Debate on European Islam: A Mined Terrain

November 28, 2011

The concept of European Islam has proved to be a constant source of controversy. For some it embodies the deliverance of Islam from everything that is perceived as backward looking and pre-modern. Others fear that a European Islam is a watered-down religion, a kind of government-controlled “state Islam”, prepared to fully accommodate to the wishes of the authorities. By Claudia Mende

Initial debate on European Islam was ill-fated. The German political scientist Bassam Tibi introduced the concept in the early 1990s. He linked the concept with a severe criticism of traditional Islam, which, in Tibi’s view, has experienced nothing akin to the Enlightenment. He thereby launched a head-on clash with many Muslims. Bassam Tibi proposed European Islam as an alternative model to the Islam practiced in the Arab world and to everything that appears deplorable there.

According to Tibi, Muslims should adopt the dominant European culture as their own, and many considered this to be nothing less than a call to assimilation. Since this inauspicious start, discussions on a European variety of Islam have been sharply polarized.

Varied lives of European Muslims

Of course, living in Europe influences the outlooks and beliefs of Muslims here. Yet, is it possible to reasonably speak of a European Islam? This question was the theme of an international conference recently hosted by the Catholic Academy in Stuttgart, Germany.

Some 15 million Muslims currently live in Europe. Their ways of life and identities are highly varied.

While the Muslim community in Western Europe consists mainly of immigrants who have arrived since the 1950s as well as their descendants into the fourth generation, Islam in the Balkans has a totally different face. In Bosnia, Muslims can look back upon a centuries-old history and they have long since regarded themselves as Europeans.

Even in Poland, in addition to recent immigrants, there exists a small minority of Muslim Tatars, who settled in the country 600 years ago. Islam in France has strong roots in North and West Africa, while in Britain, the vast majority of Muslims have immigrant backgrounds from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The German Islam Conference has also asserted its desire to make a contribution to European Islam, thereby giving it the air of a project imposed from above. Does the state intend to embrace the representatives of Islam for as long as it takes until some sort of secularized “Islam light” emerges? Would this be a “tamed” Islam, as its disturbing aspects will have been shed? And by disturbing, we mean here those aspects that sound “unenlightened” to European ears, such as the Sharia or the lack of a separation between church and state.

Some critics of the German Islam Conference, which was initiated by former Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, view such moves as an attempt by outsiders to interfere in an internal Islamic debate.

Parallels with Christianity

The German-Turkish sociologist Levent Tezcan from Tilburg University in the Netherlands sees Christianity as the reference point in the discussion about a European Islam. He says that European Islam may develop just like Christianity did. It would mean that Islam, as Christianity before it, eventually could overcome its conflict with modernity and reconcile itself with the modern world.

This is precisely where the critics view the danger and sense with foreboding a watering down of their religion. They see the empty pews in churches and express the fear of abandoned prayer rooms in the recently built mosques. The fear is that the forces binding the faithful to their own traditions will eventually wane. Just as Christian churches are struggling with declining membership, Muslims also dread the day when they lose their young people to a secular Europe. The prospect of such a decline arouses fear in many Muslims. As Tezcan puts it, the “landmines” are ready to explode in the debate on European Islam.

The situation is equally tense for those Muslims questioning for themselves what a European Islam really means. This question is especially pertinent for younger Muslims, those in the third and fourth generation, as they no longer feel closely bound to their “homeland.” This is particularly the case in Germany, where Turkey has traditionally claimed the right to influence the Turkish-Muslim community and its development. Ditib, the Turkish-Islamic Union, is an umbrella organization representing almost 900 mosque communities in Germany. It is closely tied to Diyanet, the Turkish religious authority in Ankara. Kerem Öktem from St. Anthony’s College at Oxford University has described Diyanet, with its close to 100,000 employees, as a kind of “Islamic mini Vatican.”

Close religious ties abroad

Through the religious authorities, the Turkish state exerts structural influence on Ditib, and thereby also on Turkish Muslims in Germany. The Turkish state pays the salaries of the hodjas, i.e. Muslim scholars, in the Ditib mosques, and the president of Ditib in Germany also serves as the embassy counsellor for religious affairs at the Turkish embassy in Berlin. Even Prime Minister Erdogan has frequently intervened in the debate on immigration in Germany and has warned his fellow countrymen against assimilation.

Such close ties to a foreign country are unimaginable for Muslims from Bosnia. They have a completely different perspective on this issue from the Islamic associations in Germany. Already back in 1882, Bosnia withdrew from the authority of Sheikh ul-Islam in Istanbul. “It was painful, but it was the right decision in the long run,” asserts Senad Kusur from the Bosnian Educational, Cultural, and Sports Association in Vienna. He asks provocatively, “Will Western European Muslims have their 1882, too?”

At the moment, this would be unthinkable for the representatives of Ditib and Milli Görüs, the Turkish diaspora organization in Europe. The question provokes fear in their hearts. In light of a growing Islamophobia in Europe, they are not at all certain whether their children will be able to enjoy equal rights as Muslims in Germany.

For many association representatives Turkey remains a lifeline, symbolically, at the very least. Mustafa Yeneroglu, Secretary General of Milli Görüs, says that the members of the association still live with one foot in Turkey. “If things don’t work out in Germany, then there is always the option of returning to Turkey,” he says. But do the subsequent generations see things the same way?

The structures of the religious organizations indicate another story. According to the sociologist Levent Tezcan, the sort of mosque associations that exist in Germany are not to be found in Turkey. The manner in which the mosque associations are organised is typically European, he claims. The more Islamic structures are created in Germany, the more an association such as Ditib would organize things in a manner specific to Germany, thereby loosening the ties to Diyanet. While the younger generation of Muslims is pushing for greater integration into German society, older Muslims fear the loss of connection to their homeland. They fear the day will come when their children no longer understand Turkish.

Critical voices sidelined

At present, significant structures for Islam in Germany are being created through the establishment of programmes in Islamic theology at German universities and the introduction of courses in Islam at schools in most German states. Rabeya Müller from the Centre for Islamic Women’s Research (ZIF) in Cologne cautions, however, that dialogue within the Muslim community leaves much to be desired and critical voices are sidelined.

Is the much-heralded European Islam merely a construct that has little to do with the daily reality of Muslims, as Taner Yüksel, head of the education department at Ditib, believes? In case of doubt, real life is one step ahead of the intellectual debates. A European Islam is already far more than what the Islamic functionaries are willing to acknowledge.

Qantara.de – http://en.qantara.de/content/debate-on-european-islam-a-mined-terrain

Grand Mufti of Bosnia on the meeting of the Council of Muslim Intellectuals in Beirut

On invitation of the International Institute of Islamic Thought, based in Virginia, USA, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, Dr. Mustafa Cerić, participated on two-days meeting of the Council of Muslim Intellectuals in Beirut. The main topic of the meeting was “High Education – the challenges of the modern time”.

“Our message to Islamic world in Beirut must be clear: Education is our salvation! For us, there is no other way than education! Thus, read and learn in the name of God who creates, in the name of God who gave you mind and wisdom in order you become successful on this world and saved on another world”, concluded Grand Mufti of Bosnia on the meeting of the Council of Muslim Intellectuals in Beirut.

BiH: “Arrest of Adis Medunjanin does not endanger Bosniaks in United States”

“The arrest of Adis Medunjanin, an American citizen of Bosnian origin, suspected of cooperation with terrorist organization Al-Kaida, does not affect the status of Bosniaks in the United States”, stated Head of Islamic Community in Chicago, Imam Senad Agić for Bosnian daily SAN in his phone interview.

“I’m sure that Medunjanin was not a member of our Islamic community. I can guarantee that the members of Islamic community of Bosniaks in America from our dzemats wouldn’t do such thing. Imams teach their members how one should live life with respect to others’ lives”, said Agić.

Zlatan Burzic, the Spokesman of the BiH Ministry of Foreign Affairs, did not have any other information on Medunjanin’s case than those that US news agencies already reported about.

“We only know that it is an American citizen whose passport was taken away during his arrest. Taking into account that the arrest was made on territory of US, Medunjanin was treated as an American citizen. Thus, our Embassy in Washington was not officially informed about that arrest neither American authority is obliged to do so. We do not have any reports that our citizens are subjects of any inconveniences. According to our information, the situation is normal in that regard and Medunjanin is, before all, an American citizen. In this moment, I’m not able to confirm if and when Medunjanin get the American citizenship”, explained Zlatan Burzic, the Spokesman of BiH Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

American/Bosnian arrested on terrorism related charges, pleads guilty

Adis Medunjanin, an American citizen originally from BiH, was arrested Friday on terror charges for ties to al-Qaida Pakistan and plead “not guilty” on Saturday in a Brooklyn court.

Medunjanin and another suspect, Zarein Ahmedzay, originally from Afghanistan, were arrested in Flushing district in Queens, NY.

European Muslims call for peace in Pakistan

Led by the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, high Muslim authorities in Europe – shaykh Naim Ternava, Grand Mufti of Kosovo, Selim Muqaj, Grand Mufti of Albania, Sulejman Rexhepi, Grand Mufti of Macedonia, Dr. Mansur Escudero, President of the Junta Islamica of Spain, shaykha Halima Krausen, Germany, Mr. Hasan Le Gai Eaton, UK, shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, UK and Jusuf Islam, UK, with shaykh Dr. Mustafa Ceric, have sent the ulema (Islamic scholars) in Pakistan a letter for peace, dialogue and understanding.

This call has been announced in Urdu, Arabic and English languages across the world, as a sign of European Muslims’ concern of everyday violence on Pakistani streets and mosques.

To provide freedom and the right to life

On request of the great number of media to comment the result of Swiss minaret ban, Dr. Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia, made the following statement:

“It is interesting that Switzerland has chosen the greatest Muslim holiday (Eid al Adha, The Festival of Sacrifice) to demonstrate to Muslims its might, or better said, its impotence in respecting human rights as fundamental postulates of the system of European values. I am not burdened by conspiracy theory, but the interesting thing is that we the native peoples of Europe, Bosnians and Albanians, simultaneously at the time of Eid al Adha, our Festival of Sacrifice, receive the news of being exempt from visa-free travel system in European Union, and that the Swiss on their referendum voted in favour of the ban for minarets,” – said the Bosnian
Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric commenting the recent Swiss referendum. “Having in mind that Bosnian Muslims have the experience of genocide, which is so fresh and so deep in their memory, the issue of minarets in Switzerland is important, but for them it is more important to have secured the right to live in Europe and the right to freedom from fear for the future of their children. Unfortunately, both messages – the first from the Brussels that we are less worthy than our neighbors Serbians, Montenegrins, Macedonians and Croats, and the second that comes these days from Switzerland, that our religious and cultural symbols are undesirable – are
not encouraging and do not speak about Europe in which all humans and all
peoples have equal rights and equal respect. Obviously Europe is, apart from
being in huge economic, also in deep moral crisis. If it is aware of, then Europe instead of sinking deeper into the crisis should see in European Muslims the partners for both economic as well as moral recovery. We hope that Europe will soon realize it and return to its own values of human rights, which by the voted ban on minarets in Switzerland and by denying visa-free travel to only Bosnians and Albanians, its only native Muslim peoples, heavily undermined!’ – stated Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia.”

Silencing Bosnia’s minarets

In the eastern Bosnian town of Bjeljina, 1,200 Serb residents signed the petition which calls for the reduction of the volume of the ezan (call to prayer) as it apparently creates a disruptive “noise” for the local Serb population. Harun Karcic, a graduate researcher at the Roberto Ruffili Faculty of Political Science thinks that this new move following a citizens’ petition demonstrates that Switzerland’s referendum has more far reaching implications than was first obvious.

“This move, which will most probably go unnoticed in most parts of the world, shows that the Swiss referendum and growing Islamophobia in Europe will have more serious consequences for Europe’s autochthonous Muslims than for the largely North African, Turkish and South Asian Muslim immigrants of Western Europe”, states Karcic among other things.

Bosnian Muslims: threat or opportunity?

With their European culture and Islamic faith, Bosnian Muslims want to act as a bridge between East and West but instead feel rejected. There are times when Aida Begic gets on a plane and the looks she receives from other passengers remind her of people’s fears and misunderstandings about Islam. A well-known Bosnian movie director, she flies to film festivals all over the world dressed in fashionable yet distinctively Islamic clothing — a headscarf and outfits reaching down to her ankles and wrists.

Her first feature movie, Snow, premiered in Cannes in 2008. The global fear of flying with Muslims has become part of Begic’s everyday life. Despite this, she denies that there is any clash between her faith and her appreciation of western culture. “I was shaped by European literature, arts and music, and Bach is as much a part of my identity as [Muslim mystic and poet Jalaluddin] Rumi,” she says.

In fact, some experts believe the Muslim communities in the Balkans, whose Islamic faith developed in a European context, could serve as a bridge between the Islamic east and the Christian west.

But the allegiance of Bosnia’s Muslims to both worlds has been sorely tested recently. They feel Europe betrayed them in the 1992-1995 Bosnian war and has excluded them ever since. On the other side, offers of assistance during the war from some Muslim co-believers came at a price, that of the spread of Wahhabism in Bosnia.

Bosnia: Gay festival closes after clashes with hardline Muslims

Bosnia’s first gay pride festival has been forced underground after 10 people were injured when protestors attacked visitors on the festival’s opening night. Dozens of people chanting “kill the gays” punched, kicked, and threw stones at people leaving the event. Islamic leaders were angry that the festival of pride, which includes art, films, and workshops about sexual minorities, is being held during the Muslim month of Ramadan. Lead organizers of the event said that they are not canceling the festival, but changing the format from public to private, hoping that this will deter some of the harassment and violence.

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