where the limits are. You need to learn the details of rulings of whatever field you are in, then accordingly you can distinguish between what is allowed and what is not allowed.

Is it OK to go to the pub but not drink alcohol?

Among the major sins is drinking alcohol.

A major sin is an act which is expressly forbidden and cursed in Islam and usually incurs a specific punishment, it also requires repentance to be forgiven. Therefore it is not something which can be taken lightly, as it’s consequences are grave.

Drinking alcohol is a big sin. Being in a meeting or gathering where alcohol is served, even though you are not drinking yourself, is sinful.

In the hadith, the Prophet (peace be on him) said:

Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should not sit on a table where alcohol is served. (Tirmidhi, Ahmad and al-Darami)

If you are invited to a gathering where alcohol is served, decline politely. Be proud of who you are, and put forward your limits clearly, wisely and gently. Say ‘I’m sorry I can’t join you in the pub or at this gathering. But if you are happy to go to somewhere else where there is no alcohol, I would love to join you.’

Sometimes you colleagues might say, ‘What aren’t you coming to the pub? The other Muslim colleague came last week.’ This is his choice. He is free to do whatever he wants, but he doesn’t represent Islam. The colleague who attended has given the impression to others that the haram is halal by attending, so we need to be careful of our actions, and do the right thing.

If you do not attend events with alcohol, does that mean you shouldn’t mix with non-Muslims?

These are two separate things. Avoiding the haram does not mean avoiding non-Muslims.

There was a trend that Muslims could not have non-Muslim friends. If this was the way we should behave or how the Prophet (peace be on him) behaved, Islam would never have left Madinah. No one would have made friends with non-Muslims and Islam would have been confined to Madinah and not even reached Makkah. This is not the case at all.

Far from it. In order to do dawah we need to make friends with non-Muslims and know our neighbours. We should spread the divine message by being good people and setting a good example.

Allah Almighty commanded us to be good in our speech and conduct towards all people. The Prophet (peace be on him) taught us to treat everyone well, regardless of their religion.

Abu Huraira reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:

 قَالَ مَنْ كَانَ يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ فَلْيَقُلْ خَيْرًا أَوْ لِيَصْمُتْ وَمَنْ كَانَ يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ فَلْيُكْرِمْ جَارَهُ وَمَنْ كَانَ يُؤْمِنُ 

Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him speak goodness or remain silent. Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him honour his neighbour. Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him honour his guest. (Bukhari and Muslim)

On another occasion, Abu Hamzah Anas bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:

“None of you will believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

Brother here refers to all people, not just Muslims. Therefore Muslims should be getting to know others in the community. We cannot be of help in a community when we do not know others or their needs.

University years

These are challenging years. You leave home and you are by yourself for the first time. The culture here is to consider the university years as the time you ‘find yourself’ and experimentation.

Are university years a time of self-discovery?

Self-discovery is linked to your level of maturity. If you are mature enough, you will explore your weaknesses and strengths. However, many are too immature to do this. Indeed, there are some people in their 70s, who are still immature! I was surprised when I realised that people can remain immature even when they are old. This is because it is not age which makes you mature.

If you are mature, you can find yourself. Abu Hanifa (may Allah be pleased with him) wrote a book called The Great Fiqh (Al Fiqh Al Akbar) about belief (aqeedah), in which he defined fiqh (the discipline of legal rulings) as al fiqhu hu marifutun nafsi malaha wa ma alayha:

Understanding fiqh is about knowing your responsibilities (towards Allah and yourself).

In this statement, he beautifully combined belief with practice – imaan and Islam, at a time when the sciences were not divided into these categories.

In university, can you attain that level of maturity and self-discovery? It is possible. These years are a time for people to reflect and improve themselves and become people who will carry the message of the Prophet (peace be on him).

Are the issues our youth face today harder to navigate than the issues faced by previous generations?

With the rise of social media, cyber bullying, suicide rates, it may seem that the pressures, temptations and dangers our youth have to cope with are harder than  previous generations faced.

I do not believe this is the case. Allah Almighty gave each nation a challenge which they could cope with. The evidence for this is that Allah Almighty mentioned in different verses that He does not overburden any soul beyond its capacity. As He said in the last verses of Surat al Baqarah, la yukalifullah ila wus aha:

“Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear.” (2:286)

It is certainly not the case that previous generations had an easy ride. Just look at the story of the People of the Cave in Surat al Kahf, who had to escape to the cave to protect their lives.

Alhamdulilah, in most countries around the world, we can live in freedom and we are not persecuted, though there are some places where that is the case. However, the majority of us are living a peaceful life.

Are our challenges greater than the challenges faced by previous nations? No. If anything, we have more opportunity to deliver the prophetic message than generations before us.

What advice would you give to students who are away from home?

They are without a support network. How can they remain within the limits that Allah prescribed us when there is no watching them to stop them?

The advice the Prophet (peace be on him) gave youth was very clear and wise. Ibn Abbas reported:

I was riding behind the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, when he said to me, “Young man, I will teach you some words. Be mindful of Allah and he will protect you. Be mindful of Allah and you will find him before you. If you ask, ask from Allah. If you seek help, seek help from Allah.” (Tirmidhi)

On another occasion, known famously as the hadith of Jibril, in which Jibril took the form of a man and asked the Prophet (peace be on him) to define Islam, imaan and ihsan, the Prophet (peace be on him) explained memorably:

“Ihsan is to worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you do not achieve this state of devotion, then (take it for granted that) Allah sees you.” (Bukhari)

We need to develop and improve our level of ihsan. Even if there is no one around you, you should be aware that Allah Almighty is always watching you. Do not neglect this fact. Whether your parents are with you or not, Allah Almighty is always there.

It is important to establish this connection in our children’s hearts. Though we train them to pray, recite the Quran and be thankful to Allah Almighty, until they feel His presence in their heart, the rituals they perform are empty and their connection to Allah Almighty is shallow, if not fake.

Real connection is to feel Allah in your heart, and this is what will prevent you from doing what displeases Him, because you know He is Watchful.

In the story of Yusuf (peace be on him), Zulekha, with all her beauty and status, locked all the doors, so no one could see them, and attempted to seduce him, but he resisted her immense allure and the temptation of her offering herself to him, because he feared Allah Almighty.

And she, in whose house he was, sought to seduce him. She closed the doors and said, “Come, you.” He said, “[I seek] the refuge of Allah. Indeed, he is my master, who has made good my residence. Indeed, wrongdoers will not succeed.” (12:23)

And she certainly determined [to seduce] him, and he would have inclined to her had he not seen the proof of his Lord. And thus [it was] that We should avert from him evil and immorality. Indeed, he was of Our chosen servants. (12:24)

Even if you lock all the doors, you cannot prevent Allah Almighty from seeing you. Yusuf (peace be on him) understood this and left the haram because of it. Inshallah we and our children will have it.

How can we resist celebrity culture?

Why are we attracted to the stars, footballers and YouTubers, who are out there? How do we find satisfaction in our deen and protect our children from the allure of celebrity culture?

In order to resist the pulls of culture, you need to know your purpose.

There are purposeful people and purposeless people. Useful people and useless people. Which one are you? Do you have a purpose and a direction? If you can define this, the rest will follow.

Attraction to celebrity culture only develops when there is in an void in your life. Pursuing celebrity culture fills a vacuum. The moment you fill the space with purpose, the desire for celebrity culture will vanish.

Even those who have been popular icons and were riding the waves of fame, say that discovering their connection with Allah Almighty was something beyond anything they had experienced before. It changed the course of their life and it transformed them.

Do we have a lack of Muslim role models?

Muslim celebrities like Muhammad Salah and Khabib are good role models. However it is true, simply, that we lack Muslim role models. Although we have a few, they are not in the same league as the greatest celebrities out there.

Find your purpose. Allah Almighty created us for a purpose. Allah Almighty said:

And I have not created the jinn and the men but that they may worship Me. (51:56)

How do we work towards our purpose and fulfil it? Worship does not mean praying and fasting. It is broader than that. It means pleasing Allah using your skills and your position in life to benefit others around you.

The moment you have a purpose, your life changes. You are no longer following the crowd like a sheep. You start to lead rather than follow. Instead of being the tail, be the head.

Many children feel lonely and like outsiders. They can’t find people they have anything in common with.

Feeling lonely can be caused by different factors.

In the first place, people have different personalities. Some are introverts and others extroverts. Secondly, it also depends on the people around you and the environment you are in. For instance, is your university accommodating and welcoming or intolerant and hostile towards different views, religions and opinions?

As Muslims, we do our best to follow prophetic advice, which is to mix with others. The Prophet (peace be on him) said:

“The Believer who mingles with the people and endures patience over their harm is better than one who does not mingle with the people nor endures patience over their harm.” (Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah)

Part of Islam is being with others. It is not a religion of isolation. Though being with others often entails issues and stress, we should try our best to overcome these hurdles.

You can use social media to establish your own group and invite people to be part of it. Try and create an alternative, not necessarily a cyber community, but people you can share your thoughts and concerns as a Muslim and British person.

Delivered by Shaykh Haytham Tamim – Culture vs Islam (Western Culture) 2020

Why not listen to all the recordings on the Culture vs Islam course?

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Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001. His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College). He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.