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

Bosnian Muslims thrive in U.S. despite unease over homeland

BOSTON — As a young soldier in Bosnia, Azem Dervisevic led a platoon that helped keep the capital city of Sarajevo from falling to Serb forces during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

Now, as a civilian in the Boston area, Dervisevic is still fighting for his homeland, but with culture instead of bullets.

In June, he helped found the New England Friends of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a group that helped organize a recent art exhibit, “Bosnian Born,” featuring the work of more than 20 Muslim, Serb and Croat artists born in Bosnia.

The group also inaugurated its first semester of Bosnian language classes, with a dozen students between 6 and 9 years old. Dervisevic hopes it will promote Bosnian culture, encourage reconciliation between Bosnia’s different ethnic groups, and preserve the history of the war that introduced the term “ethnic cleansing.”

Despite their relatively short time in America and the ghosts of war, Bosnian Muslims are largely well integrated and often thriving in American society. Many have become physicians, university professors, business owners and financiers. Their children, like the children of most immigrant groups, are poised to do even better.

A Bosnian woman blazes a trail–becoming nation’s first hijab-wearing mayor

VISOKO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — When Amra Babic walks down the streets of the central Bosnian town of Visoko wearing her Muslim headscarf, men sitting in outdoor cafes instantly rise from their chairs, fix their clothes and put out their cigarettes.

The respect is only natural: Babic is their new mayor.

The 43 year-old economist has blazed a trail in this war-scarred Balkan nation by becoming its first hijab-wearing mayor, and possibly the only one in Europe. Her victory comes as governments elsewhere in Europe debate laws to ban the Muslim veil, and Turkey, another predominantly Islamic country seeking EU membership, maintains a strict policy of keeping religious symbols out of public life.

For Babic, the electoral triumph is proof that observance of Muslim tradition is compatible with Western democratic values.

“I am the East and I am the West,” she declares. “I am proud to be a Muslim and to be a European. I come from a country where religions and cultures live next to each other. All that together is my identity.”

Islam in Bosnia: ”We belong to the West, culturally and mentally”

Bosnia is entering a new phase in its history: the post-war era is over; communities and mosques have been rebuilt. But where are Bosnian Muslims heading in these turbulent times? Charlotte Wiedemann spoke to Ahmet Alibašić, lecturer at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Sarajevo

In what direction are Muslims intellectuals of your generation looking?

Ahmet Alibašić: We’re not looking in any particular direction. Because we were cut off from the Muslim world for several decades, during the Yugoslavian Empire and the Communist period, we have learned to be self-reliant. We have developed our own education system and produced a certain Islamic approach to learning. We were forced to rely on ourselves; we are used to independence. And we are very pluralist.

The lecturers of this faculty come from a huge variety of universities: Chicago, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Belgrade, Zagreb, Turkey, Kosovo, India. You won’t find such diversity at any other university in the Muslim world. We have modernists here, traditionalists and reformists.

And where are modernists such as yourself looking?

Alibašić: Bosnian modernists are looking more to Muslim scholars who teach at western universities or who used to teach, for example Fazlur Rahman, Abdolkarim Sorush or Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid.

Sarajevo seems to be a market place for all possible strands of Islam. You have just compiled a bibliography of all the works that have been translated into Bosnian. Who is paying for all this?

Omar Bakri, a radical Muslim linked to Al-Qaeda, is threatening Spain with terrorist attacks.

7 October 2012

 

Bakri has said to a journalist of the newspaper 24 Chasa that Spain is a Muslim country like Romania, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo or Bosnia.
According to the Al-Qaeda agent born in Syria, which has banned from entering Britain since July 2005, any place that has always belonged to Islam, if it is “occupied” by infidels, that territory should be “freed “.
Spain, a decaying nation, is in the spotloght of the “radical” Muslims, who observe how the terror of ETA obtained political gains after decades of cold-blooded killings and car bombings.

16 British Muslims are travelling to Bosnia as part of a charity project

22 June 2012

 

Made in UK, a London based charity is taking 16 young Muslim volunteer a month-long programme to Bosnia & Herzegovina. They are travelling to the region to live and work with families around Srebrenica.

 

The programme aims to revive the concept of a journey as an act of learning and enrichment, while providing volunteers with valuable experience of life in a region that is recovering from brutal conflict.

Babar Ahmad and Abu Hamza among UK-held terror suspects

Six terror suspects have lost a battle against their extradition from Britain to the United States. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that five of them can be extradited, with the case of the sixth, Haroon Aswat, still under review.

Babar Ahmad is a 37-year-old man from Tooting in south London. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17606337> He was first arrested in December 2003, in a major Scotland Yard counter-terrorism operation.

Days later, he was released without charge – accusing the arrest team of assault.

The Metropolitan Police later admitted that he was severely assaulted during that arrest and paid him £60,000 compensation.

In August 2004, he was arrested again, pending extradition. This time he was wanted by America. He has been in prison ever since, setting what appears to be a record for the longest time that a British national has been detained without trial in modern times.

The US authorities accused Mr Ahmad of running an important pro-jihad website called Azzam.com. During the 1990s and early 2000s the English-language website played a key role in encouraging young Muslims in the West to support Mujahideen causes in Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan.

Op-ed on Muslim life and integration in Austria

In this op-ed piece, Erich Kocina takes issue with the collective fear of a “clash of civilizations” in Austria with respect to Muslims, most often referring to Turks.

First of all, he says that this fear is due to a number of real integration problems; however, this should not be surprising given that uneducated Eastern Anatolian farmers, let loose in a big city in which they have difficulty finding their place, and who consequently turn inwards to find comfort in their partly archaic traditions, do not offer the most favorable circumstances for successful integration. The Austrian way of doing nothing, and then wondering why the group would rather stay closed upon itself, merely encourages this situation.

Secondly, he states that Turks have become the recipient for all negatives image of Muslims in general – whether it be from the 9/11 attacks, shaky videos of Islamist extremists threatening the West, or dictatorial regimes justifying their power by means of the Qur’an. Turk equals Muslim. Muslim equals bad. Period.

Though it seems ridiculous to need to differentiate Turks in Austria from Al-Qaida, Kocina believes that the latest publication from the Austrian Integration Fund may yet bring back the idea that the country will soon be overrun by Muslims, and that all women will be forced to wear a headscarf. Yet, the numbers from this report demonstrate only that there are more Muslims in Austria; those from countries such as Turkey, Bosnia, Kosovo or elsewhere, have had children; they have arranged for their families to join them in Austria; and that many have become Austrian citizens.

The study estimates that 58 percent of Turkish youth is religious, and points out that this religiosity is more pronounced the less educated these youths are. Kocina argues that this is logical, as less education means fewer chances in finding a job, and consequently more need for a social foothold, which can often be found in religion.

The oft repeated stories that the land will soon be overrun with Turks, due to their tendency to have more children, are contradicted by statistics. Though at the moment the average birth rate for Muslims is slightly higher than the national average, as living standards rise, the willingness to bring more children into the world sinks.

Kocina concludes by saying that the rest of Austria already knows this process, leaving one last development that the Catholic majority has already long behind it: secularization. This idea has just received an unexpected institutional pillar: the recently-announced formation of a Central Committee of Ex-Muslims in Austria.

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.

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.