It is difficult to fathom as to why Akbar Ahmed really wrote this hefty book. Maybe he wanted to build bridges with Europe in an age when divisions between Europeans and others appear to be widening, or maybe he just wanted to dig deeper into the psychological behaviour that has ruled mankind.
In Journey Into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity, Ahmed has tried to understand European society by presenting three categories as its markers — the primordial identity, the predator identity and the pluralistic identity. The first is when only one's own unique traditions and values are held with a great degree of esteem; second, when these values are imposed on others through violent, chauvinistic means and aggressive militaristic campaigns; and the third is of accommodation, yielding to a more inclusive approach.
The first two are very tribal in the sense that they are ruled by blood and race, while the third emphasises learning art and literature, and promotes the idea of coexistence among Jews, Christians and Muslims. He uses the recently coined Spanish term convivencia (co-existence), to describe this.
Ahmed in Journey into Europe reminds Europeans of their tradition of tolerance and pluralism; which they apparently owe to the Muslim conquest of Spain and their subsequent rule that lasted many hundreds of years. The book also emphasises upon the need to uphold these traditions in contemporary times rather than receding into more tribal and racial shells as determinants of identities.
According to Ahmed, there is a real possibility of Europe throwing off its cover of tolerance and coexistence — which to a large degree is the fruit of its democratic process. The greater peril is to seek cover behind the purer definitions of identity and primordial defence mechanism than to live up to its image of an inclusive society. Ahmed fears that Europe is choosing the latter because it involves less intellectual and emotional rigour.
But Ahmed is worried about Europeans when he should probably be more worried about Pakistanis and the other nationalities that exist in substantial numbers in Europe. These locals are going through a difficult phase at the moment as their loyalties are being challenged and questioned against the primordial and racial paradigm.
In the end, Ahmed lays down the guidelines of how to be a tolerant and acceptable citizen of New Europe, and what Europeans should do to dispel the image of them being threatened by an alien culture. This is important, not only in order to curb the greater social tensions in Europe but also to alleviate the confusion in the minds of those Muslims who are unsure about their identity.
Steps that Ahmed suggests in order for Europeans to accomplish this state are: accept knowledge and think for yourself, understand the discussion on identity, focus on the youth, support Muslim women, understand the interconnectedness of society, recognise the importance of interfaith dialogue, create pride in the community and recognise that Muslims view the European union favourably.
The book consists of a large number of interviews and references to various documents and valuable manuscripts that inform the European primal experience. It just goes to prove that Ahmed has spent a lot of time and energy in observing the problem before digging down to the very root of it in an effort to resolve it. Obviously, the resolution lies in the middle grey area that has to be approached by both the sides with the willingness to arrive at some solution. Though many of the comparative references; like between Weber and Ibn-e-Khuldun are too far-fetched.
Among the Muslims, the phenomenon of a willful settlement in non-Muslim areas or those areas that were ruled by non-Muslims is like a departure from history. The relationship to the land is not given sufficient weight. Muslim minorities in the Middle Ages were the consequence of wars and conquests and defeats resulting in a sudden change of the rulers. This did not allow or let the subjects or the people to make a decision. The resources were not enough or the means not sufficient enough to make a clean break with the past.
In India, during the rule of various Muslim dynasties, many Muslims from other areas came and settled here despite the community being in minority but as soon as the rule would end, the general cry was to migrate from the land ruled by non-Muslims to the one where the ruler was a Muslim. The idea of nationalism as conceived and consolidated in the West had started to strike roots here as well.
This situation which Muslims face now is thus a new one with no precedence and it can only require a solution by keeping the present conditions and realities in view. The medieval mindset and those still bound by the concepts of religious duties find it difficult to comprehend the nature of the crisis. Actually, they see some kind of a scathing paradox between the religious duty of converting others to their faith and living peacefully as a minority.
With better means of transport and communication perhaps the Muslim migration may be treated like the movement of seasonal labour. They work and then move back to their homes and families and eschew permanent settlement in lands offering economic opportunities but not a wholesome ethos.
Journey Into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity
Author: Akbar Ahmed
Publisher: Oxford Publications