Questions for Muslims today
As we learned from the way Islam melted people into a society, people generally – and minorities specifically – feel they have a stake in society when they feel welcome, are given space to find their feet and practice their own faith in a protected sphere, without vilification and pressure to reform their religion from its basis. They feel they have a stake when they feel that justice and opportunities are truly for all.
In such a way there is a natural process of an appreciation of the natural environment in which one lives, and even an adoption of those material aspects of culture that do not contradict one’s principles and beliefs. This is the natural process that existed for centuries in the Muslim world that allowed minorities – religious and ethnic – to feel attached to their state, preserving many rich cultural variations in a way that did not cause division and resentment.
For Muslims in modern Europe – including Britain – this has not only been denied through the attempts at social censorship on the personal views of Muslims, laws banning the hijab, niqaab, a discriminatory foreign policy and oppressive legislation, none of which will help the process of harmonizing society.
Muslims searching for an identity themselves
What we have discussed so far is the story from the outside of the Muslim community. There is a different narrative from within the Muslim community.
Most Muslims in Europe hail from families who migrated from Muslim majority countries. Many of these people – whether refugees or economic migrants – did not intend to make Britain or Europe their permanent home. But after starting young families, it soon became clear ‘moving back’, which wasn’t always an option, wasn’t that easy. By the time children reached secondary school age it was often too late to allow for a smooth relocation to the country of origin.
The Second Generation
For the second generation, who were born or grew up in Britain or Europe, identity was not always a simple matter.
Many immigrants (not only Muslims) have met hostility within Britain because they didn’t tick a box marked ‘White British’ – whether their families originated from Jamaica, Pakistan, Bangladesh – or within Europe from countries like Ireland, Poland or Cyprus.
For younger Muslims this meant exploring their identity further – and that wasn’t always answered by looking back to the countries their parents came from. That could be because those countries didn’t offer any sort of home anymore – for example Muslims that came to the UK from East Africa; or because the link to the country of origin grew weaker with each successive generation.
Whatever the reason, not ticking the ‘White British’ box sometimes led to a sense of alienation.
Reactions to the alienation
This alienation has provoked a variety of reactions.
Some preferred to wholly adopt an identity based around their ancestry. They would wave a Pakistani flag as much as anyone in Pakistan; or wear African dress more than most people in Africa – despite having been born and brought up in the UK.
Others developed a ‘wannabe-British’ attitude – craving acceptance by the host community and adapting as much as was necessary to be accepted, even if it meant looking ridiculous in the process. Many a comedy stereotype over the years has been based on the ‘wannabe-British’ characters.
Others found other ways to reconcile their identity – easier in the multicultural era of the 1980s and 1990s and in cities such as London. In those environments people accepted difference more than in monocultural areas – so being different was not always a contradiction to being accepted.
But increasing numbers looked to Islam as their identity. It was based on a principled belief. It crossed continents easier that a country-based identity. It felt right as well as wasn’t a break with the past. New Muslims – people who ‘converted’ or ‘reverted’ to the faith – were linked to those born into Muslim families.
Clearly the preference of the secular state is to see more Muslim adopting a secular identity. This makes for a more pliant community. One brother recently revived a quote from Malcolm X (may Allah give him Rahma) “It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong. What do you do? You integrate it with cream, you make it weak. But if you pour too much cream in it, you won’t even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep.”
Weak, cool, sedate Muslims is what many secular governments would love to see.
The questions that Muslims have to face about their identity are complex.
How do Muslims reconcile Islamic duties to their Ummah, with living in a non Muslim country that may have belligerent policies towards the Muslim world?
How do Muslims reconcile Islamic duties to people around them – including neighbours, Muslim and non Muslims – with an increasingly hostile climate?
How do Muslims retain their Islam values in societies dominated by secular liberal values, and in the face of a state policy of ‘forced conversion’?
How do they answer these questions from an Islamic basis rather than falling for the state-sponsored calls for a reformation in Islam?
They are questions for Muslims to answer – without interference from government and state.
They have to answer these in such a way that the Muslims do not lose their deen.
Awf b. Malik al-Ashja’i narrated that the Messenger of Allah (saw) said: “My Ummah will become divided into some seventy sects, the greatest will be the test of the people who make analogy to the deen with their own opinions, with it forbidding what Allah has permitted and permitting what Allah has forbidden.” [Al-Tabarani in Al-Kabeer wal-Bazaar, Al-Haithami in Majma’ Al-Zawaa’id, Part 1/ the Book of Knowledge]
May Allah save us from being from that group.
Dr. Abdul Wahid
Chairman of the Executive Committee
Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain