The Frozen Society
Some of the Pakistanis living in the countries they have chosen to settle in have created frozen societies: They are a group of men and women who have not moved an inch intellectually and culturally from the point of time when they shifted to their countries of migration. If they shifted in the 1960s to the UK for instance, their thinking and culture has remained frozen in that period. The important contributing factor to this phenomenon is the fear that the new society will swallow them: Their culture will be brutally damaged and their progeny will be transformed into the new, unacceptable ways irrevocably and thus they will completely lose their original identity. This fear has partly to do with lack of confidence in the ideas and ways of their culture and religion of origin: If we are going to expose ourselves, we’ll jell in the new society. There is no doubt about the fact that the society of the new adopted country with its cultural dominance has the ability to suck in the smaller groups. There is thus some merit in the argument of the immigrant Pakistanis.
As a consequence of the inward-looking policy of extreme restrictiveness no change occurs in either the thinking process or the apparent ways of conducting life in these frozen societies. The intellectual progress is completely stationery. While back home things have changed, the culture in the new country they have chosen to settle in has stagnated. It changes back home because human society is dynamic. The more there is debate and discussion as a consequence of new challenges, the more it is likely that a change would occur within the ideological limits of the group. This process is facilitated by the fact that the participants in the debate for change back home are all ‘insiders’. No matter how weird an idea is, provided it is presented by someone belonging to one’s own religious or cultural group, it is considered worthy of consideration. However, since there is a deliberate policy of not interacting with any other group in the adopted country of the immigrants because they are aliens, no change is ever possible.
There is an additional factor that contributes in the freezing of immigrant societies: Some strong personalities who enjoy the status of leaders of the group make sure that the status quo is maintained. Their awe-inspiring presence guaranties that even if in their absence some change was possible, it wouldn’t happen whilst they exist. If there are any members of the group who would want more openness to the new ideas and ways, they are left with the choice of either to meekly submit to the authority of the leader and live a hypocritical life or completely part with the group and disappear into the culture of the new country.
Another factor that strengthens the process of freezing is the existence of institutions that ensure that the culture of the country of birth of the immigrants is maintained in its original form in its entirety. There are special, alternative schools run for the kids to make sure that they don’t learn the new ways of the society. At times, double standards are maintained for boys and girls: the latter are sent to schools meant exclusively for them and boys are allowed to learn ways of the new society by joining the local institutions. Quite apart from the fact that traditional Muslims have turned out to be more sensitive about women in cultural matters, women are also seen as a more important gender when it comes to the question of preserving the culture of the country of origin. If a compromise is to be struck, boys can be sacrificed, not girls.
Another important factor that contributes in the sensitivity attached to preserving the culture of origin is the example of some of the compatriots who didn’t exercise caution while mingling with the new society and were therefore lost in the new culture. Their glaring example is seen as a deterring factor for others to keep completely away from the influences of the new society. Many of these people have assimilated the new culture so completely that they appear more local than the locals in all the bad ways but hardly in any of the good ones.
Are frozen societies completely wrong? No, that’s not what I am trying to say. They do have merit in their arguments. However, in their extreme form they are a big hurdle in the way of promoting the message of God. When communication with the locals of the adopted country is completely nonexistent, there is no possibility of the message of God getting across to others. However, if efforts of getting close to the new culture are undertaken too far then all the good along with the bad ways of the culture and religion of the immigrants are in danger of being lost. It seems that the key factor the new social groups should be looking for is balancing the two competing considerations.
In order to maintain the right balance, the immigrants must create opportunities which allow meaningful dialogue and exchange of views and cultural practices in a way that the dangers of overindulgence in assimilation don’t mar the process. That way, it seems that the best of both worlds might be successfully achieved. These opportunities should be designed in a way that while on the one hand the important part of the ideas and culture of the country of origin is fully preserved on the other dialogue continues to ensure the possibility of desirable change through a dialectical process.
For Muslims that objective calls for at least three important factors to be in existence: Islamic Centers that not only welcome Muslims but non-Muslims to their programs as well to allow the opportunity of exchanging views in an atmosphere of learning and mutual respect. There is also a need for enlightened Muslim scholars who not only have a deep understanding of their religion but are also fully aware of the challenges of the modern times to guide these programs. And a group of intelligent Muslim professionals and traders are also important for the process to continue: individuals who mingle with the locals of the society ensuring that the process of continually improving and evolving continues. There is no doubt in mind that this process is important for both immigrant Muslims and the local non-Muslims.