Chapter 3: Seeing a Western nation through Muslim eyes: Citizenship and the Sharia in modern nation-states
The significant increase in the number of Muslims, either born in Western countries or migrating to these countries, has raised questions about Muslims and citizenship in the Western world. Nearly one-third of the total population of Muslims in the world are living in non-Muslims states.1 Citizenship in non-Muslim countries, which involves respecting and applying secular legal systems and participating in social and public life, are some of the issues that Muslims may face in Europe, North America and Australia. Modern national and international legal concepts, such as the state, citizenship and certain individual rights, are different from the traditional Islamic concepts, such as ummah (the Muslim nation), kofr (unbelief versus belief in Islam) and dhimmah (the status of non-Muslims living in an Islamic state). Under traditional Islamic law the term ummah was used to describe the community of Muslims, which extended beyond geographical political borders and therefore was not compatible with today’s dominant doctrine in international relations, which places great emphasis on states limited by geographical borders. Nevertheless, in both traditional Islam and in modern Muslim countries, the notions of states and citizens (or nationals) have, in general, been well accepted, and this will be demonstrated in this chapter. However, tensions between the traditional doctrines of Islam and the modern concept of nation-state do exist. These potentially inconsistent understandings may not pose a significant problem for Muslim states in how they conduct their relations with the rest of the world.
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