Muslim Minorities and the Prospects of Integration: Perspectives from Europe, North America and Southeast Asia
When: 31st May 2012
Who: Professor Ermin Sinanovic
By: Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA)[/box_dark]
Too often in the diversity of communities we have here has the word “minority” and “integration” been misused and misunderstood.
During this enlightening seminar organized by the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA) Professor Ermin Sinanovic breaks the codes behind these taboo-ed issues, with a disclaimer that the views shared during it to have belonged to him solely.
Speaking about the different perspectives to what defines a minority in a country, he talks about the touchy implementation of fiqh al-aqalliyyat or Islamic Jurisprudence for minorities where fiqh is applied based on the demographics on a country.
Expressing his views on the implementation of such rulings, Professor Sinanovic affirms that a traditional approach would be more applicable while reinforcing the fact that a Muslim should maintain the noble foundations of Islamic law or Islam in general regardless of situations.
Upon reviewing some common weaknesses in Muslim communities and countries, he finds that stating what is Halal or Haram would immediately put an outcome to a situation rather than a giving it a chance to a beginning and that shouldn’t be the central focus of the leaders in a country.
“We cannot reduce a group of people into just a status,” he said, in relevance to the implementation of fiqh al-aqalliyyat.
Moving on to the prospects of Integration, he explains how Islam as it is would have naturally made communities integrate but the Muslims today choose to approach it one-sidedly. Communication between the Muslim community and other communities is key when it comes to integration and in the context where a council is representative of the Muslims who are a minority in a country, it is important that the communication with other communities establish the fact that the council possibly, could not have been representative of all the Muslims.
“Muslims have the right in a democratic society to ask their government questions and ther government has the right to ask Muslims to step up and be better.”
Gathering perspectives from North America where Muslims are largely African Americans as well as immigrants and comparing them with those from Europe and Southeast Asia, he raised the issue of the tendency for communities to view Muslims from a security perspective, in reference to the existence of such stereotypes especially after 9/11.
Dissecting the Southeast Asia region, he claims that Singapore has a similar prospect with North America, whereas the other countries such as Philippines, Vietnam and Myanmar which also has Muslims as minorities seem to have adopted a prospect more similar to Europe.
“Islam is the ultimate centre culture now in the West. Islam has actually become so cool that it has been viewed with prejudice.”
There is a higher percentage of Muslims in Europe. However in terms of prospects, they are lacking in terms of education, capital and community leaders, which is unlike the case in North America or in the US.
Moving on to the rather taboo-ed aspect of integration, Professor Sinanovic’s interpretation and understanding of it refers to having full participation in a society but with the ability to maintain an adequate sense of individualism.
Too often has the word ‘integration’ been closely entailed with ‘assimilation’, however he insists that Muslims should resist the latter, especially since Muslims here are being accepted, acknowledged and even institutionalized.
“The question here now is not whether Singaporean Muslims are integrated but rather how to improve their standing in society.”
Having studied the outlook of Muslims here, he finds that we are integrated but at the same time acknowledged the need for us to improve our standing in society so that our voices can be heard to get what is rightfully ours.
“There are some weaknesses within our community that if the government helps support us a little would help us a lot.”
To help improve the state of the community in terms of societal standings, Professor Sinanovic gave three substantial key points, and that is to have sustained work as well as putting in the effort and investing capital into community-building institutions such as the Masjids or universities.
Some elements that would also further improve the status of Muslims would be education, participation and co-operation.
He urges the younger generation to educate themselves for when the future calls for them to stand up for the community they would be able to bring up a strong argument, which will eventually lead to justice with which he brought up an insightful quote by Dr Martin Luther King Jr. :
“The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Every Muslim has the same innate capability as any other person, and they need to actualize that potential.
“You really need to put in effort”, he would say.
With education, Muslims have a bonus point aside from academics for Islam gives everyone a rounded personality which would help us deal with people accordingly. In terms of participation, he also encourages Muslims to be active in the community, particularly in getting them to engage with political leaders albeit the skepticality it involves. His reason was that only by doing so would be able to raise our communal concerns to the right people who need to hear them.
“If you’re not at the table, forget about eating from it. If you don’t take that seat at the table, someone else is going to take it and eat from it. So you have to think about it.”
Concluding the session with the aspect of co-operation that is an element also needed to help improve the status of Muslims in a society, he calls for us to witness our Islam for we should be a community that mediates amongst the different communities to connect them together.
[quote]“Sit down and talk to church and temple leaders. Discuss problems and see how we can engage everyone in doing righteous deeds.”[/quote]
He highly encouraged Muslims to partake in inter-faith activities, for it is also the essence of Islam, to bring peace within everybody and especially in a community.
“When others see what you can do, they will stand up for you. You can’t stand up on your own. You need helpers and when people see that you are a good people, they will help you.”
It is probably going to be a long gradual process to rectify or improvise certain aspects of our community, but that shouldn’t stop us from making the first step.
The aspects and arguments raised during this session clearly shows the tremendous potential our Muslim community has, and although perhaps there is a level of rigidity involved in shining that potential in such a society – nothing is impossible, for we have with us what makes everything possibly and that is, Islam.[divider]
A flawed servant with a voice to and for trust. Your sister in faith, your friend in deen and your Ummah in congregation.