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   Conferences /The Fourteenth General Conference : The Truth about Islam in a Changing World

By Abdul Hadi Christian H. Hoffman Deputy Director Of German-Islamic Institute For Scientific And Cultural Cooperation Celle, Germany, www.dii-edu.de
The traditional way to talk about Muslim minorities is to list up all the discriminations and problems Muslim minorities are facing in non-Muslim countries, ending up with a depressed audience, which spends more time in lamenting than in thinking about what could be done to make things better.
This is not my approach. Instead, I would like to look Ė in sha'All‚h - at the possibilities for action which Muslims have as minorities, their religious foundations, and then give you an example of how Muslims in Germany have tried to do something about their situation and how they are trying to pass on the message of Islam.
First of all however I would like to begin with a short survey of an interesting pattern in the history of Islam, which is very much a history of migration and interaction with non-Muslims, which then lead to a spreading of the message of Islam.
Historical Background:
Reading books about contemporary Europe one will quite often find passages referring to the migration of Muslims to the different European countries. It is written that never before so many Muslims have migrated to and lived in non-Islamic countries and it is written that this poses a great theological problem for them, because Islam does not have provided rules for Muslims in non-Muslim countries. Like so many so-called facts, which we find in Western books, part of this is true and part is not.
What is true indeed is the fact that never before Muslims have moved to the West, i.e. to Europe, in such large numbers. And new it is indeed for the Western societies. However, moving to other countries, in other words migration, is nothing new at all to Muslims: The Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him) did it, and generations of sailors and traders did it, moving slowly towards the East. Concerning the migration of the Prophet s.a.s. history and the success of his mission is well documented, concerning the migration of Muslims towards the East we do not know so much, because there are not many sources we can ask. There were not many centers where documents would have been stored and even less survived, because of tropical conditions being extremely hostile to anything written on paper. However the most important aspect of the migration of the Prophet s.a.s. to Medina as well as the migration of merchants to the East is that - in the first case during a very short time in the second case over a period of centuries - the migration has resulted in the establishment of the first Islamic community and in the spreading the message of Islam to the extent that today the nation at the Eastern end of the Islamic arch is the nation with the largest Muslim population in the whole world: Indonesia. And this success story of Islam certainly did not happen by the Muslims' sitting at home, dreaming of going back one day and claiming it was forbidden to interact with others.
General Questions Concerning the Activities of Muslim Minorities:
Instead of going into the details of history, let me therefore focus on present times, and try to answer the following question: On what grounds should Muslims in our times interact or not interact with the people who represent the majority in their respective countries. I would like to begin with a personal experience and then share the view of a Fatwa concerning this question, issued by Dr. T‚ha J‚ber al-Alwani, Chairman of the North American Fiqh-Council and President of the Graduate School of Social and Islamic Sciences(1).
A personal experience in this matter:
A short time after I had said the shahada in the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Germany I met my first German born Muslim. He started our conversation which I shall never forget with the following words. "My dear brother, welcome to our community. Now that you have become one of us you should know that there are two very different groups in our community:
The first group believes that the Western world is hostile to Islam, that Muslims are living there for different reasons, as refugees, in order to study or work... but that they should not mix with members of a society of non-believers and that they should not engage in activities in this society which are shirk, such as democracy, politics in general, dialogue etc. This group remains in a quiet and sometimes hostile attitude towards their host country.
The second group believes that it is the duty of Muslims to give a good example to their fellow citizens, to be a beacon, a lighthouse sending out the message of Islam, no matter where they live. They believe that they should obey the laws of their host countries, take an active part in its society, engage in dialogue and participate in politics."
For me as somebody engaged deeply in German politics it never occurred to me to retreat to private circles, instead I have chosen the second path to be visible and to try to do something about the problems Muslims have in Western societies and do something for Islam. I was very glad, when I came across a Fatwa by one of the most renowned religious leaders of the United States: Dr. T‚ha J‚ber al-Alwani, who said the following:
A Fatwa concerning Muslim minorities:
"First it is the duty of American Muslims to participate constructively in the political process, if only to protect their rights, and give support to views and causes they favor. Their participation may also improve the quality of information disseminated about Islam. We call this participation a "duty" because we do not consider it merely a "right" that can be abandoned or a "permission" which can be ignored. It falls into the category of safeguarding of necessities and ensuring the betterment of the Muslim community in this country
I think there is no evidence that this should only apply to Muslims in the United States, to me this seems very much like a general rule for all Muslims in a minority situation.
The Fatwa also deals with certain objection, of which I can only give a short summary:
1) Cooperation in the political field is not a blameworthy alliance "which is given to support those who do not believe in Allah s.w.t against the interest of one's own believing community. This is a far cry from the actions of those who cooperate with non-Muslims (believers as well as unbelievers) within the limits of "righteousness and equity" while continuing to work for the good of the Muslim community".
2) Political cooperation is not a type of rukŻn (acquiescence) to those who do wrong, and which is prohibited by the Qur'an. Al-Alwani states: It is wrong to understand rukŻn to include all types of cooperation. "There is no evidence for that. RukŻn in fact means "to acquiesce to the unjust" or "to be satisfied with their doings" or "to return to idolatry". These three meanings were derived by Al Tabari from the salaf (the worthy ancestors). TafsÓr al TabarÓ vol. 15:500-501. Again these meanings are a far cry from an act of participation intent on promoting public interest and protecting Muslim minority from injustice.
3) Participation of Muslims in a Western political system is not an acceptance of the secular status quo. Positive participation is what showcases Islamic values and morals to civil society. Indeed, it is what refutes any "faith-less" secular status quo by offering people an illustration of the blessings of faith.
4) Participation does not desensitize Muslims into accepting the current status quo and interacting with it, to the detriment of the blessings of faith.
5) Concerning the argument that participation contradicts the intent of a temporary stay in a country and an eventual return to Dar al Islam, Al-Alwani states firstly that the categories "Dar al Islam", and "Dar al Harb" "stand on a weak foundation from a legal "Dar al-Kufr", perspective and secondly are not applicable to contemporary international realities..." He adds that this argument ignores the highly significant fact that Islam established its first society in a land of immigration, namely, "Al Madinah al Munawwarah".
This Fatwa was given in an American context, however I think it applies universally to Muslims as minorities in Western democracies, and I am glad that I can give you now some information about the activities of Muslims in Germany which follow exactly this pattern:
Muslims in Germany: A Practical Approach:
As the Deputy Director of the German-Islamic Institute for Scientific and Cultural Cooperation and as an official advisor to the Central Council of Muslims in Germany I have been actively engaged in Islamic matters in Germany for the past years and I would like to share with you some information about the most important measure of the Central Council.
The Central Council was founded in 1994. It is the rooftop organization of 19 rooftop organizations. From its beginning it was actively involved in dialogue with the majority society, the media and politics, trying to promote the legitimate interests of Muslims in Germany vis ŗ vis the authorities on the local, state and federal level. Following September 11th, 2001 the Central Council decided it was time to publicly declare in 21 chapters its points of view concerning.
- the basics of Islam,
- the attitude of Muslims towards the Federal Republic of Germany,
- the activities of the Central Council and its demands towards the majority society.
The headlines of the 21 chapters are as following:
1) Islam is the religion of peace.
2) We believe in a Compassionate God.
3) The Qur'‚n is the verbal revelation of God.
4) We believe in the Prophets of God.
5) Mankind will be held accountable for their deeds on the Day of Judgment.
6) For Muslim and Muslim Women life's work is the same.
7) There are five pillars of Islam.
8) Islam is faith, ethics, social order and a way of life at the same time.
9) Islam is not for the abolishment of richness.
10) Islamic law obliges Muslim in the Diaspora.
11) Muslims accept the separation of powers and the constitutional and democratic order, guaranteed by the Federal basic law.
12) We do not aim at establishing a theocracy.
13) There is no contradiction between the Islamic teaching and the core content of the human rights.
14) European culture is coined by the Jewish-Christian-Islamic heritage and by the heritage of enlightenment.
15) It is necessary to create a Muslim identity in Europe.
16) Germany is the center of our interest and activity.
17) Reduction of prejudices through transparency, opening up and dialogue.
18) We are obliged towards the whole society.
19) We want integration by keeping our Islamic identity.
20) We want a dignified way of life in the middle of society.
21) We are politically non-partisan.
The Islamic Charta was well received by politicians, the media and the public. Discussion about it continues till today, last not least within the Islamic community, where it has found little opposition, some skepticism, wide interest and acceptance. For me the Islamic Charta is the best example of how a minority can define its point of view and explain it to a majority, in order to come to a way of life, which enables both side to live together in peace.
A minority within a minority: the "new" Muslims
I have already shared one important experience with you which I had as a so called "new" Muslim. Now at the end of my talk I would like to close with some general remarks about this topic:
Newcomers to Islam find a tremendously warm welcome in their new community, they are accepted with open hearts, open arms, and indeed the hospitality and friendliness they experience is breathtaking, because in the colder Western societies nobody has prepared them form such warmhearted sense of community spirit. It is also true however that once again we find two different attitudes: Some look at their new brothers and sisters with great admiration, because All‚h s.w.t, obviously has shown them the right way, others however regard them with certain reservations: in their opinion these new brothers and sisters do qualify as real Muslims, because they do not speak Arabic and will not be able to understand the message of the Qur'‚n.
As always in Islam the truth lies in the middle: The new Muslims have a great need to learn, but they also have a great potential to open new doors to those who were raised as Muslims, because they know their societies.
There is, however, one big difference rarely mentioned: The new Muslims live very much like the Muslims during the time of revelation. Usually they start with reading parts of the Qur'‚n, getting slowly acquainted with the message of All‚h s.w.t. At first they know nothing about the Sunnah, and certainly nothing at all about the different madhab and regional traditions. They are indeed Muslims of the first hours, taking their information from the very foundations of Islam: the Qur'‚n, asking questions, trying to establish a way of life which is new to them. Yes, they may make mistakes in the eyes of those who were raised as Muslims, and of course they need guidance.
But on the other hand, those who grew up as Muslims should also listen to their new brothers and sisters: With their questions the new Muslims may also questions traditions which have nothing or little to do with the message of Islam, with their newly found perspective of an Islam without the restraints of 1400 years of more or less sophisticated theological research and teaching they may possibly have a more unobstructed view to All‚h's s.w.t. revelations than those who have been taught through the filters of 1400 hundred years of history.
The most important thing however is that these new Muslims bring an enormous amount of energy with them: They do not travel with the baggage of the experience of colonialism, which generations of Muslims have suffered from, they do not travel with the sad experiences of dictatorship from which emigrant Muslims have suffered from, and therefore, their perspective is less inclined to mistrust, skepticisms and sometimes even hopelessness. They burst with energy to bring the message of Islam to their fellow citizens and they are predestined to do it, because they speak their languages and know their culture. They may not know too much about jihad, they may not be familiar with the most detailed concepts of da'wa, and they surely need the guidance by their older brothers and sisters, but they are the ones who can be the true messengers of Islam in our time. They truly live the life of the Muslims of the first hour, not staying at home, moaning about the hostility of their surroundings, but going out, engaging themselves for the course of Islam.
Therefore, my Brothers and Sisters in the name of All‚h s.w.t. let us - old" Muslims and "new" Muslims go this way together, let us as minorities bring the message of All‚h s.w.t. to our majority societies, let us share with them that Muslims are the messengers of a religion of peace and tolerance, the
This contribution about "Muslim Minorities in Non-Islamic" countries does not focus on the discriminations and problems Muslims are facing in these countries. Instead, it focuses on the question what Muslims should do and can do to make their situation better and to spread the message of Islam-within the framework of their religious beliefs and commandments.
Referring to two different points of view - those who say that Muslims should not interact and those who think it is absolutely necessary and legitimate to interact, the author takes the side of the latter. Based on a Fatwa issued by Dr. Taha Jaber al-Alwani, Chairman of the North American Fiqh-Council and President of the Graduate School of Social and Islamic Sciences, he comes to the conclusion that it is permitted and necessary for Muslim minorities to actively take part in the political life of the countries they life in.
The author then documents the contents of the Islamic Charta issued by the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, which explicitly states that Germany is the home of the Muslim community and that it is the duty of Muslims in Germany to actively participate and interact in public life.
Finally, the "new" Muslims are mentioned as a minority in a minority. It is their spirit and energy which can lift those Muslims out of their attitude of despair and passivity, who have experienced colonialism and dictatorship, an experience of deep frustration and disappointment that may keep them from leaving their own circles in order to bring out the message of Islam to their majority societies.
(1) The full text of the Fatwa is published on the homepage of the American Muslim Council: www.amconline.org/newamc/imam/fatwa.shtml

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