Inland Valley Interfaith Group Discusses Influences Between Religion, Culture
by Imam Shamshad A. Nasir
The first meeting of the new year for an Inland Valley Interfaith group was held at the Unity Church of Truth in Pomona on Sunday, January 8th from 3-6 pm with the topic for discussion being “How culture and religion influence each other.” The event was coordinated by Rev. Jan Chase, who pastors at the non-denominational church. Of the attendees representing Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Cao Dai (a modern-day amalgamation from Vietnam of Western and Eastern religions), ten of the participants, led by Imam Shamshad A. Nasir, belonged to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s Baitul Hameed Mosque in Chino. The Imam and other members of the Chino Mosque attend the monthly meeting of the interfaith group, which is sponsored by the World Interfaith Network, an affiliate of the Unity-and-Diversity World Council.
In an email promoting the Jan. 8th meeting, Rev. Chase expounded on the theme, “How culture and religion Influence each other,” by stating: “Over the ages, religions have spread from the cultures in which they were born to surrounding regions where different cultures have impacted them. We see Buddhism in American taking on new forms, just as it did when it moved from India into China. We see Islam taking on new forms here [in America] which may affect the role of Islam in the world, bringing balance to the conservative affects that Saudi Arabia has had on Islam. Let us share our insights into the role cultures have had and are having on religions and the importance of our role in helping religions in America develop with inclusivist and pluralistic concepts.”
Rev, Chase asked the participants to introduce themselves, which they did. She then invited Imam Shamshad to bless the meeting with a prayer, which he did by reciting in Arabic the first chapter of the Holy Quran called Surah Fatihah. After giving its English translation, a candle lighting ceremony commenced.
A large white candle, representing the intrinsic unity of all faiths from a single Source, was centered on a small table. Surrounding this white candle were small, colored candles representing the major world religions. The white candle was lit first, then each colored candle was lit from this one in succession by a representative of a major religion. Ahmadi Muslim Rahman Abdul Aleem lit the candle representing Islam while proclaiming “God is one.” Another candle was lit with the proclamation: “Love for All, Hatred for None” -- the motto of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
As the topic for the meeting was “How culture and religion influence each other,” Br. Aleem started by relating how his early upbringing in the African-American church shaped his views about God. He was taught to believe that Jesus was God, but also the Son of God who died for people’s sins so they could enter Heaven. Br. Aleem recounted how he was devout purely on an emotional level, not from the conviction borne of investigation. He said as he grew older and began to ask questions that went largely unanswered, he began to feel more and more that Christianity wasn't working for him. The causal connection between ineffectual religion and burgeoning immorality and evils in a secular culture was obvious. He eventually discovered Islam, which made it clear to him that only a religion with a livable code of moral laws and a structure of frequent devotion to provide protection from bad influences could save him from the path of self-destruction he’d been on.
The representative from Cai Dai, Mr. Hum Bui, spoke next, focusing on the need to inculcate love for ourselves and our fellow beings as the path to increasing spirituality and the positive impact of religion on culture. Then Leland Stewart from the Unity in Diversity Council read from his "Unity in Diversity" book of comparative religious teachings.
Imam Shamshad spoke next and brought to the attention of the attendees the salient point that it was wrong to think it “natural” or even permissible to allow a culture to indiscriminately shape and influence a religion. The whole point of a prophet with a revealed scripture from God was to correct the immoral and evil habits of a people, not let those habits degrade the very religion sent by God to reform them. This was exactly the case with the advent of Islam, said the Imam, adding religion is from God and only God can change it – culture can be changed by people.
Before Islam and the example set by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the pagan Arabs used to drink five times a day. Under Islam, this evil and destructive habit came to an end. It all comes down to obeying God’s commandments or choosing to disobey them. Shamshad said there should always be a clear understanding of the need to obey God and not think that man’s wishes and desires have some equal right to shape the fabric of a society or culture. This would completely undermine or even negate the spiritual power and effectiveness of a religion, creating evil and unrighteousness and immorality at every turn.
If you look at any culture or society, past or present, that has allowed its morals and standards to be influenced and dictated by mankind’s greed, selfishness and carnal desires, this is exactly what always happens – from Rome to Las Vegas. The seminal question in the culture-versus-religion debate is simple: should a society or culture conform to religion, or should religion conform to the society or culture? In Islam, the answer is clear. While Islam allows cultural expression so long as it does not promote immorality or idolatry, nor imperil righteousness and devotion to God, Islam is very clear on who’s in charge in the Rules dept. That would be God, not man. To ignore this simple and obvious fact is to invite spiritual and worldly disaster, eventual and endemic.
For more information about the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Chino, go online to: TheChinoMosque.org or visit the AMC main website: alislam.org.
Posted on Wed, January 11, 2012
by Imam Shamshad A. Nasir