Islam in crisis: Observations by German religious scholar Michael Blume

The assumption that ‘Islam’ – usually conceived as a monolithic force – is on an expansionary path is widely shared. Islamists herald the onset of an age of Islamic renewal and dominance; anxious Westerners take to the streets against the ‘Islamisation’ of the occident; and colourful videos highlighting that Islam is set to overtake Christianity as the world’s largest religious group in the coming decades regularly go viral in social networks.

Declining levels of orthopraxy

It is in order to go against this conventional wisdom that German religious scholar Michael Blume has written his latest book Islam in Crisis: A World Religion between Radicalization and Silent Retreat. Blume asserts that Islam is not about to conquer the world but rather that it is in existential trouble.

Blume paints a picture of a religion that is rapidly losing in relevance in the lives of those who are commonly seen as ‘Muslim’. Focusing particularly on figures taken from his native Germany, Blume shows how Muslim communities are marked by a pronounced decline in orthopraxy: young Muslims in Germany pray less than their ancestors, fewer girls wear headscarves, and fewer boys go to the mosque.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/islam-die-saekularisierung-als-symptom-der-krise ))

Detachment from the religious tradition

Concomitantly, Muslims are increasingly heterodox in their religious outlook: in 2013, 42 per cent of German Muslim respondents asserted that in their spiritual lives they “draw upon the teachings of different religious traditions”.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/islam-die-saekularisierung-als-symptom-der-krise ))

At the same time, Blume sees most Muslims as more and more distant from and disenchanted with the traditions of their own faith. Violent groups such as the ‘Islamic State’ only foment this disenchantment, according to Blume: their despicable acts further alienate many Muslims from the religion of their parents.

In fact, the warriors of the ‘Islamic State’ are engaged in a battle against the progressing secularisation of the Islamic world. In this respect, they are a product of the present age and of the crisis of Islamic thought, rather than an organic outgrowth of the religious tradition.

Intellectual and theological stasis

According to Blume, this civilisational crisis goes back to Sultan Bayezid’s fateful decision to ban the printing press from Ottoman lands after its invention in Europe in the 15th century. This decision, according to Blume, led to societal and intellectual stasis in the Arab heartlands of the Islamic world – a state of affairs that was perpetuated by subsequent authoritarian regimes buttressed by oil rent.(( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCgN5dsls0M ))

Ever since the 15th century, the Islamic religious establishment has been unable to develop answers that could be meaningful to all those Muslims who seek to live in the modern age, or so Blume argues. Yet inevitably Muslims do lead modern lives – a fact that fosters their increasing disconnect from petrified religious traditions.

Looking beyond jihadism

The refreshing element of Blume’s discussion resides in its unflinching focus away from the flashy band of religious radicals who, in spite of being small in number, have managed to capture the world’s attention by their jihadist violence. Instead, Blume seeks to shed light on the religious dynamics among the majority of the world’s Muslim population.

Equally important is the related observation that these ‘Muslims’ are not a homogeneous mass. The implicit assumption in popular discourses as well as in official statistics (for instance from the German government) is the fact that being born to parents from a Muslim-majority region makes one ‘Muslim’ – irrespective of actual levels of belief and observance.

A long-standing argument made anew

At the same time, the observation that the rise of political Islam and of present-day jihadism has gone hand in hand with – in fact proceeded via – a weakening of the authority of the Islamic tradition and its institutions is scarcely new.

There are, after all, entire bookshelves filled with studies demonstrating how local Islamic traditions have been remodeled by the rise of authoritarian nation-states,((For a concise overview of this phenomenon across the Muslim world, see Part I of Jocelyne Cesari’s book The Awakening of Muslim Democracy: Religion, Modernity, and the State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014). A particularly insightful study of a single case is provided by Brinkley Messick in The Calligraphic State: Textual Domination and History in a Muslim Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).)) how traditional modes of Islamic reasoning have ossified in this process,((For a monumental work in that category, see Wael Hallaq’s Shari’a: Theory, Practice, Transformations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).)) and how Islamist laymen have stepped in to fill the void.((An excellent introduction is provided by the essays in the collection edited by Ali Rahnema, Pioneers of Islamic Revival (London: Zed Books, 1994).))

Differences between Islamic heartlands and the immigrant context

Nor have the processes of change undergone by Muslim communities across the world been completely uniform everywhere: Muslims lives in Germany are, surely, necessarily different from Muslim lives in Indonesia. One is left to wonder whether Blume at times underestimates the resulting diversity.

After all, detachment from traditional religion seems easier and more likely in immigrant settings, where religious networks are less deep, religious expertise less profound, and where Muslims are permanently forced to come to terms with a plurality of lifestyles and with an often hostile perception of Islamic religiosity.

Put differently, in a context where there are hardly any mosques and few well-educated Imams; where headscarf-wearing women are often seen with suspicion; and where halal meat is difficult to come by, it is not surprising to observe declining levels of orthopraxy.

Reaffirmations of orthopraxy

Yet even in the European or German context, from whence Blume draws most of his hard figures apparently demonstrating the decline of Islamic orthopraxy, we also observe countervailing dynamics.

Well-educated daughters of secularist Turkish parents are choosing to don a headscarf, in a statement of ostentatious orthopraxy serving to reaffirm their Muslim identity. Salafis carry this identitarian reemphasis of (allegedly) traditional behaviour to its extremes. Yet while Salafis use orthopraxy to withdraw from a mainstream society seen as ‘infidel’, the young woman wearing the hijab may have very different reasons.

A recent study observed that urban, well-educated Muslim women covered up more often in order to reconcile their Muslim faith with the demands of being out of their homes and with employment in gender-mixed environments.(( http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2016-09-02-veil-worn-muslim-women-may-signal-they-are-integrating-more )) Here, ‘modernisation’ – understood as female participation in the labour market – actually reinforced rather than undermined religious orthopraxy.

Modernisation = secularisation?

One is thus left to wonder whether the “silent retreat” and the “radicalisation” observed by Blume are really a convincing (let alone an exhaustive) portrayal of the possibilities of Islamic religiosity in the modern world. For Blume, these are the twin reactions in the face of the secularisation processes undergone by the Islamic world and by Muslim communities.

Yet at the heart of this argument lies the supposition that ‘modernisation’ always goes hand in hand with ‘secularisation’ – a teleological claim that social science has long abandoned for being overly simplistic.

European Court of Justice decision on the veil: Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) fears tension

While presidential candidate Francois Fillon welcomed the European Court of Justice’s ruling on headscarves in the work place, the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) expressed its “profound worry” regarding the ruling. It argued that the judgment gave “permission to discriminate” in workplaces. The CCIF denounced the ruling as “carrying heavy consequences” that represent “tensions within certain fringes of European societies.

The sentiment was shared by European Network Against Racism (ENAR). “It’s an extremely worrying decision because it excludes women wearing the veil from the working world.”

Businesses’ newly affirmed ability to ban headscarves likely to continue in Post-Brexit UK

On Tuesday (14 March), the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled against two Muslim women who claimed employment discrimination after being fired from their jobs for wearing hijab, modest religious dress which includes a headscarf.

British legal experts say that the ruling will automatically remain enforced in the UK until it has actually split from the EU. This process will take about 2 years. After this period, it is unlikely that a British court would overturn the ruling.

A related British court case in 2012 had the opposing outcome. A guard at Buckingham Palace successfully opposed the military’s opposition to his turban. While this court case does not directly overturn this ruling, it opens possibilities for future opposition.

A 2007 British airways ban on Christian crosses was also struck down in court because headscarfs and turbans were permitted for religious reasons. The grounds for this decision were that the ban did not treat religious groups equally.

UK employers and legal experts, however, do not see the ruling as a major reversal of British legal approaches of the past. One reason for this is that companies still cannot ban religious garb for any reason other than “neutrality” of uniforms, including if customers complain. The courts in the UK will still likely avoid extreme positions on individual cases.

Muslims organisations in the UK, including the Muslim Council of Britain, see the ruling as an affront to equality.

 

Headscarves not an issue for young people

From the perspective of the Young Islam Conference, the timing couldn’t be better. On the very day when 100 members of the organization met for their annual national congress in Berlin, Germany’s constitutional court struck down the existing absolute ban on head coverings in state schools as incompatible with religious freedom. Teachers at state schools are now allowed to wear headscarves during lessons, unless those schools can demonstrate that this poses a specific risk or danger to the harmonious environment.

For Esra Kücük, head of the Young Islam Conference, this is good news. She’s very pleased with the judges’ verdict. “We have a number of trainee teachers among us who wear headscarves and had been concerned about whether they’d even be allowed to work,” she says. These young women can now complete their training in the certainty that they won’t be prevented from working when they have finished. “What we’re seeing is a modern immigration country that is catching up and correcting past mistakes. It’s a retroactive integration process,” says Kücük.

The judges’ decision merely reproduces something no longer questioned in broader society, she explains: greater openness and tolerance towards the Muslim minority.

Young people in Germany are open to Muslims

Her assessment corresponds with a recent study carried out by the Berlin Institute for Integration and Migration Research (BIM), which surveyed more than 8,000 people, including more than 1,100 youths and young adults. The study found that young people in Germany are much more open towards the Muslim minority than adults.

“Understanding normality as diverse”: head of the Young Islam Conference (JIK) Esra Kücük spoke out in favour of a more open and varied society in Germany

For instance, 71 per cent of 18-to-25-year-olds think Muslim teachers should be allowed to wear headscarves during lessons. (Among adults 55 per cent are in favour of banning headscarves.) This shows that in actual fact, in recent years the headscarf debate has been going on over the heads of those actually affected by it, says Kücük.

Most school pupils have no problem with their teacher being a religious Muslim, she adds; for them, a Muslim teacher with a headscarf is just as much part of Germany as a non-Muslim teacher with her head uncovered.

Integration in Germany is better than its reputation

This is no surprise, explains Naika Foroutan, a social scientist at Berlin’s Humboldt University and head of the BIM. Today’s 16-to-25-year-olds have grown up with the discourse about Muslims and Islam. They were children when the immigration commission under the former CDU politician Rita Süssmuth presented its study on migrants’ integration in 2001.

The subject has been on the public agenda ever since and much of what still seems unthinkable to adults has long become par for the course for teenagers and young adults, says Foroutan. “You could say that integration in Germany is better than its reputation,” she sums up.

The majority of Germans see Germany as a diverse and mixed immigration country, she explains; however, 30 per cent of the population still expressly reject this idea. In this case more should be done to educate and inform, says Foroutan. She considers this difficult, however, because those opposed to immigration, such as the followers of the xenophobic Pegida movement, distrust the media. The best way to reach them, she says, is to make greater use of other intermediaries, people often referred to as “pillars” of society such as teachers, police officers and those working in public administration.

Migration researcher Naika Foroutan criticised the fact that performance and qualifications are no guarantee of good career opportunities for migrants. Although every fifth person in Germany has a history of migration either themselves or in their family, she explained, this group makes up only 10 per cent of the public sector workforce

Despite these positive findings, knowledge of Muslims and Islam is still not widespread. Some 60 per cent of young people gauge their knowledge as low. Most of them draw what they do know from encounters with migrants. Schools and universities are also important providers of knowledge. Only 28 per cent of young people state that they learn about Muslims and Islam via television. Among adults, this figure is significantly higher, at 46 per cent.

“Whose is the West?”

The Young Islam Conference (JIK) was founded in 2010 by the Mercator Foundation and the Humboldt University. It views itself as a forum for dialogue and a network of young multipliers aged 17 to 25. Members from 13 of Germany’s 16 federal states meet up once a year for a national congress.

In 2013 the JIK called on the German parliament to set up a study commission on diversity and cultural participation. The aim would be to bring together experts to provide models for a diverse immigration society and concepts for equal opportunities in participation. The conference head Esra Kücük says they want to develop this suggestion further this year.

This year’s congress, held at the Foreign Office in Berlin, asks the question “Whose is the West?” – in response to the debate on the xenophobic movements demonstrating in numerous German cities in recent months, under the motto “against the Islamization of the West”. The participants spent three days exchanging ideas and opinions in workshops and panel discussions. The conference invitation outlined the focus of the event as “confronting the theses and positions of those who are trying to divide us.”

Baby Loup: The Court of Appeals Confirms the Dismissal of the Veiled Employee

June 25, 2014

Fatima Afif, the Muslim employee who wore a headscarf to the Baby Loup crèche in Chanteloup-les-Vignes, has lost her fight in the French courts. On Wednesday, June 25 the court delivered an official and final ruling on the case, which has been an ongoing legal battle for four years. According to Le Monde the dismissal was “indeed well justified.”

The court ruled that according to labor law, a private enterprise, or an association as in the case of the Baby Loup crèche, can “limit an employee’s freedom to display religious beliefs,” in certain justifiable cases. Baby Loup had its own set of internal rules, which state, “The principle of the freedom of conscience and of religion of each of its personnel cannot interfere with the principle of secularism and of neutrality that applies to the performance of its activities.”

Afif’s lawyer argued that “the Court of Appeals did not solve the question of Islam through the veil in France, it solved the problem of the Baby Loup crèche.” In contrast, Baby Loup’s lawyer Patrice Spinosi stated that the outcome represented “a big decision” that will have lasting effects on other organizations.

Hidden discrimination

May 21

Young female Muslims, for instance those wearing visible religious signs such as the headscarf are subjects of discrimination in everyday life. When looking for accommodation, applying for jobs, apprenticeships or internships female Muslims report discriminating gestures and rhetorics by potential renters and employers. Once facing discrimination, they have the option to ask for advice. The anti-discrimination network of Berlin (ADNB) is a project under the sponsorship of the Turkish Union Berlin-Brandenburg (TBB) and is financially supported by the Federal State program against right-wing extremism, racism and anti-semitism of the Senate of Berlin. The goal and tasks of ADNB are to increase equal treatment, sensitization of the public and advisory service and support for discriminated individuals.

The ADNB advices and supports clients who consider legal measures against potential employers. One of the major challenges that remain are to prove discrimination by gathering facts and evidences. Most employers deny any attempt of discrimination. With regards to risks and opportunities of a trial, clients can address lawyers, which are provided by ADNB.

Troubled Islamic free school in Derby to close its secondary school

February 9, 2014

 

A troubled free school is to stop teaching pupils of secondary school age from September. Schools Minister Lord Nash, the man responsible for free schools and academies, announced that the Al-Madinah free school in Derby would close its secondary school because of the poor quality of teaching.

In a letter to Barry Day, the new chairman of the trust which runs the school, he said: “I am particularly concerned at the poor quality of secondary teaching and the lack of breadth in the secondary curriculum. I have come to the conclusion that it would simply not be in the interests of parents or pupils at the secondary school to continue to fund provision which has failed them in the manner now apparent.”

The Al-Madinah school opened in September 2012 but there were later claims that it was imposing strict Islamic practices such as forcing women to wear headscarves.

Ofsted [the education standards watchdog] judged that Al-Madinah is completely dysfunctional and ordered a temporary closure on health and safety grounds as adequate checks on staff had not been carried out.

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/schools/troubled-derby-free-school-to-close-its-secondary-school-9115056.html

Derby Muslim faith school closes on first day of Ofsted inspection

A controversial Islamic faith school in Derby – under fire for forcing female staff to wear headscarves – abruptly shut its doors on Wednesday hours after the arrival of inspectors from Ofsted, citing unspecified “health and safety” as the reason.

 

Parents who visited the Al-Madinah school, which opened last year as part of the government’s free school programme, said they were told by staff that the reason for the sudden closure was confidential. In a statement, Ofsted said: “We can confirm that Ofsted is currently undertaking a two-day inspection of the Al-Madinah school in Derby.

 

The inspection and the closure comes less than two weeks after a teacher quit the school which has about 200 pupils from reception class to age 13, saying all female staff were being required to follow Islamic dress codes and that pupils were being segregated in classrooms, with girls sitting at the back.

 

The inspection by Ofsted was triggered by complaints about the school after the Derby Telegraph revealed the allegations. The school is also being investigated by the Education Funding Agency, the schools’ financial watchdog, over alleged irregularities involving contracts with suppliers, while the Department for Education is said to have had the school under review before the public allegations were made. The Department for Education said: “We are waiting for Ofsted’s final report and considering all legal options.”

 

A note to parents on the school’s website from head teacher Stuart Wilson told parents: “Owing to a health and safety issue, I have taken the decision to close the school to primary and secondary pupils until I am confident that all children are safe on site.” The school is expected to reopen “in the very near future,” according to the message.

 

Hijabi self-defense courses

27.09.2013

Le Monde

As a response to the growing tide of attacks against Muslim women wearing the headscarf (hijab) in France, the Muslim cultural association “Des racines” (Roots) announced to offer self-defence courses to Muslim women in three areas of Reims. The president of the association, Nadia Tara, proclaims that “this project is a response to the aggressions against women with headscarfs.” The move follows several attacks this summer against Muslim women wearing headscarves. Reims, however, is described as a rather peaceful city in regards to inter-communal relations unlike the suburbs of Paris.

Teaching union furious as Islamic free school staff are told they must wear hijab even if they are not Muslim

Teaching unions have reacted with anger after staff at an Islamic free school were told they had to wear the hijab even if they were not Muslim. It was also claimed that teachers were dismayed that girls at the Al-Madinah School in Derby are required to sit at the back of the class raising fears over possible discrimination. Staff were reportedly spotted removing their headscarves as they left the premises at lunch time and claim they have been instructed not to wear jewellery or bring non-halal food with them to work.

 

The school, which is currently under investigation by the Department for Education over alleged financial irregularities, caters for 200 students aged between four and 16.

 

There are worries over practices concerning the discrimination between male and female pupils in the school, with the girls being told to sit at the back of the class regardless of whether they can see the board properly.

 

When it was founded last year it was claimed that half of students would be non-Muslim at the fully-subscribed school. Al-Madinah describes itself as having a “strong Muslim ethos” which it said would “give the school its uniqueness integrated with shorter holidays and longer school days to maximise opportunities for pupil achievement and success.”

 

No one at the school responded to requests to comment on the claims.