Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, has warned recently of ‘sleepwalking our way to segregation’. Although he was not speaking principally about Muslims, they have become perhaps the most dominant group in British society. Divided along ethnic and sectarian lines, Muslims are nevertheless united by their creed, their law and the powerful concept of the umma, the totality of Muslims worldwide.
The process of migrating and establishing a Muslim community in a non-Muslim context has an important place in Islamic theology. The word hijra is used to describe such a migration, in particular the migration of Mohammed and his followers in ad 622 from Mecca, where they were persecuted, to Medina where they established the first Islamic state. Eight years earlier another hijra occurred when Muslim refugees found freedom of worship in the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia.
Muslims see the establishment of a Muslim community in the UK as a contemporary hijra. But an important question concerns which 7th-century hijra they compare it to: the hijra to Abyssinia in which the Muslims became contented and loyal subjects of a Christian king, or the hijra to Medina where they seized political and military power.
While the Muslim scholar Imtiaz Ahmed Hussain has indicated that he looks to the Abyssinian model, many other Muslims seem to look to the Medinan model. A book published in 1980 by the Islamic Council of Europe gives instructions for how Muslim minorities are to work towards achieving domination of European countries through a policy of concentration in geographical areas.
The Muslim writer Amir Taheri, tackling the question of ‘Why Paris is Burning’, described how France’s policy of assimilation began to fail when (Muslim) immigrants grouped themselves in concentrated areas. The resulting alienation, says Taheri, opens the way for radical Islamists to promote religious and cultural apartheid. Some are even calling for Muslim majority areas to become like an Ottoman millet, i.e., to organise their own social, cultural and educational life in accordance with their religious beliefs. In parts of France, says Taheri, a de facto millet system is already in place, seen in Islamic headdress, Islamic beards, Islamic control of the administration, and the elimination of cinemas, dance halls and shops selling alcohol and pork.
The Muslim community in France is well on the way to becoming a millet, a state within a state. The only substantive goal still outstanding is the implementation of Islamic law (Shariah) instead of French law.
Muslims in France have by and large rejected the concept of the integration of individuals and are working instead for the integration of communities. The same is happening in the UK, where the concept of multiculturalism has long been popular.
Two other Islamic principles are important subjects of debate among contemporary Muslims. The first concerns ‘sacred space’. Islam is a territorial religion. Any space once gained is considered sacred and should belong to the umma for ever. Any lost space must be regained — even by force if necessary. Migrant Muslim communities in the West are constantly engaged in sacralising new areas — first the inner private spaces of their homes and mosques, and latterly whole neighbourhoods (e.g., Birmingham) by means of marches and processions. So the ultimate end of sacred space theology is autonomy for Muslims of the UK under Islamic law.
Radical Muslims hope for the re-establishment of the Caliphate, abolished by Atat