The Muslim Diaspora in the Context of the Academic Discourse

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2016

13 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of content:


Theoretical Thoughts on Diaspora

The Muslim Diaspora

Arguments for and against the usage of the notion The Muslim Diaspora



Andreas Schulz


“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.” (Kim Knott)

“Striving for exact definitions of terms such as ‘diaspora’ and ‘transnationalism’ may seem a futile exercise. Diaspora, in particular, has become an all-purpose word. It may therefore be more meaningful to look at its uses. As the uses of these terms often overlap and are some- times even interchangeable, no clear separation is to be expected.” (Thomas Faist 2010: 15)

1. Introduction

“Muslims in the west or western Muslims?” is a question raised by the scholar Ramadan (2004: 215). Many especially western socialized scholars speak about the Muslim Diaspora in Europe and the USA (Galtung et al. 2012; Leweling 2005; Schumann 2007; Tibi 2009). In fact that the notion of diaspora has been politicized, many nationalist groups or even governments often use the concept of diaspora to pursue agendas of nation-state-building or controlling populations abroad. Because of this politicization of the notion, “scholars have argued that the term should be used with care and not regarded as an innocuous analytical concept” (Brubaker 2005, quoted in Faist 2010: 13). Looking at the EU and the debate on a European comprehensive immigration policy, the term diaspora figures prominently in officially issued EU documents and that the concept has evolved along with efforts at migration control. In EU documents, “Diasporas are portrayed as networks of migrants with various legal links to the home country. By contrast, the language of UN documents1 revolves around ‘transnational communities’ as main actors in development policy.” (Faist 2010: 19) But in the terms of the EU, Diasporas, as proverbial “seeds in the wind”, “are thought to contribute to development in the countries of origin, without being burdened by the experience of traumatic dispersal.” (ibid. 19) In general, concepts of diaspora deal with dispersal, traumatic and the resulting emergence and reproduction of collective identity (varying intensities of ties to the country of emigration and the countries of immigration) (ibid. 21). It is important to notice that the concept and the meanings of the notion ‘diaspora’ changed dramatically in the academia (and even the politics) in the last decades. If the academia would argue, that the three main categories of the concept of diaspora are (1) the dispersion in space (2) the orientation to a homeland2 and (3) boundary maintenance - it could be possible to converge to the phenomenon of diaspora (Brubaker 2005: 5) and to draw near the discussion if there is the Muslim diaspora in the western world3 and the following discussion question:

(i) Is there an relation between the different diasporic Muslim groups in the countries of destination and is the common ground of the relation the religion in networks (no matter if it is a diverse multi-confessional religion like the Islam) (there are several networks, but mostly based on ethnicity or are more political (e.g. the Turkish organizations in Germany)?

(ii) Is the Muslim diaspora a construction by the academia in western states?

(iii) There is the opportunity to becoming a Muslim (as a former Christ or atheist etc.) by conversion - are these people in a diaspora?

(iv) Is the generalization of a Muslim Diaspora more than invalid and in concrete for any analysis because of the matters of confessions, generations, geography, political contents, historical context, and identities?

First conceptual thoughts are illustrated in figure 1.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1. First conceptual thoughts on the Muslim Diaspora (own illustration)

In the following I will discuss some general conceptual thoughts on the notion of diaspora, which could be useful for the discussion of the claim of an existing Muslim Diaspora. After the introduction I like to illustrate with social-science based literature on Germany and the USA thoughts on The Muslim Diaspora. Referring to this chapter I like to present arguments for and against the usage of the notion The Muslim Diaspora in social sciences. A reflection will sum up the ideas of the essay.

2. Theoretical Thoughts on Diaspora

The usage of the concept diaspora increased in the last decades. As one result of this development, the meaning of the notion have been extended in different directions - on a semantic, conceptual and disciplinary sphere (Brubaker 2005). One result of this development is that there is impossibly one distinct definition and more a tendency of a greater variance of the meaning of diaspora4 (ibid. 2). The classical understanding of diaspora was mainly defined by two prerequisites: the forceful dispersal of people from its homeland and its enduring affiliation with this homeland either by collective memories, emotions, imaginations or material exchange. Until the late 1960s, the concept was almost exclusively applied to the historical cases of the Jews, Greeks, and Armenians. Since then, new forms of diaspora came into existence with new waves of migration, new technologies of communication and the abandonment of strict assimilation policies by many nation-states (Faist 2010: 12; Brubaker 2005).

Conceptual Diasporas irritate conventional concepts such as nation, state and, most importantly, of course, the nation-state by sustaining ties that crisscross the boundaries of these entities. As Clifford summarizes, “diaspora discourse articulates […] forms of community consciousness and solidarity that maintain identifications outside the national time/space in order to live inside, with a difference”5 (Schumann 2007: 13). In other words, not all imagined communities induced by global communication are national communities in the sense that they demand sovereignty (ibid.). In addition to Clifford, it is necessary in times of globalization to rethink the concept of diaspora more as basis for discussions, rather than as a normative model, especially because of the hybrid forms of diasporic communities6 (Brubaker 2005: 2).

Difficulties could be: (1) the theoretical methodology is inductive. Generalized types and classifications are derived by looking at empirical phenomena in a synchronic and diachronic perspective. (2) This construction of types and classifications is useful for direct comparison, but - at the same time - it tends to reify its objects, thus losing sight of the flexible and changing forms of identities and interactions. (3) Since the bonds to the homeland are seen as the defining prerequisites of Diasporas, the complexity of the interaction between the diaspora communities and their host societies is reduced to the concerns of the homeland.


1 “When referring to transnational communities, UN documents speak of individuals (as an unconnected bunch), not of collectives.” (Faist 2010: 19)

2 This includes several criteria, like the collective memory on the homeland and the mythic charge, the belief that these referred home is the better place to life and the collective obligation preservation of these homeland (see Safran) (Brubaker 2005: 6).

3 The authors uses the problematic dichotomist notion of the western world according to the problematization by the conceptual thinking of scholars who uses the notion of the Muslim diaspora when Muslims in general life outside of States, which a majority of the Population is ‘Muslim’ whatever that means.

4 Tölöyan sees the cause in the theory-driven revolution in the humanities (ibid. 4).

5 Clifford asserts that present-day diasporic discourses by diasporas are to be understood “as a search for non- western models opposing the nation-state concept” and Appadurai analyses the diasporic phenomenon in the context of “what he sees as a present-day neo-imperialist relationship between ‘the West and the Rest’”. (Ben- Rafael 2013: 846)

6 Newer notions of diaspora emphasize cultural hybridity in the wake of dissemi-nation (see Bhabha) (Faist 2010: 13).

Excerpt out of 13 pages


The Muslim Diaspora in the Context of the Academic Discourse
University of Vienna  (Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie)
Home, Habitat and Diaspora
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Islam, Diaspora, USA, Deutschland, Identität, Akademische Diskussion
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Andreas Schulz (Author), 2016, The Muslim Diaspora in the Context of the Academic Discourse, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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