Islamic Traditions and Practices: A Focus on Asian Muslims

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Asia is home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. Muslim population accounts for approximately 62% of the total population of Asia. Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Bangladesh are Muslim-majority countries of Asia. As Muslims have different cultures, values, and histories, their lifestyle is different compared to people of other religions. The purpose of this paper is to describe the lifestyle of Muslims living in Asia. The paper will cover Muslims' choices with regard to food, religious beliefs & practices, cultural intricacies, mosques, and roles and responsibilities according to gender.

With regards to business, Muslims have historically relied on trading as it was encouraged by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Besides that, as Arabia, from where Islam originated, was not rich in terms of natural resources at that time, Muslims depended on trading and became experts in commerce. Commerce connected Muslims with other countries as well. With the help of trading, Muslims were able to spread the message of Islam in many countries including South East Asia. Currently, in Muslim-majority countries of Asia, such as Pakistan, trading is given far more respect than any other line of business. As per Islamic sources, God or Allah sends 90% of the sustenance or earnings through trading. Consequently, trading enjoys a special value in the hearts and minds of Muslims.

Cultural differences vary among regions in Asia. For instance, the Middle East has a different culture, South East Asia is more influenced by Indian values, while Central Asia and the Pacific Islands have their own ingenuities. The religion of Islam binds these regions together as Islamic values are common among these countries. For example, as one of the five pillars of Islam is praying five times a day, Muslims across South East Asia share this value. To this day, several minorities, such as Hindus, atheists, Buddhists, and Jews exist in Asian countries such as China, India, and Pakistan (Jeffrey, 2018). Except for some countries affected by fundamentalism, minorities are living peacefully in Asia. Minorities own businesses and are doing their jobs like Muslim communities. For instance, Malaysia, which comprises of Hindus, Chinese, and Muslims gives equal liberty to all religious minorities in terms of property rights.

The lifestyle of a Muslim living in Asia is simple. Large groups of women population prefer to wear veils or scarf as it has been advised by the teachings of Islam (Ziring, 2014). The clothing of women is one of the most important yardsticks to judge if someone is a practicing Muslim or not. Like other regions of the world, Asian Muslims are peculiar about the five pillars of Islam that include; Salah or Prayer, Fasting, Hajj, Shahadah or Faith, and Zakat. On the contrary, there are various practices and rituals held throughout the Islamic Calendar. For instance, another common practice of Muslims is to initiate any task by uttering the name of Allah (Jaffrelot, 2014). Another common practice of Muslims is to say “InshaAllah” when committing to anything. By saying InshaAllah, Muslims convey the message that the task or commitment will be successfully completed if Allah wills.

In recent years, Muslims and Islam have been made synonymous with terrorism. Asian Muslims, especially in Malaysia and Indonesia, have their own unique identity and they are all regarded as moderate Muslims. In Asian countries, education is highly valued. Parents educate their children so that they cope up with modern standards and skills (Larsson, 2016). Besides that, as there are ample opportunities in Asian countries for the educated class, they earn above-average remuneration. Consequently, having high purchasing power enables them to travel and get more experience international experience (Jaffrelot, 2014). Based on more interaction, Asian Muslims can talk and create a positive impression regarding Islam. One more important characteristic of Muslims in Asia is that they discuss their differences with one another and willingly solve their disputes among each other. Moreover, at present, many villages and cities in Asia, rely on the community justice system. The community justice system has different names in different countries, however. For example, in Pakistan, villages have a local jirga system to resolve personal disputes. Usually, issues related to marriage are resolved easily through the jirga system without going to the formal justice system. Unlike other countries, Asian societies lean towards collectivism and high-power distance and therefore people resolve differences with the help of society. Asian Muslims also participate actively in politics and international issues.

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Muslim have designated mosques as places for offering prayers. Mosques play a crucial role in Muslim societies. There are many distinguished features in a Muslim mosque. Firstly, there is a “dome” in mosques, which keeps the mosque cool and amplifies sounds. Another unique aspect of the Mosque is Mirhab, a semicircular niche, which points towards the holy city of Mecca. In many mosques of Asia, Mirhab is well decorated with tiles, textures, and glass. Besides that, mosques have Imam, who leads the prayers and enjoys high regard from the people (Jeffrey, 2018). Imam leads prayers in a mosque and is responsible to advise people who come for guidance. The role of an Imam is unique and important. People visit Imam when they are facing difficulties in their lives or when they want to consult or take advice regarding any decision that they have taken or want to take in the future. Unlike other religions that permit the making of statues, Islam does not allow building statues and Muslim mosques do not have any statues. Moreover, putting up pictures is also not allowed in Islam.

Another important religious event of Muslims in Asia is Ramadan. In Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn till sunset to show solidarity to the poor and the needy. During Ramadan, especially in South East Asia, in countries like Pakistan, charity or zakat is given to the poor and the downtrodden. Also, entire lifestyle changes during Ramadan, and this also varies among countries within Asia. For instance, in South East Asia, Ramadan is celebrated in much more zeal compared to countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, where lifestyle does not drastically change compared to other months.

With reference to food and the dietary standards of Islam, there are various kinds of foods that are not allowed. As per the teachings of the Holy Qur’an, the book of Allah, there are stern guidelines regarding prohibited and acceptable foods. The word “Halal” comes from Arabic, which means “allowed or lawful”. The exact opposite to this word is “Haram”, which means “unlawful”. Halal and Haram are commonly used in Asian societies to describe food. In Islam, all types of alcoholic beverages, including pork, bacon, carnivorous animals, and contaminated food are prohibited. With regards to meat, cows, lamb, sheep, goats, ducks, and chickens are all considered as halal. In the seafood, only crocodiles and frogs are forbidden. Furthermore, in Asian countries, it is made sure that the ingredients used during the production of seafood do not include alcohol (Ziring, 2014).

Islam pays special attention and emphasis on the process of slaughtering animals. In Islam, the role of a butcher is vital. In some parts of Asia, Muslims refrain from eating meat if they are not sure whether slaughtering was conducted as per Islamic rules. Consequently, restaurants, which do not want their customers to be confused, label their restaurants as Halaal or Haraam so that people know what they are eating. Another vital principle of Islam is to avoid “shirk”, that is to associate anyone with Allah or God. Muslims forbid eating of the meat of those animals that are slaughtered in the name of any other power except God. As food is one of the important parts of our daily life, the food laws in Islam have paramount importance. This aspect of Islam becomes more important for Asian Muslims as Asia, especially South East Asia, is known for its spices, cuisines, and food (Larsson, 2016).

When it comes to gender orientation and puberty, in Asia there are different rights and responsibilities for men and women. The male generation would be more likely to attend public prayers and gatherings (Larsson, 2016). On the contrary, girls are taught to focus on home-based activities as the division of roles for them are competitively more traditional and conservative. However, in many Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, lifestyles are changing as children have more exposure due to technology and the Internet. Consequently, gender roles are being revisited in Asian countries as well. In fact, western values have started to become increasingly popular in Asia.

There are many rules and practices given by the religion of Islam when it comes to daily practices and prohibitions. The first source of guidance for Muslims is Qur’an and the second source are the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who was the last messenger of God. (Jeffrey, 2018). Islam not only teaches Muslims to follow only rituals and in fact, niyah or intension is most important. Another important belief of Muslims is Tauhid. Tauhid is the fundamental belief of a Muslim. Tauhid means to accept Allah as the creator of the universe and to acknowledge God as the supreme power and the one who is all-knowing and all-encompassing (Ziring, 2014).

Another unique practice of Muslim societies is how they manage death and mourning. In Muslim countries, when a person is near death, all his relatives and loved ones visit and give comfort to close family. After death, family members and relatives send prayers for the departed soul. Quran is also recited for the departed soul. During the burial process, family members of the deceased are helped by friends and relatives so that they remain calm and do not get depressed. At the time of burial, blood relation, only men, can do the necessary activities in the graveyard before laying the deceased to rest.

In a nutshell, Muslims in Asia have a unique lifestyle that is built upon religious values. Some of these values are entirely different from the other parts of the world, especially, when it comes to their selection of food. Islam promotes peace and the oneness of God, which is called Tauhid. Most of Muslims follow important teachings of their Holy Book, the Qur’an, and the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who is regarded as the seal of Prophets. Regarding their lifestyle and routine, Asian Muslims have their lifestyle in accordance with five times of prayer i.e. Fajr, Zuhr, Asr, Maghrib, and Ishaa.  

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