Muslim communities in a multicultural context
Introduction Muslim communities have been at the forefront of recent debates about multiculturalism, so much so that it may be argued that the future success of multiculturalism will depend upon how it deals with the ‘Muslim’ issue. This refers to the presence of Muslim communities in secular Western liberal democracies, such as those considered in this book: the USA, UK, Canada and Australia. More particularly, it refers to their ‘accommodation’ and the understanding of accommodation that Muslims deserve ‘favour’ or ‘special treatment’. For some, Islām is inherently incompatible with the West and any accommodation that attempts to afford special treatment to Muslims will necessarily be socially divisive. However, it is the argument of this book that research indicates the exact opposite. Muslim communities are seeking out ways to integrate more with mainstream society, including with the legal system. We will begin the chapter by exploring the issue of multicultural accommodation and the challenges faced by states who attempt to respond to the needs of its diverse cultural and religious groups. We will question the assumption often made about the neutrality of a secular state and consider the different types of approaches to secularism that a state can adopt. We argue that contrary to the often-held view that multicultural policies divide and destabilise society, these policies can lead in fact to greater social cohesion and transform both the mainstream and the minority communities. We often speak about Muslim communities as if they are an homogenous group or one community, identical in nature and speaking with one voice. So when one person or group acts or speaks, to say that Sharīʽah, for example, should be recognised officially, then it is assumed that this is what the entire community desires. Whilst it may be tempting to talk about ‘the’ or ‘a’ Muslim community, to assert a singular and cohesive Muslim ‘community’ would be not only a distortion but also inaccurate. This is especially true of Muslims in the
minority context because of a multiplicity of Muslim ethnicities arising from their patterns of immigration. This chapter, therefore, will attempt to provide insights on the various Muslim communities in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia in terms of their size, ethnic and cultural make-up, immigration patterns, age, location, education and workforce participation. Although there are similarities, each jurisdiction has its own particular ethnic make-up and social environment that might impact on the role Sharīʽah plays. This is critical because in order to explore more deeply the potential role of Sharīʽah and the need for governments to consider how or whether they should recognise certain of its aspects, we need to understand more about the Muslim communities themselves in each of our particular jurisdictions. Finally, the chapter considers the broader context of these communities, looking at the impact of the ‘War on Terror’ and the subsequent rise in Islamophobia. In all four countries, Muslims have reported negative sentiments and attacks against them simply because of their faith. This is not just in the form of random attacks on Muslims but also in the tenor of the general public discourse with politicians and the media contributing to a poisonous environment leaving Muslim communities feeling they are under siege. These sentiments also affect any discussion about the ‘accommodation’ of Muslims and pose one of the great challenges for the future of multiculturalism.