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Success tip: Integration advice for individual French (and British) Muslims

Strategies that individual Muslims living in France, and the UK, can use to improve their lives.


Posted 22 January 2017

Each of us has no alternative but to live in the world as it is, while doing what we can to make the world as we would like it to be.

I came to the UK from Pakistan in 1952. The real world is complex, and the Britain I grew up in was both:

  1. a society with significant levels of racism and discrimination.
  2. a society that gave me opportunities far beyond any I would have had in Pakistan. It was the British state that paid for my grammar school education and sent me to Cambridge University. It was white British partners who chose to admit me into the Price Waterhouse partnership.

When you grow up as someone who is part of a religious and ethnic minority, you have to decide for yourself what aspects of your identity are non-negotiable, and what are adaptable. For example:

I am aware that French Muslims face greater discrimination and a less accepting environment than do British Muslims. I first wrote about this in my piece "In praise of ethnic monitoring" in the section "A lesson from France."

However, facing a hostile environment does not excuse giving up, and individual French Muslims remain responsible for making their lives better. I wrote a short piece on Conservative Home, which I submitted with the title "Integration advice for French (and British) Muslims." However the editor used his prerogative to change it to a much snappier and more eye catching title, as reproduced below.

The advice is of course also applicable to British Muslims, although we live in a country which does much more to promote integration and combat discrimination.

Mohammed Amin: Integration advice for French Muslims – sing La Marseillaise, simplify your name and learn chess

Mohammed Amin MBE is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum and Co-Chair of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester. He is writing in a personal capacity.

Governments obviously should promote integration, as should bodies representing French Muslims. However, without absolving governments or organisations, it is individuals who have the primary responsibility for making their own lives better.

This piece is a follow up to my August piece, Integrating Muslims. The UK does better than the US (just). And both do better than France. It is of course applicable, mutatis mutandis, to British Muslims as well.

Know your objectives

Unless you decide upon what you want from life, it is impossible to achieve it. I believe that your objectives should include:

What is a Frenchman?

At least since 1789 if not earlier, France has had a clear vision of what it means to be French. It is not ethnic, although of course some people (of all backgrounds) are racist. The key components are:

I would also offer the following specific pieces of advice:

Become educated

Education in technical subjects such as engineering is worthwhile for career purposes, but by itself is inadequate. You need to be as familiar with French history and with the great French intellectual and literary tradition as the white Frenchman you stand alongside.

Otherwise your claim to equality with him is not well founded. Frankly, to overcome prejudice, you need to be better educated than the white Frenchman.

Choose careers where skill is indisputable

In a country where there is significant discrimination, it helps to choose a career where there are objective measures of skill. You are far more likely to succeed as an accountant or a doctor than in general management or journalism.

Excel in individual games

In team sports, you depend upon choices made by other team members or the team manager. Overcoming discrimination is much easier in games like tennis or chess where success depends entirely upon your own efforts. Chess is particularly worthwhile, if you enjoy it, since consistently defeating white Frenchmen demonstrates your intellectual capabilities.

Embrace the national symbols

Legal citizenship is vital, even if that requires renouncing citizenship of a country of origin. Wear the Tricolore with pride, just as I wear the Union Jack. Sing La Marseillaise with enthusiasm, and celebrate Bastille Day as an important part of your adopted history.

Join mainstream organisations

Some memberships – such as becoming active in your professional body – will advance your career. Your joining one of the main political parties will automatically advance French integration. Similarly, join civil society organisations which campaign for equal rights for all citizens, and multi-faith organisations which bring people of different faiths together.

French Muslims should learn from how French Jews have successfully overcome past discrimination. Indeed, French Muslims and French Jews are natural allies about all matters concerning France (such as circumcision, halal and kosher slaughter) and should put to one side fruitless disputes about Israel and Palestine.

Dress like you belong in France

There is no conflict between dressing like your fellow citizens and retaining modesty. In no way can the dress of the President of France or the dress of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom be described as immodest.

Even though I am a Muslim of Pakistani birth, when I see a man walking the streets of the UK dressed as if he belonged in a Pakistani village, my inner reaction is one of dismay: “Here is a man telling everyone that he wishes he was not in the UK and who does not think of himself as British.” If that is my reaction, consider what people who are ethnically white British and non-Muslim must be thinking!

As a Frenchman, you should dress as your fellow citizens dress. This does not preclude following religious obligations. If you believe Muslim men should have a beard, wear a neat beard like other bearded Frenchmen. If you believe that you should wear a hijab, you can wear hijab alongside other clothing that would be worn by white Frenchwomen in senior business or political positions.

Simplify your name

Simple names are now the norm in French and British culture.

I meet too many people who, when asked for their name, give you a long string of names incapable of being remembered. The UK’s foreign minister has the full name of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson but, apart from legal purposes, is universally known as Boris Johnson. Similarly, Nicolas Paul Stéphane Sarközy de Nagy-Bocsa long ago decided to become Nicolas Sarkozy. Learn from them!

In a perfect world, without discrimination, none of the above advice would be needed. Many of us seek to bring that about. However meanwhile every person has to make their own way in the real world as it is, while trying to make it better. Hence the advice.

Readers' comments

Publication of the piece on Conservative Home resulted in over 100 "below the line" comments. These will at some stage be deleted as part of the site's housekeeping.

While most people commenting on Conservative Home use anonymous profiles, from the comments it is clear that virtually all of the people commenting were not Muslims, and many were actively hostile to Islam, or even to religion in general. I usually find that when I write about issues concerning Islam. A few did engage with the article's messages.

The advice about names generated the most heat. Despite the examples above, most commenters gave the impression that the type of shortening I had in mind was along the lines of the comment copied below:

formercon (Someone who has posted 2290 Intense Debate comments but no profile data)

So why don't you call yourself Mo Amin, like Mohammed Farah, who seems to have ticked most of your boxes but the racist, largely white British public, won't vote him BBC Sports personality of the year despite his immense achievements.

I shared the Conservative Home piece using Facebook. That led to a number of Facebook comments, primarily from Muslims, in many cases people I know, since Facebook does not allow anonymity. They can be read below the item on my Facebook timeline.

As with Conservative Home, most of the comments related to my advice about name shortening, and again most appear not to have read the examples of shortening given. Instead they assumed the same type of shortening as formercon above.


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