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Debate: Islam in Europe
Prof. Dr. Enes Karić (Sarajevo)
The newly coined phrase ‘Euro-Islam’ is a novelty both in English and in other European languages. In orientalist literature, it is hardly to be found at all, and in particular is a real rarity in older orientalist works.
Unlike ‘Euro-Islam’, English and German terms such as Muslim Spain, Die Muslimische Spanien, or Islamic Spain, Islamische Spanien, can be found here and there in older works.In the case of Arabic, the term ‘European Islam’ or al-islam al-urubi is also very uncommon. In fact, it is to be found in works influenced by European writings, coined as a straightforward translation of ‘Euro-Islam’, which indicates that it is of ‘alien’ origin.
‘Euro-Islam’, however, is not just a terminological issue, not just a matter of the intonation of terminology dictated by politics, ideology, religion or other factors. It would be better to say that the terminological ambiguities and obscurities surrounding the term ‘Euro-Islam’ are primarily a sign of loose thinking on the part of those whose task it is to provide a European definition of, or to define for Europe and European needs, the ever increasing presence of Islam in the Europe of today, to an extent and of a quality never previously recorded.‘Euro-Islam’, therefore, is both a political and ideological matter, a matter of both culture and civilization and of coexistence in Europe.
It follows that one of the crucial questions for European social sciences is whether ‘Euro-Islam’ will gain full acceptance, not only in terms of social sciences but of European reality itself, and by which routes it will do so. Herein lies, too, the issue of the obstacles that lie in the way of ‘Euro-Islam’s full acceptance. This essay is therefore dedicated only to certain aspects of understanding of the phenomenon known, rightly or wrongly, as ‘Euro-Islam’, and its accompanying features. The essay is thus dedicated to the protagonists of ‘Euro-Islam’, with all their multiple implications, agendas and concepts.
What is ‘Euro-Islam’
There are several definitions of ‘Euro-Islam’, none of which is generally acceptable either to Muslims or to European governments, for reasons that are to be found in the diversity of groups with an interest in defining ‘Euro-Islam’. European Christians employed in government offices dealing with matters relating to Muslim non-nationals see ‘Euro-Islam’ as a means of Europeanizing Islam and Muslims so as to give rise to a kind of ‘civil Islam’, a ‘secular Islam’, an Islam professed at the level of lay or secular culture. Their aim is, in short, to create Islam as ‘Euro-Islam’, to create a manifestation of Islam that will be ‘socially desirable’ in Europe; an unobtrusive Islam, in fact.
In this context, the approach to ‘Euro-Islam’ is utilitarian, and as a result there are numerous definitions of it.It should be pointed out here that this essay will not deal with the past, since the topic of ‘Euro-Islam’ is not appropriate to a treatment of the eight centuries of Islamic presence in Spain, as a civilization, society, culture, religion, legal system, state and so on, for example. It is true to say that this too was ‘Euro-Islam’; many historians would unhesitatingly say that this period, together with the experience of Islam in Bosnia and in the Balkans as a whole, was in fact the sole authentically European expression of ‘Euro-Islam’ as a civilization and living cultural experience.
This page of a long-gone ‘Euro-Islam’, however, has come to an end, and the book of which it was a part has long since been closed.
Be that as it may, the term ‘Euro-Islam’ will be used here in reductive form, to mean a theoretical definition of the present-day complex presence of Islam on the European continent.
Euro-Islam is not just a matter of geography
It does no harm, when considering ‘Euro-Islam’, to take a glance at some data on the number of Muslims in Europe (data from the publication Islam in Europe, New York, 1997), with the numbers in brackets indicating the date of establishing or estimating the relevant numbers.
The total number of Muslims in the European continent to 1991, then, was some 23,600,000.
Statistical findings relating to these numbers would be of real interest only if they also included further determinants of the Muslim population in Europe, such as country of origin, age, education, political orientation, degree of religiosity, economic status, and so on. Unfortunately, data of this kind, let alone precise data, simply do not exist for the European continent as a whole.
It will be a long time yet before even these basic facts about the European Muslim population are known. The Muslims of Europe could learn much from the Jews as regards ‘keeping a statistical eye’ on migrations and population movements among their coreligionists. This, however, is a subject to take up on another occasion.The data cited (which is already more or less out of date) is offered purely for information, since without other determinants these figures do not say much. And yet, when one considers the term ‘Euro-Islam’ at the level of principle, the first thing to strike one is some kind of ‘Euro-continentalization’ of Islam by design. ‘Euro-Islam’, that is, is an agenda of the definition, designation, identification and concretization of Islam in a specifically European continental, cultural and political context. On the other hand, though, ‘Euro-Islam’ is at the same time an agenda of a specific ‘Islamization’ of Europe, however much that ‘Islamization’ may sound over-forceful or even dangerous to some.
As can be seen from its very complexity, ‘Euro-Islam’ is a two-pronged term, including on the one hand the name of a continent, Europe, that has held a central political, cultural and civilizational position in the history of the world ever since the 17th or 18th century AD. But on the other hand it also includes the name of a faith, a religion: Islam. The very name of Islam indicates that it is not linked, as a faith, to any particular continent nor determined by any particular continent, nor is it limited to the people through whom it made its appearance in history, nor even to the person of its founder, nor is its name determined by any other historical or geographical element.From the very outset, then, the word Islam, meaning submission to God, even at the terminological level, radiates a universal call. If one compares the term ‘Euro-Islam’ with, say, ‘Euro-Hinduism’, it becomes clear that the first has to do with Islam as a universal faith seeking a place and expression for its universality in the contemporary European environment. It is here that a universal (the Islamic) is experienced in specific circumstances (European).
It is not so with a hypothetic ‘Euro-Hinduism’. This is a notion that is difficult to explain, because it implies the idea of physically transferring or overlapping the Indian subcontinent to the European continent. It is probably for this reason that there is no such thing as ‘Euro-Hinduism’, nor is it a possible construct, while ‘Euro-Islam’ is very much possible.
Here, then, is why the ‘Euro-Islam’ agenda is of interest in so many ways, though still in the early stages of emergence, and why it has been the subject of such a large number of analyses in recently published material, with very diverse intonations and interpretations.
It should be said at once that from the moment it was first floated a few years ago, the term has aroused great interest in many quarters, in particular on both shores of the Mediterranean, the Arabic-Turkish-Islamic on the one hand, and the Western Christian on the other – particularly in France, Germany and Great Britain.
To anyone who is aware of the significance of the Mediterranean in both European and Islamic history it will be clear that it is perfectly natural for interest in ‘Euro-Islam’ to derive from various motives and to have given rise to such diverse interpretations.
On both the European and the Islamic side there are interpretations of ‘Euro-Islam’ that are energetic, spirited, cordial; but on both sides there also exist intereptations, and their protagonists, that reject the ‘Euro-Islam’ agenda, reading ulterior motives into it and seeing it as conspiratorial.
And on the subject of conspiracy, it is not difficult to come to the conclusion that some interpret ‘Euro-Islam’ as an anti-European conspiracy, and others as anti-Islamic, a distortion of Islam.
Nor is ‘Euro-Islam’ exhausted purely at the geographical level. It is a complex phenomenon , one that has to do with faith and ideology in Europe, with culture and civilization – or rather, multi-culture and multi-civilization – in Europe, and above all with the civilization of the shared and common living of several faiths in a single European city or country, in this single European continent.
These indications already to a large extent suggest the difficulties encountered in any attempt to speak competently and seriously on the definition of ‘Euro-Islam’, and in particular of the different interpretations of the term in situations marked by urgency. Europe is interested in multilaterality these days, particularly the Europe that seeks to make a clean break from the ideologies of fascism and communism. It is happy to see the topic of ‘Euro-Islam’ being taken seriously in many European universities, particularly given that throughout its history Europe has had no long-lasting experience of common living and the peaceful encounter of several religions, with the exception of certain European regions such as Spain prior to 1492, and Bosnia and the areas of the Balkan peninsula where the Ottoman Empire established the phenomenon that can be called Pax Ottomanica.
Many contemporary experts and scholars dealing with the phenomenon of relations between Islam and the West suggest the reasons for Europe’s lack of long-lasting experience of multi-religious life. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu has the following to say on the subject:
‘Throughout history, North Africa, Eastern Mediterranean lands and Anatolia had a cosmopolitan coastal population, and their hinterlands were meeting places for migrant and sedentary peoples from different backgrounds. The same situation is observable in east and southeast Asia. Europe for its part preserved its Christian character for most of its history. European contacts with the rest of the world generally took place outside the continent. For this reason, Europeans were historically less experienced in accommodating foreigners in their homelands.’
Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu is right in this assertion, for even now resistance to ‘Euro-Islam’ comes from those circles in Europe that are not accustomed to the Other, to those who are different. To judge from the mass of anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic literature that has appeared in Europe in the last two decades alone, ‘Euro-Islam’ has its enemies among the citizens of Europe who have not become citizens of the world and who still persist in political, philosophical, cultural and civilizational Eurocentrism.
By way of illustration, here are just a few examples of European anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic expressions of recent date. Winston Churchill M.P. (grandson of the famous British Prime Minister of the same name) was reported in the Guardian as saying that within fifty years ‘the muezzin will be calling Allah’s faithful to the High Street mosque’, alluding to the ‘excessive’ influx of Muslims into Great Britain.
Jean-Marie le Pen, leader of a French nationalist party, le Front National, calls for a ‘halt to the Islamization of France’. His colleague in anti-Islamic conviction, Franz Schonhuber (leader of the right-wing Republikaner Party of Germany), says, ‘Never will the green flag of Islam fly over Germany’. The election sloga of the Denmark Progressive Party, ‘Denmark without Muslims’, is much the same thing. Many more such examples could be cited, but that is not the purpose of this essay.
Henry Louis Gates, studying such anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic campaigns in Europe, notes in passing that ‘the terms of the argument about the “Muslim factor” are reminiscent of the language in which the “Jewish question” was debated in England a century and a half ago’.
The status of Islam in the western media is generally very poor; ‘there is an expansion of the negative image of Islam in the media’. Not so long ago the well-known writer and commentator Edward Said published an interesting book on this very subject, entitled Covering Islam.
There are several reasons of which Edward Said gives a detailed analysis in his interpretation of the media’s fuelling and inciting negative attitudes towards Islam and Muslims, but it is certainly important to mention that he sees in this simply a new form of orientalism; and Said interprets orientalism as a European theory that both serves and justifies European and occidental domination of the Orient. In the politics and ideology of orientalism, the Orient is an artificially produced Orient, one produced for European colonial and post-colonial purposes.
Edward Said therefore claims that representations of Islam and Muslims in the contemporary West are merely the consequences of producing an image of Muslims and of the ‘Orient’ for domestic purposes.
The response known as ‘Euro-Islam’ in hundreds of publications
Hundreds of different publications, books, treatises and newspaper articles now deal with the issue of Islam in the West. This, too, indicates that the issue of Islam in the West is not a simple question of geography in the phrase ‘Euro-Islam’, but a serious and, for many, urgent element that has to be properly defined, monitored and supplied with a valid interpretation.
These hundreds of publications on Islam in the West had what may be called direct causes. One of these, known is the Rushdie affair, gave rise to dozens of anti-Islamic books, and when a group of Muslims burned Rushdie’s book in Bradford as a sign of protest (an unseemly act, certainly, deserving condemnation), throughout the West Muslims were described in abusive terms, and there were frequent and wholly irrelevant comparisons made between Muslims and Nazis.
Muslims were described in the media as uncivilized and intolerant, and it was often suggested that Muslims were such ‘by the very nature of their faith’.
While the English-speaking regions were particularly inundated with the anti-Muslims campaign that arose from the Rushdie affair, in the French-speaking regions the balance was restored by media coverage in 1994 and 1995 of l’affaire des foulards, when Muslim girls in hundreds of French schools were looked at askance for wearing hijab, and in some parts of the country there were even written decrees banning the wearing of hijab in schools.
Ziauddin Sardar, deriding l’affaire des foulards in France (see the book edited by Sardar, Muslim Minorities in the West, London, 1995), half-ironically notes, ‘Thus, a French woman with a scarf is chic, but a Muslim woman with a scarf is a threat to civilization’.
Many serious people in the West, Christians, Jews and Muslims, have drawn attention to the dangers to France’s much-praised democracy that could arise from l’affaire des foulards.
Some years earlier, and in particular when these two affairs had become the daily fodder of newspaper columns, hundreds of books and thousands of newspaper articles were written , and hundreds of television programmes broadcast, in which the Muslims of Europe were vilified, defamed, and stigmatized as a ‘non-European element’.
There are, it is true, some western journalists who have opposed, and continue to oppose, the anti-Muslim media campaign. The editorial in the British daily The Independent (19 June 1993) noted that ‘it is not easy to be a Muslim in Europe today’, a phrase that was expressed in 1993 at a time when European newspapers were inundated with news of ‘the plight of the Bosnian Muslims’.
Gilles Keppel has written of the numerous paradoxes of anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic affairs in the West, as on anti-Western affairs produced by the Muslim diaspora. His book, written in French and entitled A l’Ouest d’Allah, also issued in English translation, as Allah in the West, in Stanford in 1997, principally covers Islamic movements in America and Europe, but also addresses the many problems faced by Muslims in the West and those faced by the West in its encounter with Muslims.
To judge from the treatment it receives in many western institutional circles, Islam is being promoted as the ‘new enemy of the liberal democracies of the West’, a trend culminating in the jejune study by Samuel Huntington entitled The Clash of Civilizations, of which much has been said in this part of the world too.
The Islamic revolution in Iran, anti-western sentiments aroused by the tragic events in Algeria, the Israel-Palestine conflict, the marked rise in the numbers of Muslim gastarbeiters in Europe (latest statistics indicate 25 million indigenous and newly-arrived Muslims in Europe), the genocide of the Bosnian Muslims, along with other customarily media-hyped programmes showing Muslims as, for example, ‘cut-throats slaughtering sheep and goats for Eid’: all these have been fateful events that have prompted the Muslim communities of Europe, and European countries themselves, to reflect on the position of Muslims in Europe. They have reflected, among other things, on an exit-theory that would acceptably and intelligently articulate the future of Muslims in Europe and of Europe with Muslims and Islam as the second strongest religion in the continent. ‘Euro-Islam’ is recommended in this context too as a theory and agenda that has every prospect of success.
Among European Muslims themselves there are signs of a change of mind-set. The vice in which European Muslims found themselves gave birth, as can be seen from numerous publications, to ‘a new self-consciousness for European Muslims’, which is a common phenomenon at times of crisis.
At the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century, Muslims in Europe have embarked on the task of defining their European status. But this status cannot be defined without a valid determination of their identity. Identifying and justifying that identity is what many have called ‘Euro-Islam’, which is a further indication of the hopes that reside in this term.
Confirmation of Euro-Muslim identity – for many, the chief task of ‘Euro-Islam’
The problem of conserving the Islamic, but also the national and cultural, identity of Muslims in western Europe is a central issue, of particular importance for the second and third generations of Muslims in this continent. It is also a central theme in all debates on ‘Euro-Islam’.
To take just one example, are Muslims students born in Great Britain, and who are British citizens, but whose parents are Pakistani or Bangladeshi – are these young people British or are they Pakistanis or Bangladeshis, or are they simply Muslims, European Muslims? Their language is English, and they speak the languages of their fathers and grandfathers – Urdu, Pashto, Bengali and so on – poorly or not at all.The same applies to young Muslims of Tunisian, Algerian or Moroccan origin in France. By faith they are Muslims, by language they are French. Furthermore, both in French and in English, second and third generation Muslims are producing first-rate literary works.
These are all vital components of the issue of identity, and the issue of the present-day search by European Muslims for identity rounds off the main contours of the definition of ‘Euro-Islam’.
Young European Muslims are debating many issues, calling into question thereby the external problems of their ‘Euro-Islam’. These are some of the most important:
the effective integration of Muslims into European society
entry of Muslims into public life
involvement of Muslims in politics
participation in local and national government (giving rise to an awkward question for representative democracy, of whom these elected Muslims represent: Muslims, or citizens in general)
equal representation in education (as professors, teachers, students)
adequate and authentic representation in the media
separate schools and cultural institutions
dietary needs, halal butchers and restaurants
separate sites in cemeteries, etc.
It is interesting that the issue of building mosques, and in that connection of Islamic libraries, bookshops, clubs and so on, is one of the most important in the entire mosaic of ‘Euro-Muslim’ problems. Along with the Muslim family, the mosque is the most crucial building-block in the Islamic cultural identity. The status of the mosque in Europe, however, calls for separate treatment.
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While indigenous European Muslims (Bosniacs, Albanians, Torbež, Pomaks and so on) have no problem with their national and cultural identity, or at least it is not to the forefront (they have other, more important problems, among which the problem of the state, and with it the problem of survival, is uppermost), European Muslims in the West, particularly those who have the status of gastarbeiter, are going through the so-called Jewish stage in Europe, the stage that European Jews once went through in struggling for the institutions in which they would preserve their religious and cultural identity.
Western European governments have frequently been caught unawares by the demands of Muslim gastarbeiters, from demands of an existential nature (jobs) to those of a cultural and political nature (Islamic modes of dress and diet, education, involvement in politics, media representation and so on).
In their direct contacts with Muslims and Islamic communities in Europe, western European governments began quite some time ago to address solutions to the ‘Muslim issue’ within their jurisdiction, but many of these governments were interested in having just one Muslim partner in their region (which means just a single Islamic community), which was never achieved, naturally enough, given the exceptional capacity of Muslims to be disunited.
At the same time, Muslims and Islamic communities in Europe themselves frequently accuse western European countries and their governments of acting in ways that exacerbate the disunity of these Muslim communities – an accusation that has much truth in it. Muslims often express open distrust of the ‘Euro-Islam’ agenda for the very reason that they doubt its true motives.
In the mid 1990s the term ‘Euro-Islam’ was used with ever greater frequency, and an agenda emerged for the articulation of authentic Muslim opinion in Europe, with the organization of Muslim and Islamic media that would acknowledge Europe and affirm it in the eyes of European Muslims as their own Muslim homeland, as the continent of their future, as a milieu offering Muslims and Islam secure development on equal terms, made possible by already existing positive democratic achievements, cultural institutions of open type, and associations and forums at various levels (religious, cultural, academic, educational and so on).
The ‘Euro-Islam’ agenda in Europe has been accepted by the Muslim middle classes (businessmen, lawyers, fashion designers, university professors, the merchant class and so on).
However, there is still a long road to be travelled before a valid and integral articulation of ‘Euro-Islam’ can be achieved, a ‘Euro-Islam’ that would be of benefit in many ways to the Muslims of Europe and to Europe itself.
The ‘Euro-Islam’ that is affirmed and articulated by educated and culturally mature European Muslims is one that emphasizes the universal aspects of Islam. In their writings they stress that the origins of Muslims (Bangladeshi, Pakistani, African, Turkish, Bosnian and so on) must play only a secondary role and, as such, be restricted to the private and domestic sphere. ‘Euro-Islam’ would be a universally interpreted Islam, which would liberate European Muslims from their self-ghettoization and from the ghettoization of Islam in Western Europe.
However paradoxical it may seem, Islamic communities in Europe are a particular obstacle on the road to full, and for Muslims beneficial, affirmation of ‘Euro-Islam’. For Islamic communities are divided along national lines, defined by prejudices and hostility between one madhhab and another, and – the major problem – are dependent both in mentality and organizationally on the country of origin of Muslim newcomers (India, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, Tunis, Algeria, Morocco and so on).
In conclusion, a major problem on the road to full affirmation of ‘Euro-Islam’ is that European Muslims have no single, united European Islamic community. For Muslims in Europe are not represented ‘continentally’ anywhere, nor are they even considering the possibility, which is a tragedy in itself.
There is no cause to fear ‘Euro-Islam’, for the ‘Euro-Islam’ agenda is not a Trojan horse or conspiracy theory. If in the future it defines European Muslims, taking account in that process both of Islam and of its homeland of Europe, ‘Euro-Islam’ will provide our children, young European Muslims, with the immeasurable benefit of a dignified survival.
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