وَمَن يَخْرُجْ مِن بَيْتِهِ مُهَاجِرًا إِلَى اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ ثُمَّ يُدْرِكْهُ الْمَوْتُ فَقَدْ وَقَعَ أَجْرُهُ عَلَى اللَّهِ
Wa man yakhruj min baytihī muhājiran ilallāhi wa rasūlihi thumma yudrikhu al-mawtu faqad waqa‘a ajruhu ‘alallāhi.
And whoever leaves his home migrating toward Allah and His Apostle, and is then overtaken by death, his reward shall certainly fall on Allah
(Sūrat al-Nisā’, no.4, verse 100)
One of the important discussions mentioned in the Noble Quran, the narrations of the Ahl al-Bayt (a), as well as in books of Islamic ethics and jurisprudence is that of hijrah (migration). This concept is not restricted to specific examples in history but is an Islamic responsibility that will always apply when the conditions for it are present. The blessed migration of the Noble Messenger (s) and the nascent Muslim community from Makkah to the Madinah is but one example of an Islamic migration. As the Commander of the Faithful Imam Ali (a) says: And [the obligation of] migration stands as its original position [it remains obligatory as it was]. (Khutba 189, Nahjul Balāgha)
In addition, hijrah has a physical or corporeal meaning as well as a spiritual one. The balanced, middle path of Islam has not forgone one dimension of man to exclusively focus on the other. The spiritual migration is something incumbent upon all believers. It refers to the process of leaving aside a lifestyle of sin to migrate towards the obedience and servitude of Allah. Again Imam Ali (a) says: A man may say that I have migrated while he has not [really] migrated. Indeed, the only ones who have [really] migrated are those who have left aside sins and do not go towards them. (Bihār al-Anwār, v 97, p 99)
Embarking upon such a spiritual path—like all other paths in life—has prerequisites and conditions that must be learnt from the correct sources. If one refuses to exert themselves and head out on this path, then they shall suffer the loss of their negligence. Hafez says: The caravan has gone whilst you are asleep and in front the desert lies,
When shall you go? From whom shall you ask the path? What will you do? How will you be?
Beyond the spiritual migration there is a physical or corporeal migration in Islam that can become obligatory at times. The verse above refers to such a physical migration. It means to leave aside one’s home or even one’s country and move somewhere for the sake of Allah. Just as how the Muslim community left aside Makkah and moved to Madinah. Just as how Prophet Mūsā (a) left the land of Egypt after unintentionally killing the Copt, or how Imam al-Husayn (a) left the city of Madinah when allegiance to Yazid was demanded of him. According to jurists such a migration becomes obligatory if a Muslim lives somewhere that they cannot uphold and safeguard their religion.
For those who live in a society where they are not free to practise their religion the concept of hijrah becomes important. When asked about the permissibility of residing in a non-Muslim country, Āyatullāh Sistānī (may Allah preserve him for Islam) said: It is not prohibited to stay in that country if it does not create hurdles for him and his family in fulfilling their religious obligations presently as well as in future. https://www.sistani.org/english/qa/01248/
The effect of society on those who are born and reared in it cannot be denied. While an adult who is pious and strong in their Muslim identity and faith may remain unaffected even if they live for decades in a non-Muslim society, what can be expected from a child? If the tide of their society is taking everyone in a certain direction, how many children will successfully swim against this tide? When Islamic and Godly values are openly trampled upon in the community around them, can they be expected to believe and espouse these values?
That said, in today’s world, millions of Muslims are living in non-Muslim countries, and it is not feasible for all of them to move back to the lands of their forefathers. Where would they go if they wanted to move? Would their faith remain protected in other lands?
These are questions to consider and discuss with scholars and community leaders. We pray to Allah the Exalted to give us a correct understanding of the religion and keep us steadfast on it in these difficult times.
Resources: Āyatullāh Shahīd Murtadā Mutahharī, Azādī-ye Ma’nawī (Spiritual Discourses). Āyatullāh Shahīd Sayyid Abdul Husayn Dastghayb Shirāzi, Gunāhān-i Kabīrah (The Greater Sins).