Should Muslims Integrate into the West?
by Uriya Shavit
Middle East Quarterly
The veil has become the center of a European fight over how to balance expressions of Muslim identity with the Western idea of citizenship. How can states achieve a balance between republicanism and minority rights? Can majorities in liberal, Western nation-states, force a dress code upon minorities? While Muslim societies have debated various garments and coverings for women through the twentieth century, the issues are broader. Often, Muslim commentators in the West couch their arguments in the Western discourse of the balance between individual rights and public interest. However, the personal freedom versus integration debate is only one context of the polemic; another is the dichotomy between two types of nationality and between two sources of legitimacy. Here, Muslim scholarship on migration sheds more light than Western political theory.
Immigration to Expand the Muslim Nation
Muslim jurists since the ninth century have considered Muslim residence in non-Muslim societies to be dangerous. Not only might residence abroad weaken faith and practice, they argued, but migration to non-Muslim areas might also strengthen non-Muslims in their wars against Islam. However, the pronouncement was not absolute. Some scholars legitimized living among the infidels so long as Muslims living outside Islamic lands had no alternative, were helpful to the Muslim cause, and were able to practice their religion. Here the Islamic concept of nationhood comes into play. While Muhammad established a nation with territorial dimensions, to belong to it, one only had to become Muslim in faith and practice. Thus, throughout the Middle Ages, Muslims who lived under Christian rule could still be considered part of the Muslim nation.
Throughout the Ottoman period, contacts between Muslim societies and the West were largely limited to trade, diplomacy, and occasional pilgrimage. While migration from Islamic lands to Western countries became more common after the nineteenth century, it was only when the European demand for manual labor grew after World War II that the phenomenon grew in earnest.
Renewed migration led Muslim jurists to reexamine religious attitudes toward Muslims living in non-Muslim societies. For the past thirty years, some jurists have sought to define the identity and duties of these emigrants. Through new institutions dedicated to migration and, more recently, using the Internet and satellite television, they both publish literature dedicated to the subject and answer queries from Muslims in the West, a process that facilitates a center-periphery relationship. Most influential among them is Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Egyptian-born and Qatar-based Sunni jurist who heads the European Council for Fatwa and Research, a body established in London on March 29, 1997, to address in uniformity questions relating to Muslim migration. He also hosts a weekly question-and-answer program on Al-Jazeera, watched by millions of Muslim immigrants, and heads the supervising committee of IslamOnline.net, one of the world's largest Muslim Internet portals, which claims to receive a million hits daily.
Regardless of sect, legal school, nationality, or political status, Muslim jurists from Arab countries have reached similar conclusions as to the proper status and role of Muslim emigrants to the West. To ban or ignore mass Muslim migration to the West would only alienate immigrants, they found. Muslim jurists concentrated instead on constructing a legal-religious framework to maintain emigrants' Muslim identities while using the diaspora in the service of Islam.
Their judgment called upon Muslim immigrants in the West to place religious identity above national and ethnic identities and to promote the interests of a global Muslim nation. The jurists' consensus involved five points: First, a greater Islamic nation exists of which Muslims are members wherever they live. Second, while living in a non-Muslim society is undesirable, it might be legal on an individual basis if the immigrant acts as a model Muslim. Third, it is the duty of a Muslim in the West to reaffirm his religious identity and to distance himself from anything contrary to Islam. Hence, he should help establish and patronize mosques, Muslim schools, cultural centers, and shops. Fourth, Muslims in the West should champion the cause of the Muslim nation in the political as well as the religious sphere, for there should be no distinction between the two. Lastly, Muslims in the West should spread Islam in the declining, spiritual void of Western societies.
Such a consensus developed for several reasons. The political atmosphere proved fertile ground for renewed religiosity. The decline of pan-Arabism in the 1970s and the Islamic Revolution in Iran at the end of that decade suggested that political Islam rather than pan-Arabism could appeal not only to Muslims in the Middle East but also to Muslims in the West.
Fear of Westernization also catalyzed the process. In the early 1980s, scholars, especially in Saudi Arabia, developed a paradigm of "Western cultural attack." They believed that Europe and the United States sought to use textbooks and television, among other tools, to weaken Islam and Christianize Islamic countries. Some clerics suggested that Muslims should counterattack and recruit Muslim immigrants to undermine Western societies from within, using the same means that they believed Western societies employed to undermine Muslim societies. Muslim immigrants, they believed, could be a powerful weapon in the struggle between the West and Islam.
Here, the political theories of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood activist executed by the Egyptian government in 1966, had resonance. Qutb argued that contemporary Muslim societies were as misguided as their pre-Islamic predecessors and that a pioneering group of devout Muslims should immigrate to prepare from afar for the reinstitution of a true Islamic reign. Qutb's ideas narrowed the distinction between contemporary Muslim and non-Muslim societies and legitimized residence outside majority Muslim countries. These ideas bestowed an honorable aura upon migration. Though few jurists followed his ideas to the letter, he influenced many.
Such theories also played well in contemporary Middle Eastern politics. Most Arab governments are despotic. While authoritarian regimes worked to suppress the Islamist challenge at home, they did not hesitate to assist Islamists in the exportation of their ideas. This was particularly the case with Saudi Arabia, which dedicated billions of dollars to the establishment of Islamist educational institutions, cultural centers, mosques, and media.
Why did some Muslims in the West seek—and eagerly adopt—a reaffirmation of their Muslim identity? In the early 1980s, many Muslims who had immigrated to the West as laborers in the years after World War II recognized that their residence was not as temporary as they had once intended. As their financial situation improved and their political consciousness developed, they began to ponder their identity and roots. When doing so, many of them noticed they were surrounded by large communities of other Muslims; while in absolute numbers Muslims consisted of only a small percentage of the Western societies they immigrated to, most resided in industrial areas, amplifying an illusion of mass. This introspection coincided with the Western embrace of multiculturalism, which challenged nation states' traditional quest for homogeneity and unity. However, at the very time when immigrants from Muslim societies were encouraged to explore their origins, the oil embargo and later the Islamic revolution, terrorism, and the Rushdie fatwa sparked increasing anti-Islamic sentiment in the West. Together, these factors led some Muslim immigrants to identify themselves by their religion, which they considered under attack, rather than by ethnic or linguistic affiliation.
Cultural factors also encouraged religious revival. Most Muslim immigrants, even those who did not regularly practice their faith, came from conservative backgrounds. They promoted the sanctity of the family and a distinction between gender roles, stipulated obedience to parents, did not tolerate premarital sex or homosexuality, and demanded modesty in the public sphere. As the second generation of these migrants matured, growing Western liberalism challenged these values. Muslims in the West encountered the feminist revolution, the sexual revolution, gay rights, and the collapse of parental authority. To settle their anxieties about the breakdown of authority and morals, some parents sought to reaffirm the Muslim identities of their families. Religion provided an appealing moral response that ethnic heritage could not. However, religiosity was not only imposed by parents. For some of the younger generation, the first-class status they enjoyed in Islam compared favorably to the marginalization many felt within European societies.
Theorizing Muslim Immigrants' Roles and Identity
As Muslim Arabs established themselves in Europe, Islamic jurists developed a legal framework to accommodate them. However wary they might be of the temptations facing Muslims in the West, jurists, aware that migrants are in the West to stay, have retroactively bestowed legitimacy upon all types of migration—whether its purpose is labor, commerce, political refuge or studies. Even ‘Abd al-‘Aziz bin Baz, a strict Saudi scholar who from the 1980s until his death in 1999 was the highest religious authority in the kingdom, left the door for migration open because of its benefits for da'wa (proselytizing). Still, legitimacy was not without commitment. Most theologians conditioned their consent strict demands for Muslims in the West to maintain their religiosity.
Many jurists believe Muslim migrants to the West have only two paths to follow: reaffirmation of Muslim identity or its complete abandonment. Such an understanding places a burden upon immigrants' shoulders: While religious leaders acknowledge migrants' membership in the Muslim nation, scholars insist emigrants should comprehend the gravity of their situation and work to amend it. To reside in the West, a Muslim must make sure his and his family's identity are strictly maintained and the Shari‘a remains the comprehensive source regulating all aspects of their lives.
Reaffirmation of Muslim identity involves three duties: First, it mandates unity among Muslims. In his book Islam Behind its Boundaries, Muhammad al-Ghazali, a renowned Egyptian jurist who was in charge of da'wa for Egypt's ministry of awkaf (religious endowments), wrote that "loyalty [should be] to Islam, not to race. The brotherhood of Muslims is the first connection, even if places and times have distanced." Qaradawi agreed.
With Muslims being a minority in those non-Muslim countries, they ought to unite together as one man. Referring to this the Prophet (Peace and Blessing be upon him) is reported to have said: "A believer to his fellow believing brother is like a building whose bricks cement each other." Hence, Muslims in those countries have to unite and reject any form of division that is capable of turning them an easy prey for others.
Success in resisting temptation and seduction for himself, his spouse, and his offspring conditions the legality of any immigrant's residence in a non-Muslim society. Qaradawi continues, "I told brothers and sisters living in the West that if they find it extremely difficult to bring up their children as Muslims, they should return to their countries of origin." To defend the family from assimilation does not mean seclusion from all that is Western but rather living according to Islamic jurisprudence. The process is ongoing. Parents newly settled in the West, for example, have sent queries to Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, one of the leading Shi‘i authorities in the Arab world, about the permissibility of allowing their children to watch Western television, to which he ruled that parents should forbid shows which might weaken their children's minds but encourage their children to watch anything on Western television that could strengthen them.
Theologians have also reached a broad consensus that to be able to screen the negative influences of residing among non-Muslims or infidels, Muslim immigrants to the West should dedicate themselves to an Islamic texture of life. This requires participation in Muslim organizations and associations. According to Ghazali, the cornerstone for such efforts should be the establishment of Muslim schools that maintain immigrants' "relation to their heritage, traditions and rituals as if all that changed in their lives is their location." He also calls for the establishment of mosques and clubs to bring Muslims together in order to encourage Muslim men to marry Muslim women and not infidels. The recommendations of Fadlallah are similar.
Migration therefore is a privilege only for the strong in faith. For example, Fadlallah instructs an Iraqi who left his homeland for higher studies in a Western country fourteen years earlier and subsequently sought political asylum that if migration does not cause him to deviate from Islam, then he might stay abroad, but if he fears his religiosity might weaken, he must return to his homeland. In response to another inquiry, Fadlallah offers the principal of comparison: The immigrant should examine whether his presence in a new location causes him to suffer more or less hardship in terms of practicing his faith. A similar principal of comparison is invoked in a ruling of the European Council for Fatwa and Research in response to a query by a Muslim residing in Brussels.
Most Muslim thinkers further advance the debate over migration with consideration of proselytizing. In his doctoral dissertation at Morocco's King Muhammad University, for example, Muhammad al-Qadi al-‘Umrani argues that when the criteria legalizing migration is met, it should be encouraged for da'wa (proselytizing). Shi‘i scholars Yusuf Najib and Muhsin ‘Atawi also validate migration on these grounds.
Rather than be a threat, migration under the right circumstances can be an opportunity to advance the divine plan for a world where there are no nations but the Muslim nation and no political parties but God's. Ghazali urges migrants to be "pioneers" in spreading religion, and Qaradawi argues, "Muslims in the West should be sincere callers to their religion. They should keep up in mind that calling others to Islam is not only restricted to scholars and sheikhs, but it goes far to encompass every committed Muslim." According to Khalid Muhammad al-Aswar, an Egyptian author, Muslim immigrants constitute the new frontier settlements of Islam, defending its values and its interests. He compares the Muslim to the moon: When not shining in one land, it shines in another. Here, Fadlallah also agrees. "We expect you [immigrants] over there to be the callers for Islam, so that new positions will open for us and so that you open for Islam new prospects," he instructs. Yusuf and ‘Atawi suggest it is the duty of Muslim immigrants to enlighten the world with Muhammad's prophecy.
Here, the popular literature encourages proselytizing. Some Arabic newspapers report mass conversions of Christians to Islam. For example, Asharq al-Awsat related the story of a young woman named Debbie Rogers who converted with thirty of her friends. A 1997 Egyptian book published stories of recent Western conversions to Islam and suggested mass migration is taking place in Europe despite the "Zionist-inspired" campaign against Islam. And Islamway.com, one of the world's most popular Internet sites for Muslims, offers stories of new converts alongside guides for proselytizing.
If Muslim jurists insist Muslim immigrants avoid assimilation and reserve loyalty to the Islamic nation, should Western governments regard Muslim immigrants as disloyal? Not according to the jurists. Both Fadlallah and Qaradawi, for example, emphasize obedience to laws of the receiving states and urge new immigrants to avoid acts that harm the security of those states.
This is not a case of doublespeak. Islamist jurists do not view the Muslim nation and the West as equivalent structures. They interpret the secular, liberal nature of Western states as mere social mechanisms enabling Muslims to practice Islam to its fullness. ‘Umrani, for example, argues that if Muslims know how to hold on to their civilian and legal rights in societies that raise the "slogans of freedoms and rights for all people," then they should have no problem in adhering to the Islamic law.
Yet, there is another, deeper aspect of Western society that allows Islamist jurists to regard immigrants' loyalty to Western nations as not damaging: They believe Western civilization to be marked by a moral and spiritual void and believe that Westerners will, therefore, gravitate toward Islam. ‘Umrani, for example, has no doubt that Westerners will sooner or later embrace Islam. He sees the Western nation-state as a temporary entity while the Muslim nation is both eternal and universal.
However, dualism is only allowed because theologians do not consider it harmful to Islam. Islam and not the interests of the European nation-state remains the benchmark for any political action. Fadlallah, for example, argues that Muslims might serve in Western parliaments but only so long as they guard the interests of Muslims. The European Council for Fatwa and Research evokes the same principle in response to a query about Muslims contending in municipal elections. The role of the Muslim immigrant is to do his best to promote the interests of his nation—that is, the Muslim nation. Because Islam is blind to boundaries, jurists argue that promoting its cause is not limited to a specific community or country but to Muslims everywhere. Thus, Qaradawi argues, it is necessary to "adopt and champion the rights of the umma" be it in "Palestine, Kosovo, Chechnya," or any other place where Muslims fight for autonomy and statehood.
For mainstream Muslim jurists, Islam is not a culture, a religion, or a tradition, but rather an alternative type of nationality which claims jurisdiction over all aspects of human activities. A Muslim can also be a citizen of a Western nation state, yet the Western nation state is tolerated only because it is bound to dissolve and because its weaknesses may be of use to the Muslim cause.
Many Muslims do not accept such a view in practice, and some—within and outside the Muslim world—criticize it. Sa'id Lawindi, an Egyptian academic and journalist who resided in Paris for eighteen years, argues that Muslims in Europe should follow the model provided by European Jewry, acting Western in their relations with European society while living true to their religion at home. ‘Amr Khalid, a Birmingham-based Egyptian television preacher who remains influential despite his lack of formal religious training, calls on Muslim immigrants to become an active and constructive part of their adopted non-Muslim societies. Though he sees Islam as the only solution for all aspects of life, the role he envisions for Muslim immigrants is that of improving the West's image of Islam rather than Islamizing Europe. He encourages integration and broad social initiative.
Many European Muslims also reject or remain ignorant of the roles which jurists assign them. Even some practicing and devout Muslims, while believing in the concept of the Muslim nation and in Islam as the future for Europe, insist upon their independence from any particular contemporary religious authority and emphasize their duty towards the society in which they reside and not a larger Muslim nation. They may advocate coverings for women on one hand and yet seek integration on the other.
Nevertheless, because Islamist jurists in the Arab world have considerable resources, they at times drown out or wear down more pro-assimilation voices. The collision between Western interpretations of personal freedom and some Islamist interpretations of Muslims' rights and duties is inevitable. For mainstream Muslim jurists, Islam trumps all aspects of human activities.
Herein lays the challenge. Many ethnic and religious minorities seek to establish an autonomous sphere within multicultural societies, but only Arab Muslim jurists consider such an autonomous sphere to constitute a substitute for the liberal state itself. Many ethnic and religious minorities attempt to speak for their countries of origin through the political systems of their adopted countries, but only Arab Muslim jurists regard their Muslim nation as overstretching the boundaries of all nation-states in its political demands.
How then should liberal nation-states, using the principals of liberalism and multiculturalism as their shield, deal with individuals who resist their very existence? How can Western societies distinguish between those Muslims who seek a place for their beliefs and traditions within a pluralistic framework and those who adhere to a school committed to the destruction of that framework? Perhaps a good point of departure would be to understand that it is not veils that matter, but the individuals and ideas that are behind them.
Uriya Shavit is currently a scholar of the Minerva Foundation, a subsidiary of the Max Planck Society, and author of the forthcoming Wars of Democracy: The West and the Arabs from the fall of Communism to the War in Iraq (Dayan Center, Tel Aviv). He thanks Ursula Apitzsch, Felicia Herrschaft, David Shavit, and Lance Weldy.
 John R. Bowen, Why the French Don't Like Headscarves: Islam, the State and Public Space (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), pp. 13-4; BBC.com, Oct. 5, 2006.
 Buthaina Sh'aban, "Mukadama," in Nazira Zin ad-Din, ed., Al-Sufur wal-Hijab [The unveiling and the veil], sec. ed. (Damascus: Al-Mada Publishing Company, 1998), pp. 7-33; Din, Al-Sufur wal-Hijab, pp. 154-86. The debate centers around Qur. 33:32, 53, and 59: 24:30.
 Muhammad as-Shaf'i, "Al Munqabat … wal Tawasul" [The fully veiled … and the progression], Asharq al-Awsat (London), Oct. 13, 2006; Fareena Alam, "Behind the Veil," Newsweek International, Nov. 27, 2006.
 Sami A. Aldeeb Abu Salieh, "The Islamic Conception of Migration," International Migration Review, Mar. 1996, pp. 37-57.
 Qararat wa-Fatawa al-Majlis al-Urubbi lil-Ifta wa al-Buhuth [Decisions and religious edicts of the European Council for Fatwa and Research] (Cairo: Dar al-Tawj'i wa al-Nashr al-Islamiya, 2002), pp. 5-10.
 Gary R. Bunt, Islam in the Digital Age: E-Jihad, Online Fatwas and Cyber Islamic Environment (London and Sterling, Va.: Pluto Press, 2003), pp. 147-60, 165.
 For an overview of the cultural attack debate, see Uriya Shavit, "Al-Qaeda's Saudi Origins," Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2006, pp. 3-13; Muhammad ‘Abd al-'Alim Marsi, Ath-Thakafa…wal-Ghazu ath-Thakafi fi Duwal al-Khalij al-'Arabia [The culture … and the cultural attack in the Arab gulf states] (Riyadh: Maktabat al-'Abikan, 1995), pp. 129-72.
 Sayyid Qutb, Ma'alim fi at-Tarik [Milestones], first ed. (Damascus: Dar Dismask, 1964), pp. 9-10, 21-3, 30-1; Muhammad Hafiz Diyab, Sayid Qutb: Al-Khitab wal-Idiolojiya [Sayid Qutb: The rhetoric and the ideology] (Beirut: Dar al-Tali'ah, 1988), pp. 90-8.
 Freedom in the World, 2006 (Washington, D.C.: Freedom House, 2007), p. 15.
 Khalid Muhammed al-Aswar, Al-Jaliyat al-Islamiya fi Uruba: Al-Manafidh, al-Mushkilat, al-Hulul [The Muslim diasporas: The origins, the problems, and the solutions] (Cairo: Dar al-I'tisam, 1998), p. 68; Hasan ‘Ali al-Ahdal, "Dawr Rabitat al-'Alam al-Islami fi Nashr at-thakafa al-Islamiya khrij al-'Alam al-Islami" [The role of the Muslim World League in spreading the Muslim culture outside the Muslim world], in Hawiyat al-Muslimun wa Thaqafatuhum fi Uruba (Rabat: Matba'at al-M'aarif al-Jadida, 1995), pp. 141-8.
 Muslims in the European Union: Discrimination and Islamophobia, The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, Vienna, 2006, p. 22; ‘Abd al-Majid Bakr, Al-Aqaliyat al-Muslima fi Uruba (Saudi Arabia: Hayat al-Ighatha al-Islamiya al-'Alamiya, 1992.)
 Rogers Brubaker, "The Return of Assimilation? Changing Perspectives on Immigration and Its Sequels in France, Germany, and the United States," in Christian Joppke and Ewa Morawska, eds., Towards Assimilation and Citizenship: Immigrants in Liberal Nation-states (New York: Palgrave, 2003), p. 39.
 Bowen, Why the French Don't Like Headscarves, pp. 66-8.
 Muhammad al-Kadi al-‘Umrani, Fiqh al-Usra al-Muslima fi al-Muhajar [The Religious law of the migrating Muslim family] (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiya, 2001), part I, pp. 53-65; Najib Yusuf and Muhsin ‘Atawi, Dalil al-Muslim fi Bilad al-Ghurba [Reference of the Muslim in foreign countries] (Beirut: Dar at-Ta'aruf lil-Matbu'at, 1990), pp. 21-31.
 ‘Umrani, Fiqh al-Usra al-Muslima fi al-Muhajar, p. 29-127; Yusuf and ‘Atawi, Dalil al-Muslim fi Bilad al-Ghurba, pp. 31-2.
 ‘Abd al-'Aziz bin ‘Abd-Allah bin Baz, "Hukm as-Safr kharij ad-Duwal al-Islamiya" [The rule of traveling outside Muslim lands], accessed Mar. 29, 2007; idem, "Hukm as-Safr ila al-Kharij lil-Dirasa wa Ghyriha" [The rule of traveling abroad for study and other purposes], accessed Mar. 29, 2007; idem, "As-Safr ila al-Kharij" [Travel abroad], accessed Mar. 29, 2007.
 Muhammad al-Ghazali, Mustaqbal al-Islam kharij Ardihi: Kayf Nufakir u fihi? (Amman: Orient Public Relations, Publishing and Translation, 1984), p. 138.
 Yusuf al-Qaradawi, "Duties of Muslims Living in the West," Islam Online.net, May 7, 2006.
 Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, Tahaduyat al-Muhajir, bayna al-Asala wal Mu'asara [The challenges of the immigrant between rootedness and modernity] (Beirut: Dar al-Malak, 2000), p. 125.
 Ghazali, Mustaqbal al-Islam kharij Ardihi, pp. 155-7.
 Fadlallah, Tahaduyat al-Muhajir, bayna al-Asala wal Mu'asara, pp. 87-8, 92-5.
 Ibid., p. 89.
 Ibid., pp. 75-86.
 Qararat wa-Fatawa, p. 30.
 ‘Umrani, Fiqh al-Usra al-Muslima fi al-Muhajar, pp. 29-127.
 Yusuf and ‘Atawi, Dalil al-Muslim fi Bilad al-Ghurba, pp. 31-2.
 Ghazali, Mustaqbal al-Islam kharij Ardihi, p. 104.
 Qaradawi, "Duties of Muslims Living in the West."
 Aswar, Al-Jaliyat al-Islamiya fi Uruba, pp. 7-8.
 Ibid., p. 313.
 Fadlallah, Tahaduyat al-Muhajir, bayna al-Asala wal Mu'asara, p. 82.
 Yusuf and ‘Atawi, Dalil al-Muslim fi Bilad al-Ghurba, p. 32.
 Mar. 18, 2001.
 Yasir Hussein, Al-Islam Mustaqbal Uruba (Cairo: Dar al-'Amin, 1997).
 "Amazing Interview with a 14-years Old New Muslimah," Islam Way Radio, accessed Mar. 29, 2007.
 Qaradawi, "Duties of Muslims Living in the West"; Fadlallah, Tahaduyat al-Muhajir, bayna al-Asala wal Mu'asara, p. 88
 ‘Umrani, Fiqh al-Usra al-Muslima fi al-Muhajar, p. 4.
 Ibid., p. 51
 Fadallah, Tahaduyat al-Muhajir, bayna al-Asala wal Mu'asara, p. 334.
 Qarart wa Fatawa, p. 95.
 Qaradawi, "Duties of Muslims Living in the West."
 Sa'id Lawindi, Fubiya al-Islam fi al-Gharb [The Islamophobia in the West] (Cairo: Dar al-Akhbar, 2006), pp. 136-7.
 Amr Khalid, "Between Integration and Introversion," accessed Mar. 29, 2007.
 Author interviews with eighteen Muslims, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, Nov. 2006-May 2007; author observations in mosques and centers.