There are three types of emigration (Hijrah). One form of emigration results from persecution of a person or group on grounds of faith and endangers its life, property and values which are different from those of the dissenting population. The persecuted individual or group may or may not share the ethnic or tribal identity of the mainstream population but its faith becomes the biggest hurdle in its acceptability in society, leaving it no choice but to leave the fold.
The second form of Hijrah is similar to the first except that its driving force is not threat to faith but life caused by conflict, war or natural disaster. The cause of emigration is danger to life and livelihood. There are international protocols on refugees and asylum seekers for addressing this type of emigration. Governments observe these instruments to draw up their national immigration policies and provide assistance to asylum-seekers and refugees on humanitarian grounds. Sometimes, this assistance is directed toward pre-empting a crisis from becoming ugly such as a civil war turning into genocide or gross violation of human rights escalating to crimes against humanity. Such conflicts result in mass migration of affected communities.
A third form of Hijrah is moving one’s boarding and lodging from one country to another on a permanent basis in search of better economic prospects for the emigrant and his family. In this type, saving one’s faith or life is not the driving force of human movement but the prospect of a better economic and social future. This form of migration depends on the welcome a host country extends to the new immigrants depending upon their skills and the domestic requirement of the host country for filling job vacancies and meeting its human resource deficit. In modern times, all forms of migration factors have combined to make it hard to determine which factor is the core reason for migration of communities across borders.
People’s movement from the developing countries to the West falls in the third category of emigration whereas their movement from conflict-affected countries to neighbouring states and from there to the borders of EU and US falls in the second category of emigration. The migration of settled population from the West to the East is a relatively new phenomenon which started from the return of the Jewish diaspora to Israel following the establishment of the Jewish State in the Middle East and is now followed upon by Western Muslims who want to move to Islamic countries where their families can practice Islam freely without any legal or social obstacles. However, it remains an experiment as often with such life-changing decisions, the expectation bar is so high that it results in a disappointment to migrants across the board covering all three forms.
In this essay, our focus is the first type of emigration which is described in the religious connotation of Hijrah after the Sunnah of prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. In the Prophet’s lifetime there were two Hijrahs, one to Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and the other to Madinah. Both were driven by the fact that the pagans of Makkah did not want to accept the religion of Muhammad, peace be upon him, even though he was one of them in tribal and ethnic terms. The Muslims of Makkah left their homes because they were attacked and boycotted by their friends and families for accepting Islam. Undertaking emigration in the way of Allah is a noble cause permissible in Islam. In the holy Quran, 8 verses mention emigration in the way of Allah (fi sabeel Allah) and one verse mentions emigration for Allah (fillah).
After the demise of the Prophet, peace be upon him, the spread of Islam in the Arabian peninsula and other non-Arab lands was not emigration but the fulfilment of a religious mission (Tableegh) in which even the companions of the Prophet also took part. The tomb of Abu Ayub Ansari in Istanbul is an evidence of this mission. One can assume that in order to fulfil the duty of Tabligh which is an obligation entrusted to Muslims after the demise of the last and final Prophet, peace be upon him, religious people will keep moving from one country to another to keep alive the prophetic tradition despite the obstacles of national boundaries and immigration rules.
The early prophets who made Hijrah from one country to another to spread the Scripture did not face these obstacles except that their journeys were filled with adversity, uncertainty, toil and hardship. The global Tabligi Jamaat which has roots in many countries in almost all continents is fulfilling this responsibility without necessarily requiring its members to change their citizenship and residence status. The great movement of people in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent, following the partition of British India in 1947 is also referred to as Hijrah but it is more suited as an example of the second type of Hijrah compared to a purely religious Hijrah arising from persecution of people because of their faith. 75 years later, the religious intolerance in India has grown so much that Indian Muslims are considering leaving India and move to another land for safeguarding their faith and way of life, as a manifestation of religious Hijrah.
In the last two decades, the rise of fascist parties in many countries in the West, and the increasing influence of ultra-right political lobbies in Europe and white supremacy groups in the US have corralled Muslim minorities in these countries in a tight corner. One of the reasons why their fathers and grandfathers emigrated to the West was because their own countries had become lands of injustice and oppression (Darul Fasad).
On the other hand they were given to drink the elixir of the virtues of the West as the protector of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedom of association, religion and political affiliation. But their experience was not quite the same as their expectations. The generation of Muslims born after 9/11 in the West found itself to be part of a suspect citizenry associated with terrorism, Islamist ideology and non-conformism. The invasion of Iraq and civil war in Syria did not help improve this already fragile perspective of Muslims in the West. Only recently, the dust has started to settle, following a change of enemy from Al Qaeda or ISIS to the Russian military expansion and Chinese economic ascendency. But Islamophobia remains robust in the West and there are still many potholes of confidence to be filed on both sides before a smooth road is reached.
Some laws that have been recently enacted or are about to be enacted in France and the UK are perceived by the Muslim minority with concern. They see these laws as gagging religious freedoms and forcing the community to integrate with the mainstream society in a manner amounting to giving up their separate identity, values and tradition. The conversation expressing concern over these developments has also broached the topic of Hijrah or reverse migration, as an expression of personal choice to live where there is permission to set up a pavilion and practice Islam without any State directives of legal restrictions.
In France, the law that forbids young Muslim girls through their legal guardians from wearing Hijab at schools and in public places until they attain the age of 18, and in the UK, Section 9 of the Nationality and Borders Bill 2022 amending Section 40 of the 1981 UK Immigration Act by adding subsection 5A, which absolves the Secretary of State from the requirement of giving notice of the decision to deprive a person of citizenship have started a fresh debate in the West about the role of the State in promoting pluralism and countering xenophobia, and the response of Muslim minority to such developments in the West.
Last April in 2021, the French National Assembly enacted a security law increasing police powers and making it punishable by up to five years imprisonment and a fine of 75,000 Euro for anyone found helping to identify on-duty police officers with obvious harmful intent. In the UK, a bill amending the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act is under the process of passage, which according to its critics, would increase the stop and search powers of the police, criminalise obstruction of major transport networks by public strikes, place restrictions on people’s right to protest, and affect the human rights and liberties of marginalised communities.
In the UK teaching of Relationships and Sex Education is now compulsory for all public schools at primary and secondary level. This includes educating children about relationships within and outside the family, and other relevant information which is necessary for a child to know to be safe at home in the fast moving world of the internet. Sex education is not yet compulsory until age of 11, but primary schools have the discretion to decide to what extend they wish to impart some aspects of sex education to children to enable them to prepare for the secondary level where sex education has been made compulsory.
At primary level, parents have the right to withdraw their children from ‘sex education’ if they feel that their concerns have not been incorporated in the school curriculum. But this is like an odd parent sticking his neck out against the school administration and mainstream society and exposing himself to a barrage of criticism for being backward and out of times. Sex Education involves topics which are sensitive to Muslims because they fear that children are not prepared to rationalise them and instead will being to experiment with their bodies resulting in out of wedlock teenage pregnancies and active sex. Sex Education includes teaching children about reproduction, sexuality and sexual health but not sexual activity or sexual orientation.
At the secondary level parents have the right to withdraw their children from sex education, but not from sex education which is part of the national curriculum for sciences in Key Stage 3 or 4, which includes teaching about the functions of the male and female reproductive systems, menstrual cycle, male and female reproductive cells, fertilisation, gestation, birth, consent and HIV/Aids.
While the intention of the state guidelines for schools and upcoming legislation on criminal justice reform may be to protect young children from the offensive content of internet communication, sex exploitation, enhance chid safety, plug the loopholes in the existing legislation on criminal justice, enforce law for public good and discourage criminals from hiding behind human rights legislation, the overall impact of such laws on the minorities is overwhelming because they fear the return of the authoritarian nanny State from where many of their parents fled to make the West their new adapted home.
There is no doubt that Britain remains the most Muslim-friendly country in the Continent, but there is a sense of concern about human liberty and religious freedom of their children in the future. The conversation on Hijrah, or a second Hijrah to be precise, taking place in the social discourse of third or fourth generation of Arab, North African and Asian naturalised citizens of the EU and UK sits against this social and political context. In this essay I argue against the idea of Hijrah on the grounds that it is a red herring not supported by the Sharia conditions that make it obligatory for Muslims to emigrate and leave the country to which they belong by birth, where they were raised practicing Islam and where they established themselves as its rightful citizens. The context for the most part of my essay remains the West, and in particular Europe and the UK.
After the end of the second world war and the decolonisation which followed it, there was a large displacement of populations from the Muslim lands to the West. The democratic values of human rights, nationalism, liberty and equality practiced in the West as part of its political system provided an enabling structure for the early Muslim immigrants to establish themselves in the US and Europe and establish mosques, halal restaurants, Muslim funeral services, Muslim cemeteries, alcohol free grocery shops, sharia advisory boards and darul-Iftaa with lifelong struggle and perseverance. Their labour of love resulted in the establishment of Muslim community centres, faith schools, charity organisations, media houses and civil society institutions that protected their rights and fulfilled their aspirations.
Doing this job was not easy. In the 1960s for example, Britain came under strong pressure from white politicians who used Asian, African and Caribbean people as a political football to score points with the indigenous electorate to win parliamentary elections. There was covert racism against the Windrush Generation which had moved to the UK from the Caribbean between 1948-71. Not all of them were Muslims, but the majority of those who were affected by this attitude included Muslims. The hard lines in Enoch Powell’s 1968 “rivers of blood” speech and his demand that a million Asian, African and Caribbean immigrants to the UK should be sent back to their home countries, put to shame the present ultra-right demands which are much more sophisticated and subdued. This is a road on which Muslims have been there before and done the journey. It was then and not now which was the most difficult time for those naturalised citizens who were told you could become UK citizens, but you will never be accepted in this country as Englishmen.
Therefore, to say that it is no longer safe for the young Muslim couples to stay in the country of their birth to preserve their identity and future is a defeatist attitude. It also threatens to undo the hard work of their great grandfathers and destroy the edifice erected by the first generation of immigrants who successfully transplanted and nurtured the tree of Islam and shared its fruits of peace and compassion with the indigenous populations in Europe.
Thinking of a second Hijrah is an implied admission that the easy going generation of today’s Muslims in Europe is not as strong willed as their great grandfathers to resist any perceived attacks on their Islamic values. It is also a sign of their inability to use the democratic system to make their voice heard using the legal means available to them to organise political pressure groups and write letters to their MPs, sensitise the media and get involved in volunteering and civic activities, or better still join social services and politics for the greater good of the community. The first generation of Muslim immigrants had learnt to use these tools effectively to get their voice heard but they were perhaps too busy to train their successors to replace them in this leadership role.
My second argument against Hijrah is that it is not obligatory on a Muslim to move out until such time that the country where he is living changes from being a house of peace (Darul Aman) to a house of war (Darul-Harab). I have done a separate essay on this subject The Debate about Daarul Aman and Daarul Harb and the Question of Hijrah but here I will simply say that if a country does not prevent its Muslim citizen from observing his faith freely, or does not stop him from carrying out his collective worship and live his life according to the Quran and Sunnah, and there is no restriction on him to share the message of Islam with others, then that country, despite being a non-Muslim majority state is Darul Aman and not Darul Harab.
By contrast, an example of a Muslim community forbidden by its State from practicing Islam is the Uyghurs in the Xinjian region of China who are sent to government internment camps for ‘re-education and vocational training’. In the West, the practice of Islam is a matter of personal choice and is not forbidden by law, even though it may be hard now to practice faith compared to a few decades ago due to the increasing commercialisation of religion and the dominance of secularist, anti-Christ and anti-religious values. However, what applies to Muslim community in the West also applies to the practicing Christian and Jewish communities who see materialism closing in heavily on their religious and moral values. I would argue that even beyond the West, almost every country in the world is part of the new Dajjali paradigm.
In the true sense, Hijrah is a progressively ascending movement. If one were to move his household for the sake of Islam from a non-Muslim state to a Muslim-majority state where the practice of Islam was much better and of a higher degree, it could be justified on grounds of piety. But if one realised that his aspirations were not fulfilled there as expected, he cannot go back to a country where his level of religious satisfaction was already low. This aspiring immigrant could only move to a higher degree of Muslim country where Sharia was actually practiced or was being attempted for implementation. In today’s discussion on Hijrah, no one talks about moving to Afghanistan where the new state is actually saying that they are interested only in implementing Islamic Sharia.
On the contrary, the proponents of Hijrah talk about moving to Turkey which is a secular country where alcohol is openly available in Meyhanelar and off-license Tekel shops. They talk of moving to other Arab countries which are Arab but not Islamic by their constitution, or if they are, they are trying to mute the Islamic provisions of their constitutions and instead introducing Western ideas and values. This leads one to conclude that Hijrah is not just motivated by a sense of faith but also by a sense of living comforts and good business prospects. It is like saying I am going to Saudi Arabia for work but I will also go to Makkah and perform Umrah, even though my intention to travel there is not solely for Umrah. Let this thought be a source of mercy from Allah but you would not have gone for Umrah if you had not receivd a job offer from Saudi Arabia in the first place, Of course, no one can stop people from making a personal choice for their future, but they should not be calling it Hijrah because it evokes a specific religious meaning and relevance.
There are more opportunities in a Muslim-minority country to showcase Islamic values compared to Muslim-majority countries. In a neighbourhood of non-Muslim people, a good Muslim would be closely watched for his demeanour, honesty and character. In a Muslim majority neighbourhood, he would earn respect as a good person, but he would not be seen as a Muslim because everyone else is a Muslim. In a Hijrah situation, how much one will gain by preaching to the already converted. Hijrah takes away this advantage from those who want to move away their households from a Muslim minority state. Furthermore, the skills European Muslims have acquired by virtue of their living in educated an civilised countries are badly needed in underdeveloped Muslim countries, including conflict countries. The supporters of Hijrah should explore teaching English language, vocationall education, IT and other soft skills to uneducated populations in Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, the Gambia and Malawi and live their lives as religious missionaries instead of relocating to greener pastures as economic fortune hunters.
There are also two other important caveats that call for reflection in a discussion on Hijrah. One is the factor of acceptability and the other the status of those who are left behind. By acceptability I mean the attitude of the country or people where a person is planning to emigrate. Do the locals welcome such foreigners and can they guarantee that his expectation of settling down there and practicing Islam freely will be successfully fulfilled by them. We know from the Hijrah of Prophet Muhammad to Madina that there were times when the relationship between the Ansar and Muhajirs was under great strain. It was only the love and respect for the Prophet that prevented a division between the two diverse tribal communities. In the absence of such a guarantee, Hijrah could turn out to be a big disappointment a few years after the permanent move and too costly to trace back the steps to the country of origin or a third country.
As for the status of those who are left behind after a mass exodus, those who leave to go away do a big disfavour to those who stay behind. In this equation the latter are often the weak and vulnerable lot. They are people with the least resources and insight. They were a minority before and now with many of their brethren gone, they become even more reduced in size. The partition of British India in 1947 remains an example of how the Muslims of India who did not or could not move to the country that was made in the name of Islam, were reduced in stature and became a victim to the extremist Hindutwa ideology. If the idea of Hijrah gains ground with the educated and resourceful Muslim population in France, the UK and Europe, those who will not go anywhere will be reduced to an even smaller minority with fewer social contacts and reduced Muslim community services. The political Establishment in the West would be too happy to get rid of those who are promoting Hijrah and may even sponsor their campaign to undo what Enoch Powell or Jean-Marie le Penn or her far right daughter could not do with their thundery anti-immigration speeches.
Assuming that the Hijrah campaign gains ground and is successful in a large number of European Muslims migrating to other countries, it will have serious repercussions for the pluralism and tolerant policies of the Western countries. Just as the Jews and Christians migrated out of Arab lands in the last few hundred years, and the Arabian peninsula which was a happy mix of multifaith communities became more introvert and more intolerant of other communities, Europe too could become inward looking and intolerant to other races and faiths because of its reduced Muslim population. It will also be a dark chapter in the history of Islam in Europe as is evident from the ruins of the old city of Madina in Malta or the Azan deprived mosques in Seville and Cordova.
So, if a Muslim brother or sister wants to move away from his/her country of birth in Europe for whatever reason, s/he should accept that it is his free choice but not Hijrah. Otherwise, if religion is the main motive, there is more work to do by staying in the West as a practicing and socially contributing Muslim than going elsewhere. What is needed is hope and resilience to build on the solid foundations the early immigrants have laid to present the best footprint of Islam in the lands which have welcomed the faiths of Prophets from lands far-away from their shores.