The Plight of the Diasporic Muslim Community in the West
Etymologically diaspora comes from a Greek word which means scattered and dispersed. Generally, a diasporic community explains people who have to leave their homeland for another part, region or country of the world. In most instances, the act of leaving one’s motherland is involuntary. Many diasporic communities around the globe are forced to leave due to unfavourable conditions in their place of origin or driven away by an invading army or regime. For a very long time, Western media uses the word diaspora exclusively to describe the Jewish diaspora alone, but in actual fact, there are many others that be classified as diasporic communities. A few examples to state here will be the Hijrah made by the Prophet of Islam and his followers, three million Muslims who were expelled from Spain between the years 1492-1610, Africans who were taken away to the Americas under the slave trade (1776-1865), the Palestinians who have to leave their country due to the Israeli occupation and atrocities, Rohingyas due to the genocide carried out by the regime in Myanmar, and very recently, the exodus and migration of 6.8 million Syrian refugees have to flee for their safety and security. It is said that about 1 million Syrians crossed over to Europe as refugees and asylum seekers.
Muslims in Europe and America
The conquest of Persia, carried out by the Rashidun Caliphate in the years between 633 and 653 AD, opened the passageway for the first batch of migrant Muslims to enter Europe through the Caucasus region. Later, Muslims entered Southern Europe with the Umayyad conquest of Hispania, the region comprising the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th-10th centuries. During the Middle Ages, Islam spread from Spain to neighbouring Portugal, Sicily and Malta. On the whole, the Muslims who went to Europe in the early days were very much diverse in their origin and historical background. Most Muslims of that time settled in the Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, as well as in some Russian Republics). While in the Americas, the earliest Muslims who came there in the 14th century came from the Senegambian region of Africa. This group of Muslims were the Moors expelled from Spain who later went to the Caribbean, and from there, they went to the Gulf of Mexico.
In the twentieth century, as a result of Algerian Independence, a large number of Muslims migrated to France. In the year 1961, West Germany and Switzerland opened their doors to migrant workers from Turkey. Likewise, Muslims who went to Britain were from its former colonies, like Pakistan and Bangladesh.
According to reports from Pew Research Centre say that the EU is now home to 2.7% of the world’s Muslim population. In 2017, Pew also predicted that the Muslim population of Europe would increase between 7% to 14 % by 2050. In terms of the largest Muslim concentration in Europe, France tops the list with 3.35 million. Next comes Germany, which has recently taken in 1 million Muslim refugees from Syria. In contrast to France and Germany, Slovakia is the least friendly of all countries in the EU toward Muslims.
The Influx of Muslims into Europe
At the moment, roughly 44 million Muslims have been residing in Europe, which includes expatriates, students, migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. The factors behind the large influx of Muslims in Europe are related to the political turmoil in the Middle East, the outbreak of war, sectarian violence and terror attacks on the civilian population, brain drain, Western preemptive war on Muslim lands, etc. Below here is a further elaboration on factors that cause Muslims to migrate:
Political Turmoil: Was the discovery of oil in the Middle East a blessing or a curse is a thing only known to God alone. Ever since the discovery of oil, countries in the Middle East became destabilized. The newfound prosperity through the sale of oil and gas became a temptation for political leaders to scramble to power. The rivalry in politics has led to a topsy-turvy situation in the management of the countries. In the past, the Arab world had seen a few coup d'états. When the government of the day was overthrown and a power vacuum came into effect, anarchism and the idea that ‘might is right’ became the order of the day. In witnessing the chaos and lawlessness, the masses tend to move to more secure regions of the world, like Europe and the Americas.
War and Sectarian Violence: When two rival groups of different ideologies or denominations go to war against one another, with rampant bomb blasts heard here and there in the cities, civilians in those countries were left with no choice other than to move away from their homeland leaving behind their land and property. Impoverished because of the war situation, they go to the extent of accepting the status of refugees and asylum seekers in other parts of the world.
Terror Attacks: The lives of the Muslim masses are not only terrorized by the radical groups in their own countries but more so by the invading armies. The occupiers of the Muslim lands, who entered with the pretext of restoring democracy, peace and freedom, in reality, came with their clandestine plan of stealing oil and usurping the wealth of the Muslim world. To that end, in achieving their planned mission, they recklessly kill those who resist them. With the latest war machines and drones, they hunt their enemies at the cause of killing thousands of those who are innocents. They normally justify the killing of hundreds or even thousands of civilians as collateral damage. They often suspiciously and mistakenly kill a man and later put a ‘terrorist’ label on him. Since the world media is under their control, they control the narrative by saying they are the champions of democracy and world peace, while the Muslims want war and bloodshed.
The Challenges Faced by the Diasporic Muslims in the West
Witnessing the chaos, political instability, mismanagement, terror attack, and war in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world made the masses brave themselves to cross mountains, vast desert land and oceans to make an exodus to the West. In the course of migrating, they have to face many challenges. There is always a possibility while crossing the border of one country to another, they can be killed in the crossfire, a bomb dropped from the air, step on a landmine, die of exhaustion or drowned in the high sea. There are many reported cases of the drowning of children and women while making an escape using small and unreliable boats. According to the 2021 UN report, over 3,000 refugees drowned or went missing at sea while making attempts to enter Europe. For those who succeed in making it into Europe, their sufferings are far from over. Over in Europe, they have to face some new challenges. Below here, we have listed a few of those challenges:
Different Culture and Values System:
Being present in Europe makes the newly arrived Muslims feel that they are exposed to a new culture and value system that is very different from their Islamic one. Normally, it takes some time for them to get used to the new lifestyle in a foreign land. Though they live in a safe environment, it is very difficult to rid their hearts and minds of thinking about their homes and others they have left behind. Some refugees will take the opportunity in Western countries and try to adapt themselves quickly.
Islamophobia: Despite the Western governments’ willingness to accept refugees and asylum seekers into their countries, there are voices heard in those countries to drive away the newcomers (who are the unwanted guests) back to their countries of origin. This group of protesters use the internet and social media as their platforms to garner support for their movement. Through their propaganda message, they use derogatory names like terrorists, fundamentalists, extremists, jihadis, etc., against Muslims. Not only that, but they also attack the personality of Prophet Muhammad SAW. Besides Muslim men, women who observe the Islamic dress code are harassed and embarrassed in public places and on social media. The very extreme Islamophobes organize Qur’an burning campaigns, terrorize the mosque community and sometimes even kill Muslims. Over the decade, many shooting incidents happened in Western countries targeting the Muslim community. The ones that happened in Norway and New Zealand seem to be the biggest in terms of the number of people killed.
Things the Diasporic Muslims Should Avoid in the West
Muslims who, for one reason or the other, ended up in the West must abide by certain moral principles. Since they are on foreign soil and have to survive, Muslims should be careful in dealing with matters related to the local authorities there. The following will be some of the things they should avoid doing:
- They should respect the law of the countries of their domicile.
- At no time during their stay in the West should they threaten the local authorities by saying that they will change the country into an Islamic one and implement the Syariah law in the midst of European society.
- All throughout their stay in the West, they should use the democratic channel to voice their complaints to the authorities and not give in to violent means to show their resentment.
- Muslims should not isolate themselves completely from Western society. In matters that do not violate the Syariah and Aqidah principles, they should join in with others, especially on issues related to the public interest. Muslims have a valid reason from the Syariah perspective for not supporting LGBT and other anti-Islamic movements.
- Overzealous Muslim scholars and evangelical organizations should avoid touching the sensitivities of other religious groups living in the West. They should avoid belittling what they believe and worship.
Recommended Mannerism for the Diasporic Muslims in the West:
- Muslims should learn to coexist with people of other civilizations.
- Muslims should look into the commonalities between them and the Europeans and avoid all religious and racial conflicts.
- If there are any differences of opinion, they should apply the principle of “Agree to Disagree”.
- Take the opportunity to learn all that is positive and allowed in Islam and simultaneously share their concept of spirituality when there is an opportunity available to do so.
- Highly encouraged to participate in interfaith dialogues. During such meetings, do not disparage other people’s faith and concept of God.
- For scholars who want to promote Islam to people of other faiths, in their communication, they should apply a lot of diplomacy and persuasion. Besides that, their behaviour should reflect the ethical values emphasized in the Qur’an and Sunnah.
- They should bind a good relationship with their immediate neighbours in the locality in which they live.
- Muslims who take citizenship in Western countries should demonstrate their loyalty and respect the laws of those countries.
What the Muslim World Needs to do:
- To stop the mass exodus of Muslims to the West, by all means, countries in the Middle East should avoid conflicts and wars.
- Dialogues and negotiations should be the first preference in resolving differences between two countries.
- To avoid all political tension in the Muslim World, power transitions should happen democratically.
- Leaders should put public interest above their personal interest.
- Leaders should think of providing good health care services, education, job opportunities, and other basic necessities of life to their people.
- In running their countries, leaders should open the democratic channel for public opinions to be heard, no violation of human rights, and no racism and religious prejudice toward minority populations in their countries. All citizens, Muslims and others should be given their human rights and dealt with in the spirit of “fairness and justice”.
- To bring much-needed peace and prosperity to the Muslim World, leaders should be at the forefront of propagating the philosophy of “Less Politicking, and More Thinking is Needed” among their subjects.
- When a refugee crisis happens due to war in the Middle East, neighbouring countries that are affluent and have vast land reserves should temporarily take in the refugees until peace is restored in the country of the refugees.
What Countries in the West Should do:
- To avoid the mass migration of Muslim refugees into Europe and America, countries in the West should stop their interference in the politics of the Middle East. Their greed for controlling oil and gas in the Muslim World should not cause them to destabilize Muslim countries.
- The West has to understand that when it disturbs the region of the Middle East, people from that troubled region of the world are going to come to Europe and ask for help. Like what people say, “What goes around, comes around”. As a consequence of the Western atrocities in the Middle East, European has to face the burden of the influx of Muslim refugees.
- The West should abandon the idea of bombing countries in the Middle East. By now, the West should have realized that by bombing, you cannot stop terrorism. True to the saying, ‘terror breeds terror’, by terrorizing the people in the Middle East, the West is going to produce more terrorists, and the vicious circle is never going to stop. Instead of bombing, the West should try other diplomatic means of solving conflicts in the Middle East.
- The West should leave all matters related to the Muslim World to be dealt with by the OIC member countries.
- All preemptive wars waged in the Muslim World should come to a stop. The West should realize that such wars have killed a great multitude of civilians in countries like Iraq, Syria and Libya.
- As an alternative to war and confrontations in the Middle East, the West should learn to get along with Muslim countries and just focus on areas of trade, science and technology.
In realizing the pain, agony, embarrassment, and religious and racial prejudices experienced by the diasporic Muslim community in the West, all leaders in the Muslim World should put a stop to war and resolve all differences through peaceful means. By stopping war and sectarian violence in the Muslim World, we could easily avoid a refugee crisis that spills over to the West. Muslim leaders in the Middle East should feel embarrassed when their citizens wander into European countries, asking to be accepted as refugees or asylum seekers. It is about time; the Muslim World should reflect on the ideal and lofty teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah and mend their ways of managing their own affairs.
Dr. Mohd Abbas Abdul Razak: Assistant Professor, Dept. of Fundamental & Inter-Disciplinary Studies, Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge & Human
Dr. Machouche Salah: Assistant Professor, Dept. of Fundamental & Inter-Disciplinary Studies, Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge & Human
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily mirror Islamonweb’s editorial stance.