The Future of Muslims in the West


Muslims in the West bear an enormous responsibility, and it falls to them to commit themselves to building their future. There is no doubt that some will continue to identify themselves over and against the West, as “the other,” and to complain that in these places no one loves Islam or Muslims. They will thus maintain the unhealthy victim mentality, hoping that their salvation will come from scholars and thinkers in the East. But there are clear signs today, particularly among women, that things are changing and that more and more Muslims are aware of the challenges they have to confront. To remain Muslim in the West is a test of faith, of conscience, and of intelligence, but the only way to deal with it is to stand up and get involved—armed with the “need of Him,” humility, and determination.

The reform movement that is in the process of being born has as its first requirement knowledge of the comprehensive message of Islam, its universal principles, and the tools available to help human beings to adapt themselves to their society as well as to change the world. All Muslims are invited first of all to this study, this initiation, this self-knowledge. Part I was intended as an introduction to this process, which must naturally continue to deepen and extend. At the same time, we must not shortchange study of the Western world, the history of its societies and their institutions, cultures, and collective psychology. This is the route that must be traveled if we are to feel at home and apply in a positive way the Islamic principle of integrating all that does not contradict the prohibitions and making it our own. This reform movement requires, as we have said several times, a true intellectual revolution that will make it possible to be reconciled to the universality of Islamic values and to stop considering ourselves a marginalized minority, on the brink of adapting or integrating, and trying to do no more that protect ourselves from an environment we consider dangerous. In order to achieve this, Western Muslims need to free themselves of their double inferiority complex—in relation to the West (and the domination of its rationality and technology) on the one hand and in relation to the Muslim world (which alone seems to produce the great Arabic-speaking spirits of Islam who quote the texts with such ease) on the other. We shall have to liberate ourselves from these faults by developing a rich, positive, and participatory presence in the West that must contribute from within to debates about the universality of values, globalization, ethics, and the meaning of life in modern times.1 In addition, it is time to be committed to forms of religious education that will encourage independence of mind and in-depth consideration of the application of Islamic principles in the West and the meaning of being a European or American Muslim. The foregoing pages make humble claim to opening the way to the first steps on this road, but there is still much to be achieved and many obstacles to be overcome. One of these is the reclamation by Muslims of complete political and financial independence: they must increasingly reject control, intervention, and surveillance by foreign states such as Western governments in order to be able to speak freely and credibly. Muslims increasingly have the means of doing this. This certainly does not mean that they should refuse to be in contact with the Islamic world for mutual advantage, but exchange is one thing and being under guardianship is another, here or anywhere else.

As citizens of states that recognize human rights, Muslims are no longer under the law of foreign states or former colonies and they should reject the status of subcitizens that is the product of a perverse internal neocolonialism. To regain confidence in oneself, one’s values, one’s role also means, in practice, reclaiming one’s rights and respect. Though involvement in education reform, social and political participation, economic resistance, interreligious dialogue, and contributions to culture, people will be much more successful than if they persist in solitary confrontation and continual complaint. It is a struggle, a jihad—that goes without saying, but for principles, not against people, and if the people around one, willingly or unwillingly, forget the principles, the struggle consists in reminding them of those principles and making them apply them. In this way, the normalization of the Muslim presence will not be a trivialization: their presence, their contribution, their participation should make a difference, not because of their otherness but because of the singular richness they bring to their society.

Western Muslims will play a decisive role in the evolution of Islam worldwide because of the nature and complexity of the challenges they face, and in this their responsibility is doubly essential. By reflecting on their faith, their principles, and their identity within industrialized, secularized societies, they participate in the reflection the Muslim world must undertake on its relationship with the modern world, its order, and its disorder. Does the Islamic world have an alternative to offer? Does it have the means to implement new proposals? How should we engage in the debate between civilizations? Huntington’s thesis on the “clash of civilizations” has been much criticized, and progressive, optimistic thinkers en masse have rejected this prophecy of doom. My many visits to the Muslim world and to European and American societies, especially after shocks like that of 11 September 2001, indicate that if the clash is not a reality, the ingredients that could lead to it are very present in current mentalities: on both sides, the lack of knowledge of the other (and of self), the acceptance of simplistic and absolute caricatures and final judgments, not to mention conflicting political and geostrategic interests, are objective features that could lead to the breakdown. In my view, the future dialogue between civilizations will not take place at the geopolitical frontiers between “the West” and “Islam” but rather, paradoxically, within European and American societies. Here again, Western Muslims will bear a heavy responsibility for demanding that the debate be opened and that it be conducted at a serious and deep level that requires listening to and exchanging with their fellow-citizens. They may be able to bring about the avoidance of a breakdown and the emergence of a path to fair dialogue and reconciliation.

This will not be easy. Prejudices, racism, and Islamophobia are tangible expressions of the hard reality of Western societies, and Muslims must not naively think that these will simply disappear as they become citizens settled in their societies. Increasingly, and for a considerable period, they will have to become accustomed to facing political security measures, discrimination, accusations of “double-talk,” menacing, malevolent looks, and acts of surveillance and control. Distrust is so great and suspicion so widespread that times of mutual trust seem still to be far away. But rather than complaining sadly, it seems to me that there is only one response to this state of affairs: to hold to one’s convictions; express one’s principles and hopes; make clear comments and criticisms; keep to one, open way of speaking (with Muslims and with one’s fellow-citizens); participate in society for good in partnership with all human beings who, in conscience, reject a world without conscience; and, armed with one’s faith and a critical mind, reject dualism and keep one’s head by cultivating patience and long-suffering. If part II began with spirituality, it was to recall a priority: the effort and the process of spiritual initiation that lead us in our hearts toward the Transcendent are the best provisions for the journey. Through this teaching, we learn perseverance, which gives us the key to success: to stand firm in the face of people who trade in prejudice, who are responsible for oppression and who spread hatred, while retaining the presence of mind to say, “Salam!” “Peace!” and not to give up one’s efforts along the way, offering the brotherhood of one’s soul and humanity to all people of conscience, from one’s heart and in love, and inviting them to travel with one, training oneself to keep on resisting and learning how to be a friend, faithfully.

2 Commentaires

  1. Paul Martin.
    I would suggest the people of conscience are those who are sincere and faithful in their commitment to the truth and the good. To be principled (both intellectually and ethically) and not ego-centric; to be committed to the good wherever it is, and not tribalist or chauvinist. To be self-critical while being unwaveringly rooted in the truth. To impartially and humbly evaluate all views without prejudgement.


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