The Integration of Muslims into Western Cultures


This research paper seeks to investigate the levels in which Muslim migrants carry their cultures to a new location and the extent to which they incorporate the western cultures. The answer to this question not only has significant political ramifications but also assists people in understanding whether cultural traits are malleable with other cultures or if they are strictly fixed (Norris and Inglehart 231). The acquisition of this knowledge would also assist individuals to understand whether the Islam culture is a personal choice of principles or rather a collective behavior of society. The countries of origin discussed in this research paper are regions with Islam as the dominant culture while the destinations of Muslims are countries that are predominantly composed of Protestant and Roman Catholic believers or non-Muslims. Applying this research framework, the researcher seeks to establish that on average, some fundamental social values of Muslim migrants change and adopt foreign principles after leaving their countries of origin (Bolt et al. 179). Therefore, a majority of Muslims in Western countries do not hold onto fixed attitudes and cultures but are flexible to accommodate a segment of the host country’s culture in accordance to the assimilation theory.

The United Nations estimates approximately 191 million people across the world live outside their countries of origin by the year 2005, a rate that has since gone upwards to around 244 million in 2015 (United Nations). Most Muslims mainly move to Europe, Asia, and North America. In fact, Europe has hosted the most significant number of international migrants representing approximately 10% of the European population.

The increase in the number of settlements of Muslim migrants into Europe has led to numerous challenges regarding the management of cultural diversity, accommodation of minorities and maintenance of social cohesion. There have been multiple issues regarding the integration of Muslims into European countries such as the Islamic extremists’ murder of a Netherlands film-maker in 2004 or the 2005 publication of cartoons depicting Muhammad in Denmark; an action Muslims translated as blasphemous leading to massive collisions between them and other religions. Such collisions included violent riots which led to deaths and disunity between Muslims and other faiths. Other instances include the 9-11 bombings of 2001 in New York, which led to further divisions in the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims. A majority of the perpetrators of these crimes were second-generation Muslims who had acquired excellent academic education and jobs which led to more fears that isolated second-generation Muslims could have sympathy for extremists Islamic organizations such as the Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Al-Shabaab among others. In fact, some disaffected Muslims in European countries such as the UK, Netherlands, and France, sought a unique society devoid of any European mainstream cultures.  These scenarios thus highlight the importance of further research on whether Muslim migrants acquire other cultures, or merely move with their cultures in totality completely shunning new foreign culture.

Theories of Cultural Integration

According to the doctrines of cultural integration, immigrants slowly acquire the values, customs, norms, and cultures of their hosts who are dominant in their new location.

The Assimilation Theory. The leading theory of cultural integration is the assimilation theory which builds upon three major elements. First, different ethnic groupings may share a common culture by a natural process through which they acquire the same access to social and economic opportunities with the natives of the host country. This experience has been witnessed by Muslims who visit Western nations through shared opportunities such as school attendance. Muslims do not have their particular schools in Western countries but rather attend the same institutions with the citizens of the host countries. However, they may be a few Muslim-operated institutions, but they paltry make up a considerable percentage of the number of facilities attended by Muslim scholars. For instance, in the United States, Islam educational institutions make up less than 1% of the total population of educational institutions, therefore, ensuring that Muslims co-exist with non-Muslims in their academic life.

Additionally, this theory establishes that there occurs a gradual disappearance of the original behavioral patterns and the authentic culture of Islam in favor of the Western culture and eventually total assimilation into the Western cultures occur. Consequently, Muslim migrants into the Western regions are expected to enjoin into the mainstream culture through the inter-generational process of social, economic and cultural integration. According to Bisin and his co-authors, there exist different patterns of assimilation (Bisin et al. 1019). First, immigrants commence their process with a straightforward adaptation to the new cultures through acculturation. However, this initial step of the process may not be easy since different cultures; for instance, the Muslims may remain loyal to their original cultures and may be enabled to protect their culture through lack of contact between them and the Western societies by spatial isolation. Therefore, their total separation is hugely dependent upon the level to which the migrant Muslims accept the dominant culture. Social and political assimilation would automatically lead to other levels of absorption where Muslims would eventually lose their cultural identity. It is for this reason that Muslims try to live together to ensure that their cultures are not infiltrated; however, it is almost impossible to avoid engaging the hosts regarding business or politics, and thus it is practically impossible to shun Western practices while living in Western societies. In justification of the arguments expressed in the assimilation theory, the experience of European immigrants who arrived into the United States of America in the 1950s encouraged them to follow certain trends of social mobility leading to intermarriages which were conducted on the basis of educational achievements, English proficiency, integration into the job market and the exposure levels to the American culture. The same principles are applied across the board regardless of an immigrant’s country of origin. Therefore, Muslims in Western countries experience intermarriages with different religious groups as long as either of the spouses accepts to change their religion whereby majority of non-Muslims, in most cases, convert to Islam. This practice expressed a different type of integration showing the immense strength of Islam even in a predominantly non-Islam region. These argument shows that at times Muslims did not converge into the mainstream culture but seemingly sought to preserve their religious, ethnic and cultural identities ensuring that their cultural differences with the host country citizens were more persistent and visible compared to the assimilation theory would dictate. Differential outcomes relative to the natives’ expectations prevailed leading to huge disadvantages due to the divergent nature of this preservation of Islam culture leading to a different approach towards immigrant culture referred to as multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism Theory. Multiculturalism seeks to reject the basic integration process exemplified by the assimilation theory by establishing the view that multicultural societies are a part of a heterogeneous grouping of racial, religious and ethnic minorities and majority groups. This argument has been propagated by Modood who argued that immigrants are responsible for the culture they adopt and are, therefore, not passive subjects who lack choice in their acceptance of foreign cultures (Modood 79). In fact, Handlin argues that there are some integral elements in an immigrants’ culture which when subjected to Western influence, regardless of the level of exposure, will never change. However, if some other cultural elements are exposed to similar conditions, Muslims would adopt the Western culture. The multicultural perspective insists that all these occurrences are a matter of personal or group choices. Consequently, multiculturalism provides an alternative path of accepting that the society is made up of diverse cultures which are all important in the composition of the community notwithstanding the fact that they are minority groups (Lentin and Titley 17). Multiculturalism, therefore, presents minority groups as essential members of the Western society instead of outsiders.

Structuralism Theory. Structuralism explains that instead of focusing on assimilation or integration, there exists an important aspect of looking at the differences in social integration among different minority groups are as a result of existing gaps in the social and economic opportunities to be shared between them and the host country’s dominant cultures. For instance, inequalities and inequities in education, housing, power, jobs and wealth are significant social constraints towards the social integration of ethnic minorities and immigrants in Western countries. These factors encourage disparities between cultures concerning job acquisition and achievements, the income levels and attainment of education. Therefore, the welfare of integration is majorly dependent upon the structure under which the Western societies accommodate new immigrants. In contrast to the multiculturalism perspective and the assimilation theory, structuralism highlights the deep-rooted conflicts existing in the hierarchy of social order between the migrants and the minority groups which thus questions the practicability of social, economic and cultural integration of Muslim immigrants (Rubenstein 81). For instance, it is unexpected for Muslims to hold negative thoughts and ill-mindsets to a society which encourages them to be part of the mainstream leadership culture without any emphasis on religious disintegration. In fact, Muslims would gladly participate in the running of its economic, social and political affairs without any fear of jeopardizing their cultures. They would eventually seamlessly integrate into the dominant culture on fronts they feel comfortable such as participating in business activities and being part of the ruling class by seeking opportunities in politics, education, and scientific research among other sectors. In structuralism, therefore, cultural integration occurs gradually without any underlying duress or pressure towards the migrant Muslim groups. On the other hand, if Muslims’ cultural integration is a matter of involuntary and obligatory schedule of events where they are forced to follow particular doctrines, they would automatically establish a culture of resistance which could eventually lead to severe religious conflict between non-Muslims and Muslims.

In summary, multiculturalism, structuralism and the assimilation theory, all offer divergent opinions on the same issue. Those in support of the assimilation theory insist that immigrants moving into different countries acquire a culture which is different from their original culture while multiculturalists argue that immigrants’ cultural characteristics are under constant changes due to their exposure to new cultures but not to the level of total extinction. Structuralists hold the opinion that the economic and social structures maintained by the host country influence the level of integration between immigrants and the citizens of the host country.



The Segmented Assimilation Synthesis

Unlike the perspectives provided by the assimilation theory, structuralism, and multiculturalism, the segmented assimilation theory offers a fusion of these three different approaches. This theory seeks to inquire about the cultural integration process along three possible patterns; an assimilation and economic integration related upward mobility pattern which refers to the majority group’s structure. It also looks at a downward mobility pattern that relates to parallel integration and assimilation into the lower-cadre society and the deliberate culture preservation by the immigrants through a lagged assimilation of new identities and values (Portes et al. 1079). This theoretical framework seeks to elaborate on the determining factors towards whether a particular group would assimilate or maintain their cultures. The main factors that determine these occurrences are the region of birth, education, the immigrant’s age upon arrival, the length of stay in a foreign country and an immigrant’s proficiency of their native language. Other contextual variables exist such as the location of residence, the socioeconomic background of the immigrant family and their racial status. All these factors are contributors towards whether an immigrant would adopt a new culture from the host country. An example would be the fact that there are regions in the US which are more volatile regarding their non-acceptance of Muslim immigrants compared to others. In Trump’s campaigns for the presidency in 2016, he stated that all the US states led by the Federal government should embrace a Cold-War type of mobilization against Islamic terror through repackaging of stricter immigration rules for Islamic immigrants by subjecting them to an ideological litmus test (DeYoung). If such an analysis were integrated into US immigration policies, a majority of Muslim immigrants would feel subjectively alienated regardless of their stay in the US. Propagation of such policies would lead to the radicalization of Muslims in the United States and consequently disrupt the peace between them and non-Muslims leading to conflict due to the radicalization of Muslims.

Consequently, Muslim integration into Western cultures should not be controlled or enhanced through biased policies but should occur seamlessly under Muslims own volition. Such an occurrence would boost integration between Muslim immigrants and members of the host nation to levels of cultural, social, and political integration in the Western countries. In fact, regardless of the religious backgrounds; Islam, Christianity, Hindu among others, every one of them expects equal treatment in a heterogeneous environment such as Western Countries.
















Works Cited

Bisin, Alberto, et al. “Errata Corrige: “Are Muslim Immigrants Different In Terms Of Cultural Integration?”.” Journal of the European Economic Association, vol. 9, no. 5, 2011, pp. 1012-1019.

Bolt, Gideon, et al. “Linking Integration and Residential Segregation.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, vol. 36, no. 2, 2009, pp. 169-186.

Deyoung, Karen. “Trump Proposes Ideological Test for Muslim Immigrants and Visitors to the U.S.” Washington Post, 15 Aug. 2016, Accessed 3 Dec. 2017.

Lentin, Alana, and Gavan Titley. The Crises of Multiculturalism: Racism in a Neoliberal Age. Zed Books, 2011.

Modood, Tariq. Multiculturalism. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.

Norris, Pippa, and Ronald F. Inglehart. “Muslim Integration into Western Cultures: Between Origins and Destinations.” Political Studies, vol. 60, no. 2, 2012, pp. 228-251.

Portes, Alejandro, et al. “The Adaptation of the Immigrant Second Generation in America: A Theoretical Overview and Recent Evidence.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, vol. 35, no. 7, 2009, pp. 1077-1104.

Rubenstein, David S. Immigration Structuralism: a Return to Form. Duke University School of Law, 2013.

United Nations. “Number of International Migrants Reached 244 Million in 2015.” United Nations Sustainable Development, 12 Jan. 2016, Accessed 3 Dec. 2017.



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