Islam and its diverse manifestations being a focal point of the contemporary history, many authors have recently undertaken huge efforts to study and treat the matter in a number of publications. This particular paper should not be looked upon as a comprehensive study to the indicated theme. It’s rather intended to be an overview account which deals with the general differences between Islamic and Western societal models, explores possible causes for occurrence of resentment feelings within Muslim communities and finally tries to assess a scale of risks and threats concerning the society. In so doing, long-known factors as well as newly emerging aspects are addressed and interpreted.
At various points in the text the paper delivers proposals for solution of certain problematic phenomena or general policy recommendations. These include foremost the following ten points: providing enough room for exercise of basic religious duties; preventing social seclusion and frustrations through appropriate representation; tolerating peaceful self-expression; policy of close attention and communication instead of ignorance and denying; policy of integration, not assimilation; clearing up harmful perceptions and prejudices; fighting groundless fears and occasional outbreaks of anti-Islamic hysteria; careful distinguishing between negative influences of Islam and misdeeds of individuals; intensive search for ways of conciliation between the Western secular and the Islamic traditional state conceptions to achieve full acceptance within the communities; need for further research both from outside and inside the communities.
As a policy paper the text is primarily targeted to the broad audience of decision-makers at different levels, who should view it as a simple introduction to the problem area. More specifically, officers and functionaries in Western states with significant Muslim minorities are in focus, ranging from local and regional authorities to national or international executive and legislative bodies. Especially those that might ever encounter the need to decide upon a regulation concerning a group or a population segment of people with Islamic faith. This applies also for the Czech Republic where this policy paper was conceived.
Some of the terms used below need to be explicitly defined, since their precise meaning may not be self-evident.
First, ‘Western society‘ refers to present-day state of large human communities in the countries commonly understood as Western, i.e. mainly in Western and Central Europe, North America and Australia. Distinctive features of these societies include secularism, expressed in the separation of religion from the state, a high measure of individualism where personal decision-making depends either on individuals or very limited groups of people such as nuclear families, and reliance upon institutions as basic mechanisms for functioning of the society. And last but not least, a perception of and care for material goods—natural and artificial—as for real values.
In contrast, ‘Muslim community‘ denotes a type of a grouping of people, where Islam is the decisive common denominator not only in the religious practice but also in the behavior of the community in general. Secularizing tendencies are often inhibited or reverted by activities of internal fundamentalist movements that advocate obedience to religious prescriptions in everyday life. As for decision-making, a kind of communalism is prevalent, based usually on broader kinship structures.
Official institutions are frequently treated with mistrust while communication on an interpersonal level and use of one’s own connections and acquaintances is preferred—a well-known social phenomenon generally referred to as ‘clientelism’. Mundane goods and possessions are due to some traditional Islamic concepts seen as illusory values, merely useful for a temporary well-being. Finally, to a certain extent, a deliberate self-seclusion or self-differentiation from the non-Muslim environment may be observed, finding its expression in the use of certain symbols (women headscarves etc.).
The designations ‘surrounding societies‘ or ‘environment‘ will also be used for Western societies, regarding the role they play vis-à-vis Muslim communities. The latter ones will also be referred to just as ‘communities‘.
2 Satisfying Basic Needs
Having specified the crucial terms in the mutually contrasting way, some of the main incompatibilities between the both societal models have become apparent. To track the potential security risks imposed by Islamic communities, however, specific friction points must be examined, whose ignorance could lead to feelings of resentment against the surrounding societies.
First and most notably, such a situation would inevitably occur if the community were hindered in practicing their essential religious imperatives. These chiefly comprise the five ‘pillars of the religion‘ revealed in the Koran and a few further relevant commandments. The problem of guaranteeing Muslim believers the feasibility to obey their duties can be traced as far back as to the fourteenth century. At that time a scholar called Ahmad Ibn al-Taymiya first dealt with the newly emerging question whether a non-Islamic state should be accepted by the minority of Muslim believers as their homeland or rejected by means of a revolt. His authoritative conclusion, which is frequently quoted and reconfirmed until nowadays, was an approval of submission provided that the state guarantees a complete freedom of professing Islam and performing its rituals.
The Islamic duty of prayer at fixed daytimes (dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and late evening) supposedly requires the most support by the environment, especially in regard to the second and third prayer. Employed people usually have to be at work at these times, which implies the necessity of providing them with a viable opportunity to pray at their working place. This could be either a reserved room kept in cleanliness or simply a quiet space where the praying carpet or an adequate substitute may be laid. More complications are likely to occur during the Friday noon prayer when Muslims are required to gather at a place, preferably a mosque, for about an hour. Not only employers could perceive that as a problem but also the logistics of moving a greater number of people to the same place at the same time might not always be easy.
Muslims intending to abide the compulsory one-month fast of Ramadan should be given the opportunity to do so, even though it may manifest itself in their worsened physical and psychical condition (caused by the ban of ingesting any nourishments and liquids during the daytime fast). Similarly, the once-in-a-lifetime participation in the annual pilgrimage to Mecca is a highly revered and desirable enterprise for every believing Muslim and should be observed by the environment. However, the situation is easier in this case since the duty can be delegated to others and thus need not be fulfilled by everyone personally.
Another very characteristic specialty in respect of Muslim communities is their dietary requirements, whose neglecting on the part of catering establishments frequently causes feelings of distaste. This fully applies for any use of pork meat and to a lesser extent for alcoholic drinks and even medicines.
The great fuss around the feared and loathed ‘jihad‘ also deserves a mention at this place. Muslim communities undoubtedly intend to and will exercise their jihad, but in the broad and very peaceful meaning of the term. Many Westerners are surprised learning that classical Islam distinguishes between the Major jihad, which is understood as an inner intellectual struggle for the right faith of every believer, and the Minor one, which is targeted outwards to non-believers. And even here the weight is laid on peaceful ways of ‘jihad of the mouth’ and ‘jihad of the pen’ rather than the remaining ‘jihad of the sword’.
Unlike Jewish communities, for instance, Muslim groupings understand the effort to propagate their confession as a natural and indispensable part of their existence in a religiously different environment. That’s why they will insist on religious education of their children in addition to secular school systems and they will as well strive to win new adherents for Islam from among their vicinity. The means used for this purpose may include public lectures, courses and performances, invitations to feasts or religious ceremonials and similar strictly nonviolent efforts. All these are activities that an open democratic society should tolerate and even welcome as a desirable symptom of a functioning and active civil sector.
Some of the Western countries with substantial Muslim minorities have already managed to put up with the described requirements in a relatively satisfactory way. France may be taken as an example since it was already labeled ‘realm of Islam‘ by some scholars—a designation traditionally used for Muslim-dominated countries only. At the same time, though, France was also the stage for some of the major affairs relative to its minorities.
3 Potential Seeds of Conflict
After putting impediments to the free exercising of Islam, the second most serious tension field seems to be of a purely democratic nature. It is the question of an appropriate political, social and economical representation of the community within the structures of the surrounding society. Should the minority develop a sufficient measure of self-consciousness and start realizing its own democratic under-representation, the well-known phenomenon of ‘rising expectations‘ may potentially impose a threat to the cohesion of the whole society.
Since Muslim communities do nowhere in the Western world form more than 10 percent of a total country population, the most fatal consequences of a society’s fissure, such as large civil wars, can be ruled out. However, Muslim communities usually dispose of a strong solidarity feeling that results from a powerful religious concept of the pan-Islamic ‘ummah‘ (community of all Muslims in the world), which is inclusive and open to newcomers, but sharply contrasted with its non-Islamic surroundings. That’s why a neglected and largely ignored Muslim community in the West might tend to deepening its own seclusion, which would inevitably lead to a setback of its economical situation and living standard.
In an extreme case, individual acts of violence against the power symbols of an ‘oppressive’ environment might occur as a result of deep despair and hopelessness. The causes for such actions should anyway not be looked after in religious confrontations, even though they might be presented by the perpetrators themselves as a reaction to an attack against Islam. The true reasons would lie more probably in the community’s exclusion from the political and social life, whose origins may be perceived—even by the community itself—as resting in the confession. In reality the exclusion would have originated through mutual prejudices, anxieties and misunderstandings emerging on the grounds of different lifestyles and customs.
Speaking about the solidarity among the worldwide Muslim ummah, it should be noted that its individual communities react very spontaneously to events touching any of the remaining parts of the ummah. Taking this into consideration, Western countries with strong Muslim minorities can expect an increased level of Islamic political activism aimed at supporting distant fellow communities that are currently being attacked or oppressed by a non-Muslim element. Up to date it has not been recorded, though, that such manifestations of international backing would have overgrown into violence against the immediate surrounding societies. This of course does not apply for attacks committed by organized groups like terrorist networks etc.
Serious consequences might also eventuate from a certain notion of depravity or perversion that Muslim communities are inclined to acquire towards their environment or some of its constituent groups. There might be a broad spectrum of causes, such as a certain group’s different value priorities, a disrespectful attitude to something considered praiseworthy by the other side or a scandalous behavior like sexual explicitness etc. Although not being a major security threat on their own, these perceptions could deepen the community’s seclusion and incite a potentially pathological development inside the society.
After focusing so far on possible sources of discontent among Western Muslim communities, the next step should be an examination of their potentiality to exercise a negative influence on the entire society, i.e. the threats they may pose. While there are some well-known and mostly biased accusations occurring again and again for past years, a few newly perceived risks came into notice only in the recent time. The following text will briefly treat the former ones proceeding then to the latter.
4 Threats: A Traditional Account
The public opinion in Western countries often tends to charge immigrant minorities with a greater share in diverse types of criminality than the domestic population. This can be proved in some cases by following the traces of a criminal network and finding its members belonging to a specific nationality or ethnical group. Such a discovery can be logically explained by the easiness of communication within a relatively small group of people with a common language and background, mutual knowledge of persons and facilities in the hosting country. It can, however, in no way be blamed on the ethnicity itself, skin color or religion.
As for the ‘small criminality’, comprising petty theft and similar delinquency, Muslim believers are strongly discouraged from it by their religion which traditionally advocated punishments as severe as chopping off a hand for a single theft. Only a real and urgent need for maintaining one’s life was occasionally seen in Islamic legal rulings as a justification for touching someone else’s property. That’s also where the causes for this kind of criminality must be looked for, instead of regarding them as a general feature of Muslim communities.
The same applies for organized crime and, specifically, drug dealing, which is far more serious a kind of criminality that members of certain communities may be involved in. Even in this case the facts are based on objective preconditions such as a unique access of the community to the sources of drugs and a time-proven effective mechanism of distributing them. The absurdity of blaming here on Islam becomes evident as soon as other organized ‘mafias’ from non-Muslim parts of the world are taken into consideration and their equally harmful activities are exposed. That’s why the state repressive apparatus must here advance along the criminalistic line without reference to the perpetrators’ Islamic faith.
On the other hand, negative phenomena appearing as a result of their own Islamic background can be envisaged too. A most obvious one is of course the threat of Islamic terrorism. It may be argued that this issue deserves the foremost mention and closest attention as it stands in the limelight of contemporary events. However, this perspective changes considering the fact that Islamic terrorism’s roots have never rested in the presence of Muslim communities in the West. On the contrary, large actions of international Islamic terrorism always ensued from perceptions of some external harm committed against ‘Dar al-Islam’, i.e. the genuine realm of this religion, especially Palestine and the Middle East.
Muslim communities therefore cannot be described as a source of terrorism although there might be a kind of linkage. They could be supposedly approached and exploited as a human resource reservoir for radical actions planned for execution in their respective host countries. Three factors should be examined to determine a probability of such an occasion. First, to be attractive for conspirators of a terrorist action, the individuals of the community must have a good access to their environment’s infrastructures (engineering networks, transportation, places with massive gatherings of people, places with a symbolic significance), which means they must be integrated into the surrounding society to a certain degree. Similarly, they must possess the specific knowledge and the physical capability required to the execution of an action.
Second, they must be strongly influenced by the above mentioned feeling of solidarity with the worldwide Muslim ‘ummah’, so that they perceive other Muslims’ difficulties as their own worries worth personal engagement. Third, deep despair and a hopeless future are usually the tragic preconditions necessary for anyone to consent to participation in a destructive or suicide action. This is however hard to imagine unless there is a kind of unbearable oppression of the community by its environment (e.g. the authorities, some hostile radical social groups etc.) or extreme frustration within the community, resulting from a long-lasting ignorance of the frictions analyzed earlier in this paper.
Since the concurrence of these prerequisites (especially the first and third one) does not appear particularly likely, the last described threat should not be over-exaggerated but soberly and pragmatically explored.
Not to forget, heavy oppression or extreme frustration of a Muslim community—as indicated and explained above—may on their own lead to negative consequences. In this case, the conceivable threats mainly comprise individual small-scale acts of violence targeted rather randomly against the surrounding society, its members and its symbols. The nature of those might be either spontaneous as an abrupt release of accumulated frustration or planned and aimed at pointing out a particular tangle in the relations of the community to its environment. For the sake of the society’s healthy development, such incidents should not be viewed from the standpoint of the criminal policy only but also from that of the social science. Possible sources of mutual resentments should be re-examined and treated in a responsible way.
5 Threats: Identity Endangered?
In the recent time, as Islam was gradually shifting into the very focus of the history, its various manifestations came under the magnifying glass of numerous Western researchers once again. Thus, new potential threats seemed to be discovered, some of them proving only a projection of the omnipresent hysteria while others had a real core. A few of the most interesting will be briefly addressed in the following text.
Due to extensive movements of people related to international labor force migration, refugee affairs and other needs contingent on globalization, new ethnic and religious communities have abruptly emerged in societies where they never existed in the past. The extent and pace of this process evoked a natural defensive reaction as the surrounding society feared that large numbers of foreign immigrants may distort its historically formed appearance and thus its self-understanding. Therefore a notion of ‘cultural identity’ was established as a respectable value and questions were raised upon the acceptability of alien elements in regard to this new imperative. Needless to say, the entire concept—as it is presented today—seems to be largely questionable and should hereafter be refined in definition.
As for Muslim communities, their potency of influencing the environment’s identity in a visible way is rather limited but nevertheless sufficient to cause widespread fears from ‘the growing Islamization of our country’ or likewise. The most ostensible sign of Islamic presence is probably the headscarves worn by Muslim women in public. From the psychological point of view, they may evoke a feeling of scary strangeness that is perceived by many Western people. Thanks to the freedom of behavior that forms the very basis of a democratic society, though, this must be tolerated as a completely harmless manifestation of faith. Moreover, it is exactly women scarves and the freedom to use them what Muslim communities react very sensitively to and what may cause serious resentments if the authorities tried to crack down on it.
Further characteristic and obvious symptoms of predominantly Muslim countries comprise mosques with high minarets, from where an invitation to prayer is loudly called, and also the omnipresent sight of people praying at any free place. This slightly differs in case of Muslim communities in the West. While room for praying is necessary (even at work as mentioned above) it needn’t be very noticeable or even recognizable. Moreover, as shows the practice in countries with a Muslim minority, the regular prayer-callings may be omitted since the required times for prayer are known in advance. Due to social life in the West that is mostly conducted indoor and not in the streets (unlike in the Middle-East) Muslim believers also prefer to gather and pray in their premises, thus hidden from public and not disturbing the Westerner’s eye.
Regarding the considerable population dynamics of Muslim communities, their share in the West’s population will be certainly growing in next years. Unless their natural increase rate falls down to that of their environment, they might in farther future even cease to be a minority. This perspective naturally evokes great fears because many presume that Muslim communities—once grown to be strong enough—would come up with demands for public recognition and free exertion of their religion’s prescriptions. That is, most notably, the Islamic law (Shari’a) in the area of so-called ‘personal status’ regulations, i.e. family law. That would be a fatal blow to the secular identity of modern democratic states and secondarily also to the originally Christian self-understanding of their populations.
Thinking upon a question whether this development is likely in the given circumstances, one should look at the contemporary Middle-Eastern countries with predominantly Muslim populations. Virtually all of them have recently faced strong pressures by their internal activist movements aimed at promoting Islamic principles for the functioning of the state. There are no serious reasons to believe that strong newly emerging Muslim communities in the West would behave differently, unless of course the general level of Islamist activism and fundamentalism sinks in a considerable way by that time. That again depends on many factors, not least on the progress of the Middle-East Peace Process, whose failure during the 1967 war took a major share in inciting the great wave of fundamentalism that lasts until present days.
6 Threats: A Broader Horizon
Having mentioned a potential risk lurking in the Shari’a law, the specific points should be examined where a conflict is unavoidable with the values of Western secular democracies, including human rights. The most notorious discrepancy between both the legal approaches is the position of women vis-à-vis the law, the state and the authorities. While a woman in the classical Islamic society is obviously not equal to a man, it may be argued that her position is balanced, enjoying less rights but more protection. Anyway, this stands in sheer contradiction to the concept of strict equality of sexes as advocated by all Western democracies. In the view of Islam the differences between a woman’s and a man’s position extend to all of family law, marriage and divorce, upbringing of children, heritage, witnessing at courts, punishments and more.
Many of these prescriptions are directly preached by Koran, thus having the nimbus of untouchable authority. Moreover, this also applies to the infamous corporal punishments (chopping off hands, stoning, flogging), female polygamy, ban on conversions from Islam etc. A majority of these commandments are nowadays no more observed in most Muslim countries or they are rather circumvented by elaborate explicative testimonials (fatwa) issued by authoritative and widely respected Muslim scholars. Such explications mostly include arguments like today’s obsoleteness of prescriptions that were meaningful only under very specific circumstances in the time of the Koranic revelation or assertions that some norms just indicate the extreme limits of behavior while any action within these borders is legally acceptable.
Hereby some of the principal incompatibilities between the Islamic law and Western secular justice may be removed or at least considerably reduced. However, any such legal opinion does not have an ultimate legitimacy and can be anytime challenged from the fundamentalist positions. Summed up, Shari’a perhaps might be heavily adjusted to suit a secular legal system or, more exactly, to provide Muslim communities a feeling that a satisfying and righteous life according to Islam is possible in the otherwise hostile environment. Nevertheless, a profound loyalty to the secular state law itself must from orthodox Muslims never be expected. That’s why a community’s current attitude to its surrounding society deserves a permanent close attention.
One of the lately invented and most absurd presumptions—at some time nearly reaching the psychological threshold of mass panic fears—is the view of all Muslims living in the West as ‘sleeping agents’ who are anytime ready to grasp a weapon and take part in dreadful terrorist bloodshed against their fellow-citizens. Hopefully needless to explain, it would be extremely difficult for any organization to locate and approach an orderly individual in the West who they would be able to persuade to turn at a future order of theirs into a murderous terrorist.
Although there may be Muslims in the West with a sufficient ability to commit an attack and with a high measure of radical devotion to the all-Muslim affairs, they would hardly happen to be in the typical state of mind for which extreme despair and frustration are characteristic and which provides for the final breakdown of mental constraints before the attack. On the other hand, there is an alternative beside this ‘wait-and-kill-at-order’ kind of a sleeping agent, i.e. a classical saboteur who works as a long-time subversive element and systematically damages the environment’s infrastructures. Thanks to the continuous or repeated nature of such action, however, it should be a matter of investigation by police and secret services to get him halted.
A threat by itself may be considered the deep isolation that a community may get into upon a persistent struggle against its environment (already outlined above). Even in case of a Muslim community, though, the causes for such a situation may have no direct relation to religion but rather to some cultural customs that disqualify the community from the overall society. Then, from the sociological point of view, there should not be any significant differences from non-Muslim communities and well-proven principles should be applicable: integration instead of assimilation, addressing specific needs and adapting authorities to them instead of ignorance and denying.
Throughout the text, a distinction was made between ‘the communities’ and ‘the surrounding societies’, which may be confusing if understood in the way that communities form a separate and clearly bordered segment of population. In reality, however, they are usually strongly integrated at all social levels and smoothly merge into the environment by means of individuals whose membership in the community is questionable (those living out of the community, people with mixed origin etc). This view is furthermore strengthened by the concept of secular citizenship guaranteeing the treatment of one’s faith as a strictly private characteristic which must not be taken into account in official dealings.
Therefore a democratic government is bound to represent the interests of their country’s Muslim community as well as in case of e.g. laborers, women or chimney sweepers. In turn, obedience to the legal system and loyalty to the state during an external threat is required from the citizens. As already mentioned, Muslim communities or—more precisely—their extremist wings might pose a threat in this respect since fundamentalist Islam and secularism are contradictory. Thus every orthodox Muslim believer, when forced to decide between a ‘state-sponsored Islam’ and an ‘Islam-dominated state’, would choose the latter.
However, this is a largely hypothetical paradigm whereas the real situation unwinds from the pragmatism of everyday life. From this point of view Muslim communities in the West take advantage of a much higher living standard and much broader civil rights than they ever could in the countries of their origin. And—resorting to a well-known proverb—satisfied people do not make revolutions.
Presumed there was room for only one more recommendation concerning prevention of potential threats, it would have to be one like this (however self-evident it might seem): A close attention is always the key. This of course implies a careful observation of what is happening both around and inside the community. As for the former, the kind and extent of interactions with the community’s environment was meant, whether in the public or private sphere, at the interpersonal or group level, in the realm of economy, politics or social life.
As for the latter, it means mainly how Islam works out at the moment i.e. the way it takes influence on its believers. To accomplish a reliable research, two distinct lines must be carefully followed. First, it is the message of the official Islam which gets manifest in regular preachments delivered in every mosque during the Friday noon prayers. For there the collective opinion of Muslim believers gets formed, including their attitudes to recent political developments, international affairs and situation of Islam in the world. Major issues like the Middle East Peace Process can never be omitted and voices of the preaching sheikhs usually promote the alarming view of Palestinian martyrdom against Israeli crimes. Paradoxically, this long-repeated stereotype seems to have a virtually contra-productive effect, sometimes evocating rather indifference.
While impacts on individuals can be relatively easily analyzed in the last case, it is not true for the other type of exerting Islamic influence. Activist movements, which are not infrequently in conflict with the official version of Islam, act predominantly in privacy, despite being commonly known among the believers. Some of the organizations (e.g. the France-based Tabligh) choose methods of direct pressure, thus visiting individual believers at home, trying to persuade them to a better abidance of Shari’a commandments and threatening by the community’s retaliation otherwise. To trace and analyze such activities is obviously more complicated and may involve a need for help from expert forces or members of the community themselves.
This paper attempts to draw a simple sketch of Muslim communities’ situation in a Western-type environment, focusing at various whether direct or indirect implications in the field of public security. It also strives to provide useful policy recommendations and proposals for problem solutions (their resume see in the opening Executive summary) and hopes to become a part of the resource base used by competent decision-makers, thus finding its application in reality.
In the opinion of the author, most of the significant and interesting issues were briefly addressed so that the recipient is provided a basic notion of the given problem area. In spite of the author’s effort for a comprehensive and systematical approach, accurate rendering of facts and sober interpretation, the work claims to be neither exhaustive nor ultimately truthful. It is rather an outline to be colored by further papers and studies.