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The Arabs and the Muslims

Between Diaspora and Transnationalism

In: Diaspora Studies
Author:
Mohammed Alrmizan King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (KFCRIS) Saudi Arabia Riyadh
City, University of London UK London

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Abstract

Both Arab and Muslim migrants have noticeable populations in all parts of the world. This article qualitatively investigates the Arabs, the Muslims, and mainly diaspora and transnationalism theories from historical and social understandings, based on primary and secondary sources. It engages conceptually in defining Arabs and Muslims through the lenses of diaspora and transnationalism theories, discusses theoretical issues and explores the status of the Arab and the Muslim diaspora(s) and transnational communities through primary data and the findings of the Global Muslim Diaspora Project, which surveyed 7,147 participants between 2018 and 2019. The report shows that the Arab experience abroad might be best described as diaspora, whereas Muslim migrants would be best referred to as transnational communities. Diaspora and transnationalism theories, among others, and particularly migration theories, must not be used interchangeably; each term should be used carefully to avoid confusion, especially when Arabs and Muslims are being studied.

Abstract

Both Arab and Muslim migrants have noticeable populations in all parts of the world. This article qualitatively investigates the Arabs, the Muslims, and mainly diaspora and transnationalism theories from historical and social understandings, based on primary and secondary sources. It engages conceptually in defining Arabs and Muslims through the lenses of diaspora and transnationalism theories, discusses theoretical issues and explores the status of the Arab and the Muslim diaspora(s) and transnational communities through primary data and the findings of the Global Muslim Diaspora Project, which surveyed 7,147 participants between 2018 and 2019. The report shows that the Arab experience abroad might be best described as diaspora, whereas Muslim migrants would be best referred to as transnational communities. Diaspora and transnationalism theories, among others, and particularly migration theories, must not be used interchangeably; each term should be used carefully to avoid confusion, especially when Arabs and Muslims are being studied.

1 Introduction

For several decades, various different disciplines in the social sciences and humanities, including history, political science and religious studies, have regarded Arabs as a people who speak Arabic, Islam as an Arab religion, and Muslims as believers of Islam (Najjar, 2005). However, environmental, cultural, political and security developments have clearly had an impact on how the identity and existence of Arabs and Muslims are studied and perceived in several areas, including diaspora, transnational, migration, religious, political and media studies (Alsultany, 2012, 2013; Rinnawi, 2012). Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, the number of Arab and Muslim migrants has been increasing; at the same time, there has been an upturn in the number of wars and conflicts, and in economic hardship and political instability, in many parts of the global South, including the Middle East and North Africa. On a global scale, other ethnicities and religious groups have witnessed some increase in diaspora and transnational communities, such that the number of migrants is higher than ever before. However, the Arab and Muslim diaspora and transnational communities represent unique cases due to their internal complications, overlapping identities, social, cultural and linguistic diversity, and reach in different regions and countries, particularly in the global North (Ennaji, 2016). Because of this difference, Arabs and Muslims remain interesting for research and academic study, from a socioeconomic, political, theoretical and methodological perspective, in both the global North and South.

Diaspora and transnational studies and theories have attracted academic investigation and research that has led to the establishment of academic journals and consultant and policy-focused institutions, which seek to understand the complicated sociological, political and economic phenomena at play (Anthias, 1998; Yan et al., 2018; Nagy, 2011; Gamlen, Cummings and Vaaler, 2019). Arabs even more than Muslims have been the subject of study for their active role, geographic dispersal, centrality and religiously bonded diasporas and transnational communities in the global North (Ennaji, 2016; Raihanah, Hashim and Yusof 2013; Silvestri, 2016; Cainkar, 2013; Mehta 2014). Along with the continued development of diaspora and other relevant theories in this regard, the media remains a proactive and significant tool in all the processes of the phenomenon, either in representing Arabs and Muslims or in reporting about their developing experiences (El Lahlali, 2011; Chouliaraki, 2008; Mădroane, Ciocea and Cârlan, 2020; Alrmizan, 2022). The theories and definitions of terms such as ‘diaspora’ and ‘transnationalism’ are debated and contested, and become even more confusing when the complications, differences and similarities of Arab and Muslim experiences are considered (Alrmizan, 2022; Mazein, 2007). Thus, this article’s main aim is to explore this subject from a theoretical perspective while referring to Arabs and Muslims as two separate case studies based on primary and secondary data.

The article is organised into three sections. In the first, it discusses, conceptually, what constitutes Arabs and Muslims from a historical and social point of view, while referring to their similarities, differences and diversity. Exploring mainly diaspora and transnationalism theories, the second section provides theoretical definitions and arguments for the similarities and differences while considering other theories that concern migration, exile and refugees. The third section gives a contemporary view of the current politics of the Arabs and Muslims. It also brings the concepts of ‘Arab’ and ‘Muslim’ into the discussion by referring to diaspora and transnationalism theories. The article’s theoretical arguments are supported by the data and survey results of the Global Muslim Diaspora (GMD) Project, which was carried out between 2018 and 2019.

2 Who Are the Arabs and the Muslims?

There is already academic literature on the subject of what constitutes Arabs and the Muslims, on the one hand, and diaspora and transnationalism, on the other (Syed and Pio, 2014; Mehta, 2014; Moss, 2016). This research has tended to study these subjects from historical, social, political and literary perspectives. Those who have studied the history, literature and politics of the Arabs include Salhi and Netton, 2006; Mazein, 2007; Cainkar, 2013; and Moss, 2016. Those who have examined the subject of Muslims (and Islam) from the points of view of history, religion, theology, literature and identity studies include Ennaji, 2016; El Hamel, 2002; Essid, 2020; and Tottoli, 2018.

Who are the Arabs? That is a big question, and so is its answer (Mansfield, 1976). The term refers primarily to large tribes, nomads and peoples whose language is Arabic and who were inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula before the birth of Islam. After Islam became the dominant religion in the Arabian Peninsula in the mid-seventh century, Arabs spread to many parts of the north and east Arabian Peninsula and to Africa. Over the course of history, both Arabs whose religion is Islam, and non-Arab Muslims, have gone through developments, changes and expansions that have taken them into some parts of Africa, southern and eastern Europe, the Indian sub-continent, the Malay Peninsula and China (Landau, 1958). Over many centuries (from the seventh century until contemporary times), Arabs have essentially inhabited the Arabian Peninsula and northern and eastern Africa. Historically, the Arabs generally ruled the lands they inhabited until the Ottomans rose to power in the fourteenth century and ruled Arabs and Muslims, people and lands, stretching from western Asia to south-east Europe, and parts of northern and eastern Africa, until the early twentieth century (Ochsenwald, 2016). In addition to the Ottomans, the French and British influenced parts of Arab-inhabited lands, especially from the nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries, particularly in northern Africa, the Levant and parts of the Arabian Peninsula.

Among the significant events that were considered crucial to the fate of Arabs as a people and to the Arab identity were the aftermaths of the two world wars. After the First World War (1914–1918), the Arabs expressed their desire to establish an Arab state and declare independence from the Ottoman Empire (Buch and Dawn, 1974). Subsequently, with the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the birth and independence of Turkey, which was bounded to its national borders, many Arab-inhabited lands came under the influence of European powers, including French and British protectorates that covered some parts of the Arabian Peninsula, including Mecca and Medina, as well as Iraq, Egypt, the Levant and northern and eastern Africa. After the Second World War (1940–1945) and the establishment of the Arab League with six independent Arab states, several other Arab states declared independence in the decades that followed (Wichhart, 2019). There are now twenty-two independent Arab states, all of which are members of the Arab League, and the definition of who the Arabs are today is technically people who speak Arabic and are citizens of Arab countries.1

Another complex question is, who are the Muslims? In seeking an answer, the conceptualisation of Islam as a religion is significant. The word ‘Islam’ could mean ‘surrenders’. Islam is a religion promulgated by the Prophet Muhammed, which seeks to make its believers—the Muslims—accept and surrender to Allah (God), and abide by monotheism as a means to worship through the Qurʾan, Allah’s words, which were transcended and transcribed only in Arabic (Takacs and Oaks, 2017). According to Islam, Muhammed is considered the last Prophet, and he completes a line that includes Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Solomon and Jesus. Islam is complementary with the older Abrahamic religions—first Judaism and then Christianity (Silverstein and Stroumsa, 2015). Receiving the words of Allah in Mecca, the city where the Kaaba exists, Muhammed went to Medina to seek supporters before coming back to conquer Mecca in 622 CE (Khan, 1980). Muhammed is an Arab, and his earliest companions, both Arabs and non-Arabs, are Muslims because of their belief in Islam. Islam as a religion requires its believers to do its five pillars: to believe in one God (Allah); pray five times a day; give alms; fast during Ramadan; and make one pilgrimage to Mecca. These pillars constitute and define Muslims according to basic Islamic theology that is agreed upon by the consensus of most Islamic scholars.

Following the death of Muhammed in 632 CE, Islam expanded within the major Arab empires, starting from the Umayyad dynasty, Abbasid dynasty and then the Ottoman Sultanate. During its history, Islam, like all religions, has experienced some intellectual challenges, critical changes and different developments that have left impacts on it as a religion as well as on the lands and people under its influence. Numerous theological, religious and doctrinal schools of thought, systems of understanding and interpretations have appeared simultaneously and subsequently; some prevailed in the past in some parts of the world and are contested in modern times. One clear example is Islam’s denominations, which essentially include the Sunni, Shia and Sufi schools of thought, among others (Khalili, 2014). Regardless of the differences between these schools, their followers can be thought of essentially as Muslims, at least from the secular perspective.

3 Arabs and Muslims between Diaspora and Transnationalism

There is considerable scholarly work about diaspora and transnationalism, particularly from the mid-twentieth century onwards (Cohen, 2008; Knott and McLoughlin, 2010). Diaspora as a theory began to be widely used in the late decades of the twentieth century. The term refers to a group of people who share some social, historical and/or religious and political backgrounds, and who emigrated from their homeland to settle in a different land—a host land (Sheffer, 2003). Diaspora can therefore be understood as a triangle: on one side we have the people who leave their homeland; on another there is the host land in which they settle; and on the third is the diaspora community that they form there (ibid). Diaspora in research and academic work is emphasised by the emigration of a group of people unified by national or religious identity or history, and the relations and interactions within this group either in the host land or transnationally with the homeland (Brubaker, 2005).

Transnationalism is another term that has often been used in research and scholarship, and it focuses more on networking and the processes of maintaining connections. Transnationalism refers to the ‘multiple ties and interactions linking people or institutions across borders of nation states’ (Vertovec, 2009). It includes not only economic considerations but also cultural, social and political remittances (Levitt, 2001). Among those who first introduced this term are Schiller, Basch and Blanc-Szanton (1992), who referred to transnationalism as a way in which migrants create their social fields across cultural, geographic and political borders. In comparison to diaspora, transnationalism or transnational linkages ‘cut across the border of at least two national states’ or lands (Bauböck and Faist, 2010).

Some similarities exist between diaspora and transnationalism (ibid). First, both terms are used somewhat elastically with regard to cross-border ties between the homeland, host land and people or institutions. Second, both focus on issues related to migration, communities abroad and their impacts. However, there are some significant distinctions between the two theories. One is that transnationalism is broader than diaspora. Whereas diaspora focuses more on the religious, ethnic, national and political causes of a group of people, transnationalism includes all kinds of social formation, processes and interactions in both the homeland and abroad. There is also a difference in the time dimension, which for diaspora usually refers to multi-generational patterns, whereas transnationalism deals with recent diasporic or ongoing immigrational phenomena.

‘Diaspora’ and ‘transnationalism’ have become popular terms of study in research and academia in recent decades, yet scholars agree that their usage is not only contested but that they are sometimes used interchangeably, despite the fact that many similarities and differences exist in how both theories have been used in research communities (Bauböck and Faist, 2010). The diaspora scholar Jonathan Grossman, for example, has differentiated between diaspora and transnationalism thus: ‘All diaspora communities are transnationally embedded in at least two locations, but not all transnational populations constitute a diaspora’ (Grossman, 2019: 7; Bourbeau, 2001). Both diaspora and transnationalism require certain conditions (Grossman 2019). These include a sense (or senses) of community, such that a group of people can easily identify with one another through shared values and activities. Examples of this are the Syrian diaspora in Turkey, the Jewish diaspora in the US and Europe, and the African diaspora in the UK, among many others (Blunt, 2007). Another condition is dispersal and emigration, including the causes of being dispersed in the homeland and the process of immigrating to a host land (McMillan and Chavis, 1986). A further, important condition is to be outside the homeland (Bauböck and Faist, 2010). There is also the critical condition of developing some orientation towards the homeland, such as maintaining some symbolic connections and ties with their original territory (Cohen, 2009). And then there is a shared group identity—national, religious, ethnic or historical (Brubaker, 2005; Van Hear and Cohen, 2017; Sheffer, 2003).

There are other terms in use in diaspora and transnationalism studies, particularly ‘migration’, which is now used even more widely than either ‘diaspora’ or ‘transnationalism’. In its simplest and abstract meaning, migration refers to the movement of people across state or national borders (Paul and Yeoh, 2021). The use of the term has been contested by earlier theories, including those of diaspora and transnationalism (Yan et al., 2018). Even though these (and other) theories overlap to a certain extent, it is important to distinguish migration from other terms and acknowledge its overuse. ‘Migration’ is understood here as the process of physical movement of individuals or groups of people, either voluntary or involuntary and regardless of distance, from one place to another with the intention to stay for an unknown period. Although the theory of migration has been in use longer than the other terms discussed here, other terms are better used to explain certain situations, such as the term ‘exile’ (Kunz, 1981). This refers to the physical movement of one person or people to another place, either within a state or across borders, without the possibility of return. Another term is ‘refugee’, which refers to a person who is given special protection in a state that is not their original country (Dosen and Ostwald, 2013). From a technical point of view, each of these terms has distinct legal meanings and procedural references.

What constitutes the identity of an Arab or a Muslim? Even when considering the definitions of Arabs and Muslims given above, there are nevertheless political, institutional, global, social and cultural understandings and angles to consider that limit what constitutes an Arab or a Muslim. The field of Oriental studies (and its modern equivalents) has examined the abstract concepts of Arab, Muslim and Islam, for which there are some overlapping as well as different concepts (Said, 1985; Al-Zoʾby, 2015; Kyriakides et al., 2018). A full overview of this area of scholarship is beyond the scope of this paper, but it is crucial to at least delimit the understanding of Arab and Muslim within the political dimension.

First, the Arabs do not belong to one bordered homeland. So far there are twenty-two countries in the Arab League, the aim of which is to direct the economic, social and political development of these states. The number of Arabs in these states amounts to 450 million (Statista, 2021). A delimitation of the term ‘Muslim’ is more complex because it is a religion, which accepts all people regardless of ethnicity, language, nationality or citizenship. A political understanding of ‘Muslim’, however, would point to the member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which was established in 1969. It is the second-largest multinational organisation (after the United Nations), and includes fifty-seven member states.2 The populations of the member states of the OIC total 1.8 billion people (Samier, 2019). This, therefore, gives the total number of the citizens of majority-Muslim countries. But since Islam is a religion, anyone who believes or practises Islam is Muslim, regardless of their nationality or country of residence (Takacs, 2017). In addition, not every citizen of majority-Muslim states practises Islam. Overall, a collective conceptualisation of Arabs and Muslims is necessary for a better understanding of both identities (Berend, 2018). For example, Arabs can be Muslims and citizens of another nation, either Muslim or non-Muslim—for example, Egypt (which is a member of the OIC) or Britain (which is not a member of the OIC). In other words, people can have multiple and collective identities.

4 Muslim Transnational Communities in the Twenty-First Century

Diaspora, transnationalism and related theories provide a deeper angle from which to understand and perceive Arabs and/or Muslims based in lands other than their homelands, or who have transnational social, cultural or economic impacts (Salhi and Netton, 2006). The Arab diaspora refers to Arab nationals of the twenty-two Arab countries who live outside their homelands. As discussed earlier, the Arab diaspora has some common values in addition to the reasons for emigration, whether they be social, political or economic justifications. Nevertheless, the Arab diaspora is more complicated than other national diasporas, such as those of Turkish, Kurdish or Iranian migrants, because it includes other national diasporas, such as those of Egyptian, Moroccan and Bahraini migrants. Thus the Arab diaspora is formed by people from twenty-two Arab countries (nationalities), each with their own national history, and with linguistic, cultural, religious and denominational differences (Cainkar, 2013).

The Muslim diaspora is also complicated because it can include members of the Arab diaspora, which makes it difficult to make arguments about this subject (Essid, 2020). Furthermore, the Muslim diaspora also refers to Muslims who have left their original countries (fifty-seven states, including all of the Arab states) (Raihanah et al., 2013). Muslim diasporas are believers of Islam (or raised as such) who emigrated for some reason to stay in a foreign land. Another complication of the Muslim diaspora is that as a group of other diasporas, and similar to the Arab diaspora, it does not have one common culture, language or heritage, but has many different cultures, languages and histories (ibid; Syed and Pio 2014). However, for these diasporas Islam or Islamic identity remains an important common value regardless of the different understandings of it.

4.1 The Global Muslim Diaspora (GMD) Project

An important and recent research project has focused on the Muslim diaspora: the Global Muslim Diaspora (GMD) Project, produced by the Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training Centre for Islamic Countries (SESRIC), a department of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). GMD published its preliminary findings in 2018, and the final report came out in 2019 (OIC, 2018, 2019). The report explains its aims as follows: ‘The principal objectives of the GMD were to evaluate the societal, political, economic, and legal presence and influence of Muslim groups in non-Muslim countries through desk research, field studies and comparative analyses’ (OIC, 2018: 2). The GMD project and its findings are important in many ways. Firstly, they focus on the concept of the Muslim diaspora, which has rarely been examined in academic research and debates. Secondly, they cover a broad geographical area over all continents (except Antarctica). The project is therefore one of the first major surveys on the subject of the Muslim diaspora worldwide. The report explains in the introduction that:

The general objective of the GMD project is to establish a comprehensive and reliable empirical data source on the Muslim communities in the non-OIC member countries as well as to provide an in-depth analysis of their demographic profile, legal and socio-economic status, political visibility and representation, and future prospects.

OIC, 2018: 4

Before presenting methods, data and results, the report discusses its operational definitions of the Muslim diaspora. Accordingly, the Muslim diaspora refers to all Muslims living in non-OIC countries. In more specific terms and references, the report specifies how it perceives the technical reference to the Muslim diaspora: ‘[T]he GMD project identifies the Muslim diaspora as a “super diaspora”, a diaspora that is dispersed among and over different Jamaats, cultures, ethnicities, and nationalities’ (OIC, 2019:8).

In terms of methodology, the report collected data based on desk research and field research in ten non-OIC countries: Argentina; Australia; Canada; France; Germany; Japan; Spain; South Africa; the UK; and the USA. The report’s data was gathered via in-depth interviews, surveys and workshops in the selected countries. Surveys were done with ordinary members of the Muslim communities; in-depth interviews were conducted with Muslim and non-Muslim public opinion leaders; and workshops were organised to host and talk with representatives of civil society organisations. The research focused on major cities chosen for their size, distribution, diversity and variations. The report began with three pilot studies in the UK, France and Germany between May and September 2017, then expanded to the remaining countries between August 2018 and January 2019. The population sample was 7,147 across the ten selected countries. The following tables show some results of the report on the reasons for immigration, problems, the role of the media and the future of the Muslim communities (OIC, 2018).

Interestingly enough, the GMD report and some of its results tackled significant points related to theoretical frameworks, as well as to the Muslim global diasporic or transnational communities, reasons for immigration, problems and the role of the media. As the tables below show, the reasons for Muslim immigration to non-OIC countries have been due mainly to economic issues, first, and then to political problems they face in their homelands (Arsan, Kharan and Kater, 2013). Moreover, the result indicating the advantages of Muslims in the diaspora confirms these two reasons and adds a third value, that of religious and cultural freedom, which implies politics. Thus, this result might also confirm that other, non-Muslims, emigrate from their original homelands, especially from the global South to the global North. In other words, Muslims (and non-Muslims), due to not having stable economic, political, religious and cultural prosperity and freedom, immigrate to places where such values exist. While scholars have debated the causes and motivations of emigration, especially from the global South to the global North, many agree that political instability, racial and sectarian conflict, repression and oppression, wars (including foreign military interventions and civil wars), natural catastrophes and economic crises are among the main factors behind continued emigration (Abbott and Stivachtis, 2018). This is evident as the number of conflicts and crises has been increasing, and as a result immigration has been increasing, particularly from the global South to the global North.

On the problems faced by the Muslim diasporas in their host countries, the GMD reports shows that language disadvantages compromised the main problem, followed by financial issues, lifestyle and cultural and religious differences. This suggests that religion (Islam) was among the lesser problems faced by Muslims. However, cultural issues, including language and lifestyle, still present a problem. This is confirmed by the results on the perceived disadvantages of being a Muslim, which mainly include racism and Islamophobia, cultural differences, economic issues and social discrimination. The survey participants also indicated that they had been discriminated against in the past twelve months primarily because of their religion, followed by their language and ethnicity. Such results can also be explained by how different Muslims are in terms of language and ethnicity on the one hand, and, on the other, how other residents of the host countries receive such differences and variation, including religion. Scholars have also pointed to similar results in which other diasporas, either of other religions or ethnicities, may experience negative feelings and xenophobia in their host countries (Karim and Al-Rawi, 2018).

Table 1

Reason for immigration

Data

Result

Sample population

Countries

Advantages of living in that country for Muslims

Economic prosperity (20.6 %)

Religious and cultural freedom (19.8 %).

N= 7,147.

All ten countries.

Why immigrated/emigrated?

3.65 out of 10 say they *immigrated due to political reasons while 4.23 they **emigrated due to economic reasons.

*N= 1,869.

**N= 1,585.

Australia, Japan, South Africa, Spain, Canada, USA and Argentina.

OIC, 2019

Table 2

Problems

Data

Result

Sample population

Countries

Problems faced by immigrants

Language (26 %1),

Financial (21 %)

Lifestyle (18 %) and cultural (17.6 %).

Religious (6.3 %).

N= 703.

Australia, Japan, South Africa, Spain, Canada, USA and Argentina.

Disadvantages of being a Muslim in that country

Racism and Islamophobia (29.4 %)

Cultural, lifestyle difference (22.4 %)

Economic troubles (17.2 %),

Social discrimination (15.8 %).

N= 4,795.

UK, Germany, France, Australia, Japan, South Africa, Spain, and USA.

Feeling discriminated for these reasons in the past 12 months.

*Religion (29.2 %),

**Language (20.3 %)

***Ethnicity (15.8 %).

*N= 2,569.

**N=2,557.

***N=2,649.

Australia, Japan, South Africa, Canada, USA and Argentina.

OIC, 2019

Table 3

Role of the media

Data

Result

Sample population

Countries

Representation in the media

*Tend to disagree that Muslim community is well represented in the media (35.4 %).

** Are mostly dissatisfied with the objectivity of reporting on Muslims.

*N= 3,143.

**N= 2,648.

*UK, Germany, France, Australia, Japan, South Africa, Canada, USA and Argentina.

**Australia, Japan, South Africa, Spain, Canada, USA and Argentina.

Information sources

Internet (32.2 %)

Talking with other people (21.6 %)

Islamic media and publications (15.5 %)

TV (12.9 %)

Daily newspapers (6.9 %)

Radio (6.1 %)

Magazines (4 %).

N= 5,097.

Australia, Japan, South Africa, Canada, USA and Argentina.

OIC, 2019

Table 4

The future of the Muslim diaspora

Data

Result

Sample population

Countries

Advise other Muslims to immigrate

70.2 % say they would advise another Muslim to immigrate to that country.

N= 2,675.

Australia, Japan, South Africa, Spain, Canada, USA and Argentina.

Future of Muslims in that country

Expect the situation of Muslims to be better (54.3 %)

N= 2,678.

Australia, Japan, South Africa, Spain, Canada, USA and France.

Status of Muslims

Think it will be the same in the coming decades (33.9 %)

Think it will be worse in Europe (46.3 %)

Think it will be better in Muslim countries (39.3 %).

N= 1,319.

UK, Germany and France.

OIC, 2019

Regarding the attitude of the media on the Muslim diasporas, the results show that the participants viewed media representation as generally negative. Many participants disagreed with the statement that Muslims are represented well in the media, and were not satisfied with media reports on Muslims. Moreover, the participants gave their information sources, which were primarily the Internet, followed by talking with other people, and Islamic media. The rest stated all forms of media. These results confirm that the media in the host countries tends to be negatively perceived by Muslims, including in articles written on Muslims generally. In addition, the report shows that the Internet is the primary source of information followed by other means—most importantly, Islamic media. This result is in line with other research that notes the increased use of the Internet among the world diaspora, for information-seeking, connectivity or educational purposes (Acim, 2019; El Hamel, 2002).

The future of the Muslim diasporas remains both predictable and challenging, given that the regions where Muslim diasporas mainly emigrate from—Africa and Asia (including the Middle East)—are experiencing increased instability, conflicts, wars and insecurity. The GMD indicated that more than half of the participants would advise others to immigrate, and expect life for Muslims to be better in the future. However, when asked about the status of Muslims, less than half indicated that they thought it would remain the same. Furthermore, they stated the opinion that the status of Muslims would be worse in Europe, while fewer participants predicted an improvement in status in Muslim countries.

Overall, the report provides contemporary and insightful findings of the complex phenomenon of the Muslim diaspora as well as an example of a study of a religiously bonded diaspora. Beyond these findings, the report points out the issue of terminology as experienced by its participants. Among the significant findings from the field research, Muslims preferred not to be labelled as diaspora because, in their view, the term connotes a sense of foreignness and negativity. The report adds that Muslims in fact preferred to be called transnational rather than diasporic. This is a crucial point in the case of the Muslim diaspora and their self-perception. However, this idea of being transnational rather than diasporic must be analysed particularly when references are made to religion and especially Islam because in Islamic literature many believers believe in the Ummah. This is a concept which encompasses all Muslims worldwide regardless of location (Knott and McLoughlin, 2010).

4.2 Notes on the GMD Report

Given the increase in research and academic interest in Arabs and Muslims since the beginning of the twenty-first century, this report represents an excellent and informative profile of the Muslim diaspora in non-OIC countries or non-majority Muslim countries. Moreover, considering the many and diverse ethnicities, languages, denominations and layers of the Muslim diaspora, the report is an exemplary foundation for further research into the subject. Understanding the aim of the report is also important in assessing its potential contributions. Nevertheless, the report has some shortcomings. One is that is leaves aside some essential aspects, such as the relationship of the diasporic communities with their homelands. It also does not take into account the inter-state nature of the homelands, and how this might influence both the diaspora and the host land (O’Connor, 2019). Also, although the report includes a section on the media, which mainly refers to the media in general, it misses an essential aspect of the media for participants: the diasporic and transnational media (Alrmizan, 2022; Mădroane et al., 2020; Magued, 2018; Chouliaraki, 2008). Beyond this, the report conducted its field research in some of the main host countries of (Muslim) diasporas in the global North while ignoring other significant regions of the global North, such as the Nordic countries and Eastern Europe. Apart from South Africa, most of the global South is absent from the report. Another angle that the report did not include is the meta-diaspora, or the Muslim diaspora within the OIC countries (Cainkar, 2013).

5 Concluding Remarks

The study of Arabs and Muslims has been developing particularly since the mid- to late twentieth century. However, at the beginning of the twenty-first century and after the attacks of 9 September 2001, the subject has attracted increased scrutiny seeking to understand the phenomenon from social, political, economic and terrorism perspectives. However, with a rise in conflicts and migration (especially to the global North), especially after the Arab upheavals known as the Arab revolutions or the Arab Spring, another wave of migration again saw Arabs and Muslims leaving the global South and the Middle East and North Africa in particular. The role of the media is crucial either in negatively representing Muslims or positively encouraging (im)migration.

From the point of view of theory, academic research and scholarship still use diaspora and transnationalism alongside other theories. However, as these are commonly used interchangeably, this can complicate the conceptualisation of these theories, thus making it challenging to understand the relevant social phenomena. Diaspora consists of people and their relevant common values, while transnationalism can include both people and abstract thoughts and things that move (in)tangibly from one land to another. Diaspora is also the better term to express the experience of Arabs and Arab nations, whereas transnationalism better describes Muslim communities abroad. Other relevant terms, including migration, exile and refugee, serve as helpful theories and tools in improving the concepts for studying diaspora in other relevant sociological, media and communication, and legal disciplines. Once academic consensus reaches a developed stage, several methodological challenges can be resolved.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Dr Waleed F. Mahdi (Section Head and Assistant Professor, US-Arab Cultural Politics, Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences, University of Oklahoma) for helpful comments which were important in improving the manuscript.

1

Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

2

Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, Libya, Lebanon, Maldives, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Palestine, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Suriname, Syria, Tajikistan, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Yemen.

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