OUR environment poses considerable challenges to our well-being. While many take this to mean physical wellness, often completely ignored is the impact that environmental influences pose to one’s spiritual health. We are constantly under pressure to conform. Society, family, friends, co-workers, businesses, governments — they all demand that we follow a certain pattern.
So we then eventually give in. In order to be accepted within one’s social circle, people undergo a change. They will let go of that which the environment does not accept and embrace the norms palatable within their circle. People will happily change their beliefs, even their names in the face of hostilities.
Immigration is a major life decision. It is not merely a logistical move to a foreign land, but by it one is also transported to a new set of ideas, beliefs and customs. Foreign migrants are under pressure to assimilate with the host culture. From certain quarters fingers are pointed at the ‘foreign’ faith that has come with the migrant. Social influence poses a considerable challenge to the faith of foreign migrants. It is a challenge that is often overlooked and underestimated.
Participation in interfaith conversations will help remove misconceptions.
As economic migrants people are motivated by the lure of a better standard of living and a comfortable lifestyle. It is the dream of greener pastures in a foreign land that drives them to move house rather than any missionary zeal. As recent arrivals, little do they realise that they have ventured into a territory in which the majority may not be sympathetic towards their foreign culture.
Religious groups that are seeking converts actively target families of foreign migrants. Evangelical preachers, religious cults and new religious movements would knock on people’s doors in migrant conurbations, introduce the household to their doctrines and raise critical questions about the faith that the family has brought with it to the country. Is the family prepared for this? There is also the role of non-believing friends and peers on young impressionable minds. Critical attitudes to the Islamic faith at school and from friends are instrumental in shaping the personality of children.
For Muslims, this issue is increasingly becoming important given the recent rise in hostilities against Islam. As a Muslim family choosing to migrate to a non-Muslim environment it is crucial to be aware of the common arguments against Islam that are posed by those critical to the faith and their responses. Also important is to know the counter-narrative to extremists that often target the young and vulnerable from migrant groups. In most cases, people are unprepared.
When their children face such interrogation, they would not have any choice but to surrender to the one-sided narrative. Subjecting children to an environment where there is constant criticism and hostility to one’s faith is detrimental to their spiritual well-being.
With fragmented communities, the problem is exacerbated. For the Muslim young, university life away from familiar surroundings can also lead them to drift from the faith taught and practised at home and expose them to unsympathetic ideas. Challenges to one’s faith and belief are manifold when living as a foreign immigrant.
Religious duties like the ability to recite the Quran properly, to perform the five daily prayers, to observe fasts during the month of Ramazan, to be able to calculate zakat applicable on one’s assets and to have knowledge of the dietary prohibitions is a basic requirement for every Muslim. No doubt that migrants are capable of this much. But given the hostile environment in which they are now raising their future generations, it is expedient that they also realise that more needs to be done. The Quranic injunction: “O ye who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is Men and Stones. ...” (66:6) necessitates that Muslims take appropriate steps to raise their children on revealed guidelines, and caution them against that which is detrimental to their moral well-being.
Thus Muslims living as minorities in non-Muslim lands have a duty to educate the family and prepare it for the times to come. They should always remain a part of their local Muslim community and not distance themselves from it. Their religious learning, regular attendance at the local mosque and interaction with credible Islamic scholars will enable them to negotiate away from environmental pressures. Participation in interfaith conversations and outreach to non-Muslim friends will help remove misconceptions and break down barriers.
Muslim migrants need not jettison their faith or ethnicity to blend in with the wider environment. They should play a full part in society whilst retaining their values. Through their conduct they are to demonstrate the peaceful coexistence enjoined by their faith and make a positive contribution to society.
The writer is a freelance contributor with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2018