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Celebrating new traditions and integrating into a new culture

Guest Column by Maimoona Harrington

Growing up in a Muslim country I never knew that birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, baby showers, Father’s day — the list goes on are haram (forbidden) — in my religion.

Birthdays were a big part of my growing up. Every year my parents lavishly celebrated my birthdays. Family and friends used to come from all over the country to celebrate.  I was adorned with love and tons of gifts. The reason I’m sharing this example is to use it as an example for assimilation vs. integration. Though both seem like two different subjects, they are very much interconnected.

Since I moved to the United States, it’s amazed me how many Muslims react to the celebration of these occasions. Besides food, there were many practices that were also considered halal (permitted) or haram (forbidden) and innovations in Islam within Muslim communities.

Many times I heard from friends and people in the Muslim community that birthdays or other occasions, like those mentioned above should not be celebrated. Some of the reasons were that they are not part of our religion, our Prophet (PBUH) did not celebrate them and we as Muslims follow his Sunnah (way of life) so any such celebrations are innovation in religion. Secondly, they are western traditions so we should not celebrate them as they are in contrast with our belief.

My point is about what we are promoting here. Does Islam restrict celebrations? Did it discourage assimilation, acculturation or have room for integration instead?

As I always write articles based on my personal experiences. For me, it is permitted to respect and love your mother, so why not do it a little bit extra to express your love on Mother’s Day, besides every day as well? It is permitted to be happy at the birth of your child, then why not be extra happy once a year on their birthday? It is permitted to express your love, then why not celebrate Valentine’s Day and express your love and affection a little bit more to your loved ones whether they are your children, parents, siblings or friends? The list goes on!

Does not Islam teach us to show respect, love, and affection to our elderly, our life partners, our children, our siblings, our friends, our relatives and our neighbors? Why does a special day with a certain name make it ‘forbidden’ or an ‘innovation’ in the religion? We can better utilize days like these to highlight to our children what it means to love, respect and care a little bit more.

As a reader you might think what’s halal or haram or innovation have to do with assimilation or acculturation and integration. Well, often we reject certain things in the society we migrate to and we pose many reasons for these rejections. As an immigrant either it’s our culture or our religion that become a barrier and often it’s the first generation of immigrants who have to decide what route to take, assimilate, acculturate or integrate. Often the second generation is left to be confused and perhaps lose its identity if they take the route of complete assimilation.

I know that assimilating into another culture causes fear as an immigrant because it’s the fear of losing your identity you are born with. Being from a different ethnic group we can ‘integrate’ instead of acculturating. There is no need to conflict your own religion by rejection. In midst of all this what we forget is the difference between ‘integration’ and ‘assimilation.’

While educating myself on the topic of difference between assimilation and integration I came across a culinary metaphor.  

“Assimilation is rather like the process of making soup, where the ingredients lose their identity as they are blended together. Integration can be likened to a fruit salad where the individual fruits, with their varying colors and sizes contribute to the beauty of the dish.”(Cardiff)

Nevertheless we can ‘assimilate’ or ‘integrate’ without changing ourselves.  Assimilation can be positive or negative, however, if we do not feel comfortable with the idea of assimilation then we can ‘integrate’. There is good and bad in every aspect of life and in every society, it’s up to us as human beings to differentiate between the two.

Islam promotes healthy and happy family life, like eating meals together, respecting and obeying your elderly, spending time with each other, etc. Islam promotes gift exchanges to foster love.

What we need to remind ourselves is that; “Integration is not about losing identity. Rather it is about maintaining identity and belief while being able to celebrate differences and work with others in civic society.” (Cardiff)

We as Muslims need to spread and share the message of “what is permitted in Islam” than “what is forbidden.” It will promote the ‘real Islam’ that is open and integrated religion. Especially nowadays this message needs to spread more than ever as globally Islam is considered the religion of conservative and narrow-minded people. That it is not it at all!

It’s our responsibility to present what Islam stands for. As a Muslim, I know my religion is very tolerant, very peaceful, very respectful towards all religions and cultures, and very accommodative and integrated. If we look at the history of Islam, we will see it did not assimilate into regions and cultures it spread into instead it ‘integrated’.

At the end of the day do not be afraid to integrate. Focus on promoting ‘This is permitted’ than ‘this is forbidden.’

Feel free to share your opinions and ask questions!

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About Maimoona Harrington

Maimoona Harrington was born and raised in Pakistan moved to the United States with her family in 2008. She is married and a mother of two sons. She has a bachelor’s degree in Islamic studies and sociology from Pakistan and a bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies from United States. Along with her career as an interpreter, translator and monitor she is also an Islamic and Pakistani Culture Adviser.

As a practicing Muslim with the extensive world travel and living in the West, she has devoted herself to spread awareness of Islam as a goodwill gesture. In an effort to do this she started writing from her own personal experiences with religion, beliefs and life in a different culture. She also has special interest in all the religions and how and why they are all important to its followers. Her primary focus is on the co-existence and harmony between all human beings. Her message is to spread peace not division. She strongly believes that if you want to be closer to your creator then love His creation unconditionally and expect nothing in return for He loves us unconditionally and forgives us no matter how sinful we are!

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