For almost two weeks the streets of France have burned in the predominantly Muslim immigrant suburbs of many French towns and cities. The catalyst to such events was the electrocution of two young French men of North African descent on an electric fence as they tried to evade a police stop-and-search in a Parisian suburb. The violence has escalated night after night, spreading to an increasing number of urban centres, while the government struggled to respond.
What must be absolutely clear is that these riots are not a response to an unfortunate and isolated incident. The young people involved are mostly second or third generation immigrants from ex-French colonies in North Africa, particularly Algeria. They did not force themselves on French society or choose to live in the poverty-stricken suburbs of French cities. It was the French invasion and colonisation of their homelands that began the migration process more than a century ago. They were born to immigrant parents as citizens of the French Republic.
The French Republic publicises its founding principles as being ‘Liberté, égalité et fraternité,’ (liberty, equality and brotherhood). However, such idealistic notions have failed to materialize in the lives of North African men. In reality, these were principles upheld amongst the white majority, many of whom did not see themselves as equal to North African Muslim French citizens. Instead, the white majority have vocally rejected Islam, as evidenced by the banning of the Hijab last fall.
There are both subjective and objective accounts of this reality for the young men and women living in the poor suburbs of French cities. It is well known that non-Caucasian French men feel victimised by the police who often use intimidating tactics against them. These men find themselves in the most run-down neighbourhoods with poor public services and very few job opportunities. They feel actively discriminated against in education, employment and law enforcement as well as many other areas of social life. However, due to the French government’s active refusal to acknowledge these problems within French society, there is no obligation for the civil services, universities, private business or the police to keep record of the ethnic origin of those they deal with. Therefore, there is no way of proving whether institutionalised racism exists within these areas. A university, for example, could routinely turn down academically satisfactory students for no other reason than their ethnic origin and it would never be picked up because the French government does not collect any information on it. These young non-Caucasian French citizens feel that they have been discriminated against for decades, but no-one has ever done anything about it.
In addition, they continue to feel unwelcome in France. The French republic has an extremely active and popular nationalist party called “Le Front National”. It is a group that openly calls for French people to reclaim France from the immigrants who they claim have destroyed the country. Since the start of the riots they have held demonstrations displaying the sign, “Love France or leave France”. It is from such hostile sentiments towards “immigrants” that Jean-Marie Le Pen – leader of ‘Le Front National’ – was able to muster a significant degree of popular support during the last presidential elections. However, as the politicians are “slaves of the people” instead of “slaves to Allah”; the mainstream parties have adopted similar platforms to pander to the anti-immigrant attitudes of “the people”.
These problems have persisted for decades. There is a profound sense of injustice and unhappiness amongst the French immigrant communities and they rightfully feel like second-class citizens in France.
Nationalism: An Un-Islamic idea
The Muslims in the West should realize that nationalism is only natural in secular nationalist democracies. Nationalism itself encourages the French to believe that they are different and superior to those who migrated to France from ethnically disparate lands. Moreover, such a phenomenon is not isolated to France, but is a well known problem across Europe and America as well. During the 1960s, the Americans of African descent rioted in a similar manner for similar reasons.
Nationalism is an idea that Muslims must abandon to achieve righteousness. It is narrated that the Prophet (saw) said:
"Whoever calls for `Asabiyyah, (nationalism/tribalism), whoever fights for `Asabiyyah, and whoever dies for `Asabiyyah is not one of us.” [Abu Dawud]
Is Rioting the Answer? Absolutely Not!
The frustration amongst the French rioters is understandable, but rioting is not the solution. Rioting is rather likely to increase the resentment of the indigenous French population against “immigrants” and is unlikely to lead to any type of success or progress. More importantly, this type of rioting is forbidden in Islam and only leads to failure in the Hereafter.
Burning and destroying private property, beating private citizens and shooting at local police is absolutely forbidden in these circumstances. The vast majority of Muslims are well aware that stealing is something that earns the anger of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala). Therefore, it should come as no surprise that destroying the possessions owned by other people is something that is also Haram. Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) revealed (to the nearest meaning):
”Do not misappropriate one another’s property unjustly, nor bribe the judges in order to misappropriate a part of other people’s property, sinfully and knowingly” [TMQ 2:188]
And the Prophet (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam) said:
“Whoever appropriates a handsbreadth of land through falsehood shall be made to carry it, as thick as seven earths, around his neck on Judgement Day.”
Abu Dawud records in his Sunan narrated that Al-Baraa ibn Azib narrated that:
“Al-Baraa had a she-camel which was accustomed to graze the standing crop belonging to the people. She entered a garden and did damage to it. The Prophet of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam) was informed about it, and he gave the decision that the owners of gardens are responsible for guarding them by day, and the owners of the animals are responsible for guarding them by night. Any damage done by animals during the night is a responsibility lying on their owners.”
If the Muslim farmer is responsible for his animals that do damage to a neighbour’s land during the night, then what about the person who wilfully burns the property of his community and neighbours? This is unacceptable. Will Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) help those who wilfully violate His (swt) commands?
On a side note, it should be clear that the concept of “private property” in Islam is very different than the one that is flaunted by the Neo-Conservatives and other advocates of the Capitalist system. Only by Allah’s leave was the Islamic system able to avoid the extremes of secular thought when it comes to ownership of property. Although the concept of private property exists, it is not an unlimited concept, but rather it is subject to certain constraints. For example, oil cannot be privatized, and is owned by the Ummah, based on the saying of Prophet where he (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam) designated “sources of fire” as a something that belongs to the communal ownership of the Ummah.
Role of Muslims in the West: Ambassadors of Islam
The Muslims in the West have a unique opportunity to offer Islam as a comprehensive system and ideological alternative to the non-Muslims that are our neighbours, co-workers, acquaintances, and colleagues. However, we must first recognize that Islam is not some cultural relic that is associated with the countries of our parents or our birth. We cannot allow ourselves to view Islam as a collection of rituals that one practices in one’s spare time. Instead we must proceed on the path of the Prophet (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam) and his Companions; and demonstrate to the community at large that Islam is the way out of the spiritual, social, economical, and political misery that people face as individuals, as a community and as a nation in the West. Consider the issue of nationalism that was raised in this article. As previously mentioned, the idea of nationalism is indisputably alien to Islam. However, we unfortunately find some Muslims believing that there is no contradiction between Islam and nationalism. In addition, we see with the riots in France and the oppression of the African-Americans in the US, the secular “democratic” ideology has made virtually no progress in bridging the gap between different nationalities and cultures. This is where the opportunity lies for the activist-oriented Muslims living in the West. We must work with the Muslim community to ensure that they hold the correct concepts about Islam, and that they abandon antiquated notions such as nationalism. We must also work with the non-Muslim community to demonstrate to them how the Islamic system works comprehensively, and to eliminate the roots of racism.
Some may argue that calling non-Muslims to Islam is difficult considering the climate of racism and bias against Islam and Muslims. However, the reality is that it was never easy to call people to the Deen of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala); even the Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam) faced very difficult challenges. Regardless whether it is easy or difficult, it is up to us to work at a grass root level and invite people to the guidance of Allah (swt). We need to engage society and discuss established values and norms. We must illustrate how the secular systems have failed to address the problems of Man. And we must also be confident in Islam and avoid temptations to compromise Islam in order to attract people to it. There are no weaknesses in this Deen; the weakness is in us. We should never forget that Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) has given us this great gift of guidance; and that truly it is the best thing that we have. As Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) has revealed:
“And thus We have made you a most just nation, that you be witnesses over mankind and the Messenger be a witness over you.” [TMQ 2:143]
“You are the best of the nations raised up for (the benefit of) mankind; you enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong and believe in Allah.” [TMQ 3:110]
We should do our best to improve the lives of Muslims and non-Muslims in our communities. With respect to non-Muslims, we need to give them their due that Allah (swt) has ordained and introduce them to the guidance of Allah (swt). Once the Khilafah is established in the Muslim lands, inshaAllah, it will be possible to practically demonstrate the justice of the Islamic social and economic systems, as well as provide opportunities for those who wish to migrate there whether Muslim or non-Muslim. Only an Islamic society can provide the opportunities and progress that humanity is in such desperate need of. Muslims in Canada, alongside their efforts to present Islam as the alternative to the Western way of life, should therefore also actively support the peaceful political movement for the re-establishment of the Khilafah.