“First Muslim Minority” Thinking considered harmful

Sometimes I get the impression that all this discussion about fiqh of minority and Muslims living in non-Muslim lands is extremely short sighted especially in USA. It seems to be predicated on the unstated premise that Muslims living as minorities in non-Muslim majority countries is an unprecedented and new phenomenon and thus we have to address questions related to this phenomenon afresh as if there are no precedents. Nothing could be farther from the truth. While it is true that Muslims voluntarily leaving Muslim majority countries en masse and settling non-Muslim majority countries is a relatively new phenomenon which does not have many precedents before the 1950s, Muslims have lived in non-Muslim majority countries and have discussed questions of fiqh that we think are relevant to the situation in American Muslims before. Thus consider the following non-Muslim majority countries and how long have Muslims lived there as minorities.

China: 1350+ years
Russia: 500+ years (I am considering the time after when the fall of the Golden Horde.)
Mongolia: 750+ years

The point is that Muslims have not lived in these countries for hundreds of years without encountering or discussing some of the issues that are being discussed amongst American Muslims e.g., working in the army, relations with other religions, family related issues etc. Thus Muslims have lived in China for almost as long as the advent of Islam. There is even evidence that Muslims were employed in the service of the Chinese Emperor even as far back as the time of the Abbasids. The greatest Chinese admiral Zheng He was a Muslim. At this moment if anyone is thinking about raising any argument about Communists then let me point out that Communists are a recent phenomenon and Muslims have lived peacefully under many dynasties in China. Just because scholars in Muslim majority countries have historically have had a certain opinion about al wala and al bara does not mean that all scholars have had such an opinion. One of the reasons for this post was the discussion going on here and here. Without taking any sides in the debate I will just state that one of the arguments that people are making is that Muslims have had such an opinion for hundreds of years. While I am disputing this I would like to point out that there is another set of Muslims who have had a different opinion also for hundreds of years. Just because they lived hundreds of miles from the centers of Muslim power does not mean that their opinion is any less valid. Just because Muslims in the Middle East have historically envisioned dar-ul-Islam in a certain way (which makes sense given that the European were less than amicable towards Muslims in the Middle Ages) does not mean that Muslims in China have also done so in a similar manner.

To summarize, the point is that Muslims living in these areas have had such debates that we are having now in America, they have lived their lives as peaceful and pious Muslims. Trying to reinvent the wheel or overly relying on Muslim scholars from Muslim majority countries who almost no idea about living in non-Muslim majority countries is borderline arrogant.


7 responses to ““First Muslim Minority” Thinking considered harmful

  1. “Just because they lived hundreds of miles from the centers of Muslim power does not mean that their opinion is any less valid.”

    There is a lot in this that can be expanded in just this excellent point you have raised.

  2. Assalamu ‘alaykum

    I found your blog through google search_ it is very interesting, MashAllah. I got happy to read your views on the development of Islam in China.

    I am a brazilian muslim woman and just felt like creating a blog to focus on Islam in Brasil. As you said that Islam is not new in China, Islam is in Brazil since its foundation. Islam came to our country during our colonization, by Portugal. On my city, Salvador – Bahia, the muslims organized the Malê(muslim) Revolt about 200 years ago. They were muslim africans who reached Brasil due to the traffic of slaves which was done by Portugal. As muslims, they fought for freedom because the submission must be only to Allah. They were very inteligent men and planned all the revolt publically because they could speak and write in arabic while the colonizers could not.

    I work in a dawah organization called CIMS (Conveying Islamic Message Society) stabelished in Egypt. We send free Islamic books (with no charge at all) to Muslims and non-Muslims all over the world, in several languages. If you or people of your community want to receive our books by post service just contact me at mona_ssa@hotmail.com

    May Allah SWT strengthen your faith.

    All Praise is due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad and upon his family and his Companions.


  3. Pingback: Chinese Muslims « My Blog·

  4. Assalaamu’alaikum

    Dont forget that India, a non-Muslim nation has the world’s second largest Muslim population, and it is a minority. In many parts of the world, Islam did not become a majority religion overnight. In the world’s largest Muslim nation, Indonesia, Islam “crept” in over hundreds of years, and at the early phase it was a minority religion too.

    It is a disgrace of history that when you read books about Islamic history, subSaharan Africa, India and Southeast Asia are usually not portrayed as the “Muslim” world.

    Muslims in America should do well to realise that the centre of Islam is not any more in their ancestral lands in the Middle East, but further east in India and Southeast Asia. The only things that are coming out from that part of the world today are militancy and backwardness.

    Whilst Turkey, China, India and Southeast Asia have rocketed from strength to strength, it is sad that our Arab brothers are spiralling deeper into their wells of underdevelopment and bickering. To follow them now would be a great mistake. Their moment of greatness has long passed.

  5. good article here. This mindset of not joining an army of a Non-Muslim State is interesting because even if we forget North Asia for a while. Muslim today in India are part of the Military!

    There is a problem here. Due to the lack of an established Islam in America, many youth have joined a certain group with a certain mindset. Many have gone to 2 extremes- complete spiriutality or complete against their native country (sometimes resulting in terrorism).

    Education is needed. I was quite astonished reading what Umar Lee wrote at his blog that gave a link here.

    Good article.

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