This article is the first in a series of articles that explore solutions for the problems facing European Muslims through looking into the character and biography of the Prophet Muhammad.
Muslims living in European countries need to change their attitude towards their non-Muslim neighbors to reach harmony and integration.
I've been thinking lately: What if Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was alive today and he happened to live here in Europe?
Many questions follow this idea: Would he be acting like some Muslims and isolating himself from the society? Would he be insisting on a certain type of dress and declaring it to be a sunnah or would he adapt to the society and culture in which he lives? Would his existence in Europe help in changing the bad image of Islam portrayed by the media?
Would his being here help in introducing Islam to non-Muslims more practically and effectively?
A Missing Ingredient
I believe in my heart that if Muhammad (peace be upon him) was alive in Europe today, things would have been totally different. It does not take long to guess why: He was a strategic thinker.
The lack of such strategic thinking and planning is one of the main challenges facing Muslims in Europe nowadays.
It is not surprising to meet someone in the UK believes that Muslims are aggressive people who worship a strange god.
A close study of the biography of the Prophet shows the detailed and intricate plan and divinely guided scheme he followed and that contributed to the success of his mission. Strategic planning is one of the aspects of the character of the Prophet that is still unknown to many Muslims.
Here in the West, the outcry of Muslims is that, despite their long presence in Europe, they are still struggling to establish their existence and make themselves heard and accepted. Compared to other groups who might have a shorter history of existence in Europe, Muslims are way behind in terms of integration and acceptance within the societies in which they live.
It is not surprising to meet someone in the UK, for instance, who believes that Muslims are aggressive people who worship a strange god, called Allah, who commands them to slay non-Muslims wherever they find them.
Although Muslims have been in the UK for more than a century, there is a lack of strategic planning keeps them distanced from achieving an ideal existence and engagement with British society.
In the current Muslim landscape, many mosques still "exist" in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh although they are actually on Britain soil.
Another example is some Muslims living in Europe who, driven by sincerity and a love for Islam, inadvertently make things difficult for people who want to become Muslim.
They start explaining details of every move this newcomer to Islam should make and formulating a package of confusing rulings that may baffle even a practicing Muslim, all in the name of welcoming them to Islam.
If a woman is willing to embrace Islam, some people may start speaking about hijab, or sometimes even the face veil before she completes her first hour as a Muslim.
Needless to say, there can only be a negative conclusion to this situation.
I believe if Prophet Muhammad was alive and saw these situations, he would have told these over-eager Muslims: "Take it easy, brothers and sisters! Start with one important step like the one I took with the people of Makkah. Kindle the flame of faith in the hearts and let the light grow on its own."
First Things First: The Prophet's Way
For thirteen years, the Prophet's chief undertaking was to clarify the main purpose of his mission: to let people know that there is only One God worthy of worship.
The fashion industry that arouses the desires of the flesh is an "idol" that needs to be faced today.
For Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the 360 idols that surrounded the Ka`bah represented a real challenge that had to be addressed with a short-term plan. By the same token, present day European Muslims have many challenges that need a series of short-term plans all within a framework of a single long-tem plan.
Before Muslims ask for respect and cooperation from others, they need to address the idol of internal strife and division within Muslim communities and Islamic organizations. They need to unify the internal front before they speak to anyone outside Muslim circles.
On another level, they need to set an example of trust between Muslim and non-Muslim organizations so as to be accepted by the society at large.
The Prophet emerged in an environment of idol worshippers who dedicated their lives to a number of idols that could yield no benefit or effect any harm.
We can find similar "idols" here in the West. These include the media that twists truths in order to create a story, and a fashion industry that arouses the desires of the flesh by overexposing the human body. Another idol is the spirit of consumerism that is created by the advertisements bombarding us daily.
In facing such challenges, Muslims have to set up a strategic plan and make their first goal very clear. Doing everything at the same time will get Muslims nowhere. They need to move steadily and address each idol on its own.
Prophet Muhammad placed the need to eradicate idolatry from people's hearts as the first action-item in his plan. For a task like this to be achieved, he had to be very logical and convincing in his methodology. That is why we can find many verses expounding God's power of creation and His signs that are scattered everywhere in the universe; all were revealed during the time of the aforementioned challenge.
This stage continued for almost more than half of the 23 years of the mission of Prophet Muhammad.
Strategy Based on Context
The call which the Prophet repeated for this period was very clear and simple: "Worship one God and realize the fact that these idols cannot harm or benefit you at all."
It is sad when Muslim men manipulate non-Muslim women in order to acquire citizenship.
That was the main strategic goal for the Prophet in Makkah when he was living in one relatively homogeneous community, and he and his Companions were � while belonging to this community - ostracized and oppressed.
When this period was over and Muslims migrated to Madinah, the whole environment was different.
In the new society, they found themselves dealing with Jews as well as idol-worshiping Arabs. Being a powerful and important component of the society, the Prophet led Muslims to achieve a new strategic plan that can be summarized as follows:
1. Establish a strong Muslim presence that cannot be uprooted by introducing Islam to the local community and opening the door for them to understand it and maybe even embrace it. Muslims should work hard on cooperating with local authorities in causes of common good, establish community fairs about Islam, help in combating crime and fighting extremism in the society, give lectures and talks, and participate in peace weeks and interfaith activities.
in the new society and show integrity as well through participation in public life and engaging with other communities. This happened when the Prophet wrote a treaty of mutual defense with the Jews and all other non-Muslim tribes that lived in Madinah. This necessitates that Muslims participate in choosing the country's decision makers by voting. They should also lobby and create coalitions with other components in the society.
3. Be an example to others by sticking to the real teachings of Islam and adopt norms of the society that do not violate Islamic teachings. In other words, practice what you preach. It is sad when Muslims, through their behavior, acquire a reputation for not being punctual, for example. Even worse is when Muslim men manipulate non-Muslim women in order to acquire citizenship.
By seeing what the Prophet accomplished in Madinah, Muslims should realize that he was working on the cohesiveness of the society and the cooperation between its components through engaging all communities in activities and projects that would be beneficial to all.
The Prophet's plan was to introduce a better example of active and conscientious citizens who would at least make people view Islam favorably. To a great extent the Prophet managed to achieve this goal and the existence of Muslims in Madinah was a valuable addition to the society.
If Muhammad was alive amongst Muslims in Europe today, I believe they would have done far better in terms of integration and engagement. However, Muslims should not cry over spilled milk because it is never too late. Muslims can still have a strategic plan and start implementing it immediately. All it needs is a deeper look into that dimension of the Prophet's character.
**Currently the Imam of North London Central Mosque (formerly known as Finsbury Park Mosque).He studied Religious Pluralism at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2005. He is also a member of the American Academy of Religion. He is the former imam of the Muslim Community of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He holds a BA in Islamic Studies (English) from Al-Azhar University. He is currently working on his MA thesis on the Sunni-Shi`ah dialogue. He holds Ijazahs in Qur'an and Hadith and Islamic texts from scholars in Egypt, Jordan and UK.