96. Can I retain my culture and still be a Christian or a Muslim?

Yes, Jesus was a Jew; also, Paul was a Roman, and a Jew – dual citizenship by reason of his parent’s nationality. All people groups who become Christians have the responsibility to discern their cultural traditions and cleanse them of evil practices. This is the work of repentance and faith. It must be a work of the Holy Spirit within the leaders of the Church in a culture and not imposed by people of another culture. Genuine repentance is an act of the will and comes from the heart of the person convicted of the need to repent and not from someone else. Most cultures have good and bad traits. The Holy Spirit working in the life of the Christian enhances the good aspects of a culture and cleanses or redeems the evil aspects of that culture. The Apostle Paul was killing Christians as Saul the Jew, before he encountered Christ on the road to Damascus. Soon after his miraculous conversion he was meeting with the Christians, and learning from their experience of Christ in their lives (Acts 9:31).

An example of a cultural practice that would not need to be changed after a person becomes a Christian would be generosity and hospitality (read 1 Timothy 3:2). A practice that would need redemption would be head-hunting. A group of animistic headhunters became Christians and they decided to do ‘head-hunting’ for Christ by preaching the good news to their neighbouring tribes, and winning them to Christ. These neighbouring tribes were surprised that they were not being beheaded any longer.

Islâmic culture and values are characterised by the following five aspects:

a) God-centred or theocentric: Islâm upholds strict Tawhid (monotheism). Belief in divine guidance that came to us through God’s many prophets and messengers and finally through the Last Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon them all. Islâm believes in life after death and the Day of Judgment. This religion emphasises worship and devotion: prayers, fasting, Zakat and Hajj. It also upholds that Allâh has allowed certain things and has forbidden certain things. This is called Halal, the blessed or clean, and to avoid the Haram, the cursed or unclean.

b) Egalitarian, tolerant and fraternal: Islâmic culture emphasises that all people are equal. It does not accept any colour bias or racism. Islâm endorses the worth and value of all human beings and all creation of God. Islâm believes in the freedom of religion and accept no compulsion in matters of religion.

The culture of Islâm is tolerant of people of all faiths, especially the ‘People of the Book.’ All Muslims are brothers and sisters. The sense of brotherhood in faith must be very strong among Muslims, regardless of the geographic boundaries or changing political or economic conditions. Muslims must keep good relations with all human beings, especially their neighbours.

c) Dignifying and moralistic: the culture places great emphasis on the dignity of human beings and their morality. It emphasises truthfulness, honesty, modesty (Haya’), cleanliness or Taharah.

Islâm forbids extravagance, showing off, or extremism. Islâmic culture teaches self-confidence and self-reliance. It emphasises charity and generosity. Its culture is family-oriented with great emphasis on good spousal relations, good care of children, extended families, love and respect for the elders. It abhors adultery, fornication, homosexuality, gambling, or use of intoxicants.

True Muslims must uphold these values and they cannot compromise its cultural principles.

d) Dynamic, progressive, world affirming and not world-denying or ascetic: Islâmic culture emphasises struggle, change, social justice, and removal of oppression and evil.

This culture encourages learning, education, and seeking of knowledge. Islâmic culture makes no bifurcation between the religious and secular education. All knowledge is important. Islâm must emphasise open mindedness and willingness to accept wisdom from any source. Islâmic culture promotes good art, architecture, aesthetics, health, healthy environment and clean entertainment.

e) Non-exclusivist but Da’wah-oriented and optimistic: Finally, Islâmic culture emphasises promoting good things with wisdom and patience. Islâm is not a dominating or colonising culture, but it is also not an exclusivist and isolationist culture.

Islâm believes in inviting all people to Islâm without coercion. The culture teaches people to listen and dialogue with others. Islâm believes that human nature is good and if people are given the chance to know and learn Islâm as it is, they will find it satisfying and fulfilling.

Islâm strongly believes that the truth will prevail and falsehood will vanish. This culture emphasises patience and working in a steadfast manner, and putting total trust in the Creator, Allâh the Lord and Sustainer of the worlds.

The features of Islâmic culture mentioned above are based on the authentic and clear sources of this religion. Most Muslims believe in these features, and these values of the religious culture of Islâm. Wherever they have shortcomings they are encouraged to strive to remove them. Muslims pray to Allâh to keep them on the right path to promote peace and justice in this world and remove injustice and oppression.

Sadly, far too many Muslims these days are not practicing their Islâmic values as espoused above in a) to e), and they are resorting to terrorising people with racial and religious violence. The Saudis are exporting the Arab culture, dress codes, and language, and requiring Arabic to be spoken in more and more countries. Some Muslims feel that their cultural identity has been stolen since they embraced Islâm.