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Guidance on the EU Referendum

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.”[1]

“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.”[2]

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].”[3]

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).”[4]

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,[5] pushed by the Telegraph,[6] 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”.[7]

Politicians from as radically different backgrounds as George Galloway and Nigel Farage,[8] 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.[9]

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,[10] 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.[11]

However, a more accurate—and arguably cynical—lay people’s account is probably found in Greece’s former Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis’ account:[12]

“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 CouncilEcofin (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.”

Arguments

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’ātihā (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.[13]

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,[14] and infant mortality rates,[15] through the roof as a result of irrational and unjust neoliberal austerity policies.[16][17] 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.[18] 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,[19] 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.[20] 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.

Conclusion

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.”[20]

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.

Source: www.islam21c.com

This is an updated version of the article published in February 2016: Should Muslims care about the EU Referendum?

Notes:

[1] Al-Qur’ān, 3:104

[2] Al-Qur’ān, 3:110

[3] Redacted from Al-Qur’ān, 3:159

[4] Jāmi’ al-Tirmidhi 2166

[5] https://muslimsforbritainorg.wordpress.com/

[6] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/eureferendum/12150386/Why-British-Muslims-should-vote-to-leave-the-EU.html

[7] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/22/brexit-eu-referendum-paul-mason

[8] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/eu/12166080/George-Galloways-appearance-at-Brexit-campaign-rally-sparks-furore.html

[9] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/feb/22/david-camerons-swipe-at-boris-johnson-in-the-commons-verdict

http://www.lbc.co.uk/no-holds-barred-obrien-on-boris-and-brexit-125479

[10] http://europa.eu/about-eu/countries/index_en.htm

[11] http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zgjwtyc

[12] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/05/eu-no-longer-serves-people-europe-diem25

[13] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/10/yanis-varoufakis-launches-pan-european-leftwing-movement-diem25

[14] http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/846904

[15] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/tough-austerity-measures-in-greece-leave-nearly-a-million-people-with-no-access-to-healthcare-9142274.html

[16] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/07/greece-financial-elite-democracy-liassez-faire-neoliberalism

[17] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/14/left-reject-eu-greece-eurosceptic

[18] https://coolnessofhind.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/dual-loyalties-and-the-threat-to-britain-part-ii-examining-david-camerons-loyalties/

[19] https://www.cer.org.uk/insights/eu-israel-relations-confrontation-or-co-operation

[20] Al-Bayhaqi and partly reported in Bukhari and Muslim

[21] Mustadrak al-Hākim 2000

About Dr Salman Butt

Salman studied Biochemistry at Imperial College London followed by a PhD in Chemical Biology, carrying out research into photosynthesis. During his years at university he became involved in Islamic society da'wah and activism, and general Muslim community projects. He is the Chief Editor and a regular contributor at Islam21c, and also has a blog on the Huffington Post.

23 comments

  1. With hindsight, the EU is an issue that Muslim Scholars and leaders of prominent Muslim organisations should have researched, discussed, and debated many years ago in order to build up a body of knowledge about its workings, advantages, and disadvantages to convey to rank and file Muslims. Instead, what has happened is that whilst concern over Britain’s membership of the EU amongst indigenous non-Muslim British people has gradually transformed from being a minority interest in the 1990s into a mainstream issue in recent years, it is a subject that has largely passed Muslims by.

    Consequently, the EU is a poorly understood subject amongst all but a small handful of Muslims. In such a climate of ignorance, rank and file Muslims are vulnerable to swallowing misinformation or being swayed by personalities rather than making an intelligent evidence based decision.

    It is noteworthy that no prominent Muslim organisations have stated that they are in favour of Britain leaving the EU. The Muslim Association of Britain has published a brief article why Muslims should vote to remain in the EU. MEND are campaigning strongly for Britain to remain in the EU and have produced a short video. In my opinion, the decision for MEND to openly take a side in the referendum runs contrary to its core objective of enabling the Muslim community in Engagement and Development. The Muslim Council of Britain officially takes a neutral position but their Assistant Secretary General, Miqdaad Versi, has published an article in the Guardian urging Muslims to vote to remain in the EU.

    The rather shallow and superficial nature of the articles and the video points in a direction that officials from these organisations lack knowledge and understanding of the EU, and they overlook the rising xenophobia and hostility towards Islam originating in other EU countries.

    A recurring error – even made by writers from prominent Muslim organisations – is that the ECHR is run by the EU. The ECHR is not part of the EU but is part of the Council of Europe, a completely separate organisation from the EU. If Britain withdraws from the EU then it still remains a member of the Council of Europe (along with Russia and Azerbaijan) so the ECHR will still be available for British citizens to use.

    A handful of detailed and informative articles advising Muslims to vote to leave the EU exist but they are written by individuals from the grassroots rather than by Muslim scholars or officials of prominent Muslim organisations. They provide very reasoned and thoroughly researched explanations about what could be described as a Muslim perspective of the EU but, as they are individual efforts, they do not have the same level of penetration into the Muslim communities as many pro-EU articles from the mainstream media or larger Muslim organisations do.

    The majority of non-Muslims will decide which way to vote on the issues of sovereignty, economics, immigration, and their career. What Muslims should be most concerned about are not these issues but the direction that the EU will travel with regards to Islam and any legislation that affects Muslims over the next few decades. If it reaches a point where Britain becomes an inhospitable place for Muslims to live because of a combination of EU legislation from anti-Islamic MEPs and Commissioners in Brussels and hordes of hostile immigrants from other EU countries settling in local communities, then any economic arguments become insignificant in comparison.

  2. I also found the article very bloated, rambling, full of rhetoric and dull narrative. In succinct summary – a vote to stay or remain should be carefully thought through. Inevitably its still a binary yes or no choice, but make sure you *really* mull it over. That was pretty much the jist.

    What we really need are facts and analysis by well known experts. The article by Abdullah Thomson at least explores underlying issues and offers a real opinion – Dr. Butt sadly offered very little here. The Plain English Campaign would have a field day with this article.

  3. فَبِمَا رَحۡمَةٍ۬ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ لِنتَ لَهُمۡ‌ۖ وَلَوۡ كُنتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ ٱلۡقَلۡبِ لَٱنفَضُّواْ مِنۡ حَوۡلِكَ‌ۖ فَٱعۡفُ عَنۡہُمۡ وَٱسۡتَغۡفِرۡ لَهُمۡ وَشَاوِرۡهُمۡ فِى ٱلۡأَمۡرِ‌ۖ فَإِذَا عَزَمۡتَ فَتَوَكَّلۡ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ‌ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ ٱلۡمُتَوَكِّلِينَ

    This ayah refers to those who disobeyed orders at Uhud – Allah Ta’al saying he sws was lenient with them. So pardon them……

    Not connection to a coalition of Christians…..
    Allah forgive me I find this article extremely irritating. But hey enough time has been wasted on this.
    No offense intended. And Allah Ta’ala bless all of us in these remaining days.

  4. Can the EU be reformed from within?

    The bedrock on which the EU is built are the Treaties – including Rome, Maastricht, and Lisbon amongst others. It is impossible to reform the EU from within by tinkering around the edges. The only way to implement serious reforms would literally mean ripping up the many treaties.

    Power and authority in the EU are held by the Commission and the European Central Bank – both of which are comprised of unelected bureaucrats. These bureaucrats can only take up office if they respect the Treaties, so don’t expect any to go ahead and rip them up because they won’t. I am confident that both individual Muslims and officials from Muslim organisations (including MEND and the MAB) who advocate voting for Britain to remain in the EU know the names of senior British politicians but only a tiny minority are able to put any names to EU Commissioners and Bankers. Therefore, the argument that the majority of them put forwards for Britain to remain in the EU will result in Britain being governed by people that they cannot even name, let alone know anything about!

    In summary, trying to reform the EU from within is like trying to turn lead into gold.

  5. Couldn’t help think of Gisela Stuart’s story of EU bias when reading your article:
    “When my Pakistani newspaper man, who has spent the last 40 years of his life getting up at 5am, has a problem getting in his mother for a family wedding, but finds a Bulgarian taxi driver can claim child benefit for children who are not even here, it’s very easy to say, this is racism, but they cannot understand why the bias is to a particular place in the world which they find it difficult to have an allegiance to.”

  6. Remain keeps the option of Turkey (when it becomes an EU member) getting to open the doors for its workforce to spread around Europe. This has to be good reason to remain.

    • If Turkey becomes an EU member – and its government and institutions certainly aren’t making any attempt to meet the requirements – its workforce will probably find they don’t have much opportunity “to spread around Europe.” Hostility to migrants in general – wherever they migrate from – is increasing in the more developed parts of the EU and restrictions on movement will probably be imposed to enable the EU to survive at all.

      • Hector’s quite likely right. Anyway what kind of reason is that to stay in? Just in case at some unspecified time in the future Turkey join? And then what? Big deal. Hardly a game changing pivotal reason.

  7. I’m not convinced we should default to voting for remaining tied to the EU if we are not sure one way or another. I think a vote should be an active and positive decision if you feel confident enough to make a decision. If not then the third option is to leave it to people who have decided and abstain from voting.

  8. I will be voting to leave the EU. The arguments for Muslims are clear, The EU are a block of secular democracies that are becoming increasingly right wing and islamaphobic. Muslims in Europe envy the Muslims in UK on the freedoms we have. If we stay we have no choice to follow through with further integration and bringing in legislation against Muslims in both UK and Europe. Vote Leave…

    • Same here. That seems like the most important issue we need to consider.

    • @I remember one very prominent Shaykh who asked the question years ago regarding the EU – Who are they uniting against? Meaning Muslims.
      And Turkey is not getting in. They promise this and that because they need Turkey at the moment due to the refugee crisis in Syria
      If the Romanians were not “so called” Christians they wouldn’t be here. And Serbia are the next to join…!! 30,000.00 sisters raped in the Bosnia ethnic cleansing. I certainly don’t want one living next door to me.
      Exactly like you pointed out the whole of Europe is becoming alarmingly Anti Muslim so why would you add your vote to that. Simplistic, perhaps, but I’m with the Shaykh who asked “Who are they uniting against?”

      And as for the economic aspect, it is a leap in the dark could go either way. Workers rights, well you only have to look @ Amazon and Sports Direct to see that is a farce.
      At the end of the day we are Muslims, so why would we add our vote to a Christian coalition?

  9. Thanks, I agree we shouldn’t vote brexit until we hear some better arguments from them lot

  10. Beating around the bush. Long discussion. The point is not clear. Time wasted.

    • Er the point is don’t vote remain unless you *know* otherwise. Which I’m guessing you don’t.

      • @Rich Er the point is – we are all entitled to an opinion here! You don’t need to like it….

        • So the author is not entitled or welcome to voice their opinion but only the commenters are? A bizzare inconsistency of your comments but carry on freely…

          • AbuAhmed

            What I irritated me when I read the article was not “the author opinion” it is his use of Qur’anic Ayats. Where they come in to the discussion of the EU?
            “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].”[3]
            We cannot be randomly picking out ayat’s, did the author refer to the tafseer of that ayat? The author omitted the beginning of the ayah which is referring the gentleness of the Messenger sws.
            It comes in a context of how the Messenger would consult his Companions regarding affairs.
            Allah Ta’ala knows the authors intention.

  11. “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.”

    Do we need your opinion or guidance. Really brother?! Sometimes this spoon-feeding opinions is rather irritating. Posted mine today.

    • Unless you are suffering from some kind of split personality then yes, that’s kinda the point of visiting the site and reading. We do need to hear different opinions and guidance to make informed decisions. You sound like you are angry you accidentally learnt something. lol

      • @ Abu Ibby
        I don’t have to agree with everything on this site, there are many beneficial articles and I never lose the opportunity to read Shaykh Haitham’s articles which are always so relevant and much appreciated.
        The brother is a Biochemist, he’s not a Shaykh, he’s not an economist. For goodness sake we’ve endured weeks of this BS from Cameron and Boris. Don’t need to come for more. And no in answer to sad attempt at a joke, I learned nothing. This article is long winded and unclear like the other brother mentioned.

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