Will Islam continue to grow
Islam in Europe is becoming more and more European
November 27, 2018 / Dr. Yasemin El-Menouar
Islam and Europe: For many, they don't belong together. Historical reasons are often given. What is mostly forgotten, however, is that Christianity once immigrated from the Middle East. The diversity that characterizes Europe today is the result of a long history of migratory movements, exchanges and translations, but also often of armed conflicts.
In this way, Islam has also become part of Europe - and not just through immigration in the last few decades. In Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina the religion has been deeply rooted for centuries, with Muslims in the majority. In the EU country Cyprus, Muslims make up around a quarter of the population.
Muslims have long been at home in Europe - and are still a minority today
Apart from that, contrary to what many think, Muslims are still a small minority in Europe. Also due to its colonial past, France has the highest Muslim population at 8.8 percent: a good 80 percent of the Muslims living here come from the Maghreb. In Great Britain - also an old colonial power - 70 percent of Muslims have their roots in South Asia. Their share of the population is nevertheless only 6.3 percent. In other western and central European countries, the need for labor is primarily responsible for Muslim immigration. In the last few decades, refugees - from the former Yugoslavia and from Syria and Afghanistan, among others - have also been taken in. The Muslim population in Sweden is 8.1 percent and in Belgium 7.9 percent. In Austria it is 6.9 percent and in Switzerland 6.1 percent. Germany is on par, where despite the recent refugee migration, 59 percent of Muslims still come from Turkey.
The Muslim share of the population is negligibly small at less than 0.5 percent in those countries which, due to the Iron Curtain, do not experience labor migration as in Western Europe. These include Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Romania.
Even if the number of Muslims in Europe will continue to grow in the next few years - as experts assume - we are far from “Islamization” as right-wing populists claim. A total of around 26 million Muslims lived in Europe (28 EU countries, Switzerland and Norway) in 2016 - this corresponds to a share of 4.9 percent.
The image of Islam in the media stirs up fears ...
In the end, it is not population figures that can provide information about whether Europe is now becoming more Islamic - or not much more Islam is becoming more European. It is true that the first variant seems to be in the foreground in current public debates and is portrayed as a threat in headlines and cover pictures. Such cover stories also sell well because they pick up on existing fears in the population - and reinforce them.
In fact, surveys repeatedly confirm that the majority of non-Muslim Germans are hostile to Islam. In the Bertelsmann Stiftung's latest religion monitor, 57 percent of those surveyed said they perceived Islam as a threat. 61 percent were of the opinion that it did not fit into the western world. It turns out that many people apparently no longer perceive Islam as a religion, but rather as an ideology that tends to be anti-democratic and extremist.
... but has little to do with the reality of life for most Muslims
This has established an image of Islam in Europe that has been nourished primarily by Islamist terrorist attacks, but has very little to do with the reality of Muslims in Europe. Numerous studies show that a Europeanization of Islam - repeatedly called for by many critics - has long been taking place. In Germany, for example, the attitudes and perspectives of the Muslims living here hardly differ from those of the majority society with regard to basic democratic values. A detachment from traditional gender roles can also be observed - such as the rise in the age at marriage, the decreasing number of children and increasing divorce rates. As with other immigrant groups, Muslims are becoming more and more similar to the native population in terms of level of education and income from generation to generation - and language skills anyway. Muslims have long since arrived in the middle of Europe. They have found pragmatic ways to reconcile their religiosity with life in a predominantly non-Muslim society. Even more: They use their religion as a resource to find their place in the society in which they live.
As a religion, Islam is also a positive social force
The aspect that Islam - like every other world religion - is a resource that serves to cope with life, creates cohesion and promotes coexistence is completely ignored in the current debate. It is an experience that is not only shared by Muslims, but can always be experienced wherever encounter is possible and sought. Many mosque communities maintain interreligious contacts and get involved in society with their own social activities. Numerous Muslim communities were and are also involved in refugee aid.
Religiousness can also become an obstacle for Muslims in their search for a suitable place in society. Not because Muslims perceive their faith to be incompatible with society, but because they often find it difficult to implement their religious practice in their social environment. Often times, prayer times or Ramadan cannot be kept at work. And not every employer hires a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf.
The European countries deal with such challenges differently. In Great Britain, for example, it is part of the multicultural self-image that the police have official uniforms for ethnic minorities: For Muslim women, for example, a uniform with a hijab or, for example in West Yorkshire, a less tailored uniform.
Negative image of Islam as a yardstick for interpretation
The discussion is also gaining momentum in Germany. The descendants of the migrant workers from the 1960s have meanwhile climbed up and many occupy higher professional positions. And so today there are also Muslim women who self-confidently demand to be allowed to pursue the profession of teacher wearing a headscarf or to be allowed to do a legal clerkship. The necessary debate on the question of how visible religion may be in public institutions and professional functions, however, gets into a difficult position if it puts Islam under general suspicion. Muslim women experience this, for example, when they are accused of rejecting basic democratic values simply because they wear religious symbols. In this way, the majority's negative image of Islam is elevated to the standard of interpretation; and there is no longer any room for the question of how the women concerned interpret their religion themselves.
European Islam is polyphonic and oriented towards democracy
But it is precisely this space that is needed if Muslims are to deal with their faith - contentious, pious and self-confident and in this sense neither patronized by conservative prayer leaders nor by the majority society. Religion, it is important to keep this in mind, is not a monolithic block, but a practice that draws its standards from the interpretation of tradition and is at the same time integrated into social and cultural contexts. It only takes shape in constant exchange with it. In this way, Islam has also developed a specific contour in the European context. Its characteristic is a polyphony that just doesn't exist in many Muslim states. There is currently lively discussion among Muslim scholars about the contribution that Islamic ethics, and thus also Sharia, can make as a method of finding the right law for the establishment of liberal democracy.
Such debates must be given space so that Europe can seize the opportunity of its own diversity. A specifically European approach to Islam can then be established in this space. Such a European Islam is not limited to rejecting radical positions, but rather reflects the diverse Muslim voices in Europe, which can have an impact on the Islamic world. But this will only succeed if European societies actually take seriously their own claim to be cosmopolitan and pluralistic and seek dialogue with Muslims. Because an Islam that has become indigenous is not a threat, but - like any other faith - an enrichment for the diversity on this continent.
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