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Newsletter for September 2011

 

Article 1 - Article 2 - Article 3 - Article 4 - Article 5 - Article 6 - Article 7 - Article 8 - Article 9 - Article 10 - Article 11 - Article 12

 

 

 

Migration and Settlement:

A Historical Perspective of Loyalty and Belonging

by Imtiaz Ahmed Hussain

 
The aim of this paper is to examine aspects of identity, belonging and loyalty through the process of migration and the establishment of a Muslim community within the folds of a wider community. In Islamic terminology the term for migration is hijrah. However, it has a wider connotation than merely an act of migration; the word hijrah is derived from the root word hajara, which portrays a sense of abandoning, forsaking and leaving something. By doubling the middle letter the word becomes hajjara, which conveys a sense of being forced to leave or migrate. The word hijrah, therefore, means a migration or an emigration. There is another important term derived from the same root
and that is the word muhajir, literally the one who has undergone the migration. The plural of this word, muhajirun has more specifically been used to refer to those companions of the Prophet who migrated from Makkah to Madinah in a journey that has become well known as the hijrah and which became a line of demarcation between a life of religious persecution and suffering in Makkah to a new life of religious freedom in Madinah. This event was very significant and marked the dawn of a new era of progress for the Muslim community so much so that it became the starting point for the Muslim or Hijra Calendar.

The Prophet expanded this meaning to include a dissociation of oneself from something by declaring that, `A Muslim is a person who does not harm another Muslim with his tongue or hands and the emigre (muhajir), is the one who leaves that which God has forbidden'.' From an historical perspective it is quite evident that the act of hijrah is not a new phenomenon. In fact, from the dawn of time man has gone through the process of hijrah. Adam for example went through what could be described as an expulsion or banishment from paradise. Other Prophets such as Noah and Lot went through what could be described as escapist hijrah, in that they escaped the pending destruction of their people for their continuous disobedience to God. Abraham spent most of his life in almost a perpetual state of hijrah. Moses led his people on a mass hijrah from Egypt to the Promised Land. The process of hijrah
may not necessarily have religious connotations as human beings naturally make hijrah to seek out greener pastures or are forced out by famine, invaders or natural disasters. Hijrah is a natural survival
instinct within human beings for overcoming difficulties and hardships, which threaten their existence.

Hijrah to Abyssinia
Although the hijrah to Madinah is a well-known and significant fact, nevertheless, it is a surprising actuality that the first hijrah by Muslims occurred eight years earlier and it was to a land on the
African Continent to a country known to the Arabs as alHabashah and which became known in Europe as Abyssinia. It was at that time the most politically sophisticated unitary kingdom in Africa. The land of Abyssinia included Nubia, present day Ethiopia, Eritrea, present day Sudan and parts of Somalia. The question may be asked here as to why the Prophet ordered some of his Companions to migrate specifically to Abyssinia? The people of Makkah had strong historical links with Abyssinia. The natural location of Makkah, lying midway on the caravan route, which united the southern part of Arabia with Syria in the north, made it one of the most prosperous towns. The south-to-north commercial route connected Makkah to Yemen and across the Red Sea to Abyssinia. It was due to this trade route that the people of Makkah were well acquainted with Abyssinia, which `was a market for the Quraish who traded there because they found food in plenty, security and good business'. 2 Some of the inhabitants of Makkah also had ancestral roots in Abyssinia such as Bilal and the mother of Usamah ibn Zayd.

There is no doubt that the persecution of Muslims in Makkah had a bearing on this decision because by the fifth year of the Prophet's mission the ferocious oppression of Muslims had intensified and there was a need for Muslims to escape. The Quraish may have thought that by persecuting and torturing the vulnerable Muslims, especially those who were poor and helpless, would cause them to give up their faith. When they discovered that this had no effect, they intensified the torture.
Some were tortured repeatedly and were publicly martyred due to the torture they suffered. Finding this suffering difficult to bear the Prophet allowed some of his followers to make hijrah to Abyssinia:

`If you want you may go to Abyssinia, you will find there a king under whom no one suffers wrong. It is a land of truthfulness' 3

The Muslims in Makkah were not able to practice their faith openly, in fact they prayed secretly and what they really longed for was to pray in peace and freedom and to be able to learn about their religion without fear or discrimination. In Abyssinia they were able to do that. Hijrah to Africa was not a new phenomenon. Indeed even some of the earlier Prophets had made their hijrah to Africa, not least Abraham, Joseph and Jesus.

Two chapters of the Qur'an which make a link with Abyssinia had already been revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The first is the eighty-fifth chapter (al-Buruj), which was revealed with regard to the `People of the Ditch'. The background to this chapter was the story of a king of Yemen, Dhunuwas, who targeted the Christian city of Najran and started to persecute and kill people. He had a huge trench filled with fire into which he cast the Christians of Najran. The ruler of Abyssinia
dispatched an army to Yemen under a commander named Eryat. The army entered Yemen and defeated Dhunuwas. The second revelation, also related to the first, is about the invasion of Makkah by Abrahah, an officer in Eryat's army who did not approve Eryat's leadership and challenged him to a dual. Although Abrahah defeated Eryat, he suffered a wound to his lip and gained the name Abraha al-Ashram (meaning, `one with the cut lip'). Abrahah built a fine church in the capital of Yemen
and adorned it with precious stones remaining from the palace of the Queen of Sheba. But when he noticed that his beautiful building had little attraction for the people against the simple stone Ka'bah in Makkah, he decided to lead an army headed by African elephants to destroy the Ka'bah. The Chapter of the Elephant 4 gives details of what happened to that army. The time of Abrahah's expedition is known amongst the Quraish as `the year of the Elephant'. It is interesting to
note that Abrahah met the grandfather of the Prophet, `Abd al-Muttalib. When Abrahah saw him, he was impressed for `Abd al-Muttalib was tall and handsome. `What do you need?' he was asked by Abrahah. `Abd al-Muttalib demanded that his camels be returned to him. Abrahah replied, `I was impressed by you when I first saw you, but now I withdraw from you after you have spoken to me. You are asking me about your two hundred camels, which have been taken from you and not the
house (Ka'bah), the foundation of your religion and the religion of your forefathers, which I have come to destroy and you do not speak to me about it?' `Abd al- Muttalib said to him, `Verily I am the lord of the camels, as for the House (Ka'bah), it has a Lord who will defend it". 5 Ultimately, Abrahah failed in his attempt to destroy the Ka'bah, described in the Qur'an as follows:

In the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful Did you not see how your Lord dealt with the companions o f the elephant? Did he not bring all their schemes to nothing? Unleashing upon them flocks of birds. Bombarding them with stones o f hard-baked clay. Making them like stripped wheat stalks eaten bare. 6

Life in Abyssinia: A case study
There were, in fact, just over a hundred Muslims who made the hiirah to Abyssinia and each one of them had a story to tell. One such person was Ramlah Bint Abi Sufyan whose father, Abu Sufyan, was one of the Makkan leaders. She, with her husband `Ubaydullah Ibn Jahsh and daughter Habibah, arrived in Abyssinia to live a life of freedom to practice their faith in the land of Negus. Abu Sufyan and the other leaders in Makkah found it difficult to accept that Muslims had achieved freedom
to practice their faith and that Islam had been recognized at an international level. They therefore sent messengers with presents and gifts to Negus to seek their extradition. After careful examination of the Muslims' beliefs and listening to the Qur'an, Negus declared, `What has been revealed to your Prophet Muhammad and what Jesus preached came from the same source'. 7 He therefore allowed the Muslims to live freely in Abyssinia and to practise their religion.

Although Ramlah enjoyed her freedom to worship freely, unfortunately she faced another hurdle. Her husband announced his rejection of Islam and his acceptance of Christianity. Abdul Wahid Hamid states: `She made up her mind to stay in Abyssinia until such a time as God granted her relief. She divorced her husband who lived only a short while after becoming a Christian. He had given himself over to frequenting wine merchants and consuming alcohol'. 8 It should be noted that the Prophet did not order the Muslims to leave Abyssinia in spite of this conversion to Christianity. He did not even ask them to come to his aid during the battles of Badr or Uhud, which occurred when the Muslims had
made hijrah to Madinah. The Muslim community lived in harmony with the Christian community in Abyssinia and enjoyed total freedom to practice their faith. Indeed, it was ten years later that the Prophet Muhammad sent a proposal of marriage to Ramlah through Negus himself.

Correspondences between Negus and the Prophet The Prophet sent many letters to rulers and kings inviting them to Islam. The letter to Negus has a special significance in that it shows respect and honour to a ruler who is seen as a believer in God. The content of the letter is as follows;

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. From Muhammad, the Messenger of God, to Najashi Azim al Habashah, Negus the stately (great) ruler o f Abyssinia. Peace upon him who follows the Guidance. As to what follows, I praise God the One beside Whom there is no deity. He is the King, the Holy, the Source of Peace, the Protector and the Guardian. I bear witness that Jesus the son of Mary is the spirit belonging to God and His Word that He cast into the chaste and venerable virgin, Mary. She thus became pregnant by means of His spirit and His inspiration with Jesus in the same manner that He created Adam with His hand.

Iinvite you to God, the One Who has no partner. Loyalty is based on His obedience. I invite you to follow me and to have absolute certainty with what I have come with. Indeed I am the Messenger of God and I invite you and your forces towards God the Mighty and Majestic. Hence 1 hereby bear witness that I have communicated my message and advice. I invite you to listen and accept my advice. Peace be upon him who follows true guidance.  9

The key features of this letter are that there is a sense of cordiality and friendship. It is interesting to note that in most other letters the Prophet sent he simply declared at the beginning that, `There is no deity but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God'. However, in this letter he makes mention of the miraculous birth of Jesus. This clearly indicates the Prophet understood the religious claims of the people of Abyssinia and wanted to express to them that his mission was a continuation of the prophetic tradition, which they had inherited. Another important aspect of this letter is the use of the phrase `Loyalty is based on His obedience'. The term mawalah has a wider scope than mere loyalty. It also carries a sense of protected friendship, clientage, continuity and sovereignty. All these aspects of mawalah form part of the obedience to God's commands. In response to the letter sent by the Prophet Muhammad, Negus wrote this reply:

In the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful. From Negus Ashama to Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah. Peace be upon you, O Messenger of Allah! And mercy and blessing from Allah beside whom there is no god. I have received your letter in which you have mentioned Jesus and by the Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus is not more than what you say. We fully acknowledge that with which you have been sent to us and we have entertained your cousin and his companions. I bear witness that you are the Messenger of Allah, true and confirming (those who have gone before
you); I pledge to you through your cousin and surrender myself through him to the Lord of the worlds. 10

Delegation to Madinah
Negus also sent a delegation to the Prophet in Madinah. This delegation consisted of seven priests and five monks. They were sent to observe the Prophet, see his qualities and to listen to him and the Qur'an. `When they saw him and he read the Qur'an to them, they accepted Islam and wept and they were humble'. 11 Some exegetes point towards Chapter 5 Verse 82 of the Qur'an being revealed on this occasion:

And you will surely find that, of all the people, they who say, "We are Christians" come closest in affection for those who believe. This is so because there are priests and monks among them and these are not given to arrogance.

The Abyssinian model and the Muslim community in Britain. Initially, there was a one-way relationship between Makkah and Abyssinia. Muslims migrated to Abyssinia to escape persecution and to freely practice their faith. The Muslims in Abyssinia could not return home. However, when the Muslims migrated to Madinah this relationship became two-way, in so far as there were no restrictions on travel. Correspondences were exchanged between the Prophet and Negus, and Negus sent a delegation to the Prophet in Madinah. The Prophet sent a proposal of marriage to Umm Habibah through Negus. Seventeen years after the hijrah to Abyssinia Negus passed away. When Negus died the Prophet prayed the funeral prayer for him. According to the distinguished scholar, al-Safi-ur-Rahman alMubarakpuri, when it became known to the Prophet that Negus was dead, `The Prophet announced his death and observed prayer in absentia for him. 12

The Muslim community in Britain came about as a result of contemporary hijrah, which has its roots in British colonialism. The British colonized most of the Muslim world and it was only after the Second
World War that considerable numbers of Muslims made a reverse migration to Britain. In the main this community migrated for reasons of employment. Any community which has migrated tends to subscribe to the view that there will be a nostalgic return to their homeland. This is due mainly to historical links coupled with strong family ties. Migrant communities usually settled in the inner cities where the likelihood of employment was at its greatest. As a result pockets of communities
mushroomed in many inner cities. Living in `ghetto' communities may have been interpreted as a conscious attempt to preserve their tradition and culture.

Whereas the Muslims in Abyssinia looked towards the Prophet for guidance and inspiration, the Muslim community in Britain had to look toward each other and their links with their country of origin for moral and spiritual guidance. This reliance extended to the importing of spiritual leadership from their rural communities. This has resulted in these communities becoming inward looking and has created a barrier between themselves and the wider society. This barrier was an additional inhibitor which added to other barriers such as language and culture.

The Muslim migrant community in Abyssinia was not inward looking for there was trust with the wider community. The Muslim community in Abyssinia was also loyal to its ruler (Negus) and recognised him as their sovereign. This is proved by the fact that the Prophet addressed him as Najashi `Azim alHabashah, `Negus the Stately (Great) Ruler of Abyssinia'. There was no problem for the Muslims in recognizing his authority. There was also a concerted expression of loyalty by the Muslim community to the King in Abyssinia. This is confirmed by Tariq Ramadan when he states:

The Muslims thus lived in a non-Islamic environment under the authority of a leader they respected for he was fair, trustworthy and generous. Umm Salamah, who lived in Abyssinia for several years within the small group of Muslim immigrants, explained later how they had appreciated this ruler and how they had hoped that his army, although he and his people were not Muslims, would defeat its enemies. 13

Perhaps the Muslim community in Britain does not have a problem with expressing its loyalty to the sovereign. However, when they see far right political groups rallying around national symbols such as the flag, and these being used as instruments of racial exclusion, they find it difficult to express their loyalty and belonging within such an exclusivist concept of what it means to be British.

Religious loyalty
Loyalty and belonging in Britain has been closely linked with the sovereign and state religion. Traditionally the crown chose what was `loyal', depending on the particular beliefs of the king or queen, and demanded their subjects also be of the same religion. They often persecuted those who were not. A prime example of this is Henry VIII (1485- I5o9). Amelia Edwards says of Henry's persecution of Catholics:

`Having declared open opposition to the Church of Rome, Henry proceeded to make the most cruel enactments against the Papists; to demolish the monasteries and convents scattered by hundreds throughout his dominions... Dreadful persecutions ensued - men were hanged, burned and beheaded for not believing as he desired, and brave old Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher were executed for denying his royal supremac.' 14

It can be seen from this that to be `loyal' to Henry VIII one had to profess the same religion as him. If you practiced any other faith you were seen to be `disloyal'. Therefore, loyalty was linked very strongly with religious conformity. Further, towards the turn of the seventeenth century many Baptists were forced to migrate to the New World in order to escape religious persecution. One such individual was Thomas Helwys, who stated that, `The king has no right to stand between a man and his
conscience, whether he be a Jew, heretic or a Turk'.` Helwys was perhaps one of the first religious leaders to recognize that a person's belief was not a test of loyalty.

Conclusion
In conclusion, it can be said that loyalty was closely linked and perhaps may still be with sovereign and state religion. The Muslim community in Abyssinia had close links with the Prophet and
instructions were passed on to them regarding the increasing acts of worship and religious responsibilities.

Muslims in Britain however, have no direct links with the Prophet but instead rely on imported spiritual guides to interpret religious teachings. Since many of these guides come from rural agricultural communities they may not be equipped to deal with the contemporary issues and the social environment facing the Muslim community in general and its youth in particular. The Muslim youth are further hindered by language barriers; their poor usage of their mother tongue has not facilitated direct communication between the spiritual guides or religious leaders. This language barrier also exists between parents and children. In addition, the lack of opportunities in education,
employment, and racism have given rise to frustrations which have erupted into acts such as riots in some inner city Muslim communities.

British Muslims can learn important lessons from the Abyssinian model.
There was good will between Muslim and non-Muslim communities. The predominant Christian community granted freedom and support to the Muslim community. The Muslims for their part recognized that this freedom in turn deserved loyalty to the ruler. The most important dynamic in this relationship was the fact that there was religious freedom. This resulted in a mutual respect which bore fruit when a two-way relationship between Abyssinia and the Muslim State in Madinah developed. In the same way, the Muslim community in Britain should be willing to take an active participatory role in both the local non-Muslim community and the wider society. Islamic values and
Christian values are similar and compatible. The religion of Islam is not inward looking, rather it reaches out to people and offers valuable spiritual and moral solutions to social problems. It promotes faith, which oils the wheels of social cohesion and community unity. Muslims should, therefore, actively pursue and promote basic Islamic teachings in society. The concept of hijrah also inculcates a `time and space' contextualization of its teachings and endorses a redefinition of specific cultural practices and a new understanding of faith within contemporary settings and environments. Muslims should also endeavor to become positive role models in British society. British Muslims should draw on the experiences of the early community that made hijrah to Abyssinia. They should realize that their hijrah is a natural process, which should instil them with confidence and which will assist them in fulfilling their obligations to their Creator in this world.
Finally, it is well known that the Prophet Muhammad declared that migration would not stop until the sun rises from the west (i.e. until the Last Day).

Notes
1. Hadith narrated by Bukhari and Muslim, in al-Nawawi, Riyad-us Salihin. New Delhi, 1989, p.147

2. al-Tabari, Annales (ed. M. J. de Goeje). Leiden, zgoz, Vol i, 3, p.118o.

3. Ibn Ishaq, Sirah Rasul Allah. p.zo8.

4. Qur'an, Chapter 105.

5. Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Ibn Kathir. Dar al-Qur'an al-Karim, Beirut, 7th edition, p.1981, p.677.

6. Qur'an, op. cit.

7. Ibn Hisham, Sirah Rasul Allah. Cairo, p. 152

8. Abdul Wahid Hamid, Companions of the Prophet, book two. MELS, London, 1995, p-89.

9. Zad al-Ma'ad, in Safi ur-Rahman al-Mubarakpuri, Ar-Raheeq alMakhtum (The Sealed Nectar). Riyad, 2996.

10. Zad al-Ma'ad, ibid.

11. Tujibi, Mukhtasar min Tafsir al-Imam al-Tabari, 2 vols. Cairo, 1971, p.152

12. Safi ur-Rahman al-Mubarakpuri, Ar-Raheeq al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar). Riyad, 1996, p. 351.

13. Tariq Ramadan, To be a European Muslim. Leicester, 1999, p.i68.

14. Amelia Edwards, A Summary of English History. London, 1860, p- 43

15. Thomas Helwys, `The Mystery of Iniquity' in David George Mullen, Religious Pluralism in the West. Oxford, 1998, p.134

Taken from British Muslims: British Muslims, Loyalty and Belonging, The Islamic Foundation

courtesy: Ali Abbas, NJ

 

 

 

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