Multiculturalism: A debate, Western and Muslim Perspective, part-3

The debate heats up more than ever when it comes to discussion about Muslim minorities living in Western countries. Today about 35% to 40% of the Muslim population lives outside Muslim World, which is a sizable minority by any measures. It is not a new phenomenon as Muslim community always had tendency to live in new places and immigrate to the culture that may totally be alien to theirs. Islam's universal message has always inspired them to explore new possibilities of settling down away from their native place. In Islam or any other religion for that matter it is revealed that the earth belongs to Almighty God, thus it justified for a human to live every ever he/she wished to. Therefore, Muslims having been inspired of such notions like to live, if need be, in faraway lands. In this regard, the earliest known Muslim community migrated to Ethiopia to save itself from persecution by non-Muslim Arabs; it was first migration of its kind as newly found Muslim community for the first time migrating to an alien land.

Muslims, who live in Europe, Australia, and North America, are largely and justifiably considered immigrants, who are now well settled in those countries. But one wonders, what attracts them to immigrate and settle its posterity there? Of various reasons, economic attractions may be of top priority. While some individuals went there with a purpose to pursue higher studies, but did not return back to their native homeland and settled there permanently. And let’s not forget to converts/reverts whose numbers continue to rise within Western countries.

Muslim minorities continue to rise in numbers, however, given their tendency to social exclusion; Western governments, and their societies are faced with one 'serious question' that is, " Are they really here to integrate or to create a total parallel society inimical to their values of freedom and democracy".

Many Europeans critics of multiculturalism hold that; European governments have allowed excessive immigration without much effort of integration – a mismatch that has paved the way for the erosion of cohesive society. Thus, lack of integration of Muslim communities has undermined European identities. As a consequence, Europeans societies are now more divisive than ever before and social fissure, mutual distrust between the communities are inevitable outcomes in the end, it is something that every European is wary of.

Luckily, however, there are proponents of the ‘Multiculturalism’, who cite excessive racism is troublesome and not the excessive diversity. But the truth is very elusive in this debate and is somewhere between the complexities of both ends. While the debate turns into sophistry, in reality ‘Multiculturalism’ is turned into the proxy for various social and political issues, e.g., the decline of working class, political disenchantment, immigration, identity, etc.

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How Western European Countries Deal With Multiculturalism

U.K has given equal stakes to various ethnic and religious communities in its political system, while Germany encourages its minorities to pursue their own path of lives instead of granting them citizenship. Which are similar to how Muslim regimes of the past dealt with the Jews and Christian communities. France has chosen a different path of preferring assimilation policies to multicultural policies. Therefore, it is no wonder the outcome of such policies is analogous with those policies.

In Germany, Turkish communities have drifted away from the mainstream German society Britain has suffered communal violence, and there is an uneasy relationship between state authorities and North African communities in France. In a nutshell, every where the consequences are same; the fragmented societies, distrust between communities, distrust between Muslim minorities and state authorities and a resultant disenchanted citizenry.

The European states accept that societies are diverse and through implementing multicultural policies the authorities thereby befit minorities' groups to a separate cultural box. Such policies are meant to differentiate between communities and define their rights and needs accordingly while paradoxically such a policies have solidified the differences and created divisions that they were meant to manage and bridge. Both critics and proponents of ‘multiculturalism' accept that mass immigration has transformed European society, and the fears of the majority of Europeans about their society being altered for bad are perhaps not unfounded.

Muslim implementing Sharia in Western countries

One of the fear held against Muslims bent on implementation of Sharia to a full scale like their fellow Muslims in various parts of Muslim world. This adds to an already melting pot of culturally divisive communities, inasmuch as Europeans see a conflict between what Muslims want to implement and what the law of the land is.

The conflict is clear when some over enthusiastic and less educated Muslim activists get on to the streets with play cards in hands, chanting and asking for the implementation of Sharia. Eventually inciting non-Muslim observers who are not fully aware of the Sharia and of the difference in magnitude between Anglo-Saxon law and Sharia. In fact demand for Sharia is different from Muslims living in European lands and Muslims living in their own native countries as both environments and societies differ a lot.

So clearly, there is a great deal of confusion, the idea that somehow Muslims have a hidden agenda of conquering European countries one after another is preposterous.

Rather, Muslims are required to change themselves as per the conditions, Moreover, Muslim demands can change with altered conditions does not represent a compromise but it is deeply ingrained in the principles of Quran. So, it’s always about the preconditions that Muslims have to observe, they are asked to strive for a change if there is prevalence of specific preconditions, similarly to let go off if preconditions are not there. There are duties which Almighty has directed Muslim fulfill, if given authority/power in the land. Therefore, to have authority is conditional to implement Sharia.

Thus, Muslim minority is not required to carry out most of the injunctions of Sharia, e.g., implementation of penal code that once operated in Medina during the time of Prophet Muhammad (S). As the very early Muslim minority community of Ethiopia did not require to implement the penal code of Medina. By the same token, those who live in Western countries are not prescribed to implement Sharia in non-Muslim lands.

In reality there are rules and principles in Islamic law supposed to be implemented by Muslim state/government or the Imam. Such rules cannot be implemented by the individuals alone as they constitute laws of Sharia that can only be implemented by state of the day. On that account, it needs to be vehemently emphasized that Muslims living in European countries are not under obligation to perform those duties and functions supposed to be carried out by Muslim state/government. This knowledge has to be shared to the passionately uneducated Muslims who create problems for their fellow Muslims by slandering governments and oppose modern, liberal secular law publicly.

But an important question is: what parts of Sharia that Muslims want to implement in Europe and in a larger Western world?

It’s not now a hidden fact that Muslims do want to implement part of Islamic law that deal with marriage, divorce, property and child care. These are forms of personal law which Muslims believe have nothing to do with the ‘political Islam’. The term coined just recently. Muslims ask for amendments in the Anglo-American judicial system so there is a room for some of Islamic provisions dealing with Islamic personal law. Not long ago there was hue and cry in Europe and North America about Muslims implementing Hudood law. As I specified above there that an individual cannot implement a penal code even if he lives in a Muslim land, let alone living in a Western country.

But arguably the most sensitive issue is about the absence of personal law and how does its absence affect conservative Muslim Diaspora in Western countries. It must be said out here that despite their immigration to the Western world – Muslims by and large adhere to traditional values. Hence, unless implementation of Islamic law is contextualized, its implementation is a distant dream.

Archbishop of Canterbury on Sharia

Contextualizing Islamic law

Critics of multiculturalism call for one law for all, but the question is: Is the introduction of Islamic law or of some provisions of Islamic law would be tantamount to breaking down native law. Whatever the case may be, Western society is in no way ready to accommodate Islamic law to any level, not even the provisions related to family matters. Furthermore, Westerners mistakenly believe Quran besides Sunnah of Prophet, as the only source of the Islamic jurisprudence. Thus, inherently it is a closed system since its inception, hence no possibility of any flexibility and adaptability. This is incorrect to believe so, as there are other sources that supplant Islamic law - a proof enough of it being alive like any other law.

Islamic law like any other law grows as the society grows, or so it should as per its essence. Now it’s another discussion altogether, if it sufficiently has grown to address challenges of the time, or has it stagnated somewhere in the trenches of the past and thus no credible work has been done to upgrade it.

Modern, progressive Muslims believe that the door of renewal is closed for centuries, if it is to be acceptable to the modern civilization. It should modify itself as per needs of modern times to prove its dynamism. The current debate about the introduction of Islamic law in Britain took on another turn. Upon Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan William saying that "it’s not about the Islamic public law but about the need and understanding to introduce Islamic personal law within English legal system". Similarly, one must not forget about similar treatment accorded to Jewish personal law. Muslim personal law is vital part of every Muslim.

It must be cleared out here, that unlike, Islamic public law which deals with Islamic penal code that Westerners fear most – Islamic personal law does not necessarily need state to function for its implementation.

As the name suggests, it applies at the personal level, and it has been practiced by Muslim Diaspora ever since they started to emerge as a group. At this point Muslims in Western nations are faced up with dual laws; they are supposed to comply with Islamic religio-legal dictates on one hand and British secular law on other hand. Which is somewhat of dichotomy, so to redress this; Western nations should at least accommodate Islamic personal law in their conventional courts. It is very absence of arrangement of Islamic personal law which led to establishment of the Sharia Councils and of the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, in Britain just recently. There are many examples that show that many at times English laws do not contravene Islamic personal law. Take, for instance, the matters of inheritance - related to both movable, immovable property - if the owner of the property dies - English law does not in any way hinder owner to make a ‘will’.

English Defense League demonstration

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Conclusion

Multiculturalism and assimilation are policy response of the European states to the same problem: the fracturing of society.

It is time now to move beyond such policies. Westerners, and Europeans, in particular, should welcome immigration. However, it is the institutionalization of the cultural and racial difference that should be dealt with subtlety. Resisting immigration would aggravate an already fractured society. The advocates of assimilation are resolute to treat every citizen as equal, but that does not Free State of its responsibility to enforce equality of its citizens. Citizenship has no meaning if different classes of people are discriminated on the grounds of race, nationality, culture and religion.

West should also be conscious of the difference between the individuals and values that they hold so dearly. Thus people are not be detested for holding different cultural traits, values, and faith as common values can only be preached and not be enforced. The ideal policy from Western perspective would be; to embrace actual diversity through the multicultural policies, whereby, an institutionalization of cultural diversity is resisted and discouraged.

Moving forward would only be possible through upholding a sense of universal values common to every culture, nation and creed, and the state should have a less role in bringing people together. Rather such a role should largely be attributable to a society; it’s the individual bonds that people build with one another. It is the social organization established for purpose of enhancing mutual understanding and for furthering shared political and social interests. It is the absence or in some way weakening of such institutions that play havoc to the social fabric. Integration of individuals from different backgrounds is rarely brought about by the action of the state, what the Europe and larger Western world need not so much of the state role but of the renewal and re-invigoration of civil society and of the revival of progressive universalism.

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