It has been almost four months since I first shared some thoughts about the EU referendum and its potential impact on Muslims. I had hoped that since then rational arguments for and against the Brexit would have been put forward for the public to consider and make an informed decision. However, unfortunately a lot of what we have seen is—like in other matters both sacred and profane—people arguing passionately for their own viewpoint or interests and studiously ignoring the difficult questions of their interlocutors.
I have long wondered whether Muslims have a horse in the EU race, so to speak, and have asked many Muslims for their view over the years, with varying responses. Like any non-trivial decision in life it involves a consideration of conflicting masālih (benefits) and mafāsid (harms), for which Islām has given us the greatest system of ethics to use in navigating through.
Will a Brexit have any impact on Muslims?
Since Muslims are part and parcel of the landscape of the UK we can safely say that changes to the country’s relationship with the EU will be of at least some significance. However the questions are: In what ways and to what extent? It might also be useful to note that due to the fact that it is being allowed to go ahead, both sides of the argument therefore, almost by definition, enjoy support from within the narrow spectrum of elite interests. In other words, we should be realistic and not expect that the ability to overturn entrenched, oppressive—thus un-Islamic—power structures be left for the meagre public to decide in such a binary manner. But that does not mean we cannot increase ma’rūf or decrease munkar, as is clearly expected of us.
“And let there be [arising] from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful.”
“You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allāh. If only the People of the Scripture had believed, it would have been better for them. Among them are believers, but most of them are defiantly disobedient.”
Some methodological considerations
An unfortunate feature of today’s politics (and arguably modernity in general) is that nuance and subtlety is almost deliberately removed and people are forced to make binary decisions. We have all been having conversations as a community over the last few weeks and months, and have heard in living rooms, mosques and workplaces various arguments surrounding the EU. Various masālih and mafāsid have been mulled over in the process of shūra (consultation, mutual advice) mandated and blessed by Allāh. If this has taught us anything it is that neither the Brexit nor the Bremain camps are without their issues—nothing is ever 100% good or 100% bad.
We should recognise that Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) has legislated some things explicitly. And for any other given situation in any time and place He has revealed the best methodology for chartering the best possible course. Invariably, those processes involving the effort of human beings are prone to human weakness, desires, personal interest and error in general and, as such, Allāh has legislated means to mitigate such risks for important decisions. Allāh instructs the best of creation, the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), concerning those under his authority:
“So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allāh. Indeed, Allāh loves those who rely [upon Him].”
Shūrā is not only legislated as a pragmatic, material way of coming to a more informed decision, but it brings with it the metaphysical barakah (increase of good; blessing) from Allāh.
“Allāh’s Hand is with the jamāʿah (collective).”
It is crucial to recognise that individual human beings’ perspectives are limited and coloured by a host of other factors, from personal political persuasions to our own interests. This is why I hear alarm bells and advise caution and scepticism when people give plain yes or no answers; black and white arguments to either ‘stay’ or ‘leave’ the EU. An example is the “Muslims for Britain” campaign group, pushed by the Telegraph, with an apparent Conservative party leaning which presents the usual ambiguous arguments about sovereignty and a neoliberal, free market dogma.
“A leap in the dark”
The absence of cogent yet fair and nuanced arguments is probably one of the biggest problems of this entire discussion. Not enough information is available for the public to make a truly informed decision—much like all discussions in UK politics—almost as if by design. Paul Mason spells this out quite convincingly, calling it a “flimsy illusion of choice”.
Politicians from as radically different backgrounds as George Galloway and Nigel Farage, have found themselves on the same side of the debate yet none have been able to demonstrate any power to shape what happens next. Meanwhile other careerists have apparently just wandered into the discussion for the attention.
If we are to understand the various arguments from a nuanced perspective it is useful to understand what the EU is—not just from the “official” perspective.
What is the EU for?
Looking into the history and purpose of the EU is quite an informative exercise in rudimentary propaganda systems from long before the internet, when things were much more straightforward. Those who campaigned for it used simple slogans like cooperation, free trade, and other such pleasant-sounding slogans. Pro-establishment sources describe it simply as an economic and political partnership involving 28 European countries, who—as the official story goes—after World War Two came together to foster cooperation and trade together so they would hopefully stop going to war with one another. Since then it has grown to become a single market of sorts, allowing goods and trade to move around “freely”. The BBC has a useful resource to get—at least the establishment view of—the history and functions of the EU.
However, a more accurate—and arguably cynical—lay people’s account is probably found in Greece’s former Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis’ account:
“It began life as a cartel of heavy industry (coal and steel, then car manufacturers, later co-opting farmers, hi-tech industries and others). Like all cartels, the idea was to manipulate prices and to redistribute the resulting profits through a purpose-built, Brussels-based bureaucracy.
“This European cartel and the bureaucrats who administered it feared the demos and despised the idea of government by the people, just like the administrators of oil producers Opec, or indeed any corporation, does. Patiently and methodically, a process of depoliticising decision-making was put in place, the result a relentless drive towards taking the “demos” out of “democracy”, at least as far as the EU was concerned, and cloaking all policy-making in a pervasive pseudo-technocratic fatalism. National politicians were rewarded handsomely for their acquiescence to turning the commission, the Council, Ecofin (EU finance ministers), the Eurogroup (eurozone finance ministers) and the European Central Bank into politics-free, democracy-free, zones. Anyone opposing the process was labelled “un-European” and treated as a jarring dissonance.”
As can be expected, these varying perspectives (and agendas) give rise to different arguments being put forward both for and against a Brexit. Over the coming days we hope to present some of these arguments in more detail, but it may be useful to briefly overview some of them here.
It is interesting to note that those who criticise the EU are not necessarily the same ones campaigning for leaving it; wishing to stay in it does not mean you like it. This is because of the maxim of fiqh: al-umūr bi ma’ālātihā (matters are judged considering their consequences). This is exemplified in the new and impressive pan-European movement, DiEM25, that Yanis Varoufakis, Natalie Bennette, Julian Assange and others have started to campaign for the long process of reforming the EU from within.
If anyone were to have the right to complain of about the EU machine it would be Varoufakis, whose country was brought to near destruction by this system created initially by the financial elite, sending the suicide, and infant mortality rates, through the roof as a result of irrational and unjust neoliberal austerity policies. The reason he is not campaigning for a Greek exit is because matters are judged considering their consequences. What is the alternative? We should be able to distinguish the difference between an argument against the EU or Europeans, and an argument for leaving the EU—the two are not the same. In fact, many of the criticisms of the EU and the racism or Islamophobia of Europeans dressed as ‘Brexit arguments’ could just as easily be used to argue the opposite—for Britain to remain, mitigate and challenge European racism and Islamophobia, instead of leaving it to grow because it’s “not my problem”.
Those arguing for an exit also complain about the restrictions on sovereignty and democracy that the EU is known to bring with it. However, as Muslims have experienced first-hand, and wider society is beginning to realise, if the UK were to leave the EU its people would not be free to determine their own affairs because we are currently sandwiched between the EU and the US planners in Washington. For years our own sovereignty and the loyalties of many policy makers, including the Prime Minister, have been slowly engulfed by US neoconservatism. If we break free from Europe it is anticipated to cause us to drift off further into the Atlantic; hardly surprising that one of the most extreme neoconservative ideologues, Michael Gove, is at the forefront of the Brexit campaign. The philosophical arguments about sovereignty tend to run cold when one thinks of the terrifying prospect of handing the likes of Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, George Osborne and Theresa May more powers! It would also leave us potentially more vulnerable to other lobbies such as for Israeli interests, which the EU—for all its faults—has shown at least some backbone against, for whatever reasons.
An important feature to bear in mind is that since the Brexit campaigners are the ones proposing a change to the status quo, the burden of proof is greater for them to prove their case to the public. As the famous principle based upon the sunnah states, “Al-bayyina ‘ala al-Muda’ī”– the clarification is upon the one who claims something. If we were having a referendum to join the EU, then the burden of proof would be upon those suggesting to join to prove their case with a higher degree of certainty. In other words, importantly, a vote to remain in the EU is not the same as a vote to join; and a vote to leave is not the same as a vote not to join in the first place. One of the dangers of such a scenario, in particular where the issue of the burden of proof is not considered or understood, is that we could find ourselves in a position where most of the people who are passionate and bothered enough about this referendum are those who are angry or scared want to leave the EU, despite the strength of the arguments either side, whilst those unconvinced not voting at all instead of voting to keep things the way they are.
If we have clarified anything it is that this debate must not be of slogans and punch-lines but one of careful deliberation and mutual consultation. In my humble opinion as of yet the Brexit campaign have not brought concrete enough arguments specifically for UK leaving the EU, rather than general arguments about how bad Europe or Europeans are. But I am open to being convinced. Over the coming days we will be publishing and discussing some more arguments for and against the Brexit, inshā’Allāh, in a hope to distil some guidance for the vote coming next Thursday.
Such conversations should remind human beings of our weaknesses and neediness for, if such a binary Stay/Leave decision is so complex, then what of the entire journey of our lives? The wise among us long ago realised how utterly in need of Allāh we are to fix our affairs and guide us to the most enlightened decisions, as the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) taught us to say:
يَا حَيُّ يَا قَـيُّومُ بِرَحْمَتِكَ أَسْتَغِيثُ أَصْلِحْ لِي شَأْنِي كُلَّهُ ، وَلَا تَكِلْنِي إِلَى نَفْسِي طَرْفَةَ عَيْنٍ
“O Ever Living, O Self-Subsisting and Supporter of all, by Your mercy I seek assistance, rectify for me all of my affairs and do not leave me to myself, even for the blink of an eye.”
What is your view?
Do you believe we do or do not know enough for an informed decision?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
This is an updated version of the article published in February 2016: Should Muslims care about the EU Referendum?
 Al-Qur’ān, 3:104
 Al-Qur’ān, 3:110
 Redacted from Al-Qur’ān, 3:159
 Jāmi’ al-Tirmidhi 2166