Migration in the name of Faith

Safeguarding one’s faith, being good ambassadors for Islam and working for the betterment of wider society are critical features in the Islamic perspective on migration says Ali Jawad

Migration has a special place  in the historiography of the  world’s great religions. The  early histories of Judaism,  Christianity and Islam are replete with  tales of persecution against the early  believers. Oppressive powers spared no  means to exact their deadly vengeance  on those who subscribed to the ‘new  faith’ in order to pre-emptively deter  others, and to ultimately quash the  nascent religion.  In the face of such torment, devout  followers were left with little option  but to hide their faith, face torture and  worse, or to emigrate to distant lands in  the hope that they could practise their  faith more freely. In the religious context  therefore, the concept of migration  emerges as a drastic step compelled  by circumstance. It is the exercise of a  desperate option whereby one chooses  to forsake his/her homeland, people  and belongings for the sake of something  deemed superior, namely one’s  faith. It represents the reaffirmation  of one’s inherent freedom, dignity and  identity within a social context that  openly stands against these values.  According to the late scholar Murtadha  Mutahhari, the concept of hijrah (migration)  signifies ‘leaving one’s home,  people and homeland for a new place  of abode, with a view to saving one’s  faith’. In the view of other scholars, the  applicability of this concept is timeless  and can have a wider context than  simply saving one’s faith. Perhaps it can  be applied to any migrant who leaves  his residence for God’s sake.  In numerous verses of the Holy Qur’an,  there is mention of hijrah and promise  of great reward for those who migrate  for the sake of God. Such is the significance  and status of ‘migrants’ in Islam  that even though migration is contingent  upon circumstance, a Muslim  is duty-bound to maintain a true and  sincere intention to embark on such  a duty should circumstances change.  Migration thus takes on an ethical  dimension denoting a constant state of  preparedness motivated by strong belief  and faith. Indeed, one of the definitions  of migration put forward by the scholars  of Islamic ethics and spirituality entails  abandoning one’s sins, or migrating  from one’s lower carnal and animalistic  self to the higher human self.  In addition to this classical definition  of migration under circumstances  of duress, Islam also encourages its  followers to explore the signs of God  in the universe. Numerous verses of  the Qur’an invite readers to reflect and  ponder over the wonders of nature  such as the alternation of night and  day, the ocean tides, the stars and  planetary objects in the heavens and  so on. In addition, the Qur’an also  makes mention of past nations and  historic civilisations in several verses,  and invites readers to ‘travel across  the Earth’ in order to learn and take  heed from the lessons of history.

The inclusive paradigm by which Islam views peoples of different cultures and nations further encouraged Muslims to travel outwards and interact with those of other cultures and civilisations.

One of  the beautiful pieces of advice is by Ali  Ibn Abi-Talib(a) to his son Al-Hasan(a), in  which he counsels:  “My dear son! Though the span of my  life is not as that of some other people  who have passed away before me, yet  I took great care to study their lives;  assiduously I went through their activities,  I contemplated over their deliberations  and deeds, I studied their remains,  relics and ruins. I pondered over their  lives so deeply that I felt as if I have  lived and worked with them from early  ages of history down to our times, and  I know what did them good and what  brought harm to them.”
This approach, which is distinctly influenced  by the teachings of the Qur’an,  encourages human beings to be inquisitive  and indeed scientific. Arguably one  of the more renowned Prophetic sayings  also refers to this attribute. The Final  Messenger is famously known to have  said: ‘Go in search of knowledge even if  you have to journey to China’.  The inclusive paradigm by which Islam  views peoples of different cultures and  nations further encouraged Muslims to travel outwards and interact with other  cultures and civilisations. The Holy  Qur’an stresses the ethical precept:  ‘so that you know one another’, when  pointing to the secret of the diversity  that exists between human beings.  (49:13)  Finally, the concept of da’wah (calling to  the way of God) features strongly in the  Islamic faith. Islam renders it both an  individual and collective obligation to  spread its teachings. Muslims are urged  to invite others to follow the Godly path  through wisdom and good conduct.  All these elements can be viewed as  ‘push’ factors for Muslims to embark  on migration from a purely religious  point of view. Obviously, the traditional  socio-economic factors such  as war, persecution, natural  disasters, economic hardship  and the like are examples of  situations in which migration  from one’s homeland takes on  a more urgent and compulsive  character.  In the Islamic tradition, there  are historically two significant  migrations that coincide with  the early beginnings of the  Prophetic mission. Approximately  five years after the  Proclamation of the Divine  message by the Holy Prophet  Muhammad(s), the first wave of Muslim  migrants secretly fled to Abyssinia.  Renowned companions such as Bilal,  the Abyssinian slave, and Ammar ibn  Yaser derive some of their iconic status  due to their integrity, steadfastness and  sacrifices during this period of history.  During the thirteenth year after the  Proclamation, the Holy Prophet(s) and  the Muslims of Makkah emigrated to  Madina, which consequently became  the cradle of the Islamic civilisation.  According to exegetes, the following  verse from the Holy Qur’an was revealed  as an instruction to the believers to  embark upon this migration:  ‘Those who migrate for the sake of God  after they have been wronged, We will  surely settle them in a good place in  the world, and the reward of the Hereafter  is surely greater, had they known.  Those who are patient and put their  trust in their Lord’. (16:41-42)  The above verse sets out the basis  for migration according to Islam.  Like similar verses that highlight  this concept, this verse specifies the  criterion of migrating for the sake of  God. This condition not only outlines  the objective of migration but contains  within it the ethical cornerstones and  values that should be part and parcel  of this process. Due to this association,  there is a deep-rooted precept in Islamic  jurisprudence referred to as al-ta’arrub  ba’d al-hijrah, which broadly refers to  ‘losing or weakening of one’s faith after  migration’. In several narrations it is  regarded as among the major sins for a  Muslim, thus serving as a clear warning  about the priorities that one should  have when migrating to a foreign  land. This precept underscores the  invaluable status of faith above other  considerations, whilst also stressing  the need for Muslims to preserve their  Islamic values and identity at all times  and in all places.  In modern times, migration has taken  on an altogether staggering magnitude  on the global stage.

Muslims are confronted with unique challenges relating to how they experience, practise and project their faith in the modern era. These are challenges that emerge as a result of the natural progression of individuals and communities when introduced to alternate social contexts.

According to the  United Nations, ‘more people than ever  are living abroad’ with a phenomenal  232 million international migrants  in 2013; a sizeable increase from 175  million in 2000. Muslims are not an  exception to this general trend.  Today, there are close to 2.7million  Muslims living in the UK with the  majority being born into second or third  generation migrant families.
Faceless  statistics such as the above admittedly  overlook the broad diversity that exists.  The human face of migration can only  be seen in the unique story, experience  and culture of each individual. Likewise,  the Muslim community is far from  monolithic, coming from all the four  corners of the globe and contributing  to the wider diversity of modern day  Britain.  Naturally, questions surrounding  culture, identity, integration, cohesion  and assimilation have arisen. The more  sensationalist news stories, principally  driven by the political climate and  narrative of the last decade, have  expectedly waned with the  passage of time. These negative  discourses largely contributed  to an unsavoury climate and  exaggerated the ‘identity-crisis’.  As with all faith denominations  that have a multicultural followership,  Muslims are confronted  with unique challenges relating  to how they experience, practise  and project their faith in the  modern era. These are challenges  that emerge as a result  of the natural progression of  individuals and communities  when introduced to alternate  social contexts. From an Islamic  perspective however, the foremost obligations  remain safeguarding one’s faith,  becoming good ambassadors for its lofty  teachings and principles, and working  for the betterment of wider society. The  Prophetic example, which best illustrates  the ethics of migration according  to Islam, provides an important reference  for modern Muslim communities  to tackle some of their contemporary  challenges in this regard. •

All information were correct at the time of publication…. January 2014


Ali Jawad is a human rights activist and political analyst with a keen interest in international diplomacy.

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