The Arabization of Islam

Fatemeh Fakhraieon has written an excellent article on altmuslim on the Arabization of Islam:

Since the original Muslims were mostly Arab, everything associated with them - their culture, names, and family structures - has been associated with Islam. But this presents a problem since the vast majority of Muslims in our current world are not Arab. Passing off Arab culture as Islam in this regard is inaccurate, exclusionary, and disrespectful of other Muslims' cultures.

Converts to Islam illustrate the issue even further. If a Latina converts to Islam, for example, she may decide (or those at the local mosque may urge her) to take a "Muslim" name, like Fatima or Khadija (which are also Arab names). But why can't Lucinda be a Muslim name? What makes a name "Muslim"?

I know of many non-Arab converts who have taken Arab names upon their conversion. But why? What's wrong with the names their parents gave them? There isn't anything in the Holy Qur'an that mandates Muslims to have Arab names. Changing your name from Carmelita to Khadija isn't going to get you into Paradise any quicker. Changing one's name doesn't change one's ethnicity or personality. But having an Arab name makes one seem more "Muslim," because of the way Arab culture is seen as synonymous with Islam.

Another excellent example is clothing, which mostly affects Muslim women. The niqab (the face-veil) was rarely seen outside of the Arabian Gulf until recently. Most Muslims see the niqab as a byproduct of Arab culture. It is only recently that the niqab has been interpreted as religiously authentic instead of a cultural expression. A minority of women in Canada, the U.S., and Europe now wear niqab because they believe it is religiously mandated.


The real danger is that Islam is getting buried under all this cultural expression. It is possible to be Muslim without being Middle Eastern, without having a name like Mohammed, and without wearing dishdashas (the long robe worn by most men in the Arabian Gulf states) or niqabs. We should reconsider why Arab-ness is, all of a sudden, next to godliness.

Fakhraieon also runs Muslimah Media Watch and contributes to Racialicious, neither of which I knew about but both of which sound very interesting.