Arab Islam and Desi Islam

One thing I’ve noticed in Muslim communities is how different races and cultures interact. You will always get a bit of racism: the Black Muslims think the Desis and immigrants are racist towards them when they aren’t, or the immigrants are actually racist towards Blacks, or Arabs looking down on Desis.

What I will focus on has less to do with race and more to do with religious prejudice. I don’t mean one religion attacking another or one sect attacking another as much, but more to do with the cultural differences relating to one group of Muslims and another not getting along.

Because Arabs speak Arabic (although not Quranic fusha) they are seen as being more religious. Whether they are Maliki, Hanbali, Shafi, Sufi or Salafi–this gives them more credibility when they speak about religious matters. Blacks are grouped in with Arabs (because they have a longer history with Islam) or with Nation of Islam. The wide divide seems to be between Desis and Arabs. The reason I focus on these two groups is because they are the majority in the West and so will be the dominant face of Islam.

Hanafis comprise of the largest portion of the Ummah and in the indian subcontinent (except Marakkar Muslims of Kerala and Moors of Sri Lanka, who have their origins traced back to Arab traders settled in the state of kerala and in maritime districts of Sri Lanka) and are mainly non-Arab. Imam Abu Hanifa was a Tabieen however his ancestry was non-Arab as well. So this is where the divide comes–Muslims who are Hanafi/Desi are usually seen as being not “authentic”.

This is more or less linked with the whole rise of the Salafi movement of looking for the “correct” position and although they have their justification for what they do–it has lead to a condescending view of Islam that has been practiced traditionally, whether it’s Hanafi, Deobandi, Sufi etc.

What I have noticed is Desi Muslim youth have inclined more towards Islam as it is taught by Arabs because they have felt “religiously inferior” when they practice the traditional Islam as practiced by their cultures and families. Whether it’s the “Bidah” or the practices that seem all too different from Arabs–they opt for the Islam of the Arabs, thinking, “better safe than sorry”. This is a problem because it means these brothers have low self-esteem in who they are and constantly look for approval from their Arab friends.

I remember reading one article where an Arab shaykh had to endorse the notion that indeed there are great scholars in India. They want to feel “accepted”. It probably also has a lot to do with Zaytuna and AlMaghrib being the more attractive Islamic teaching institutions that have a Arab Islamic base.

The other major problem is that most Muslims do not appreciate the Islam of the Muslim East (West being the Arab world). It is almost strange because there are Desi scholars who have done much Islamic work in the Middle East. Shaykh Saif ur-Rahman Mubarakpuri authored Ar-Rahiq al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar in the image above), Dr. Yasir Qadhi, Nouman Ali Khan, and Dr. Muhammad Mohsin Khan who has done a number of translation and pieces for Dar-us-Salam publications which is probably the biggest translators out there.

However, Desi and Arabs have had a strong relationship historically (They even share similar facial features). Allama Iqbal who took after the history of the Persian poets (that’s another post for another time) is studied in Islamic universities in Arab countries although his religious poems were in Urdu.

There is also another story which I don’t fully recall but I will paraphrase so perhaps someone else can detail it. An Arab nation was attacked and they were helpless so they sent a message to a Muslim ruler in Hyderabad who sent them help. Ever since then there is a colony of Arabs who went and settled in Hyderabad and live there to this day. And if you go to this Arab country (I think it was Saudi or Libya) and are a Desi, they will give preferential treatment to people from Hyderabad.

My point is that there needs to be a greater appreciation of Islam as practiced by non-Arab people and the workings of non-Arab Muslims. Most people have not taken a close detailed look at Desi Islam or any other non-Arab Islam. In my opinion as time goes on you see how Islam can evolve a people and it’s culture. People don’t realise that many of the words in non-Arab Muslim languages are Arabic or even Quranic. But unless you actually knew traditional Islam and how it basically evolved into societies you would never realise these things. It is often times more enriching as it is an Arab religion mixing with a non-Arab culture and so you see something even more beautiful.


Author: Mohammed Jehan Khan

A Soldier of Fortune who born without a silver spoon in his arse. Google my name to know me more.

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