British Muslim Scouts on Hajj

Muslim scouts from all over the UK went to Mecca for the Hajj in 2006, invited by Scouts in Saudi Arabia.

The Scouts' experiences, photographs and videos of the Hajj can be viewed here

"We learnt first hand what an excellent role the Saudi Scouts play in Hajj by manning information points, guiding Pilgrims, taking lost ones back to their tents, performing first aid and looking after lost children. We had a true sense of the family of Scouting across cultures and languages. We exchanged gifts and presents with our fellow Scouts."
Amir Cheema



Moving People Changing Places

British Muslims: locations and connections

Travelling and networking are important for many British Muslims.  They are at home in Birmingham, Glasgow, Leicester or Bradford, but may make family visits to Pakistan, Turkey, Bangladesh, Germany or Malaysia.  Regular connections may be maintained via the internet, using Facebook, Skype and email, or by phone. 

Women looking at laptop

If they are fit and able and can afford it, they may choose to fulfil the Islamic commitment of undertaking the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.  Each year over two million Muslims participate, including about 25,000 from the UK,  journeying to Saudi Arabia from all corners fo the earth for the 5-day pilgrimage. British Muslims mix with those from South East Asia, South Africa, Eastern Europe, the Indian sub-continent and the United States. Once in a state of ritual purity, they travel to Mina where they remain overnight, before proceeding to Arafat to praise and contemplate Allah, then on to Muzdalifa where they gather up stones. Returning to Mina, they cast the stones at three pillars at the place where Satan is said to have tempted Abraham, and then remember his decision to sacrifice Isaac with the slaughter of a sheep or goat, before returning to the Ka'aba in Mecca.

On returning home, accounts of this once-in-a-lifetime event will be shared with family members, and recalled many times through souvenirs and photos.

Muslim diasporas

Manningham mosque in the snow
© Tim Smith

Although the numbers of Muslims in Europe are growing, they remain a small minority.  In 2010 there were some 20 million Muslims in the European Union, about 4% of the total population.  Muslims form majorities in some neighbouring countries, such as Turkey, Kosovo, Albania and Bosnia-Herzogovina.  European Muslims are mixed. They are from many different national and ethnic backgrounds, from various classes and sects, from rural as well as urban areas. They have had different experiences depending on their age, gender and sexuality. Some have lived in Europe for several generations, including many Turkish Muslims in Germany and Pakistani Muslims in the UK.  Others have arrived more recently, from North Africa and the Middle East.  The experiences of migration and re-location, and of Islamophobia, have contributed to a shared sense of Muslim identity despite these other differences.

Diaspora or not?

Is there a single Islamic diaspora, several Muslim diasporas – such as the Pakistani or Iranian Muslim diasporas – or none at all?  There is no definitive answer to this question, but it does raise interesting issues about whether all religious groups can be said to be diasporas, or only those that are closely tied to particular places or ethnic groups.

Islam had its origins in Mecca and Medina in Arabia in the early 7th century CE, and spread out from its Middle Eastern homeland to countries as far afield as South East Asia and Western Europe.  This gradual dispersal of people and ideas was linked to trade and conquest rather than exile, as in the case of the expulsion of Jews from Israel.  Mecca continues to be important in Islam, with Muslims from all over the world directing themselves towards it in prayer (salaat) and going there on pilgrimage (hajj). 

Like members of ethnic diasporas, Muslims share certain beliefs and practices, and these are lived out in diverse national, social and cultural contexts.  And Islam is certainly a global religion, with Muslims living in all the countries of the world.  Many scholars have questioned whether these features make Islam a truly diasporic religion or just a universal one.

What has led recent researchers to describe today’s Muslims as diasporic is not their shared beliefs and practices, their history of dispersion, the centrality of Mecca, or the mass migration of certain ethnic Muslim populations.  It is the consciousness that many Muslims share – particularly those living as minorities – that they are part of a global community or Umma.  This feeling is strengthened for some by the marginalisation, hostility and discrimination that they believe Muslims are now subject to, particularly in the West.  Media and wider public fears about terrorism since 9/11 have led to the stereotyping of Muslims as extremists and have contributed to this shared consciousness.

Mosque Small Heath Birmingham