There are many who believe that the values of Islam and the values of the West are incompatible.
There are even some who suggest that vast hordes of Muslims coming from the East will change the balance within Western societies.
This has even been called a “clash of civilizations.”
Well, as Muslims, we believe that there is no such clash and that Islam, far from being a threat to Western society is, in fact, a blessing. Indeed, Muslims believe that Islam is the natural religion of mankind and has existed since the beginning of time, speaking to the hearts of all men and women, wherever they live.
So where does the problem come from, for indeed there is a growing perception in many Western societies that Islam poses a threat to their way of life?
As economies continue to decline and people find it more and more difficult to make ends meet, they quite naturally look for reasons why their standard of living is falling. Unfortunately, to blame Muslims and Islam is a grave mistake.
Let us take the example of Switzerland. A few years back, the people of Switzerland voted in a national referendum to ban the building of minarets in their country. At the time of that referendum there existed four minarets in the whole of Switzerland, which hardly seems a threat to the Swiss way of life. Yet ultra-nationalist political parties had managed to whip up a feeling amongst ordinary people that Islam was somehow to blame and that its continued rise would threaten the very nature of Switzerland itself.
The politicians did this in a very clever way. Switzerland is famous for clocks, for watches, for chocolate and for banking. It has always been a neutral country and its citizens are renowned for being clean and quiet. Image their concern, then, when large numbers of Muslims came from beyond their borders to live in the country, many of them without jobs and unable to speak the languages of Switzerland. The right-wing parties seized their chance and proclaimed this as a proof that Islam was threatening that clean and quiet way of life.
Let us be honest here. If Switzerland has a problem with immigration, then it should deal with that immigration problem. Islam, however, was not the problem at all.
Similarly, in France or Germany, where large numbers of the population have parents who were born outside of France or Germany, there is a real problem of social integration. Vast numbers of young people, for example, feel alienated from their society. Living in communities where Arabic is the language most commonly spoken, they look instead to Morocco, Algeria or Turkey for their identity. Often these social problems have erupted into violence on the streets.
Once again, though, we must stress that if France or Germany or any other country have problems of social cohesion, these problems need to be addressed. Islam, though, is not the problem.
In fact, the contrary if true. If people could only see it, the values of Islam are actually the very values that people in the West are longing for.
True Western Values
A while back, I was speaking on a Friday night at one of the universities in a large city in the UK. The talk finished around 11pm and I chose to walk back to my hotel through the centre of the city. What I saw there appalled me. Being the centre of the city, there were many pubs and nightclubs and it just happened to be the time when people were on the move from one club to another. Young people, both boys and girls, were staggering around drunk, fighting, being sick in the street and using the foulest language.
I thought then that, as Muslims, we have missed something very important. What appalled me on the streets of that city would have appalled any decent citizen. The “Western” values ordinary people adhere to do not include drunkenness and violence. The “Western” values they hold so dear include honesty, justice, fair-mindedness, a respect for the law, for the elderly, for women and for families. Are these not the very values embodied in Islam? Indeed, respect for others’ beliefs has always been a central tenet of those Western societies.
Yet, as Muslims, we have managed to convince (or allowed others to convince) the people of the West that our “Muslim” values threaten their very way of life. Maybe we need to re-think the way we approach our neighbors.
There are some calling themselves Muslims who call for hatred of the West and, although living in the West themselves, have nothing but contempt for the societies where they live. Unfortunately, this tiny minority have grabbed the headlines and managed to make it seem that this is the stance of Islam. The vast majority of Muslims living in the West, however, are good citizens and respect its laws and customs and the right of others to believe something different to them. Living as a Muslim is not a threat to the non-Muslim neighbors living next door.
Where Muslims are living as good Muslims, people will see them respecting the elderly. They will see that the family is the core of Muslim life. They will see that out of love and fear of Allah, Muslims respect the law and are kind to their neighbors. They work hard and are honest and fair. In fact, if Muslims are living as good Muslims, they will be the best of neighbors and the best citizens any country could have.
In this current atmosphere, then, where people are under suspicion because their skin color is different or because they go to worship in a different place to others living in the same street, Muslims need to be wise. Cultural differences are not Islam. Culture is one thing. Islam is another.
Islam is at home in every country and in every society. Islam is not a threat to Britain or France or anywhere else.
If people choose to wear Pakistani clothes or eat Arabian food, this must not be confused with the message of Islam. In Western societies there is a lot of work to be done in integrating the different cultural practices of those whom the Western countries have allowed to come and live in their countries. There is a lot of money available from the Muslim-majority nations to help with this.
Instead of building yet another mosque in Paris, why not spend the money on educating young Muslims on how to write a good CV and get a job, or helping Muslim women to speak the language of that country and so play a part in society.
The Social Values of Islam
These social and political problems can be dealt with easily if there is the will to overcome them.
The bigger picture, though, which we must address as Muslims, is that Islam has something very positive to offer to the West. It is not a case of Islam or the West, but of Islam in the West. The social values of Islam are what many people long for and would be very receptive to if they could be promoted properly.
If, as Muslims in the West, we can persuade people that Muslims want to play a full part in the societies where they live, there is a chance that people will see Islam for what it really is.
Far from being a threat, Islam is beautiful, gentle and sweet and the presence of good Muslims will benefit any city or town.
Those calling others to Islam need to recognize this fact. Once the people of the West can overcome the hurdles presented to them by the media they will then, perhaps listen to what Islam and Muslims have to say.
By preaching the message of Islam first, without showing people what Muslims are really like and what they have to offer society, people will not be receptive to the message. As Muslims we promote good citizenship, community cohesion and religious tolerance.
Inshallah, by living as good Muslims people will come to see that – and then they may have the ears to hear about the central message of Islam, Oneness of Allah.