Book review by Dunia El-Zobaidi is an Arab Weekly correspondent in London.
Book by Akbar Ahmed, who is Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and former Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland
Source: Arab Weekly
“Journey into Europe” is crucial in understanding the issues Muslims face in different European countries.
A study by the Competence Centre for Right-Wing Extremism and Democracy Research said that Islamophobia is on the rise in Europe and that more than 44% of German poll respondents said Muslims should be banned from immigrating, compared to 36.5% in 2014.
Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, travelled across Europe for four years with researchers interviewing Muslims and non-Muslims. His book “Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration and Identity” shows their findings.
In the first chapter, Ahmed says the main problem facing Muslims in Europe is that they are not seen as having European identity nor have they contributed anything to Western civilisation. Basically, Muslims have no right to be in Europe.
He argues that even as destitute refugees, Muslims have not learnt their lessons. They bring their sectarian and ethnic rivalries with them. It is a formidable challenge to understand European Muslims, their identity, leadership patterns, their religious and political players, the role of imams, the position of mothers and women in the family and their relations with the government and general public.
The nature of tribal society, through shared bloodlines and held together by “asabiyyah,” or social cohesion, is lost with migration to the West, Ahmed writes
“Families disintegrate over time and the new generation, in particular, is left with only bits and pieces of asabiyyah. This loss of asabiyyah means that individuals are no longer rooted in their past tribal identity and if they have not acquired a strong European identity, they will be confused about which norms and values to follow. Without guidance, the individual will be vulnerable, can be misled and even commit acts of violence,” Ahmed says.
The second chapter outlines how contradictory Germans can be like Hamlet in their approach towards Muslims.
The fact that Muslim players on Germany’s winning 2014 World Cup team refrained from singing the German national anthem is a big indicator that they don’t feel they belong to the German identity because being Muslim they were most likely prejudiced and discriminated against, Ahmed contends.
He said: “It would not be difficult to argue that (German) Chancellor (Angela) Merkel has shown Hamlet-like tendencies in dealing with the refugee influx as she wavers between moments of doubt and cold indifference, telling a young Arab refugee girl that she has to leave the country and then opening her arms to warmly welcome a million migrants even at great political cost to herself.”
Another chapter focuses on South Asian Muslims in the United Kingdom and Muslim immigrants in France.
The first generation in the United Kingdom had few expectations and tended to keep their heads down. They understood they were not equal to British citizens and life in the United Kingdom would not be easy. The second and third generations do not accept second-class citizenship so they are in a dilemma: They are happy to have legal passports but know they may never be accepted in society because of their religious and ethnic backgrounds.
In France, the consequences of colonisation are apparent even today.
There, despite having the largest Muslim population in Europe, about twice the size of Britain’s, in 2016 there was only one person with a Muslim background in the 577-member National Assembly, France’s directly elected lower house of parliament. Following the 2017 election, the number of Muslim deputies had increased to 15.
In the book, Salah Bariki, a Muslim official in the Marseilles city government, described the French Muslim community as “anarchy” and discussed the problem of imams. He said: “Everyone can proclaim himself to be imam. Most of the imams do not speak French but they don’t speak real Arabic either. They speak bad French and bad Arabic. Many people don’t really understand what they say… Besides, the imams are not very intellectual.”
“Journey into Europe” is crucial in understanding the issues Muslims face in different European countries and offers important advice on building a better relationship between refugees and their host countries.