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Western Muslims and the Future of Islam

Western Muslims and the Future of Islam

With the implantation of large numbers of Muslims, mostly immigrants from the Indian Subcontinent and North Africa, in Western Europe, the issue of Islam’s place in what is , after all, an alien cultural environment has attracted increasing attention from scholars o both sides of the divide.

In that context three key questions are posed.

First, how should Muslims define their new homeland in relation to Islam? Is the West now part of Dar al-Islam (The Abode of Islam) or should it have some other designation?

Secondly, should Muslims obey laws that are un-Islamic if not, in some cases at least, anti-Islamic?

Finally, what should Muslims in the West do when and if their new non-Islamic homelands become engaged in conflict or even war with Muslim states?

In his latest book, Tariq Ramdan, a Swiss scholar of Islam, poses all three questions and offers some interesting answers. Ramadan, who is of Egyptian origin and a grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the founding father of the Muslim Brotherhood, does not offer any definition of Western Muslims, however.

The term West has a clear meaning and designates any geographic space in which the European culture, itself a synthesis of ancient Greco-Roman civilizations , plus Christianity and the Enlightenment is the dominant presence. In that sense the United States, Canada, sections of Latin America, Australia, and New Zealand are parts of the West.

There are, of course, some Western Muslims in that sense. They are divided into two groups: some long-established Muslim communities, especially in the Balkans that have shared Europe’s cultural heritage and developed within it for centuries. The Bosnians and the Albanians, for example, are Western Muslims as are the Tatar-Muslims in Poland.

The second group consists of native Europeans who nave converted, or as Ramadan likes to say, “reverted”, to Islam. The ballet choreographer Maurice Bejart, the French scholar Helen Meyerowicz and the Greek-British pop-star Cat Stevens (renamed Yussuf al-Islam) have no problem being Muslims in the West. They are Westerners who have converted to Islam.

But the vast majority of Muslims in the West cannot be described as Western in that sense. They are newcomers to Europe and North America, plus Australia and New Zealand, and do not look upon ancient Greece and Rome, let alone Christianity and the Enlightenment, as the fountainhead of their culture. It is the tension caused by the presence of these Muslims that merits special attention.

Ramadan tries to skirt that problem by reducing the West to nothing but a geographical expression or, at best, a machine for material production.

He writes: “Our consumerist societies {in the West} offer us home, food, comfort, and free time.” He later adds that the West is incapable of “educating the heart and mind”.

He writes” Muslim identity is a response to the question why? while our national identity { in the West} is a response to the question: how?”

Most Westerners would be offended by such a definition because they believe that what the West offers above all is a way of life based on individual freedom, pluralism and the dominance of earthly law. Muslims would also be offended because they believe that Islam tackles both “what” and “how” of human existence.

Ramadan claims that Western education amounts to nothing but “brainwashing” and proposes the creation of a parallel Islamic educational system in Europe and North America to teach the Westerners “true science.” He complains that sciences have become “non-Islamic” and need to be “re-Islamicised”, whatever that means.

Ramadan also makes an outlandish claim by suggesting that Islam “more than any other civilization has advanced science to a higher level.”

This should come as a surprise to the tens of thousands of Muslims who come to the West each year in pursuit of higher education, especially in scientific subjects.

Ramadan struggles hard to decide how to define the West. He rejects the concept of the West as Dar al-Harb (Abode of War) as outdated. He then suggests the label Dar al-Sulh (Abode of Truce) but translates the word “sulh” as “peace” which is entirely misleading. Concerned that he might be taken to task by more radical Muslims at this time of Western military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, Ramadan then considers the terms Dar al-Ahd (Abode of Treaty) and Dar al-Dhimma (Abode of Tribute). But these, too, appear unsatisfactory because there is no overall treaty between the West and the Islamic states while no Western nation pays any tribute (jeziah) to a non-existent Islamic Caliphate. Ramadan ends up with the term Dar al-Shihadah (Abode of Testimony) which, although it sounds inoffensive suffers from the disadvantage of being meaningless.

The question is: do we really need to label every part of the world in terms of amity or enmity? Isn’t this sort of apartheid precisely what Islamophobes would welcome as part of their argument that Islam is an aggressive faith that cannot tolerate other religions and cultures?

When it comes to aspects of the shariah that are hard to sell to a Western audience, Ramadan practices the old art of “kitman” ( obfuscation) and, at times, proposes a moratorium on such punishments as the stoning of adulteress women to death. But had he done his research well he would have known that stoning to death is never mentioned in the Koran which proposes the caning of both men and women found guilty of sexual intercourse outside of marriage.

Clearly, Ramadan’s intention is to reassure the West that Islam poses no threat. But the way he goes about this business is likely to sound many more alarm bells about Islam’s supposed “hidden agenda” to win world domination. He proposes “a global vision that integrates and makes the West into acquired territory, a land for Muslims.”

Ramadan poses the problem in a Manichean way: either the world becomes more Islamic or Islam becomes more this-worldly. If we reject that dichotomy we are left with the possibility of apartheid: separate spaces for Islam and the largely Westernised world.

Ramadan says that Muslims “should not submit to their environment {in the West} but, once secure, should Islamicise it.” He then pushes his Manichean approach further by pitting faith against reason. He insists that Islam should not submit to Reason. There is, of course, nothing in the Western system to force any faith or ideology to submit to Reason. All religions and ideologies are free to be as unreasonable as they like, as long as they obey the law and do not terrorise other citizens.

Ramadan is in deepest trouble when he grapples with the issue of applying the shariah in the West. He first elevates the shariah into a status that, in this opinion, smells of shirk (association), forgetting that this is a manmade construct that took shape centuries after the mission of Muhammad. He then admits that it would not be possible to impose the shariah on reluctant Western societies. His suggestion is that of a moratorium on aspects of the shariah that, if applied, would be in direct contravention of Western secular law.

Despite its obvious shortcomings, Ramadan’s book merits attention for two reasons. First, it poses some of the key questions with regard to the presence of tens of millions of Muslims in the West. And, secondly, he gives us an insight into how the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the largest Islamic fundamentalist organisations in Europe, hopes to answer those questions.

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

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