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Migration

By:
Jørgen S. Nielsen
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Migration

Migration is a central theme in Islam and Muslim history in religious terms, in the expansion of Islam and the internal processes of the Muslim world, and in the place of Islam in the contemporary world. It acquires its religious associations from the role of Prophet Muḥammad's migration, hijrah, from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE and the establishment there of the early Muslim community.

Migration has been an important dimension of the history of the Muslim world. This has taken the form both of collective “mass” migrations (Völkerwanderungen) and the migration of individuals on a significant scale. The early expansion of Islam was carried by the migration of Arab tribes from the Arabian peninsula into the surrounding territories as far as Central Asia in the seventh century. Across North Africa it was adopted by Berber tribes who carried Islam into Spain in the eighth century. The Arab origin of this phase of migration and conquest was regularly recalled in later eras when local conflicts were described in terms of inherited Arab tribal rivalries, typically between Qays and Kalb, in Muslim Spain and in Lebanon as late as the nineteenth century. The movement of Turkish peoples out of Central Asia, starting in the ninth century, took place initially by recruitment into the ʿAbbāsid armies, followed by what became a major migration southwards into the Indian subcontinent and westwards ultimately into Anatolia and southeastern Europe. This process left its mark in the expansion of rule by Turkish dynasties across much of the Muslim world, as early as the coming to power of Ibn Ṭūlūn in Egypt in 868 CE and culminating with the Ottoman empire until its downfall at the end of the first world war. Tribal migration acquired a conceptual significance from the attention given by Ibn Khaldūn (d. 1382 CE) to the migration of the Bānū Hilāl, originally from the Arabian peninsula, from Egypt across North Africa under the Fāṭimids in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

Of equal significance to mass migrations was that of individuals. The most notable form of individual migration is recorded in the travel accounts that developed into a particular form of literature, the riḥlah, the most famous of which were those of Ibn Jubayr (d. 1217 CE) and Ibn Bāṭṭūṭah (d. 1368–1369 or 1377 CE). The religious symbolism of participation in the annual pilgrimage (ḥajj) in Mecca is often a central element of this literature, and the ḥajj was the route of significant numbers of immigrants to Mecca and the Hejaz region over the centuries. Two social groups that were major participants in migration were traders and scholars, ʿulamāʿ, often carrying with them the piety and organization of the Ṣūfī traditions. Traders and Ṣūfīs were the main route through which Islam spread into the Malay peninsula and the Indonesian and Philippine archipelagoes, during the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. Scholarship was also an important route for social and geographical mobility. Renowned ʿulamāʿ attracted students from all over the Muslim world, and the graduates of the great centers of learning could find work everywhere—this was how a traveler like Ibn Bāṭṭūṭah worked his way from Spain to the east and back. It has thus been shown that in the thirteenth century only about one-third of the ʿulamāʿ of Damascus were natives of the city, and in the fifteenth century Aleppo was one of the important sources of recruitment for the ʿulamāʿ class of Cairo. More difficult to document directly is the migration of craftsmen seeking work, a movement that was marked at times when rulers instigated major prestigious building projects. But such movement can be traced indirectly in the geographical transfer of design and technology and in the traces of family names in later periods.

The expansion of European colonial powers from the sixteenth century established new routes for Muslim migration, both within the traditional Muslim territories but also, more significantly, from them into non-Muslim lands. Traders and social elites started visiting the imperial centers at an early stage, but large scale migration only commenced toward the end of the nineteenth century, particularly in France (from Algeria), Britain (from Yemen and Somalia via Aden), and the United States and parts of South America (from the east Mediterranean). Economic migration took off after 1945, involving Arabs from North Africa to France and neighboring countries and South Asians to Britain. Through a series of formal labor treaties, Turkish migration to Germany as well as other countries was established during the 1960s. The majority of these immigrants had their origins in the countryside and provincial towns. They were, in fact, a small dimension of the much larger domestic migration from the countryside to major cities throughout this period. In 1962 Britain introduced strict immigration controls, as did the rest of western Europe in 1973–1974, a result of which was a new process of family reunion by which Muslim communities with their various cultural and religious institutions were established. Subsequently the main source of Muslim immigration to Europe has been refugees from all the major trouble spots in the Muslim world. A similar migration process has taken place to Australia after that country's “whites-only” policy was abandoned in the early 1970s. Muslim migration to the United States since 1945 has been distinguished by the high proportion of professionals with high levels of education, compared to the mainly rural and low-educated immigrants into Europe.

The presence of major permanently settled Muslim communities as minorities outside the Muslim majority regions is driving a range of significant Muslim debates at the center of which are, in essence, disagreements over whether they should consider themselves temporary exiles, diasporic or native. Since most of the migration has been voluntary in search of improved living conditions, the traditional distinction of dār al-islām and dār al-ḥarb has become awkward, as theoretically it would require Muslims’ stay to be only temporary and as soon as possible end with a return to Muslim territory. Building on traditional thinking, the category of dār al-ṣulḥ, dār al-amān, or dār al-ʿahd (territory of treaty or safe conduct), often attributed to al-Shāfiʿī (d. 820 CE), has been revived in some quarters to cover the new situation. Others have suggested a new category of dār al-daʿwah or dār al-shahādah (territory of witness). From such backgrounds come also initiatives to develop a new trend in fiqh—some call it a new madhhab—namely fiqh al-aqallīyāt, a fiqh for minorities. On the other hand, smaller marginal groups adhere to a view that their land of settlement is dār al-ḥarb and that the correct Islamic response, if emigration is not realistic, should be to campaign for the Islamization of the majority and its political and social structures, as is the view of Ḥizb ut-Taḥrir, or to seek as complete as possible an isolation from the surrounding society and internal autonomy, as is the practice of many Salafī groups. Many Muslim thinkers, however, have suggested that working in such categories is no longer relevant; they prefer a focus on concepts of citizenship (muwāṭin) to be applicable throughout the world.

See also DAR AL-HARB; DAR AL-ISLAM; DIASPORA AND EXILE; HIJRAH; LAW, subentry onMINORITY JURISPRUDENCE; MINORITIES, subentry onMUSLIM MINORITIES IN NON-MUSLIM SOCIETIES; and MUHAJIRUN.

Bibliography

  • Bosworth, C. E.The New Islamic Dynasties: A Chronological and Genealogical Manual. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.
  • Lapidus, Ira M.A History of Islamic Societies. 2d ed.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Maréchal, Brigitte, Stefano Allievi, Felice Dassetto, and Jørgen Nielsen, eds.Muslims in the Enlarged Europe: Religion and Society. Leiden: Brill, 2003.
  • Netton, Ian R., ed.Golden Roads: Migration, Pilgrimage and Travel in Mediaeval and Modern Islam. Richmond: Curzon, 1993.
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