PIP 12: Malay Traditional Customs: Towards A Shariah Compliant Practice
Culture is a defining element and criterion of the identities of countries and communities around the globe. Culture is signified by the sum total of ideas, meanings and practices upheld by a community and reflected in their shared characteristics. Despite serving as a part of social identity, however, culture is fluid and often interacts with other cultures and aspects of life, such as history and religion. The intersection of Islamic teachings and their influences with various cultures across the Muslim world is a reality that can hardly be denied. Stretching from Europe to Africa, the Near East and beyond, Islam has met world civilisations at multiple crossroads. During this process of meeting, Islamic values have been assimilated into different civilisations that have nonetheless retained their own unique ethnic and territorial cultures. The great Malay traditions and customs of the past form a part of this rich mosaic of Muslim global ethos. Yet due to its long historical roots and geographical context, Malay culture also retains its own peculiarities. Cultural evolution has significantly shaped the Malay psyche across the centuries. This influence can be seen in Malay lifestyles, everyday practices and seasonal celebrations. Everyday codes of conduct connected to births, weddings, deaths and royal ceremonies exhibit a manifest fusion of historical vestiges with present cultures. As these historical practices often originate with the pre-Islamic period, their Hindu-Buddhist and animistic traces remain palpable. Therefore, closer attention to these customary practices is called for to ascertain their conformity to core Islamic tenets. Throughout the long history of its development, the shariah has not failed to address cultural realities through different avenues, often taking pragmatic approaches to safeguard people’s convenience and human interests. The concept of ‘urf, for instance, serves as Islam’s main avenue for the recognition of local customs. This PIP observes, inter alia, some Malay customary practices in the light of ‘urf and tasyabbuh (assimilation), two shariah concepts that are instrumental in gauging the legality of social norms and conventions. This PIP also advances a number of both theoretical and actionable recommendations aimed at enhancing public awareness regarding suspected customs, while also promoting policy initiatives to regulate those practices. These include the suggestion that civil societies and religious authorities keep an active profile of awareness-raising among the Malay public concerning unwarranted practices and provide them with adequate guidelines regarding their traditions, customs and concerns. Religious leaders should alert the general public to instances of conflict and tension between customary practices and their Islamic beliefs. It is hoped that through persistent awareness raising efforts and guidance, the Malay community will be able to stay true to their religious principles while preserving in the meantime their rich customary heritage and unique identities.
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