The Future of the New "We": Muslims in the West to Western Muslims

By Ramadan, Tariq | Harvard International Review, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

The Future of the New "We": Muslims in the West to Western Muslims


Ramadan, Tariq, Harvard International Review


This is a discussion of the relationship between Muslims, Islam, and the West. There is an increasing need for both Muslims and people of other faiths (or with no faith) of the West to change the way they perceive Islam. Moving away from the first immigrants generations ago, Muslims are now fully-entitled contributors to Western societies and will remain so in the future. Islam is no longer a foreign religion to the West, and discourse, surrounding it should not be solely about immigrants, as if Muslims are foreigners rather than residents and citizens. I propose that the way forward is to jettison the time-worn dialogue of "them and us" which generates its own set of challenges, and instead for each of us to accept our diversity as an asset and consider our shared future together--a shared responsibility towards the new "We."

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Millions of Western citizens are Muslims. Today and for the future, Islam is a Western religion and an irrefutable part of Western identity. This is critical to acknowledge because persistent dialogue about Muslims as immigrants or citizens with immigrant backgrounds perpetuates a distinction between two differing entities. However, this is an erroneous understanding of the current situation. Muslims have been living in some Western countries for decades, with fourth and fifth generations of Muslim citizens now being born into these countries.

Western society as a whole faces two key challenges in fostering coexistence and allowing all groups to be able to contribute to a better future and have a common narrative. The first relates to Western realities, where it is critical to recognize that the West is dealing with a number of different crises. By acknowledging this, we will begin to understand that Islam is often used as a diversion from some of the true problems. One such example is the identity crisis that the West is now experiencing, created by the contradiction between economic needs and cultural resistance. Immigrants make up a vital part of the workforce in the West, and their presence is an indispensable need, yet at the same time, there is a discourse highlighting tensions between national identity and the entry of new immigrants. The West lacks confidence and vision as to its own future in economic, political, and cultural terms.

Nonetheless, these problems are not justifications for Muslims to ignore their own internal challenges. Islam is a tremendously heterogeneous religion, with Muslims coming from a diversity of cultures, nations, and ethnicities. Muslims have a responsibility to be faithful to their religious principles and to fully and actively participate in their home Western societies while being confident that the flexibility of the Islamic legal principles and the latitude of laws within Western countries are compatible. To be fully and actively participating citizens, Muslims need to nurture a sense of attachment, belonging, respect, pride, and loyalty in "my country," a feeling that this is "my home" as well as "my children's future." With all the recurrent confusion and misinterpretation both within and surrounding Islam, this can sometimes be a demanding undertaking.

The West: The Challenges of a Pluralistic Society

The discourse in the West of multiculturalism, identity, and integration makes it clear that we are facing an identity crisis as to who are we going to be. Some have the perception that the new "global" world is undermining our individual sense of belonging to one nation. Citizens' loyalties are now scattered, and immigrants have their own, seemingly robust, visibility. This new visibility, mainly that of Muslims whose ancestry is from countries in the Southern hemisphere, is disturbing the very essence of what has been perceived for years as a neutral public sphere. This new cultural and religious presence challenges our societies' once-homogenous identity. Immigration has evolved into an issue that has become associated with, or used as a sole explanation for, the socioeconomic problems that all our societies are currently facing. …

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