Islamic values are those that are set out in the Quran and the practice of the Noble Messenger Muhammad. Muslim values are those that are created as part of the culture of the Muslim communities.
The misconceptions that surround Islam in this day and age are too great to number. A repeated scene is that of a Muslim having a discussion with a non-Muslim and trying to explain that Muslims are not terrorists, that Muslims are not wife-beaters, and that these actions are the deeds of a few which are then unjustly imposed on the whole Muslim population. But if the whole Muslim population had presented itself in an Islamic manner in the first place, the reputation of a Muslim would be far too virtuous to allow the misdeeds of a few to tarnish the image of the whole Muslim world. But Muslims generally do not present Islamic values. They present Muslim values, and the difference between these two can sometimes be as vivid as night and day.
What do I mean by Islamic values and Muslim values? Islamic values are those that are set out in the Quran and the practice of the Noble Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny). Muslim values are those that are created as part of the culture of the Muslim communities. These include the day-to-day interaction between the Muslims and their outlook on Islam’s rules and regulations. The difference is that Islam is perfect and pure, while the values formulated by the Muslims may or may not be in accordance with Islam. The detriment that arises from this is that many times precedence is given to the Muslim values over the Islamic values.
This is not to say that Muslims do not care about Islam. They care for and love Islam deeply, and they have great concern for their children’s Islamic upbringing and the welfare of the Muslims all over the world. But what happens is that certain practices become common among them, and their mentalities are set on justifying these practices instead of accepting the Islamic rulings on such things. They become a part of the Muslim culture and mentality, and so it becomes difficult to try to explain to them that Islam forbids such things. Because of this transformation in mentality, the average person in such a community will be hostile to someone bringing Islamic rulings forbidding things such as music and dancing and enforcing things like Hijab and modest conduct. Having gatherings and parties that center around music, dancing, removal of the Hijab, and immodest conduct have become common among many Muslims, and so they constitute what we have called Muslim values, as opposed to the Islamic values.
The Muslim values are caused by a relaxation on the enforcement of Islamic laws. The Islamic values, principles, and priorities are contained within these laws. Prayer, fasting, charity, Hajj, Hijab, modesty, being kind to others, giving parents their due rights, emphasizing the importance of marriage, attending the Islamic centers and Masajid, gaining knowledge – all of these are designed to build spiritually healthy individuals and a spiritually healthy society. When the performance of these actions is relaxed, then a void is created that is receptive for outside and often un-Islamic ideals.
When there is relaxation, then a distorted concept of freedom is adopted, and it gives the Muslims the courage to challenge the Islamic laws and present their own philosophy as to why following the laws is not necessary. They make excuses to oppose the laws and create their own, when the Qur’an has clearly said, “And it behooves not a believing man and a believing woman that they should have any choice in their matter when Allah and His Apostle have decided a matter; and whoever disobeys Allah and His Apostle, he surely strays off a manifest straying.” (33:36)
An understanding has to be conveyed that the Muslim communities will only thrive if they adhere to the principles of Islam. The concept of Islam that the non-Muslims have is directly related to the actions of the Muslim communities, because the majority of them will not go out and research about Islam; they will make their judgments based on what they see the Muslims doing. So it is not surprising for them to think that Muslims drink alcohol, that they eat pork and prohibited food, they listen to music, dance, go to discos and nightclubs, engage in promiscuous relationships, and many other things that a Muslim should not be doing. On the flip side, it is not surprising for them to be ignorant of the fact that a Muslim is supposed to pray at least five times a day, (s)he has to fast during Ramadan, go to Hajj once in a lifetime, abstain from cursing and abusive language, abstain from backbiting, go to mosque on Fridays for Jumu’ah prayer, read the Qur’an, and other basic obligations made incumbent upon Muslims.
The result is that a distorted image of Islam, the pure and perfect religion, is presented to them, and in response the Muslims try to say that it is a few Muslims ruining it for the rest of them. But this is not the case. The responsibility lies with the majority of the Muslims who themselves are not acting Islamically. Yes, it is true that the terrorists are few, and that the equation of a Muslim with a terrorist is wrong and unjust. But this is an isolated incident, and in general it is the majority of the Muslims ruining things for themselves. This can only be corrected by starting at the root of the problem – the Muslim family and attendance in the Islamic centers. If the parents are consistent in teaching their children and are themselves consistent in practicing Islam, and if the entire family attends the Islamic centers on a regular basis, then we will see an amazing transformation in the conduct of the Muslims as individuals and as communities. Then when the non-Muslims look to the actions of the Muslims, they will actually learn about Islam and will not have to worry about whether or not what they are seeing is Islam. As Muslims, we have to strive to make our Muslim values the same as our Islamic values. Only then can we truly be considered Believers.
Sayyid Atiq Ebady is the resident scholar of the Imam Ali Masjid in Pennsauken, New Jersey. He is the author of a fictional book entitled Warrior Saints, more information about which can be found on his website.