An insight into life for Muslims in the west

 Many in the Muslim world will certainly have notions about what life may be like for Muslims living in the West. Certainly some would have heard stories through friends and family who might return home from time to time and from what they may also learn from the media in their own countries. However, what is life really like for a Muslim living in Western Europe?

Contemporary Muslims living in Europe today represent a Diaspora of Muslims from across much of the Muslim world. Many of these Muslims are second or third generation, the offspring of migrants who immigrated to Europe as long as 40-50 years ago. Many of these Muslim immigrants were from colonial territories that European states conquered in many parts of the Muslim world. Yet the first Muslims were present in countries such as Britain as early as the latter part of the 19th century. Today there are as many as 30 million Muslims living in Western Europe, as diverse in origin as from Algeria, Somalia, Turkey, Bosnia, the Middle East, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Most of these Muslims were actually invited after World War 2 by their former colonial masters as they sought to rebuild their war shattered economies with what they saw as cheap labour. Muslims arrived from the Indian Sub-continent, North Africa, Turkey and more recently from the Balkans with the vast majority settling in Britain, France and Germany respectively. The host countries originally regarded these Muslims as 'guest workers' who would eventually return. Germany in particular has made it difficult to obtain citizenship with many Turks failing to obtain citizenship even after years of residence.

At the root of this issue is the deplorable level of opportunity within the Muslim world, the lack of jobs, the failure of the regimes to invest in creating employment which forces thousands of Muslims to leave their families to emigrate to Europe, America and Australia.  It is because of their endemic corruption and dictatorial rule that the dismal economies of these puppet states force so many Muslims to leave their homes so that they can simply earn a living. The fact that Muslim lands are either ruled by despots or subject to war will simply ensure that the next generation of immigrants arriving at Europe’s shores will be largely Muslim.

Europe has traditionally always been hostile to immigrants amongst it's midst. As the experiences of the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 and the holocaust during World War 2 show, even well integrated immigrants have experienced discrimination and oppression based on their origin and belief. Currently in modern Europe, racism towards immigrants is a daily fact of life. Many would not have forgotten the scenes of the 1970s and 80s where right-wing racist 'skinheads' marched in many parts of Europe, railing against what they saw as 'outsiders' taking their jobs and welfare benefits. With many immigrants in Europe being Muslim, Muslims have been at the receiving end of such scorn and abuse. Yet with the advent of the events of September 11th , 2001 and the ensuing 'War on Terror', a new watershed has been crossed as the situation has dramatically changed from bad to worse. Where as before Muslims were perhaps viewed with equal distaste as other immigrant communities, now in significant parts of Europe Muslims are all but seen as '5th columnists', ‘the other’, depicted as a potentially dangerous and treacherous minority.

 What is remarkable is that whilst most ordinary Europeans oppose George Bush and the American led 'War on Terror', hatred of Muslims in Europe is becoming common place. This situation has developed as European politicians have fallen over each other to condemn 'Islamic extremism' resulting in the net effect of wholesale vilification of Muslims. The level of tolerance has especially eroded after the bombings in Madrid in 2004 and London in July 2005. Governments in France, Germany, Britain and others have used these events to court populist prejudices, and thus secure electoral  support,  by introducing new anti-terror laws which have helped fuel the atmosphere of fear and suspicion towards Muslims in Europe. In Britain this now gives the right to the British police to hold suspects for up to 28 days without any charge, while moves are still afoot to increase this period to potentially 90 days. Yet statistics revealed by the British Home Office show that since September 2001 over 1000 suspects have been arrested, yet fewer than 50 people have actually been convicted on terrorism related offences, not all of them even Muslim, an incredulous conviction rate of just under 4%.
Holland in particular, a country otherwise renowned for being a bastion of ‘liberalism, has shown some of the fiercest political opposition to Muslims in their midst. Following the murder of the filmmaker Theo Van Gough, who made a highly controversial film about Islam and women, by a Muslim and the murder of the politician Pym Fortune of the far-right party (killed by an animal rights activist) who vehemently attacked Islam and Muslims, the Dutch have done everything they can to make Muslims feel unwelcome. Just recently legislation was presented to ban the Niqab/ Burqa, joining Italy and France who have already banned the Niqab and Hijab respectively.
 Compounding this situation has been the role of the European media. Frenzied headlines have helped develop a hysterical atmosphere when it comes to anything involving Muslims. The mistaken shooting of Mohammed Abdul Kahar in London in 2006 is a good example of how Muslims are treated by the media. Even before any evidence emerged, most British newspapers had Abdul Kahar already convicted, with selected leaks from the British government and Police emerging in an attempt to justify the raid. Yet it turned out that the two brothers were completely innocent. This followed the fatal shooting of the Brazilian Jean Charles De Menzies in 2005 who was killed by a Police marksman because he was suspected of being a Muslim 'suicide bomber'. He too it eventually emerged was completely innocent.
The fear and hysteria created by such raids and political propaganda has inevitably had an effect upon daily life for the ordinary Muslim not only on an individual level but also at a community level as well. It can be quite common for Muslim women to be spat at and even have their hijabs torn off. Muslim men with beards are often taunted by being called ‘Bin Laden’ or simply ‘terrorist’. Recently a Muslim woman of Algerian origin was sexually assaulted by four men in the city of Glasgow, Scotland, who then attempted to sexually assault her one-year old son, simply, because of who she was.
It is not just on the streets of Europe that Muslim women are targets. Politicians have lined up to attack the very identity of Muslim women. The wearing of the hijab was banned in public buildings in France on the basis that women wearing the hijab 'undermined' the secular identity of the French state. In Britain leading politicians such as Jack Straw and a host of British cabinet Ministers used the excuse of starting a debate to attack the wearing of the  'veil', arguing that the veil lead to 'separatism' in the community and was a source of community 'tension'. Test cases in Britain have occurred where schools have tried to ban Muslim girls from wearing the jilbab.  Indeed, the British government has now announced its intentions to interfere within mosques and madrassahs. Effectively vetting and filtering what Imams can and can’t say and controlling what Muslims are allowed to hear. 

Gaining employment for Muslims is becoming a major problem. Job discrimination against Muslims is widespread, with many Muslim job applicants simply screened out on the basis of their name without even being interviewed. Yet the ripple affects of such attitudes are felt not just in the workplace. In using public services, going about daily business or even travelling, such stigma can easily leave one with an uneasy feeling. A run in with a ‘native’ driver’ on the road, words exchanged at a train station, or just even a look from someone.  Was this just the result of the natural course of events or was this because of what I look like, my beard or hijab, did the person just abuse me because they thought I was a Muslim?

Those who do succeed in gaining jobs, often find that they are on average cast in jobs that pay poorly. Muslims in Europe are amongst the largest group who suffer from poor housing, education and income levels. Even those who may regard themselves as ‘professionals’ may still find it difficult to be comfortable in their workplace. For a practicing Muslim this is a particular challenge. Although prayer rooms in workplaces are available in countries such as Britain, the mixing of alcohol and work are an integral part of the business culture. Much of the socializing and networking, deemed almost essential in many businesses often revolves around the ‘Pub’ and wine bars. A practicing Muslim will quickly find himself marginalized by his work colleagues because he or she will be seen by colleagues as not being able to ‘fit in’. So what does such a Muslim do; compromise on his deen by joining his colleagues with complete disregard to Islam, try to explain to his colleagues so that they understand the rules Islam places upon the believer or simply be prepared to accept the role of an outcast in a dead end job?  The test of one’s Iman is ever present, so is the conviction in concepts such as Rizq being from Allah (swt).

The reality of ‘cheap’ immigrant labour has helped European economies, with immigrants now performing menial job roles that native citizens no longer wish to, helping to support the European Labour market pool as the number of indigenous workers declines due to a falling birth rate across Europe. It is predicted in the years ahead that Europe will need many immigrants annually just to sustain it’s population and economy. For European businesses, immigrants are a necessary commodity. It is hard to believe otherwise why so many Muslims, both legal and illegal immigrants, have been allowed to remain in Europe today if this was not the case.
Another phenomena as a result of these issues and stereotypes held by Europeans is that many immigrants, many Muslims, have ended up living in the many poorer urban centres of Europe. Whole swathes of major cities are dominated by certain ethnic groups, with there being little interaction with the host community in most cases. Ghettos have formed in cities such as London and Paris, as wealthier native Europeans have sought to distance themselves literally by moving out to the more leafy almost all white suburbs. Yet ironically it is Muslims who are blamed by Western governments and commentators for failing to ‘integrate’.

In addition many Muslims are deeply troubled by the culture many of their children are growing up in. The free mixing, drinking and other social cultural values so freely encouraged have also left their mark on many Muslims in Europe. Yet remarkably, after having the opportunity to play in Europe’s playgrounds, many Muslims are returning to practicing Islam, seeing themselves as part of the Ummah. It is this which Europe’s politicians find most disturbing, the fact that many of these Muslims have experienced European culture yet increasingly see themselves as part of the global Ummah and Islamic values.

With Europe’s growing social problems and declining manufacturing output leading to the loss of good well paid jobs to countries such as China, it has been all too easy for European politicians to blame immigrants, to blame Muslims in particular, using the ‘War on Terror’ as a pretext to the cause behind some of Europe’s problems. In particular, attacking ‘Political Islam’ seems to be seen as a fashionable vote winner, with politicians of all hues and colours joining in. Whether it is Tony Blair in Britain, Nicolas Sarkozy in France or Angela Merkel in Germany, the rhetoric is very similar.

The truth of the matter is that the overwhelming number of Muslims in Europe are peaceful, non-violent citizens. They or their forefathers arrived in Europe from their Muslim homelands looking for a better economic future. Instead, Muslims in Europe now face a completely new set of problems and challenges. At best, the future for Europe’s Muslims is uncertain. Blatant forms of discrimination are being mooted; British citizens of Pakistani ancestry being required to apply for visas if they wish to travel to the US unlike the rest of their other fellow British citizens, what the future holds for Muslims living in the West is ominous.
However, the opportunities for Muslims in the West to explain the Islamic way of life to non-Muslims, dispelling the propaganda, lies and myths are immense. Muslims make a great contribution  economically, but also by their noble behaviour and conduct. The course of action for the Muslim community in the west needs to remain on a path of living by Islam in their relationships with each other and with non-Muslims, being honest and transparent and  setting a good example-by word and deed- to contrast with the very real problems western society faces in terms of family breakdown, rampant crime and social disorder.