Salafism: greatest obstacle to Muslim integration
Research has highlighted three major obstacles to human development within Arab countries. They are: absence of freedom; gender inequality; and knowledge deficit. Although these findings relate to Arab countries, they apply to all Muslim societies.
History of integration of all minorities in Britain has followed a certain pattern – whether they be Jewish, Irish, Afro-Caribbean or others. Initially, they are despised because of their history, language, culture or colour. They are treated as a threat to British values, even a fifth column or enemy within. They are told who is in charge, and what is their place in society. Minorities adjust to these pressures, begin to engage, build bridges and begin to find a space. For Muslims it is too early to be definitive as to why the Muslim community has become an “odd one out” and not following the same pattern. The purpose of this presentation is to highlight possible obstacles in their integration into British society. The three shortcomings highlighted by the Arab Human Development Report (2002) were good enough reasons to ensure the Muslim community was going to take longer to adjust and integrate into British society. But the presence of ideology of extremism and confrontation has made it difficult for the community to understand British society, learn from the experience of others, and carve out a space for them within the British ethos, where they may also have freedom to pursue their own community goals.
Until the 20thC Islam was understood to be a religion of peace, justice, compassion, pluralism and gender equality promoting tolerance and creativity. However, writings of scholars like Maududi, Syed Qutb et al have changed the goalpost. Now, according to their interpretations of Islam, the priorities of Islam are to re-create the seventh century society of Arabia, establishment of an Islamic estate, or the global Khalafa, and pursue jihad for the re-conquest of the world for the application of shariah, the Islamic law. An opportunity to fulfil this dream came when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The CIA, British Intelligence Services, Pakistan Intelligence Services, and Saudi Intelligence got together and created an alliance between godfearing corporate America and the Salafism against the godless communism. The war of liberation was turned into a religious war. As a result a dramatic development began taking shape - salafism, which was itself a minority ideology within Islam became globalised and militarised. Thousands of young men were attracted to Afghan jihad where they were trained the by CIA and British Intelligence Service to make explosives among other things. This, equipped with radical Islamic literature, they found themselves setting Muslim agenda globally. These Islamists with new narrative of Islam also had a well oiled and well organised infrastructure. Now, people who believe in salafism in any form are the ones who are occupying the main ground within the Muslim communities in Britain, although they are no more than 15% of the Muslim population.
It is known that Muslims are at the bottom of all piles: social, economic and educational. But for the salafist leadership the hijab, the jilbab and foreign policy are the main Islamic issues. None of them talks about social exclusion, marginalisation and racism. They do not realise that a socially excluded community cannot influence foreign policy of any country but a community, which has a clout due to its excellence in the society, might.
Whether Islam came to create a society or a state is an internal debate. Muslim scholars and societies ought to decide what is the right course of action. The salafists push the foreign policy argument to increase their internal legitimacy within the Muslim groups without realising that this approach is further marginalizing the community. Politicians are good at using external conflicts to distract attention from real issues on ground and salafists are politicians of highest order!
There ought to be open discussions on these issues within the Muslim communities. But this is not happening. Whatever debate and discussion that is taking place is within religious settings. As long as these draw backs are not understood Muslim integration will remain slow. They will defy the normal pattern of integration and continue to provide ammunition to the rightwing groups.
The salafists have managed to turn the war on terror into war on Islam. I see it as a war on resources and markets. If we look at the history of the US since the second world war, they have killed far more Christians than Muslims in their war of hegemony. But Muslims have a very limited memory of the world events. They suffer from victimhood. They think that the whole world is against them. We need to explain this to our younger generation to win their hearts and minds so that they understand how dangerous this ideology is! Research on this is needed, and should be done by Muslims themselves, so that the research is not misunderstood. Unless we liberate ourselves from this ideology, there will be no peaceful future for us.
[A paper presented at a workshop on Comparative study of Jews and Muslims in the UK, organised by Royal Holloway, University of London, on 29 November 2006]
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