City of Gonesse Proposes Charter to Help Balance Secularism and Religious Freedom

Mayors across France struggle to respect French laicite and satisfy the freedoms of fellow-countrymen of different confessions, without being accused of pandering for votes. John Rock Blazy, mayor of Gonesse, has proposed the creation of a Committee of Ethics devoted solely to these questions of religion and secularism.

Keeping the Faith

Most critics of Pope Benedict XVI’s University of Regenburg speech draw attention to his misrepresentation of Islam; these criticisms overlook his more passionate dismissal of European secularism–an area ironically in which he and many Muslims may find common ground. Muslims in Europe have brought to the surface the anti-religious nature of European secularism. Both struggle against the hostility of European secularism; there is a sense in which Christians and Muslims in Europe see themselves as being in the same boat. Many Catholics act sympathetically toward Islam. The Vatican, as protector of the weak, supports churches which have provided refuge to Muslim asylum-seekers. Ratzinger’s positions on Islam are mixed: on one hand, he scathingly compared contemporary Europe with resurgent Islam as examples of extremism; on the other, he seems to admire the omnipresence of Islam in the lives of most Muslims. Islam today is capable of offering a valid spiritual basis for the life of the peoples, a basis that seems to have slipped out of the hands of old [declining] Europe.” The pope’s eurocentric vision involves faith and reason coming together; the Catholic Church, as a tradition filtered through the Enlightenment, will be a bridge between “godless rationalism and religious fundamentalism.” In this vision, the Church sits between rabidly secular Europe and violent, zealous Islam. This seeming jealousy may reflect sensitivities of a Catholic Church in decline that is increasingly upstaged by the prominence of European Muslims. Many are looking to the Catholic Church as the only Institution to restore the credibility of religion in Europe; sexual abuse scandals of the past decade and the tension between Church hierarchy and modern individualism have created a crisis of authority. Sexual abuse scandals, high divorce rates, and the social acceptability of homosexuality and birth control are indications of a church having long lost its grip. The pope’s efforts to revitalize European society by integrating faith and rationality may be compromised by his assertion of the absolute authority of Rome. The suppression of discussion and debate and anxiety about orthodoxy and loyalty make his end goals that much more difficult to achieve.

Muslim Minorities and the Law in Europe: Chances and Challenges

In Europe today, millions of Muslims are living in secular democratic states by their own choice, contributing to the societies they are living in and forming now a new part of European identity. European secular legal orders grant them religious freedom and equal rights. Nevertheless, certain challenges for both Muslims and European legal orders should not be neglected. Certainly, freedom of religion and equality before the law prevent legislation and administration from any religious bias. But current legal institutions were developed in a concrete historical and social framework, with Christianity playing a major if not crucial role in this regard. The legal integration of Islam, being much less institutionalised than Christianity or Judaism, has become a challenge for European legal orders. European countries have to find ways to grant the full range of rights to Muslim individuals and groups by re-reading the existing rules without altering their validity as such. This book discusses the above issues and tries to find answers to questions such as: Does Shari`a contain intrinsic instruments to develop rules consistent with this binding legal framework? Are Muslims defining themselves as a minority living in diaspora? Are there opportunities for them to actively participate in societal institutions, based on a self-understanding as an integral part of the societies they are living in?

Vatican: Italian Muslims Endorse Pope’s Criticism Of West

The leaders of Muslim communities in Italy endorsed on Monday statements by pope Benedict XVI who warned that Africa and Asia feel threatened by the West’s materialism and secularism. “We agree with the pope,” said Roberto Piccardo, the spokesman of Italy’s largest Muslim group UCOII. “It is true that Muslims are puzzled by a West which is hostage to a materialistic system.” Mario Scialoja, the former president of the World Muslim League, also expressed support for the pope’s words, saying that the “West’s exclusion of God leads to the wrong life models.” Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech Sunday in Munich which made headlines in all the main Italian newspapers for its indirect reference to Islam. “People in Africa and Asia admire our scientific and technical prowess but at the same time they are frightened by a form of rationality which totally excludes God from man’s vision, as if this were the highest form of reason,” he said. Expressing concern that secularism and materialism have replaced religious faith in the West, Benedict XVI also said non-Western societies “don’t perceive the Christian faith as the true threat to their identity but instead contempt of God and cynism.” Yahya Sergio Yahe Pallavicini, the deputy leader of another leading Muslim group in Italy, COREIS, called for “more cooperation between different religions so as to make sure the West doesn’t become a place of materialism, loss of values and the absence of references to the sacred and spirituality.”

European Muslims and the Secular State

The institutionalization of Islam in the West continues to raise many questions for a range of different constituencies. Secularization represents much more than the legal separation of politics and religion in Europe; for important segments of European societies, it has become the cultural norm. Therefore, Muslims’ settlement and their claims for the public recognition of Islam have often been perceived as a threat.

This volume explores current interactions between Muslims and the more or less secularized public spaces of several European states, assessing the challenges such interactions imply for both Muslims and the societies in which they now live. Divided into three parts, it examines the impact of State-Church relations, ’Islamophobia’ and ’the war on terrorism’, evaluates the engagement of Muslim leaders with the State and civil society, and reflects on both individual and collective transformations of Muslim religiosity.

A crisis in French secularism

Perhaps no other issue has stirred as much controversy both inside and outside France as the recent decision to ban the veil in French public schools. In the heat of the passions this issue has ignited over the conflict between Islam and the West and western racism against Arabs and Muslims, it was easy to lose sight of the political and cultural context in which this ban was promulgated, a context that suggests that the problems at hand pertain more to the nature of, and perhaps a crisis in, French secularism than they do to the fight against Islam.

Dutch Parties Reject Hijab Ban Proposal

By Khaled Shawkat THE HAGUE – The Dutch far-right was dealt a fresh heavy blow in Parliament after most parties turned down a proposal to ban hijab in public administrations. Pim Fortuyn, an anti-immigration party named after its founder killed in 2002, found no support in its bid forcing Muslim civil servants to take off the dress code, the Dutch ANP news agency reported on Thursday, March 18. Joost Eerdmans, a parliament member of the party said after the emergency session on Wednesday, March 17, that the government should stand neutral in dealing with citizens – something he said should be reflected in their clothes. All other parties refused the plea, stressing citizens’ right to freedom of clothing choice and equal treatment by judicial employees as well, parliamentary sources told IslamOnline.net. Eerdmans accused the Dutch Liberal Party (VVD) of putting up hypocrisy in the debate in the legislature. The party leaders switched their stanch attacks on hijab in media outlets to another position, especially Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee who had arrived in the country ten years ago and known for her anti-Islam remarks, the far-extremist party member charged. A number of Muslim women, promoted to posts in the Dutch judicial system or being lawyers remarkably in recent years, have insisted to wearing hijab in their work. Conditions Nevertheless, the government is preoccupied with setting a number of conditions on clothes judicial employees should wear during work hours, the parliamentary sources said. The Christian Democratic Party (CDP), now leading the ruling coalition, also called for workers of other governmental sectors – including the police, army and National Guard sectors – to stick to a “special code of dress” set by officials there. Political parties have expressed hopes to discuss the issue of hijab in a much broader way, as official sources said in press statements that the government still works out a final say on it. Muslim civil servants wearing hijab are growing in number as the one-million Muslim community – making up 6% of the overall population – keep upsurge if compared with other ethnicities. Most Muslims here are from Morocco and Turkey who arrived as guest workers in the sixties and seventies. In December 2003, the two parties of the ruling Dutch coalition of CDP and VVD locked horns over banning Islamic education in the European country. Exaggerated Muslims reacted to the fuss over hijab with a mixed skepticism and anger. Naema Azough, an Arab-Dutch member of the Dutch Green Left Party, on the opposition track, said the debate is exaggerated and unjustifiable. Interior Minister Yohan Remkes said on Wednesday that the hijab of Muslim women workers should be designed in a way consistent with the nature of the job and work conditions. Azough said there is a few number of hijab-clad women working in public administrations, citing that only three women wearing the gear in the Prison Guard sector as an example. Muslim officials highlight that their hijab poses no restriction to their work, denying the dress code has proven threat to secularism or Muslim women’s integration in the European country. Success & Fears Many of hijab-clad women were catapulted into success in many political, scientific and social fields, the most prominent of whom is Fatma Al-Ateq, former interior minister’s advisor and a current member of the Dutch parliament. In 2002, the Muslim minority celebrated their first hijab-wearing lawyer Jamila Arselan. In September 2002, two hijab-clad students were honored by a Dutch faculty for their excellence and dedication. Hijab is no obstacle to the integration of women in Holland, as hijab-clad Muslims have achieved a remarkable success in various fields of study and work, Rabiaa Bouhalhoul, the head of social integration department in the local government of Rotterdam told IOL on January 27. Bouhalhoul said that claims that the Islamic wear runs counter to the principles of secularism are the work of European far-right extremist parties seeking to satisfy voters. Bouhalhoul warned that France’s imminent ban on hijab in state schools would have grave repercussions on Muslims in the West. But she ruled out that The Netherlands would follow in the footsteps of France, as the education system is different in both countries. The one million Muslims of Holland 16 million citizen have established over the past 30 years hundreds of religious, social and cultural organizations, many of which receive grants from the Dutch authorities. The Muslim official, however, conceded that many other officials are greatly affected – even consciously – by media outlets. Deputy Prime Minister, and VVD Leader, Gerrit Zalm argued in a general party congress in the southeastern town of Eindhoven last year that the government should also ban Islamic schools. Muslim women took to the streets of Helmond city, southeast of the Netherlands, in September 2003 to protest a decision by the city’s municipality to withhold an annual grant for a government-aided social organization, allocated for women-only swimming classes.