Three hundred million Muslims – one-fifth of the Ummah’s population – live as minorities today. The challenges they face in an increasingly hostile world are largely incomprehensible to those living in Muslim-majority countries. To be clear, each country differs in its political and strategic matters, and it would be incorrect to assume that hostility exists in every country.
Nevertheless, one cannot ignore developing world events and the pressure they will subsequently exert on Muslim minorities. The Swiss ban on minarets; French aversion to burqa; Danish blasphemy; and the American call for assimilation are strong indicators of how the West now views Muslims.
Indeed, some may argue that this is the world Muslims have created for themselves. That the small minority of Muslims accused of spreading violence and crime in conflict-ridden zones is responsible for the worldwide hatred and prejudice against Islam. It does not seem to matter, however, that the cause of such terror is unjust war and occupation.
Other “experts” say Europe fears its “weak” character will be overpowered by the “strong” culture of Muslim minorities. “When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident and strengthened by common doctrines, it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter,” said Christopher Caldwell, senior editor of the right-wing US publication The Weekly Standard in a recent interview with Spiegel Online.
Whatever may be the cause of the current Islamophobia, the result borne out is the same: Muslims will find little acceptance in 21st century Western societies.
Caldwell further says: “Islam poses difficulties that other immigrant groups do not […] A lot of overly optimistic people expect Muslims to give up, or to modify, their religion over time.” What seems to be the prime concern for Caldwell – and the increasing number of right-wing extremists – is whether Muslims will eventually give up their religion to “assimilate” with the West.
But it’s not Western countries I want to focus on – they have a right to define the kind of society they want. I want to question the Muslim World, the Ummah that we dream to portray to the world as being the perfect nation. What have we done to help those affected Muslim minorities? Fifty seven Muslim countries – making up one-third of the world – exist. Yet our brethren-in-faith have to go through humiliation to preserve their identity! Which Muslim country is ready to welcome them? Are they not entitled to be governed by their own laws?
It is hypocritical to condemn China and France while we ourselves extend no helping hand to the Muslims living there. Our foe Israel grew stronger with the power of Jewish immigration – aliyah, as it’s called in the Jewish religion. A Jew gets citizenship on arrival in Israel.
In Islam, we have Hijrah (migration to Muslim lands) – a fundamental tenet that is largely unrecognized by the Muslim World today. Yet, with the intention of Hijrah, thousands of Muslims live and work in the Middle East so they need not be ashamed of their Muslim identity, and so they can practice their faith freely. The Middle East offers both benefits – Islamic environment and good employment opportunities. However, foreign workers never know when they will be sent back, because immigration is virtually non-existent in these countries. Online forums on Hijrah have hundreds of members from all over the world seeking help and advice on immigration to Muslim lands.
The world has changed for Muslims after 9/11. Hate crimes and diatribes have increased significantly. Yaser Birjas, an Islamic preacher in the US who teaches in the noted Al-Maghrib Institute and blogs in one of the top influential blogs called Muslim Matters, wrote an article in Oct. 2009 that traced the history of how Muslims were slowly evicted from Spain – a country they had ruled for 800 years. “(Muslims) were expelled forcibly from a land they once called home, and the only home they had ever known. The reason for their expulsion was that they were perceived by the Spanish monarchy, who became the new rulers of the land, as different,” Yasir wrote in The Odyssey of a Forgotten Nation. After tracing the events in brief, he concluded, “Today, what can we, as Western Muslims, learn from their experience? In the rising ethnic and religious tensions in the world […] how can we avoid another odyssey from happening?”
Muslim minorities are clearly worried about their future. They have received no hope from Muslim lands. Community leaders are trying their best to protect the interests of Muslims by appeasing the majority, while compromising their religious values in the process.
Hijrah is the solution to several problems the Muslim World faces. This means we must work on special provisions and laws for Muslim immigration. Everyone seems to understand that we are one community, except for the Muslim World itself, which appears to be drifting into a more nationalistic fervor based on race and ethnicity.
Frustrated with the utter lack of this important sentiment, I directed pressing questions to the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), which has a membership of 57 states, is the second-largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations, and which claims that it is “the collective voice of the Muslim world ensuring to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world.” But the reply I received in July last year dwarfed the image of what the organization claims it stands for. The email said: “The OIC cannot comment on this issue because it is not on its agenda or within its charter and it is a sovereign issue of the member states.” The OIC cannot be blamed as its boundaries of influence have been set by Muslim countries. The OIC is genuinely limited. It “cannot discuss an issue unless the member states want to,” I was told.
Today’s Muslim countries may not be enthusiastic about easing Muslim immigration. A prime concern may be that migrants will exhaust a country’s resources and rob the wealth of the “indigenous”. But Hijrah should not be looked at solely from a materialistic perspective. Helping Muslim minorities is a collective responsibility of the Ummah, which will ultimately strengthen the Muslim World and may unite it for common goals. Yes, sacrifices will be required, but the ultimate good that will emanate will far surpass any adverse outcome.
Muslim migration, as is well-known, began with Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself (from Makkah to Madina). The migration transformed an impoverished town into the capital of the Islamic Caliphate that touched Europe to its West and Indus Valley to its East.
Even from a materialistic perspective, “the depletion of resources” is a myth. The greatest resource for any country is human capital, and immigration brings over diversely skilled human resources.
In recent history, tens of thousands of Muslims migrated to Pakistan when it separated from India in 1947. From an economic perspective, what the migration achieved is quite noteworthy. The majority of migrants, among whom were highly-educated technocrats, settled in Karachi – making the city a melting pot of all Pakistani culture. The diverse skill available in this multi-ethnic city contributed to making it the economic hub of Pakistan. Today, over 65 percent of Pakistan’s economy is generated by Karachi.
Silicon Valley – the most inventive place on earth – could not have been what it is without immigrants. According to research published by Business Week in February 2009, more than half of Silicon Valley start-ups were founded by immigrants over the last decade.
The problem with the Muslim World is a lack of strong faith. We are enveloped in an inferiority complex and divided into sects. Which nation can succeed if it doesn’t believe in itself and its principles?
Solutions are achievable. But Muslim leaders and masses must unite upon the core beliefs taught by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and must have a strong conviction in their identity as one nation. We only have to look back at our history for that faith. With Islam, Muslims built one of the finest civilizations the world has ever seen.
Imagine what would have happened if there had been one well-governed Muslim country that had worked on these lines and had embraced Hijrah. Natural resources – abundant in most Muslim countries – coupled with skilled human resources from around the world might have easily transformed that nation into one of the superpowers of the world.