Colombo Telegraph

Muslim Exodus: Hijra In Reverse

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

I am compelled to write or rather compose this piece (hardly anyone with a computer writes these days), in response to some comments and questions raised by Colombo Telegraph readers on my earlier note on, “Anti-Muslim Lobbies & Immigration Control in the West”, appeared on 27 August 2018. 

Why do Muslims migrate to the West instead of migrating to any one or more of the fifty-eight Muslim majority countries that are members of an impotent Organization of the Islamic Congress (OIC)? I tried to explain the answer to this question in an earlier composition to this journal on 12 September 2015 under the title “Muslim Migrants: A Blowback and Shame”. Let me elaborate on the issues I raised there. 

In the Islamic historical binary, Dharul Islam (popularly translated as the abode of peace) and Dharul Harb (also popularly known as the abode of war), Muslims are encouraged to migrate from the latter to the former, following the example of the Prophet of Islam, who in 622 migrated from Mecca, which at that time was threatening to kill him and his followers and nip Islam in the bud, to Medina, which welcomed the Prophet and his Meccan followers with open arms. This historic event known as the hijra (migration) also marked the beginning of year one in the Islamic calendar. Mecca, between 610, when Muhammad’s prophetic mission began, and 622, when he migrated, was indeed literally an abode of war. It became an abode of peace however, when it embraced Islam and surrendered to the Prophet in 630. 

Since then and when Muslims embarked on a mission of military conquests the term Dharul Islam actually came to denote all territories that fell under Muslim suzerainty, and Dharul Harb those under non-Muslim rule and yet to be conquered. Muslim historians and scholars also introduced later other intermediate categories such as, Dharul Sulh (abode of truce), Dahrul Amana (abode of safety) and Dharul Hudna (abode of calm). The Muslim community in Sri Lanka and similar communities living as minorities in other countries may fall under one or more of these subcategories. However, migration to Dharul Islam is a recommended option to these Muslims also. But will they ever take up this option given the shocking transformation of the historical abode of peace into the present abode of war? Just consider today’s theatres of war: Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Palestine, Libya and Northern Nigeria. These were all part of the historical Dharul Islam turned into Dharul Harb. Will any Muslim in his/her right mind ever think of settling in this part of the world? What about the rest of the Abode of Islam, especially the capital rich Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia? If Muslim minorities living in other countries decide to migrate and settle there will these regimes embrace them in the name Islam and its universal umma? Don’t be fooled. Migrating to these destinations temporarily to earn a few dollars is one thing, but the moment these visitors decide to apply for citizenship they will be dispatched forthwith to where they came from, in the next available flight or boat or if unlucky, thrown into jail. Islam after the Prophet never united Muslims, instead, it divided them. History is the sole witness.

Yet, who can deny this historical fact that when Baghdad, Damascus, Cordoba, Istanbul, Tehran and Delhi outshone the rest of the world in wealth, knowledge and culture not only Muslims, even non-Muslims desired to migrate to those destinations and settle there? Christians and Jews, Zoroastrians and Buddhists happily dwelled in those centres. Who will deny the convivencia of Umayyads built in Spain? It is also an irrefutable fact, although Western historians belittle, that it was the wealth, might and glory of Dharul Islam and envy that it generated unleashed the imperial wars, which history witnessed since the 16th century and which under various covers continue to this day. It was these wars and their destructive consequences that converted the once Dharul Islam in to Dharul Harb and vice versa, and it is this interconversion that created the hijra reversal.  The hated West has now become the charming darling for Muslims.

There are two stages in this reverse migration: the first started with the flight of Muslim intellectuals and the second with the exodus of Muslim masses. In the first stage, the tyranny of religious orthodoxy in post-independent Muslim countries made life difficult to independent thinkers, intellectuals, academics and writers. Scientific intellectualism could not coexist with ossified theology. “Escape to the West” became the only option available to minds with creative doubt. Bassam Tibi, the Syrian born German Islamologist and author of more than thirty books and hundreds of peer reviewed articles, advises “intellectually significant Muslims … who hope to apply reason to Islamic reform … to do so in their Western exile, be it Paris or London or Washington”. Akbar S. Ahmed, professor of Islamic studies in the American University in Washington and Oxford University in England, lamented in one of his earlier publications the colossal brain drain from Muslim countries to benefit the West. Freedom to think, write and publish without fear is what these intellectuals want and that is not available in Muslim countries.  This is particularly the case in relation to Islamic and social studies. Orthodoxy has such a strangle hold over religious thought and influence over political power, it is impossible for rational thinkers to survive in its midst. While creative doubts that threaten the intellectual edifice of an obscurantist orthodoxy is condemned as heresy, and while such doubters are hunted down, harassed and even killed, as in the case of the Sudanese religious scholar Mahmud Taha, centuries old theological wisdom has led to intellectual stagnation and myopia within the traditional centres of Islam. This has made life for many independent thinkers and critical minds in the Muslim world extremely difficult and hence their exodus to the West. 

The second stage of migration includes that of ordinary Muslims. To them, life in their countries has become so miserable, fearful, bloody and chaotic, they have no alternative but to escape to a greener pasture. Where can they go? Other Muslim nations, including the affluent ones among them, is no attraction because, as pointed out earlier those countries are ethnocentric, sectarian, oppressive and tyrannous. The West is therefore preferred not simply because it is peaceful, wealthy and democratic but more importantly because it is also responsible for creating the prevailing chaos in the heart of the Muslim world.                     

The meddling in Muslim Middle East in particular by Western powers goes right back to the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and creation of artificial nation states with little consideration to the sensitivities and loyalties of different religious, ethnic and tribal groups populated in that region. The need for markets and resources and desire for world dominance were and are the driving spirits behind Western involvement in the world of Islam. To achieve these objectives, kings and sultans, muftis and imams were picked from minority segments and installed as heads of states to rule over the majority. Rulers changed sometimes naturally through attrition but often forcibly and with blessing from imperial masters through assassinations and coups. Even when elections were held to display some semblance of democracy they were usually rigged right under the very nose of observes sent by the West. The centre of the Muslim world thus became a world of autocrats, dictators and tyrants. Innocent mases paid the price for a merciless local regime and rapacious foreign powers. The West actually converted majority of Muslim countries into “shit holes”, as Trump would describe.

While the mullahs made Islam unliveable to intellectuals and thinkers, the tyrants and their Western masters made the country unliveable to ordinary masses. When the US and its allies destroyed Vietnam they had to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees. We see a repetition of this tragic drama in the Muslim world now. With US shutting its doors Europe has become the preferred destination. In a sense, history is on the side of Muslims. It was with Europe that the world of Islam became familiar via political, commercial and civilizational contacts even before the commencement of the crusades. It was through Muslims that Europe rediscovered its antiquity. It was from Europe that colonization of Islamdom started and it was to Europe that local elite and bourgeoisie went in search of riches and recognition after decolonization. What was once a voluntary trickle has now become a flood. To the West it is a blowback and to Muslims it is shame.

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