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islam related issues, responses

Living in a Non-Muslim Country – Responding to the Idea of Hijrah (Migration)

Some Muslim extremist groups criticise Muslims who settle down in non-Muslim countries and call them to migrate to a Muslim country. Worse still, there are extremists who label these Muslims as disbelievers just because they live in a non-Muslim country.

They argue that living in a non-Muslim country is wrong because Muslims will have to live under unIslamic condition. They also claim that Muslims who willingly accept the rule of non-Muslims over them and to live under the rule none other than the syariah (Islamic law) in all circumstances are committing acts that will nullify their faith because loyalty and sovereignty can only be given to God and Islam is the only way of life for Muslims.

They based their argument, among others, on the following verses:

“When angels take the souls of those who die in sin against their souls, they say: “In what (plight) were ye?” They reply: “Weak and oppressed were we in the earth.” They say: “Was not the earth of Allah spacious enough for you to move yourselves away (From evil)?” Such men will find their abode in Hell, What an evil refuge! Except those who are (really) weak and oppressed – men, women, and children – who have no means in their power, nor (a guide-post) to their way. For these, there is hope that Allah will forgive: For Allah doth blot out (sins) and forgive again and again. He who forsakes his home in the cause of Allah, finds in the earth Many a refuge, wide and spacious: Should he die as a refugee from home for Allah and His Messenger, His reward becomes due and sure with Allah: And Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.” (The Quran, 4:97 – 100)

The consequence of this thinking is the idea that one cannot be a proper Muslim unless if he lives among Muslims only. It encourages ghettoism and exclusivist attitude in social life.

Theological Response

It is argued that the verses (The Quran, 4, 97-100) cannot be used as absolute proof that Muslim cannot live in a non-Muslim country, as it could also be interpreted otherwise, that is to allow a Muslim to do so. The verse, “Except the weak ones among men, women and children who can not devise plan, nor as they able to direct their way. These are they whom Allah is likely to forgive them, and Allah is Ever Oft-Pardoning, Oft-Forgiving.” (The Quran, 4:98), has been interpreted by Muslim scholars to mean a Muslim is only required to emigrate from a non-Muslim country if he is unable to practice his religion freely and is being oppressed.

Consequently, it also means that Muslims are allowed to live in a non-Muslim country or under a non-Muslim government, as long as as they have the freedom to worship their religion and can experience the basic human rights. There is no reason or compulsion for Muslims who live in such situation to emigrate.

Migration is only compulsory for those who are weak, unable to practice their religion and, by remaining in such situation fear that their faith will be jeorpadised. Even that those who are in such condition but cannot afford or not able to emigrate are not obligated to do so. They are allowed to remain in that country until their situation improves.

The above interpretation was held by among others Ibn Katsir, in his Tafsir Al-Quran Al-Azim and Al-Baidhawi, in Tafsir Al-Baidhawi. Both are prominent exegetes (interpreters) of the Quran.

This interpretation is supported by the fact that the Prophet himself permitted his uncle, Abbas to remain in Mecca. That proved that the injunction to migrate was not binding over everybody.

Secondly, the migration of the Prophet’s companions to Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and their return to the Prophet, only after six years of the Prophet’s migration to Medina pointed also that migration is only necessary for those who are weak and fear religious persecution. Therefore, living in a non-Muslim country is allowed if Muslim’s right of worship is protected.

Thirdly, it was reported that one of the companions of the Prophet by the name of Abu Nu’aim became a Muslim and wanted to migrate to Medina. As he was the financial provider for a group of orphans and widows for his tribe, his people asked him to stay with the promise to protect him from any abuse. He postponed his emigration plans and when he eventually immigrated to Medina, the Prophet said to him, “My people have ousted me and wanted to kill me. Whilst your people protected you.”

Fourthly, Fudaik, one of the companions of the Prophet said “The people were saying that those who did not emigrate will perish.” But the Prophet answered, “O Fudaik! Perform your prayers, give alms, and avoid sins and stay with your people where you please.” Fudaik then said, “I thought the Prophet would have told me to emigrate.” (Narrated by Ibn Hibban and Al-Baihaqi)

Fifthly, the Prophet said (in one narration by Imam Muslim), that those people, in a non-Muslim country, who later became Muslims, could still remain living there and did not need to emigrate.

From the evidences, it can be concluded that there cannot be a general ruling for or against a Muslim to live in a non-Muslim country. The ruling depends on the status of the individual and the context. Clearly, the stand of disallowing Muslims to live and settle in non-Muslim countries is not the stand of the consensus of Muslim scholars. The scholars are of the opinion that ruling on migration depends on the situation and can be summarised as such, a) it is obligatory for a Muslim to migrate if he or she cannot practice his religion and fears that he cannot maintain his faith. This is based on the verses of the Quran, 4:97-100, b) Muslims who can practice Islam and can afford to migrate are only encouraged to do so. This is based on the actions of the Prophet’s uncle, Abbas and his companion, Abu Nu’aim, c) Muslims who cannot afford or face difficulty to migrate are not required to do so and can remain living in that country. This is based on the verses of the Quran, 4:97, d) it is obligatory for a Muslim to remain in a non-Muslim country if his presence and expertise is required by the Muslims there.

Rational Response

In today’s context, migration to a Muslim country in a classical sense is no more relevant or practical, as no particular country today can be truly classified as a Dar Al-Islam (land of Islam) in the classical sense.

Furthermore, the world has been globalised. Any attempt to isolate Muslims from the other community by ensuring them to live among Muslim community in order to preserve their faith and commitment to the religion is a futile effort.

Also, there is no one country, be it a non-Muslim country or a Muslim one that is perfectly suitable to meet the original objectives of migration that a Muslim can practice Islam as a religion comprehensively.

Practically anywhere a Muslim chooses to live, he still has to make the appropriate adjustments and accommodations to his society. Settling and living amongst non-Muslims does not make a person less of a Muslim in the eye of God, as compared to those who live in a Muslim society.

The early Muslims travelled widely from the Arab continents to China and the Malay Archipelago, where they settled and lived with the non-Muslims, which eventually caused the spread of slam.

Muslim minorities living in non-Muslim democratic countries must realise, despite the countries imperfection, they also provide abundant opportunities to share their Muslim way of life and dispelling any misconceptions on Islam.

On that respect, instead of isolating themselves, Muslims must strive to be an active and constructive member of the country by actively contributing towards the nation’s progress and development, in accordance to principles of democracy and the law of the state.

Following on that also, Muslims have to build a foundation of peaceful coexistence with others.

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About Muhammad Haniff Hassan

Muhammad Haniff Bin Hassan is a Fellow. He holds a PhD and M.Sc. in Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (previously known as the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies), Nanyang Technological University. He received his early education in Aljunied Islamic School. He then continued his tertiary education at the Faculty of Islamic Studies, National University of Malaysia, with honours in Syar`iah and Civil law. Mr. Haniff is also active in social activities as a member of the Islamic Religious Council Appeal Board, HSBC Insurance Islamic Advisory Board from 2000 to 2014, Association of Islamic Religious Teachers and Scholars of Singapore (PERGAS) and Management Committee of Al-Irsyad Islamic School. He writes extensively in Berita Harian (a local Malay newspaper) and has also published articles in The Straits Times. He has published six books in his name, co-authored a monograph and helped publish two books for PERGAS and the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore. His personal website in Malay is at www.haniff.sg

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