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 Islam and Muslims in Europe    by Dr Tariq Ramadan


Taking into account the element of time, understanding the unavoidable tensions which result from the first contact of co-existence (with the added factor of the "other's visibility"). We are getting closer to the realities of the moment to detect the profound dynamics which are widespread among the diverse Muslim communities. They are enticing enough to visualize a clearer picture to the present situation, as it should be judged. The open and positive confirmation of the Muslim identity as we have discovered, is a concrete reality as is the integration of the citizen, de facto. For from being a ghetto mentality, the majority of Muslims opt for a serene and open presence and some will go as far a proposing a "European Muslim Culture". We see the subsequent rumblings of an "intimate integration" into the European society, which should be objective and the finality of any pluralist society, which respects the concepts of identity and differences.

One should remain lucid, however. The obstacles are great and the explicit or subtle rejection and discrimination are everyday realities of many Muslims, who at times doubt the intentions and actions behind the political actors and co-citizens. The position is that in order to be European, one must be less Muslim. One should remember the meetings, debates and communal projects which have brought to light the issues at the local level - a very important step which contributes to going beyond mere suspicions. Some Muslims have found hope when they were given the opportunity to meet with the concerned players, who were respectful, constructive, and ready to commit to an honest and adherent dialogue. These exchanges paint a picture to demonstrate true change is underway.

For many Muslims, this new phenomena will also give them the opportunity to see themselves in another light. Often seen as a enigma, some have unfortunately internalized the idea of assimilation by making oneself "very small", disappearing in the woodwork as an "invisible presence". The surrounding pressure has made them hide their religion as one hides a inferiority complex. Such an attitude will not bring promise of social peace and harmony but instead, possibility of an explosive situation. The present dynamics are such that they should transform the above mentioned feeling. In time, Muslims will understand that their presence is a richness for the European society. As the debates unfolds and an awareness is created, this presence will allow this society to access a religious diversity and a new unique culture. This feeling culminates when increasing numbers of Muslims participate in debates which concern the central foundation of their society: questions on meaning, values, education and ethics. This is what is required of them, obliging them as citizens to ask questions and to participate together with their social, political and economic partners. Their integration will be seen as a very positive contribution to the larger society while at the same time maintaining their spiritual integrity.

However, many European countries still see Islam as something not only foreign but dangerous to boot, and at all events a source of instability. They prefer to deal on the quiet with the dictatorships of the Muslim world which may not observe the law but give them security and protect their interests. With a few exceptions, no European country seems to talk directly to its Muslim citizens and residents other than - explicitly or otherwise - through these foreign states. Virtually all the European states want autonomy for their Muslims, and yet they pursue a policy based on affiliations and allegiances with the governments of origin (and on information gleaned from the various intelligence services).

In the years ahead, the states of Europe are going to have to rethink how they cope with their Muslims and with Islam. The associative movement proliferating all over Europe is producing full Muslim citizens of those countries, who are politically and financially independent and are already beginning to ask questions about the justification for the Europeans' link with the dictatorships of the Muslim world. Already, they are claiming the right to organise themselves on their own and decide for themselves the legitimacy of their religious representation. This is a fast-growing phenomenon. Whatever the countries of origin may want, they are losing ground, and second- and third-generation Muslims feel fewer and fewer ties with the countries their parents came from. If Europe is to succeed in the tricky venture of achieving cultural and religious pluralism in its societies, then there is an urgent need to move away from security-based thinking, in order to encourage dialogue, negotiation and confidence between states and their citizens: the only democratic way is one that respects both the law and its citizens.

1 Commissioned on the Muslims of Britain, and overseen by professor Gordon Conway, Islamophobia: Fact not Fiction, Runnymede Trust, October 1997
2 60% to 70% say they fast during Ramadan, but only 12% to 18% pray everyday; 75% to 80% do not speak at all their mother tongue or speak it very badly. See To be A European Muslim, Islamic Foundation, Leicester, November, 1999
3 About a dozen 'ulama of the Muslim World met with each other in July 1992, and then in July 1994 at the European Institute of Social Sciences at Chateau-Chinon to give an Islamic Legal perspective on the Muslim presence in Europe. In Great Britain, Islamic Foundation multiplied their efforts in this respect as of 1990. But London has also seen the creation, in March 1997 of The European Council to elaborate on judicial opinions and research. See the periodical Sawt Uruba (The voice of Europe), The Federation of Islamic Associations of Europe, Milan, May 1997. (In Arabic).
4 The regrouping of At-Tahrir, Al-Muwahhidun and Al-Muhajirun, aggressively call to a minimizing implementation of the sharÓ'a in Europe, very isolated, even if the big media accord them immeasurable importance.
5 In our book To be a European Muslim, we call to attention the discussion surrounding these concepts and we propose, in the light of Islamic sources, the concept of dar-ash-shahada, a space where one testifies to the importance of attesting to faith before God (ash-shahada) which makes a Muslim who he is (intimate dimension), and the witnessing before man which is an exemplification of his participatory presence in the society in which he lives (collective and social dimension).
6 One should note and repeat that each individual has the right to make his choice, among the principals mentioned above, to which the practice is his own. The store house of essential principals are for those who want to simply practice their faith.
7 The opposition brewing between first and foremost being a Muslim or European is, according to this perspective, a false debate as the two are from the same source nor of the same priority. To be a Muslim, is to carry a concept, a meaning of life and death; to be French, English or German is to play one's role as a citizen of a nation. There is no more contradiction of being Muslim and French or English and Humanist and French or English. For example, the formulation "French humanist" shocks no one when it refers to a philosophic framework, nor "French humanist" when it comes to a reference of a political commitment. We are to use the same vantage point when referring to Muslims.
8 Next to some simple musical imitations which are sufficient enough to "Islamisize" the text, there exists some very interesting and original experiments in the subject areas of: song, theatre, organisation of celebrations, and creating of clothing. The fundamental idea being to harmonize the respected Islamic recommendations and the process of expression where the importance is kept of connecting with societal roots and customs.
9 The question of integration does not apply to those men and women who have decided not to practice their faith.

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