January 20, 2015
Shia Muslims in the West
By: Dr. Hussein Al-Rumaithi
The issue of integrating the Muslim communities within the societies in the west has been a hot topic for a long period of time, especially every time there is an event, which involves Muslims. Whether a terrorist attack or a case of domestic violence or even a social media statement, it could trigger the debate about integration and if Muslims are able to be part of western societies. Addressing this issue would require a set of preliminary refutation arguments and a set of affirmation arguments, which will clarify the notion of integrating Muslims within the societies they live in.
This article would assert the fact that Muslims and specially Shias have been active members of society in the west, and the issue to integration is an illusion, which has been created by the media. Nevertheless, the real issue that makes this notion still an issue for deliberation is acceptance rather than integration. In addition, the political conflicts of the Islamic world have overshadowed much of the impressions and conceptions about Muslims in the west, which makes it very hard for majority of westerners to find an alternate view about Muslims rather than the one shown by the media.
What does it mean to live in a western society?
Prior to addressing the issue of integration and whether Muslims have been able to adapt to the life style in the west, we must clarify the definition of a western life style, and what it means to be a western citizen. As a person who lived in couple of totalitarian states, I must admit that the picture drawn for me about the west included nothing but negative aspects and attributes. Social meltdowns, absolute sexuality without any consideration for morals and ethics, and mainly the west was portrayed as a place where a human loses his/her faith. However, after coming to North America and witnessing the life style of this continent, I realized numerous facts and realities, which made me think about the real meaning of the phrase “western life style” and whether it really exists.
A western society and specifically North American societies embody to major aspects, which are often viewed as one, whereas they are completely separate and independent of each other.
- Western System
- Western way of life
The notion of a western system is what distinguishes a western country from rest of the world. The laws and legislations that govern a western state are the real defining aspect of a western society, rather than the life style that is adopted by the majority. Therefore, the lifestyle that has been affected by the western system is being portrayed as what the west is really about. For instance, instead of stating the west has laws and rules, which protect the rights of humans, we tend to say, western citizens respect the rights of others and prioritize human rights. Even thought, the second statement is often accurate, but it is an illustrative statement and not a definitive one. Therefore, we tend to generalize our interpretation of a western society based on the way the citizens of the west do things, and not the way the west has systematized its societies.
Therefore, to describe what it means to live in a western society, it would be accurate to state the following:
- No one is above reproach when it comes to the law and constitution.
- Laws and regulations of the state are enforced, with zero tolerance.
- Everyone is considered equal according to the constitution.
- Violating the laws and regulations has its retributions and sanctions.
- Protecting and valuing the life of humans is the main priority of the state.
- Political definitions like sovereignty, national security and national unity are considered sacred, and any attempt to bluster and threaten these aspects is considered a major crime.
Therefore, I would define a western society by these definitions and not the way western citizens live and adopt values, which means any person regardless of faith, ethnicity, race and background, who chooses to abide by these definitions has adapted him/herself by the western values, and he/she is an active and member of a western society. The unnoticed fact is that western societies consist many minorities and majorities, which identify themselves by labels that are separate from their national identity. The national identity is a unifying aspect, which enables all citizens to declare themselves as Americans or Canadians or any other nationality. Beyond the national identity, each group is able to identify itself in the way it desires, which can be African-American, Latino-American, Arab-Canadian, Italian-Canadian or any other way they desire to be identified. However, by adopting such identities and labels, it means that person practices the values and the traditions associated by his/her identity, which might be viewed as strange, uncommon, conservative, radical and etc.
Conclusively, by defining the meaning of living in a western society, Muslims who abide by the laws and legislations of their western countries have integrated themselves fully within their societies, but have chosen to identify themselves as Muslims, which includes practicing specific sets of values and norms, just like any other group residing in the west.
Muslims in the West
The rogue elements are a reality, which exists in any group regardless of background and faith. Therefore, putting forward the concept of integration is equivalent to wrong generalization against any specific group. Muslims have been in the west for a long period of time, and they have attributed in many ways to the societies they have lived in. Muslims in Europe and North America have been able to assert their place as effective members of the society by abiding by the laws and rules of the western states, and they have integrated themselves through education, professions, cultural exchange, matrimonial relations, social interaction and many other means. There are many Muslim legislatures and politicians active in the west that are equally concerned about the safety and interest of their societies like any other citizen. There are numerous wealthy Muslim businessmen and women that are part of the economic wheel of their societies, and have employed hundreds if not thousands of individuals. Therefore, I can proudly state that not only we have integrated into our societies, we have been part of the evolvement and the advancement of our societies in the west.