It is often argued that the younger generation of Muslims, especially in Western Europe are more influenced by their confined culture than their elders. From one side of the spectrum, we see a category of Muslims who regard Europe as a safe haven for total freedom and endless opportunities but poles apart; we meet the other kind of Muslims who deem Europe to be a cultural threat to the Muslim community. But does a ‘culture clash’ really hinder integration? Before delving into unnecessarily intricate matters, it may be of invaluable help to understand the actual meaning of the word ‘integration’.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, its definition is pretty straight-cut: ‘The intermixing of people who were previously segregated’. Now, aside from cultural aspects, many additional elements need to be taken into consideration when deciding whether Islam can integrate into society: i.e, are Muslims fit for integration? Does Islamophobia put a break on integration? Are we truly willing to integrate? Is Islam excluded from society? How do we preserve our identity? And of course, last but not least, what is Islam doing in this very day and age to integrate?
Islam on Integration
The basis of Islam is derived from the Holy Qur’an, in which God Almighty has removed the misconstrued conception that Muslims do not practice ‘integration’. We read the following:
لَا يَنْهَاكُمُ اللَّهُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ وَلَمْ يُخْرِجُوكُمْ مِنْ دِيَارِكُمْ أَنْ تَبَرُّوهُمْ وَتُقْسِطُوا إِلَيْهِمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُقْسِطِينَ
Allah forbids you not respecting those who have not fought against you on account of your religion, and who have not driven you our from your homes, that you be kind to them and deal equitably with them;The Holy Qur’an (60:9)
We have entered an era of supposed ‘full-fledged freedom’ – the 21st century. Despite progression in society, there is only one man courageously speaking out against extremism and removing all kinds of false conceptions of Islam – our beloved Caliph, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad abaabbreviation for "May Allah be his helper", the head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Just last year, His Holiness was interviewed on tour by Sveriges Television (Swedish TV) in Malmo, Sweden. Among the array of questions, Huzoor abaabbreviation for "May Allah be his helper" was met with a question on the contemporary issue of ‘integration into society’. Upon being questioned, Huzoor abaabbreviation for "May Allah be his helper" very calmly responded saying:
‘For me, true integration is to love the country in which you live and to be completely loyal to it. Thus, all immigrants should be loyal to their adopted nation, they should truly love it, they should honour it, they should be law abiding and work for its prosperity and progress. This is integration’
Unfortunately, Muslims are continually opposed by groups of anti-Islamic activists or simply those who are openly Islamophobic proclaiming that Islam cannot integrate into society due to all the uproar and turmoil Muslims are supposedly causing in this world. Our Beloved Huzoor abaabbreviation for "May Allah be his helper" also cleared up any doubtful notions of Islam being linked to any such terrorist organisations, by categorically refuting this argument. Huzoor abaabbreviation for "May Allah be his helper" stated:
‘Anyone who preaches or propagates any form of extremism acts completely against the true teachings of Islam and is to be condemned. We Ahmadi Muslims, are peace loving and so no Ahmadi Muslim has any desire to join extremist groups. We teach our children from childhood that to be peaceful is an essential part of their faith.’
Now, coming back to the initial definition of ‘integration’ one must understand that according to His Holiness, a supplementary definition would be;
- Extremism has no place in Islam
- Loyalty is key to integration
- Being a law-abiding citizen is compulsory
Why then does this issue arise? A primary factor is that there has indeed been a rapid settlement and influx of Muslim migrants into European countries which has raised some challenges for policymakers. However, ethnic tensions only arose due to an extremist minority that has shook nations and put them under potential threat; with the protests against the publication of the Muhammad saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" cartoons in Denmark, 9/11 attacks in the U.S., Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris and the stabbings in Munich to name a few. On the other hand, despite the attention given to these events by the media and propaganda that rustled its way into people’s mind, one tends to forget that Islam does in fact mean ‘peace’.
If we trace history back to its roots of civilisation and flick through the first records of historical evidence relating to war, we find that, according to the Encyclopaedia of War, from a total of 1,763 wars ever recorded during 5 millennia worth of wars, only 66 were waged in the name of Islam – a mere 3.7% of all historical conflicts are attributed to Islam and let’s not brush off the fact that Muslims in this day and age make up around 25% of the world’s population. On top of that, Islam spread rapidly towards the east and the west of Arab countries just decades after the demise of the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him", and has ever since then been growing faster than any other religion in the world.
A survey conducted by Ipsos MORI in the UK found that we think one in five British people are Muslims (21%), when in reality the actual figure is only 5% (one in twenty). An open-minded individual can see that the media has portrayed a crooked perception of Muslims by indirectly and at times directly hinting at Islam being a radically motivated religion aspiring to conquer the world. Besides, if one puts things into perspective, since 1970, Muslims have been deemed responsible for 0.00009% out of 140,000 terror attacks – in other words, you are more likely to be struck by lightning in your lifetime than a Muslim carrying out a terror attack within the same time span.
The sole reason for listing such facts upon figures is not just to prove that there is an appalling misconception of Islam prevalent in the world in regards to history, population and background, but to allude to the fact that because of this global issue instigated via propaganda, Muslims have struggled to truly integrate due to oppression or perhaps innate fear instilled in the hearts of non-Muslim residents.
A question, perhaps not raised often enough is, ‘why are Muslims accused of failing to integrate into society?’ Right-wing political parties and nationalists often argue that left-wing parties are not strict enough with their policies of immigration.
They claim that Muslims can only live in their respective European countries if their religious practices and customs fully adopt values and traditions of that country/society. Then again, they argue that if Muslims do not give up their teachings then it means they do not want to integrate into the society, hence I would like to pose a question – does that mean Muslims have to neglect their faith to integrate?
The answer is a straight forward ‘no’. If there is any religion which could be classed as eligible for integration then it is in fact Islam. A few years ago, beloved Huzoor abaabbreviation for "May Allah be his helper" made a powerful yet thought-provoking comment during an address at a reception held at the Bait-ur-Rasheed Mosque in Hamburg, he said the following:
“… true Islam naturally pulls society towards it like a magnet.”
Subsequently, many critics were quick to pose questions and jump to conclusions. Among these remarks, most commonly the treatment of women was brought forward for discussion. Unfortunately, there is an ill concept widespread in the world that women are not treated fairly at all. However, this allegation carries no support. In fact, women are rightly granted dignity in abundance.
In an era where women were merely regarded a possession, Islam was the first and foremost religion to give women rights to remarry and divorce if suffering from ill-treatment or abandonment.
Additionally, they were given rights to own property, to inherit wealth and the right to obtain education, a law only passed by the British Parliament in 1882, Married Women’s Property Act. The responsibility for the maintenance of the wife and children was placed on the husband over 1,500 years ago – only recently have child support laws been enforced in this country. These are provisions that have only relatively recently come into order in the western world, yet Muslim women are deemed to be severely oppressed.
The most commonly conceived notion behind the term ‘integration’ seems to be that integration means to fully immerse oneself in a new culture, society and way of life. How exactly? Presumably by engaging in activities which may go against one’s beliefs by adapting certain customs like consuming alcohol, shaking hands with the opposite gender or simply compromising their dignity by dressing in an obscene and immodest manner – imitating another nation.
Regarding this very matter, the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" once said the following:
“Whosoever imitates another people (leaving the way and tradition of his own community and people) will be considered one of them”(Abu Dawood)
At this very instance, an anti-Islam activist may allege as to why Muslims then bother to at all change their ways when settling into a western nation.
However, what most people seem to disregard is that if one is to leave one’s tradition, community and people then surely it has been subconsciously accepted that one’s own way of life is inferior to the new society one is entering. Immediately, this person would start to blindly follow and imitate this new lifestyle, falling into state of mental slavery. For instance, during the British rule of India, the conditions of Muslims changed so substantially that they surrendered despairingly before their culture and were quick to abandon their beards, discard their veils and enclose themselves with never-before-seen goblets of all kinds of wine. In order to tackle this often blindly disregarded matter and accurately correlate oneself with integration without exceeding bounds, attention needs to be directed towards the two following determining factors:
- When adopting another culture/nation one needs to be reassured that it does not go against the spirit of Islamic teaching and tradition.
- It must not be blindly adopted, in fact, it should be deeply scrutinised putting aside its pros and cons, weighing them out, and only then making a fair judgement.
In one way or another, this concept of preserving culture and religion is viewed by westerners as harmful to society as it supposedly leads to self-inflicted hindrance towards integration. However, what may shock most britons is that according to a survey carried out by the University of Essex, it was determined that 77% of Muslims ‘identified with the UK’ compared to only 50% of the general public.
What’s more is 82% of Muslims are willing to live in diverse and mixed neighbourhoods compared to only 63% of non-Muslim britons. Is this not sufficient evidence to support the ideology that Muslims want to integrate into society but are constantly held back by society itself?
It is as if a cruel mother was to tease her new-born with a teaspoon of honey but not let her child reach out for the spoon, despite its constant resolve to do so.
In essence, integration requires mutual involvement from both Muslims and non-Muslims. Due to media driven influence, non-Muslims have been rather hesitant at welcoming followers of Islam into their society. How can a mutual desire be established when 20% of non-Muslims do not want to live next to a Muslim? The fact is that integration cannot be forced. Both parties should make an effort to interact with one another as only then can we live in unity and establish widespread equality.
In other words, as harsh as it sounds, it is not only the responsibility of Britons to welcome minorities but also for the government to do their utmost best to aid minority groups integrate into society. The Religion Monitor 2017 identified three fundamental strategies for pushing integration and cohesion further in Western European governments and rules.
- Improve opportunities for participation, especially in the employment and educational systems.
- Accord Islam the same legal status as other institutional religious groups, thereby recognising religious diversity.
- Promote intercultural contacts and interreligious discussions, for example in schools, in neighbourhoods and in the media.
However, one year before these measures were proposed, let alone implemented, former Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron openly announced that Muslim women in Britain speak ‘little or no English’.
This statement provoked great backlash from the Muslim communities, nonetheless, Naz Shah, MP of Bradford West was quick to support David Cameron. She asked,
‘…with the third and fourth generations, it’s perfectly possible to live a life where you never have to speak English because everyone in the shops and services where you live speak your language… Have we actually undone some of the good work that has been done in terms of integration?’
This is all good and well but inevitably the question arises as to how Muslims have contributed towards an attempt at integration. The London and Manchester vigils last year featured Muslim brothers in blue in great numbers marching alongside the nation, exhibiting their slogan ‘I am a Muslim, ask me anything’ – does this not show that Muslims are willing to be approached? Many Ahmadi youngsters and teenagers are now proudly displaying these shirts across the whole of UK, at an attempt to remove misconceptions that Islam wants to remain forever reserved and that terrorism has no place in Islam. On top of that, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was at the front line to take on the ‘open door policy’, so all their mosques are completely translucent to the entire nation. Recently, the Ahmadiyya Community of the United States launched a ‘coffee, cake & true Islam’ scheme where residents can happily meet Ahmadi Muslims, have lunch with them and discuss what Islam really is.
Surely, a means of attaining a true level of integration is giving back to one’s nation and society. Hence, Ahmadis all around the UK actively engage in feeding the homeless, visiting care homes, participating in charity donations and challenges, donating blood, planting trees etc. yet some Islamophobes demand more and more. For instance, British government official, Louise Casey, proposed that ‘an oath of integration’ with British values and society should be undertaken by Muslims. However, what she seems to forget is that an oath of allegiance to the country we live in is already existent:
‘I solemnly pledge that I shall always be ready to sacrifice my life, wealth, time and honour for the sake of my faith, country and nation.’