Why Muslims Should not be Mere Imitators

ISLAM is a unique religion, different in many ways from other religions, whether the divinely revealed religions or man-made ones. Islam is unique in being from the beginning a universal religion, one for all of humanity. It is also unique in that its message is the final revealed message from Allah. Consequently its teachings have distinctive traits which in turn comprise the moral and ethical codes of the Muslim individual.
The Muslim should be distinct in his goals and his means of achieving his objectives. Islam has therefore made it of utmost importance to educate the Muslim to be unique in his outlook and existence in both spiritual and material matters, so that he may be an honorable ambassador of this religion.
The person who follows closely the ahadith of Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) will see how he stressed that the Muslims should not imitate the People of the Book, i e the Jews and the Christians, or still further the Magians and pagans. The Prophet said, "Whoever imitates a people becomes one of them." (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
Muslim scholars have also exerted much effort to draw the attention of Muslims to this great Islamic principle, which the renowned scholar, Ibn Taymiyyah, considered to be among the basic tenets of the Islamic shari'ah.
In another hadith the Prophet pointed out how a time will come when the Muslims will imitate the non-Muslims so closely that they will closely imitate whatever they do, even in trivial and illogical matters. Abu Sa'id Al-Khudri reported Allah's Messenger as saying, "You will tread the same path as was trodden by those before you, inch by inch and step by step, so much so that even if they enter the hole of a lizard you will follow them in that also." We said, "Messenger of Allah, do you mean the Jews and Christians (by the words ‘those before you'?" He said, "Who else (than these two religious groups)?" (related by Muslim)
There are four areas in which not imitating the non-Muslims has been explicitly expressed.
(a) matters of faith: This is the most dangerous form of imitation, for it leads to kufr (disbelief), such as associating partners with Allah. Examples of this are the Christian belief in the trinity and that Jesus is the son of Allah, or the claim of the Jews that Ezra ('Uzayr) was the son of Allah. The Qur'an says, "And the Jews say, ‘Ezra is the son of Allah,' and the Christians say, ‘The Messiah is the son of Allah.' That is the saying from their mouths. They imitate the saying of the unbelievers of old." (9:31)
(b) celebrations and festivities: These days many Muslims, due to a lack of proper understanding of Islamic teachings, openly participate in un-Islamic holidays or festivities, either secular or religious, about which the Prophet warned us. There is considerable evidence in the Sunnah of the Prophet stressing that Muslims should be distinct in their religious celebrations, which have been limited to two. Anas Ibn Malik (raa) narrated that the Prophet came to Madinah when they had two days they used to celebrate. He asked: "What are these days?" They said, "We used to celebrate these days during the days of ignorance (i e before Islam)." The Prophet replied, "Surely Allah has exchanged them for you with two better days - the day of al-Adha and the day of al-Fitr." (related by Abu Dawud). It is therefore not right for Muslims to celebrate Christmas, Halloween, New Years, etc, as this entails imitating the non-Muslims.
(c) acts of worship: There is also considerable evidence that the shari'ah calls on Muslims to be distinct in their acts of worship. An example here is the voluntary fast on the day of ‘Ashurah (the 10th of Muharram), regarding which the Prophet instructed Muslims to fast on the 10th plus the 9th or 11th, in order to differentiate themselves from the Jews, who fast on the 10th only (Yom Kippur).
(d) general habits and behaviour: This is probably the most conspicuous, covering a wide range of character traits and moral etiquette, such as dress code, general appearance and the cleanliness. For instance, Muslims are forbidden to use gold or silver utensils. Also, Muslim men are forbidden to wear gold or silk, and Muslim women are to wear modest clothing (the hijab).
Islam thus encourages the Muslims to be independent and distinct in both their lifestyles and their outlook on life. It has been reported that one of the Companions, Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud said, "None of you should be an imma'a (imitator), and he was asked, "What is an imma'a?" He replied, "One who says, ‘I am with the people. If they do good, I do good also; and if they do evil, I also do evil.' Rather, train yourselves to do good when others do good, but if they do evil, to refrain from their evil." Ibn Mas'ud further explained that an imma'a is one who follows people in their vain desires, forms, styles, speech and deeds.
There is a need for Muslims to be distinct. Since Islam is the final religion that Allah revealed to humanity, it must be unique in its teachings, clear in its modes of operation, and exemplary in the behavior of its adherents. If Islamic da'wah remains subservient to others, and Islamic thought and philosophy continue to rely on others, the world will not give any consideration to the universal claim of Muslim to be representatives of Allah's final revealed religion, which was concluded with the Seal of the Prophets, Muhammad. Allah says: "This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion." (5:3)
Therefore, Muslims need to review their outlook and roles in life. Islam should be the standard by which they measure all issues and solve all problems. Some might say that many Muslims do not know much about Islam and Islamic teachings. Such Muslims are obliged to inquire of the learned scholars around them, and they should in the meantime work hard to get themselves educated, at least in the essential teachings of Islam such as the articles of faith, the pillars of Islam, the major tenets of halal and haram (the lawful and the forbidden). Ignorance cannot for long be an excuse for failing to abide by Islamic injunctions; rather, seeking knowledge is encumbent upon all Muslims.
Knowledge and its acquisition occupy a prominent place in the teachings of Islam as attested to by the Qur'an and Sunnah. In the Qur'an, Allah, the Exalted says, "Allah will exalt those who believe among you, and those who have knowledge, to high ranks." (58:11).
Similarly, most of the hadith books contain a chapter on the virtue of knowledge as indicated by the following hadith: "A person who starts his journey to acquire knowledge, Allah eases his passage to paradise, and angels express their appreciation on his acts, spread their wings and all the creatures that are in the heavens and on the earth, including the fish in the water, ask for forgiveness for a learned person. A learned person is superior to (an ordinary) worshipper as the full moon is superior to all the stars. The learned are heirs of the prophets and the prophets do not leave any inheritance in the form of dirhams and dinars (i e material wealth), but they do leave knowledge as their legacy. As such a person who acquires knowledge acquires his full share." (Related by Abu Dawud and Al-Tirmidhi).
Courtesy: Manar As-Sabeel magazine