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What Is A Western-Muslim Identity?

14 December, 2016
Q Can someone have a Western and Muslim identity?


 Asalamu Alaikum, 

Thank you for contacting About Islam with your question.

Dr. Abdal Hakim Murad discusses cultural identity, being an authentic Muslim, and having a Western identity in the video below:


Aisha Khaja: What does it mean to be authentically Muslim but deeply rooted in Western culture? People often assume that Islam is something foreign, and that, to be Muslim, you have to adopt Middle Eastern or South Asian culture.

Sometimes we hear calls for Muslims to fully integrate into Western culture to prove that they truly belong. Do Muslims in the West need to establish their own identity and distinguish themselves from their fellow Muslims in the East? What should Western Islam look like today?

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We hear from a man whose work explores this very issue. Dr. Abdal Hakim Murad, born Timothy Winter, is dean of the Cambridge Muslim College and a lecturer in Islamic Studies at Cambridge University’s Faculty of Divinity.

He sat down with us during his visit to Toronto for the Reviving the Islamic Spirit Knowledge retreat to tell us about the aims of the Cambridge Muslim College and to talk about what indigenous British Muslimness might look like. Let’s take a look:

 Dr. Abdal Hakim Murad: Well, we find ourselves, in the British Muslim context, confronted with a certain disconnect between, on the one hand, the very substantive demography of our community–according to the most recent census, the proportional Muslims in Britain went up by sixty percent just in the last 10 years.

It’s a large community with over 2,000 mosques nationally and counting, representing really a microcosm of the entire Muslim world– and on the other hand, a host community that historically, as an island nation, has been quite insular.

Britain is not like, say, Canada; historically a country that is constituted itself as a melting pot of a large number of migrants who come seeking economic betterment.

It has been more static than that, and, as such, the responsibility of creating a proper mutually fertile relationship between what is indigenous, in particular, and that which is specific to the worldview of these migrant communities has become one of most important cultural and political challenges facing national conversation at the moment.

So, the function of the Cambridge Muslim College is to create a space that is academically rigorous, because we draw on the resources of the University of Cambridge and other important institutions, that is a place where Muslims of the traditional formation graduates of traditional Islamic universities and seminaries in different parts of the United Kingdom can experience the modern reality at firsthand.

So, physicists to explain to them about the Big Bang, about string theory, about new ideas of causation; about the problems of artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and the challenges that science proposes not just to the religious mind, but to humanity in general.

They will learn about other religions from the practitioners of those religions. They will learn about modern thought. Because, all too often, we find that we have religious leaders who may live their whole lives in the Western context, but they don’t really know what the West is.

They don’t know what its religious history. They don’t know what has made it what it is, what its strengths might be, what its weaknesses might be. They don’t really understand the economic situation, the governmental, legal situation. And this makes them rather bad cultural mediators, and therefore, rather bad religious leaders.

So, we think that the time has come, now that the first generation has created the basic infrastructure of mosques in England, to perform the more challenging task of seeing what voices are being heard from the pulpits of the mosques.

To make sure that a discourse is emerging that’s both fully faithful to the specifics of the classical Muslim tradition and also make sense in the context of how people are thinking and the reality of modern Britain, or the modern Britains, because, of course, it’s an increasingly diverse and multicultural society.

So, essentially, what we do is Imam training. They come to Cambridge having graduated from their Islamic colleges, and [we] give them one intensive year of learning about what the modern world is all about. But we also have research program.

And we’re developing, also, a program for a B.A. in Islamic Studies so people who don’t have basic background in Islamic Studies, but may have trained as medics, or engineers, or have done degrees in English literature can come and can be qualified as Muslim scholars.

Because, with the implosion of so many Middle Eastern countries, now it’s increasingly difficult for young British Muslims to go abroad in order to study Islam. And I think that the success of Muslim communities in Western countries really is predicated on the development of indigenous, local forms of authentic training to a high standard in the Islamic sciences.

Because the future of the traditional Islamic cities in their institutions is something that regrettably is now very much in doubt. 

To find out the rest of the reflections of the speaker on this topic, please click here.

Hope this help answer your question. Please keep in touch. 

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Muslim World vs. The West

Youth, Culture and Islam in the West

Muslim Youth & Challenges in the West… How to Change Current Paradigm

Muslims in the West: Between Stereotyping and Social Acceptance