Sunday, 24 September 2017

Leadership within the Muslim Diaspora

The Muslim diaspora is very large. It is estimated that as much as a quarter of the total Muslim Umma live as minorities in non-Muslim majority countries. India is the most prominent example, but millions of Muslims live as minorities elsewhere too, e.g. China, Russia, Israel, Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas. The dilemma for Muslim minorities revolves around leadership of the community. The community, of course, is diverse and divided into numerous sects, schools of thought, ethnic groups, parties and organizations. But at the most broad level, the Muslim minorities generally do not possess a single leadership to guide them while living in countries that are dominated by non-Muslims and where the law of the land is un-Islamic. Even more alarming is that a growing number of Muslims do not have any political or social leadership whatsoever. They simply adapt the individualist approach and regard the non-Muslim State itself as the only authority they are subject to. I argue that the Muslim diaspora minority communities are required to have an Amir to lead them. In a Hadith narrated by both Abu Huraira and Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (Allah be pleased with them both), the Prophet is reported to have said:

إِذَا خَرَجَ ثَلاَثَةٌ فِي سَفَرٍ فَلْيُؤَمِّرُوا أَحَدَهُمْ

“When three are on a journey, they should appoint one of them as their Amir (commander).”

(Sunan Abi Dawud; Kitab al-Jihad)

Now if even three Muslims who are simply travelling are required to appoint one among them as an Amir to command the rest, then how much more necessary is it for the millions of Muslims living as minorities in the diaspora to appoint leaders for themselves? Those who say that the non-Muslim and secular State itself is the only authority that the Muslim minorities should be subject to do not realize that Allah Most High has commanded that the Believers are to obey Him, His Messenger Muhammad and those in positions of authority from among you (Sura 4: 59). In other words, the people in authority that Believers must obey are from among themselves, i.e., Believers themselves. Now this does not imply that Muslim minorities are not required to obey the “law of the land” in the non-Muslim majority countries they reside in, but that Muslims should always have an Amir, required to be a Muslim himself, to whose authority they are subject. In a non-Muslim majority country, this takes on, though quite loosely, something that may somewhat resemble what is generally called a “state within a state”.
In accordance with the teachings of the Shari’a, the various Muslim dynasties in the medieval period afforded non-Muslim minorities this arrangement. For example, the Jewish community living in the Muslim world had the institution of the Exilarch which was formally recognized by the Muslim government and rulers. The Exilarch, or رأس الجالوت ‘Rosh Galut’ was considered the leader of the Jewish community who represented their interests. Likewise, Jewish and Christian communities under Muslim rule were afforded their own parallel legal systems and courts of law. Regrettably, with the emergence of the modern and secular nation state, and ideas about a uniform civil code, the Muslim diaspora communities are generally not afforded this arrangement of having a “state within a state”, a formally recognized leadership that works in liaison with the State, or an “exilarch”-like figure. Hence, whatever kind of possible leadership that takes charge of the Muslim minority community in a non-Muslim majority country will not be formally recognized by law, but rather an informal arrangement whose power is based on social influence only. Nonetheless, this “informal” leadership or exilarch-like figure should be given the Bay’a (pledge of allegiance) by the Muslim community and recognized as its Amir. He should operate as a head of state as much as possible within the obvious confines of the law, except that instead of ruling a state he is only administering the affairs of the community. The more social influence this Amir exerts over the community, and the greater the number within the community recognizes the authority of this Amir and practically obeys and follows him, it will result in the political leadership, parties and politicians of the country affording him more regard, and in this way the Muslim political voice will be amplified to its benefit.

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