Flickr user Bengin Ahmad/cc

Refugee crisis tests Islam’s fundamental tenet of Ummah

German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently stated that the migrant crisis is testing European core values and that Europe is facing a humanitarian crisis that shows no sign of letting up. With Germany expecting to receive the most number of asylum applications this year — 800,000 — Merkel called on all European Union countries to show an equal willingness to help.

Flickr user Bengin Ahmad/cc
Flickr user Bengin Ahmad/cc

Strangely, in the Muslim world, there is a deafening silence from Syria’s neighbor: the Gulf region. The oil-rich countries have not offered asylum to their Muslim neighbors. Not only is the Gulf much richer than many EU countries still deep in the financial crisis, it is closer to Syria, shares the same language and, most importantly, the same religion that dictates a strong community (Ummah) of Muslims as a basic tenet. Yet, the Gulf has closed its doors, turned away from the tragedy, and assumed that giving some money to refugee camps is enough to show empathy.

Since 2011, the U.S. has given $4.3 billion to Syrian refugees, Kuwait $1.2 billion, Saudi Arabia $597 million and Qatar $244 million. Gulf countries can arrange to bring in a large number of expatriates that perhaps would double or triple their population, but have refused to make resettlement or employment an option for a single Syrian refugee.

The media and public are focusing on Europe in calling on it to open its doors to refugees and European leaders are tackling the question, but no such calls are being made of the Gulf’s responsibility, something activist Faisal Saeed Al Mutar calls “the racism of lower expectation.” Ignoring the responsibility of the Gulf means that we expect Europeans to be naturally kinder and more humane than people from the Gulf.

To assume that this difference is a default is demeaning and degrading for anyone from the Gulf countries. We should refuse to accept the assumption that all our friends and colleagues in the Gulf have less empathy, less of a human heart than those in Europe.

The refugee crisis is also testing how Muslim countries are genuinely practicing the true meaning of Ummah. Used by Prophet Muhammad in his Constitution of Medina, the term “Ummah” originally meant a community where people from all religions — regardless of whether one was a pagan, Jew, Christian or Muslim — can live peacefully together. Based on this definition alone, Europe has more potential to become a much better Ummah than the homeland of Islam.

With Iraq bordering Syria, the Gulf is much closer than Europe, which is months of walking, a sea of sharks and drowning away. If the Gulf continues to close its border to Syrian refugees, the countries are proving that they deserve the racism of lower expectation and fall behind Western countries in creating a true Ummah. Muslims and non-Muslims, wealthy Western countries and wealthy Gulf countries should show their humanity to this horrendous refugee crisis.

Check out the Q&A on the refugee migration crisis.

  • Most Viewed This Week on TIM

  • Latest comments on TIM

  • About the autor
    Mai Nguyen-Phuong

    Mai Nguyen-Phuong is an Associate Professor at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands, teaching Middle Eastern studies and doing research on Intercultural Communication and Identity. Follow her at or

    Latest at tim

    See our Current issue

    Join our Newsletter

    Enter your e-mail address below to receive periodic updates from The Islamic Monthly.

  • Follow us on

    • O. Locke

      and for some reason moslems can’t understand the difference or the problem.

      nice article.