Citizens vs. Refugees: Concepts and Applications of Islamic Solidarity in Turkey and the UK

Opusculum 113 | 01.03.2018 | 

1. Introduction

During the last few years, the Arab Spring resulted in peaceful uprisings, militant clashes, and theoretical debates in many countries with various social and political contexts. In a globalized world, and due to de facto spreading out, one of the intensively debated issues has revolved around the flux of Arab refugees to Europe. Dominantly Muslims, those immigrants raise many controversial questions related to their hosting European societies, including the extent to which the old continent will continue to look “Christian” or even “European” after few decades.

Muslim communities in European countries have been involved in these crucial debates. On one hand, they are European citizens, with all relevant rights and duties. But on the other hand, they belong to the Muslim Ummah (worldwide nation), which mandates Islamic solidarity and religiously-prescribed close relationships with all Muslims.

Practically, the reactions of Muslim communities in Europe to this mandate vary from country to country. Practically, these legal relationships between state and various communities play a crucial role in shaping the scope of action for religious communities within the arena of civil society. In this paper, I will focus mainly on the socially-constructed relationships between Muslim communities in Europe and her states to explore their scope of action as far as the issue of Muslim refugees in Europe is concerned.

I will build on Michael Barnett and Janice Grass Stein’s argument that secularization and sanctification are multi-layered, multidimensional, and nonlinear. Basically, they contend that historically-constructed processes first establish sacred and secular concepts and spaces, then, different actors can serve their agendas by employing strategies to set, stabilize and modify those concepts and spaces (Barnett and Stein: 11). Applying this argument, I select Turkey and Great Britain as case studies to compare the similarities and differences between Muslim communal organisations in a Muslim-majority state seeking EU membership, and their counterparts in a Muslim-minority state seeking to depart from the EU. I argue that although Muslims are religiously committed to showing solidarity with each other, the dynamics of Islamic Fiqh (jurisprudence) allow them to construct various interpretations and implementations of this solidarity, given the social and political contexts. The reaction to the refugees’ issue in Europe is not an exception; rather, Muslim communities always vary in their socially constructed understandings of Islamic sacred rules and strategies of political actions.

The first section reviews the main concepts of Islamic Solidarity, citizens, and refugees. Then, the second section analyses socioeconomic and political bases of the relations between Muslim communal organisations in Turkey and the UK states, and the impact on how Muslim citizens treat Muslim refugees. The third section investigates the strategies and outcomes of main Islamic humanitarian institutions in these countries concerning the issue of refugees.

Humanitarian organisations or social movements, other than Islamic ones, are not applicable cases for examining Islamic solidarity. I study principally the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) in Turkey, known initially as the Foundation of Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, and the Islamic Relief in the UK. The conclusion reflects on their potential influences in future developments of this issue in European countries.