Responding To Abuse Of Hijrah Concept For Mobilizing Muslims To Syria And Iraq – Analysis


The idea of hijrah or migration has a special place in the history of Muslims. It denotes the flight of Prophet Muhammad and the early Muslims to Medina to take refuge from persecution in the then pagan Mecca. Today, the idea of hijrah has however been given its own interpretation by Muslim extremist groups. They use it to argue in favour of the isolation of minority Muslims from the larger non-Muslim community. It is also used to encourage Muslims living in a non-Islamic environment to migrate and live with the “jihadists” who supposedly live the life of the pious pioneers of Islam so as to establish a better Muslim ummah or community.[2]

A glimpse of this idea was provided in the White Paper report on the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) members in Singapore which reported that one of the JI leaders had sent a letter to Mullah Omar, the former head of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, asking whether Muslims (members of JI) should migrate to Afghanistan.[3]

Some Muslim extremist groups criticize Muslims who settle down in non-Muslim countries and call them to migrate instead to a Muslim country. There are also extremists who label these Muslims as disbelievers just because they live in a non-Muslim country.[4]

With regard to the current problem posed by ISIS, it is very clear that hijrah is one of many Islamic concepts which has been abused and given importance by ISIS in order to mobilize Muslims all over the world into joining jihad in Syria and Iraq and supporting the newly established “caliphate”. Just a month after proclaiming the “caliphate”, ISIS published its third edition of its online magazine, Dabiq, with hijrah as its main theme.

ISIS in the magazine seeks to link the unwillingness of Muslims to make hijrah to them with hypocrisy. After citing a hadith, “Whoever dies without taking part in a battle and without intending to take part in a battle has died with a trait of hypocrisy” (Narrated Muslim), the magazine asserts:

“Therefore, abandoning jihad is a trait of hypocrisy. So be wary of it or else it may seize you by your heart……. So abandoning hijrah – the path to jihad – is a dangerous matter. In effect, one is thereby deserting jihad and willingly accepting his tragic condition of being a hypocritical spectator. He lives in the West amongst the kuffar for years, spends hours on the Internet, reads news and posts on forums, only to be encompassed by the verse, {They think the parties have not [yet] withdrawn. And if the parties should come [again], they would wish they were in the desert among the Bedouins, inquiring [from afar] about your news. And if they should be among you, they would not fight except for a little} [Al-Ahzab: 20].”[5]

Muslims who do not or are reluctant to make hijrah to them are framed to have lived a life of modern slavery – enslaved by their employment and other worldly matters held in the hands of non-Muslim masters:

“The modern day slavery of employment, work hours, wages, etc., is one that leaves the Muslim in a constant feeling of subjugation to a kafir master. He does not live the might and honor that every Muslim should live and experience.”[6]

According to ISIS, jihad which is regarded as a personal obligation (fardhu `ain) of all Muslims today due to the occupation of Muslim lands by non-Muslims can only be fulfilled via hijrah, “There is not life without jihad and there is no jihad without hijrah…. This life of jihad is not possible until you pack and move to the Khilafah [caliphate].”[7] In other words, a neglect of hijrah is a neglect of jihad and unwillingness to make hijrah is a sign of weak commitment to jihad.

ISIS also views hijrah as obligatory to all Muslims because supporting the newly founded “caliphate” is a religious obligation. There is no other important interest of Islam to be fulfilled by Muslims now except to extend their effort for the “caliphate”. There is no distinction between a student and a professional:

“Therefore, every Muslim professional who delayed his jihad in the past under the pretense of studying Shari’ah, medicine, or engineering, etc., claiming he would contribute to Islam later with his expertise, should now make his number one priority to repent and answer the call to hijrah, especially after the establishment of the Khilafah. This Khilafah is more in need than ever before for experts, professionals, and specialists, who can help contribute in strengthening its structure and tending to the needs of their Muslim brothers. Otherwise, his claims will become a greater proof against him on Judgment Day.

As for the Muslim students who use this same pretense now to continue abandoning the obligation of the era, then they should know that their hijrah from darul-kufr to darul-Islam and jihad are more obligatory and urgent then spending an unknown number of years studying while exposed to doubts and desires that will destroy their religion and thus end for themselves any possible future of jihad.”[8]

Living under un-Islamic conditions

Muslim extremist groups build their view of hijrah on a premise that living in a non-Muslim country is wrong because Muslims will have to live under un-Islamic conditions. They also claim that Muslims who willingly accept the rule of non-Muslims, and live under any rule other than theshariah (Islamic law), in all circumstances, are committing acts that will nullify their faith. For the extremists loyalty and sovereignty can only be given to and by God and Islam is the only way of life for Muslims.

They base their argument, among others, on the following verses:

“When angels take the souls of those who die in sin against their souls, they say: “In what (plight) were ye?” They reply: “Weak and oppressed were we in the earth.” They say: “Was not the earth of Allah spacious enough for you to move yourselves away (from evil)?” Such men will find their abode in Hell, What an evil refuge! Except those who are (really) weak and oppressed – men, women, and children – who have no means in their power, nor (a guide-post) to their way.” (The Quran, 4:97-8)

Such interpretation of the verse could be supported by few hadiths such as:

“I am not responsible for any Muslim who resides among unbelievers.” (Narrated by Al-Turmuzi)

“Anyone who are with the unbelievers and live among them, then he is like them.” (Narrated by Abu Dawud and Al-Turmuzi)[9]

For ISIS, living among non-Muslims will inevitably have serious effect on Muslims’ religiosity:

“Living amongst the sinful kills the heart, never mind living amongst the kuffar [infidels]! Their kufr [infidelity] initially leaves dashes and traces upon the heart that over time become engravings and carvings that are nearly impossible to remove. They can destroy the person’s fitrah [natural state] to a point of no return, so that his heart’s doubts and desires entrap him fully…. Even if one were to spend all his hours at a masjid in prayer, dhikr, and study of the religion, while living amongst Muslims who reside amid kuffar and abandon jihad, then such a person would only be establishing the strongest proof against himself and his sin…. Thus, the sinful company affects you whether you desire so or not.”[10]

The flight of Muslims from non-Muslim countries to Syria and Iraq in thousands partly testifies to the potent of ISIS mobilization appeal tapping on Islamic concepts already familiar and available among Muslims, although it must be admitted that causes of radicalization remains too complex to be attributed to religious ideas only.

However, the above-mentioned idea of hijrah, if accepted, has other serious implication to Muslims who are not making hijrah to Syria and Iraq. The consequence of this thinking is the idea that one cannot be a proper Muslim unless one lives among Muslims only. Such thinking encourages ghettoism and an exclusivist attitude in social life. This may not be a security problem, but it is surely a theological problem and could become a social problem that must be addressed.

Theological Response

It is argued that the verses (4, 97-9) cannot be used as absolute proof that Muslims cannot live in a non-Muslim country. On the contrary, it could also be interpreted otherwise, that is to allow a Muslim to do so. The verse, “Except the weak ones among men, women and children who can not devise (a) plan, nor are they able to direct their way.” (4:98), has been interpreted by Muslim scholars to mean a Muslim is only required to migrate from a non-Muslim country if he is unable to practice his religion freely and is being oppressed.[11]

Consequently, it also means that Muslims are allowed to live in a non-Muslim country or under a non-Muslim government, as long as they have the freedom to practice their religion and can experience basic human rights. There is no reason or compulsion for Muslims who live in such a situation to migrate.

This interpretation is supported by the fact that the Prophet himself permitted his uncle, Abbas to remain in Mecca, which at that time was not under Muslim rule. That proved that the injunction to migrate was not binding over every Muslim.

Secondly, the migration of the Prophet’s companions to Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and their return six years after the Prophet’s migration to Medina, also suggests that migration is only necessary for those who are weak and fear religious persecution. Therefore, living in a non-Muslim country is allowed if a Muslim’s right of worship is protected.

Thirdly, not all Muslims during the time of the Prophet migrated to Medina. One such case was Abu Nu’aim. He became a Muslim and wanted to migrate to Medina. As he was the financial provider for a group of orphans and widows for his tribe, his people asked him to stay with the promise to protect him from any abuse. He postponed his migration plan and when he eventually migrated to Medina, the Prophet said to him: “My people have ousted me and wanted to kill me. Whilst your people protected you.”

Fourthly, the Prophet said (in one narration by Imam Muslim), that those living in a non-Muslim country who later became Muslims could still remain living there and did not need to migrate.

From the evidences, it can be concluded that there cannot be a general ruling for or against Muslims living in a non-Muslim countries. The ruling depends on the status of the individual and the context. Clearly then, any position prohibiting Muslims from living and settling in non-Muslim countries is not the consensus of Muslim scholars. The scholars are of the opinion that a ruling on migration depends on the situation and can be summarized as such: a) it is obligatory for a Muslim to migrate if he or she cannot practise his religion and fears that he cannot maintain his faith (4:97-9); b) Muslims who can practice Islam and can afford to migrate are only encouraged to do so. This is based on the actions of the Prophet’s uncle, Abbas and his companion, Abu Nu’aim; c) Muslims who cannot afford to or face difficulty in migrating are not required to do so and can remain living in that country (4:97); and d) it is obligatory for a Muslim to remain in a non-Muslim country if his presence and expertise is required by the Muslims there.[12]

Shaykh Jad Al-Haq, former Grand Mufti of Egypt (1978 – 1982, died in 1996), issued a decree (fatwa);

“If a Muslim feels that his religion is safe and he is able to practice it freely in a country with no religion or in a non-Muslim country, it is allowable for him to stay. If he fears for his religion, morals, property or self-worth, then it is obligatory for him to move to a country where he can be safe. ”[13]

Rational Response

In today’s context, migration to a Muslim country in a classical sense is no longer relevant or practical as no particular country today can be truly classified as a Dar Al-Islam (land of Islam) in the classical sense.

Furthermore, the world has been globalized. Any attempt to isolate Muslims from other communities in order to preserve their faith and commitment to the religion is a futile effort.

Also, there is no one country, be it a non-Muslim or Muslim country, that is perfectly suitable to meet the original objective of migration, which is to allow a Muslim to practice Islam as a religion comprehensively. Practically anywhere a Muslim chooses to live, he still has to make the appropriate adjustments and accommodations to his society.

The early Muslims traveled and settled widely, from their origins in the Arab world to continents such as China and the Malay Archipelago. In each case they settled and lived with the non-Muslims, which eventually caused the spread of Islam.

Muslim minorities living in non-Muslim democratic countries must realize that whatever the imperfections, remaining in these countries is critical. By doing so, they provide abundant opportunities to share their Muslim way of life and dispelling any misconceptions about Islam.

In that respect, instead of isolating themselves, Muslims must strive to actively engage with their host society by being a constructive member of the country. An active participation in the nation’s progress and development is the strongest argument against the negative image of Islam. This can be achieved in part by living in accordance with the principles of democracy and the law of the state. This will assist Muslims in building a foundation for peaceful coexistence with others.[14]


[1] This article is an improvement of the original version in Muhammad Haniff Hassan, “Responding to the Idea of Hijrah (Migration)”, Strategic Currents: Emerging Trends in Southeast Asia, edited by Yang Razali Kassim, RSIS, Singapore, 2009, pp. 176-9.

[2] Pergas, Moderation in Islam in the Context of Muslim Community in Singapore, Singapore: Pergas, 2004, pp. 226-7; Muhammad Sulaiman Tubuliyak, Al-Ahkam Al-Siyasiyah Li Al-Aqalliyat Al-Muslimah Fi Al-Fiqh Al-Islami, Amman: Dar Al-Nafais, 1997, pp. 61-6.

[3] The White Paper: The Jemaah Islamiyah Arrest and the Threat of Terrorism, Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore, 2003, pp. 34-5.

[4] `Abd Al-Rahman bin Mu`alla Al-Luwaihiq, Al-Ghuluw Fi Al-Din Fi Hayat Al-Muslimin Al-Mu`asirah, Bayrut: Muassasat Al-Risalah, 1992, pp. 308-9.

[5] Dabiq, no. 3, pp. 26-7

[6] Ibid, p. 29.

[7] Ibid, p. 31.

[8] Ibid, p. 26.

[9] Inspire (Al-Qaeda online magazine), no. 13, pp. 32-3; `Abd Al-Rahman bin Mu`alla Al-Luwaihiq, Al-Ghuluw Fi Al-Din Fi Hayat Al-Muslimin Al-Mu`asirah, pp. 306-9.

[10] Ibid, p. 32.

[11] Muhammad Sulaiman Tubuliyak, Al-Ahkam Al-Siyasiyah Li Al-Aqalliyat Al-Muslimah Fi Al-Fiqh Al-Islami, Amman: Dar Al-Nafais, 1997, pp. 66-72.

[12] Pergas, Moderation in Islam in the Context of Muslim Community in Singapore, pp. 224-33

[13] Cited by Muhammad Sulaiman Tubuliyak, Al-Ahkam Al-Siyasiyah Li Al-Aqalliyat Al-Muslimah Fi Al-Fiqh Al-Islami, p. 54. See Majallat Al-Azhar, vol 6, 63rd year, Jumada Al-Akhirah 1411H, December-January 1991, p. 618.

[14] Pergas, Moderation in Islam in the Context of Muslim Community in Singapore, pp. 233-6.

Muhammad Haniff Hassan

Muhammad Haniff Hassan is a Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) and holds a Ph.D. in Strategic Studies from RSIS (formerly known as the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies), Nanyang Technological University (NTU). He received his early education at Aljunied Islamic School. He then pursued higher education at the Faculty of Islamic Studies, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, and graduated with honours in Syar’iah and Civil Law.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *