I was invited to a Somali wedding feast the other day. We sat, three to a platter, heaped with rice. On top of the rice reposed chunks of cooked meat, pieces of banana, onion, and slices of green pepper. One apparently ate all this together!
On another occasion I ate with a Jordanian Arab jamaat. Three bowls lay before us: one took a slice of bread, dipped it in the first bowl of olive oil, then into another of some seeds and finally into the third to take a piece of raw tomato. All this made a morsel to be popped into ones mouth. Likewise, being an Indian, I’ve ate at countless Indian Muslim eatings, consuming traditional Indian dishes like biryani and dhal and rice with relish!
I sat back and thought to myself: on most of these occasions the food was definitely unique, to say the least. But, and here’s the crunch line, I felt totally at home with the Arabs and Somalis as I did with the Indians. Why? I realized the common, binding factor was the culture of Islam which accompanied all these occasions: washing the hands before eating, eating together, sitting on the floor and eating and the talk was full of cosy phrases like Alhamdu lillah, and Jazakallah.
This then is the secret behind the Muslims’ power which we’ve largely forgotten in the headlong rush to imitate supposedly superior lifestyles such as that of the west and in dividing ourselves up on nationalist or tribal lines.
The early Arab Muslims went to different corners of the world, leaving behind a lasting culture of Islam which displaced people’s own cultures. Moroccans, Indians, Malays, Turks, Mongols, Egyptians all embraced the culture of Islam, the Sunnah and lifestyle of Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alaihi wa sallam with such passion that his language is the mother-tongue of diverse nationalities up to today, the dress of the Sahaba, with minor cultural tweakings, is essentially worn from Malaysia to Nigeria and the etiquettes of Islam in weddings, eating, dressing and everyday, commonplace things makes a Muslim traveler feel at home in any Musjid in the world, with any Muslim around the world.
True to the hadith that the Muslim nation is like one body, Muslims from diverse backgrounds work as a unique, coherent, irresistable force when bound by these ties of Islam.