Understanding Islam has been on the Western agenda for a very long time, coinciding with the movement of professionals and families from North Africa and the Middle East to Europe and North America. Many Westerners have travelled in the opposite direction and the result is that two cultures are now thoroughly intermingled – one firmly grounded in Islam and one firmly grounded in Christianity.
Even as the fast pace of the modern world sees people of all cultures abandon many of their religious ideologies, the cultural traces born of those ideologies remains and it is in evidence wherever you look, in fashion, in literature, in art, in family life, in business, in everyday behaviour and attitudes.
Here in the UK, Islam has a very strong influence. Major cities in the UK are home to thriving Muslim communities who are interested in integrating with British culture at the same time as maintaining many of their own traditions. Largely, British society is perfectly shaped to encourage this dynamic and British people tend to be open-minded and modern enough to embrace new cultures without perceiving any threat to their own heritage.
It’s true that the more harmonious relationships exist outside the question of religion, where cultures are simply allowed to appreciate and inform one another in a constructive dichotomy free of the tensions brought about by faith, but communities are nevertheless able to co-exist even when religious feeling is very strong.
It’s testament to the strength of the integration taking place here in the UK that books about Islamic culture have topped bestsellers lists in bookshops, while Western fashion is influencing traditional Muslim dress. It’s not uncommon to see people merging traditional and contemporary styles as they identify with modern ways of living at the same time as identifying with their Islamic heritage.
This is something that becomes more and more evident as time goes by, largely because subsequent generations grow up in a Western society and so naturally take on many Western values. At the same time, they grow up in the more traditionally-informed Muslim environment at home. When it works, this natural form of integration leads to fantastic expressions of multiculturalism, like those we’ve seen in the arts and in fashion.
Of course, there’s always more that communities and governments can do to support integration so that society experiences only the positives, although time works wonders when it comes to developing new cultural identities and preserving and celebrating the old.