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A Swedish immigration crisis is a Western crisis as well

A.S. Ibrahim | Lack of Muslim assimilation leads to a clash of worldviews


Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson Associated Press/Photo by Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency

A Swedish immigration crisis is a Western crisis as well

In the past two decades, Sweden has gained a reputation as a haven for asylum-seekers and refugees, especially from Muslim-majority countries. However, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson recently admitted that her country has a crisis, as the integration of immigrants has failed. And there is undeniable evidence that this failure has fueled gang-related crimes. Andersson’s admission is not considered politically correct, especially since she is known as a liberal socialist politician.

Sweden is the most populous country in Northern Europe and it’s the Nordic country on the receiving end of the most refugees per capita in recent years. One report notes that Sweden had a record high of nearly 163,000 asylum applicants in 2015, primarily from Muslim-majority countries, including Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. These asylum-seekers added around 1.5 percent to the overall population. While Sweden likely preferred for these immigrants to assimilate into Swedish culture and integrate into the flourishing society alongside the Swedes, the reality was a huge disappointment.

According to Andersson, the failure of the integration of immigrants led “to parallel societies and gang violence.” Her remarks came in response to violent riots by Muslim immigrants after a Swedish-Danish politician publicly burned the Quran.

This crisis between European culture and Islam certainly reflects a clash of worldviews, and Sweden is no exception, but several Western countries face similar issues. While the integration failure of immigrants in the West has various dimensions, including social, political, and economic, this crisis indicates that Western societies—locked in their secular mindset—often fail to recognize the conflict between secularism and the Islamic worldview.

One of the important reasons Western countries seek and welcome immigrants is to secure a labor force in the face of their constantly aging societies. Research shows that birth rates are falling across Europe, and the native population is getting older and older. While industrialized countries can offer immigrants—especially those from war zones—security, jobs, and a reasonably better future, they arrive with social and cultural baggage. And in the case of Muslim immigrants, there is an additional factor: They come with a distinct Islamic worldview that often despises specific Western elements and clashes with secular agendas.

This crisis indicates that Western societies—locked in their secular mindset—often fail to recognize the conflict between secularism and the Islamic worldview.

While Muslims arguably love the freedom they can obtain and enjoy in the West, most are devoted to their Islamic religious tradition. Unlike many secular Westerners, these Muslims do not seek freedom from religion. On the contrary, they treasure Islam and want to apply its theological commands and preserve its cultural aspects. In secular Sweden, one can supposedly question any claim and argue against any ideology—this includes Islam and its sacred text. However, this is a red line for Muslims who venerate Muhammad and revere the Quran. For Muslims, the sacred is valued and revered, and the clash with Western ideals is inevitable.

But the conflict between the secular and the Islamic worldviews is not only religious. It also has a social dimension.

Most Muslims do not want to assimilate into Western societies because they view them as inferior to Islamic cultures. Some Muslims even erroneously blame Christianity for immorality in the West because, for them, the West is Christian. For these Muslims, Islam—with its conservative cultural elements—is superior, and non-Muslims cannot question or criticize it.

This social aspect of the clash is evidenced in the way Muslim immigrants in Norway were required to take classes on women’s rights after various harassment incidents were reported involving immigrants. Women are viewed differently in Muslim lands than in Western societies, and a conflict of worldviews is inevitable.

But why don’t Muslim asylum applicants seek immigration to Muslim countries instead of the Western ones they deem as wicked? The answer is simple: Most Muslim-majority countries—except a few wealthy nations—lack resources and have their own economic challenges. Consequently, they do not welcome Muslim refugees, nor do they offer a path to citizenship. Recent research indicates that more than 250 million Muslims openly say they want to emigrate from their Muslim lands to the United States, the U.K, or France.

Without a doubt, I know of many immigrants who successfully integrated very well into Western societies. However, the case of Sweden is revealing.

In welcoming refugees and immigrants, the secular West does not want to consider religion an important factor in life. However, this is naïve and fanciful, as evidenced in the many immigrants who cherish their religious worldview and cultural identity. By and large, Muslims intend to retain their commitment to Islam and Islamic law. They refuse to assimilate or integrate into societies they deem religiously lost.


A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim is a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary in the United States, and at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon. He authored several books, including Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 2021), Basics of Arabic (Zondervan 2021), A Concise Guide to the Quran (Baker Academic, 2020), and The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion (Peter Lang, 2018). He co-edited Muslim Conversions to Christ: A Critique of Insider Movements in Islamic Contexts (Peter Lang, 2018).

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