By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS
Muslims living in the West face unprecedented problems these days, whether it is the continued targeting of Muslims in the drawn out ‘War on Terror’, basic discrimination made by some non-Muslims during their daily lives, or the exponential increase in the cost of living. Muslims in the West also struggle with fulfilling the rights of Islam, like praying at work or wearing Islamic clothes like the headscarf. So, it’s not surprising that Muslims are scrimping and saving as much money as they can so that they can make hijrah, or move to an Islamic country. They do so sometimes intending this as of the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s), believing also that living in a Muslim country will benefit their families and their iman.
However, this is not always the case, as many families have found out after getting on the plane and moving to the Middle East.
It is unfortunate, but all the same trials and temptations they left behind in the West exist in their newfound homelands, sometimes to a greater degree. Most countries in the Middle East mirror Western living which has saturated Islamic countries courtesy of the Internet, satellite TV, and has been imported by citizens returning home after years abroad. Other societal ills like human trafficking, prostitution, homosexuality and illicit drug use are also just as common in the Middle East as they are in the West. However, Middle Eastern governments do a much better job of hiding their ‘dirty laundry’ than their Western counterparts do.
As an American convert to Islam, I came to Kuwait almost 12 years ago. I did not make hijrah as I was still a Christian when I first came. However, I did come with the illusion that life in Kuwait would be better than it was in my own native America, which to me was full of addictions to vices and promiscuity. Initially my move to Kuwait was very refreshing. Instead of there being a bar on every corner, like there was in my hometown, there was a toy store. And families could always be seen out and about enjoying each other’s company, which was a stark contrast to what I was used to in the US, where families rarely spend time together due to hectic over-scheduling.
But over the years, things have changed drastically in Kuwait, and you have to go no further than the local newspaper to see the change. Last month alone, the police raided three brothels. Most of the female sex workers were housemaids who had come to Kuwait with the promise of a paying job only to find that their new employers withheld their pay for months on end and sometimes never paid at all. They had little choice but to sell themselves to the highest bidder or else return home where life is even more miserable, if not impossible. Illicit drugs and alcohol are also a massive problem in Kuwait. They are illegal but there is a black market for just about anything. The same holds true for other Muslim nations in the Gulf. The fallout of these social problems are the same as in the U.S. Drug crimes are becoming ever more present, and sexually transmitted diseases, like AIDS, are being detected more often. Officials with the United Nations estimate that there are currently a half million people living with AIDS in the Gulf region.
For me personally, the problems I have faced living in Kuwait have to do mostly with discrimination. I have faced it with non-Muslims living here but also with Muslims. The reason being is that I wear the face veil. The majority of women in Kuwait used to wear it but increasingly more and more women are opting to remove it in favor of wearing the latest Western fashions, like blue jeans and halter-tops, to hit the malls. In Kuwait, women have the same rights that men do. However, in the workplace, Western trends are the rule. For example, I recently heard a story about a Muslim man who had applied to work for the local airline. The manager he met with was more than happy to hire him but there was only one stipulation, he would have to shave his beard. The reason being was that it was not ‘favorable’ to have an ‘Islamic’ beard when dealing with the international clientele that comes with air travel.
So, to me, making the hijrah is ironic because in most cases the life you are leaving behind follows you straight around the World. It is a huge misconception that simply living in an Islamic nation can perfect your Islam. Islam is perfect but humans are not. There are, however, benefits to making hijrah, like being able to hear the adhan five times a day, living in close proximity to a mosque, and being able to send your children to an Islamic school, amongst other perks. But no matter where you hang your hat at the end of the day, whether in a Muslim or a non-Muslim country, the state of your iman is dependant upon your willingness to fulfill all the rights of Islam, and not so much on the environment in which you find yourself.