Thursday, 26 May 2011

Islam in Europe and Euro-Islam

Islam in Europe and
Euro-Islam Conference

Dr. Mozammel Haque

The one-day British-German Conference on ‘Beyond Multiculturalism: Islam in Europe and Euro-Islam’ organised jointly by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, The Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in London and the Democracy & Islam Programme at the University of Westminster, was held at the Westminster University recently, in the Boardroom of the University of Westminster, London.

These are challenging times for Europe’s Muslim communities. From one perspective, an increasing number of voices have been calling for the fashioning of a new Islamic consciousness in Europe, so-called ‘Euro-Islam’, which could both Muslims preserve their identity and fully integrate into Europe. It could even become an exportable commodity, inspiring Muslims elsewhere to adapt and embrace democracy and pluralism in more viable and adaptable forms.

Simultaneously, the multiculturalist environment which these voices want to embrace and celebrate has been under attack in Europe and the United States, precisely because some allege that it permits Islam and other ‘alien’ cultures a space for free self-expression, not always with welcome results.

In order to explore questions of ‘Islam in Europe’ and ‘Euro-Islam’, this conference brought together political decision-makers, academics and practitioners from Britain, Germany and elsewhere and, besides engaging with the negative experiences of European Muslims, plans to explore the more optimistic scenario: that of Muslims in Europe and the West contributing actively to the European pluralist experience, rather than being seen as a problem for multicultural pluralism, or at best, as (undeserving) beneficiaries.

This is the third German-British Conference on the subject of Islam organised in the last few years on the initiative of the German Embassy and in cooperation with political foundations and British universities. In May 2009, a conference took place at SOAS on ‘Integration of Muslim Communities in Germany and Britain – Success or Failure?’ In March, 2010 A Conference took place at King’s College on the theme ‘Political Islam and Public Policy.’ This year, 2011, the conference was titled: Beyond Multiculturalism: Islam in Europe and Euro-Islam’.

The welcome address was delivered by HE Georg Boomgaarden, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany. Another welcome address was delivered by Dr. Abdelwahab El-Affendi, Coordinator of the Democracy and Islam Programme, University of Westminster.

First Keynote address was delivered by Baroness Kishwer Falkner (Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Office and for Home Office). Another Keynote address was delivered by Armin Laschet, Member of the State Parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia, former Minister for Integration of North-Rhine-Westphalia and member of the German National Islam Conference)

First Panel
There were four panels. The first Panel was on “Muslim communities in Europe: Multiculturalism vs. integration.” The multiculturalist environment has come under attack in Europe. An increasing number of voices have called on Muslim communities to better integrate and engage. The key questions addressed were: How much integration can be legitimately asked for, and where are the boundaries between integration and assimilation? Do Muslims have to choose between their own and a Western identity perceived as ‘other’ – or can the two blend into a Muslim Western identity?

Under the chair of Olivier McTenan, Director of Forward Thinking, Professor Tariq Modood, Director of the Research Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol, spoke. The panel examined the debate on “Multiculturalism verses Integration”.

Second Panel
The Panel 2 was on “The image of Islam and how to objectify it?” The image of Islam has deteriorated since 9/11. Sometimes the understanding Europeans have about Islam is distorted or lacks adequate knowledge. In order to inject more objectivity into the debate, there has been, for example, a recent campaign promoting Islam as a faith which contributes positively to British society. The key questions addressed were: How can biased perceptions about Islam be countered? How can the media and the general public in Europe acquire a more balanced and comprehensive knowledge about Islam and the Muslim world?

Under the chair of Dr. Abdulwahab El-Affendi, coordinator of the Democracy and Islam Programme, University of Westminster, there were following speakers: Jorg Lau, Journalist for the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit; Farooq Murad, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain; Yousif Al-Khoei, Director, Al-Khoei Foundation. The panel was concerned with the Image of Islam and how to objectify it.

Third Panel
The Panel 3 was on “Aspects of radicalisation and how to counter it?” Violent and terrorist incidents in Europe with Islamist background have – albeit isolated – not been rooted out altogether. The key questions addressed were: Why do some apparently well-integrated European youth become attracted to extremist views? Why and when do some people cross from violent talk to violent action? How can European Muslims and non-Muslims as well as state and society cooperate in order to counter extremism? The panel was concerned with aspects of radicalisation and how to counter it?

Fourth Panel
The Panel 4 was on “‘Euro-Islam’: Contextualising Islam in secular societies.” ‘Euro-Islam’ has become a buzzword to describe a new Islamic consciousness in Europe, which could both help Muslims preserve their identity and fully integrate into Europe. It is directed against both ‘ghettoisation’ and assimilation. The key questions addressed were: Could ‘Euro-Islam’ be the way out of the stalemate between multiculturalism and assimilation? Could ‘Euro-Islam’ become an exportable commodity inspiring Muslims elsewhere to adapt and embrace democracy and pluralism in more viable and adaptable forms?

Under the chair of Kristiane Backer, author of the book From MTV to Mecca – How Islam Inspired My Life, the following were the speakers: Professor Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies, University of Oxford; Lord Professor Bhikhu Parekh, and Fiaz Moghul, Director of Faith Matters. The panel was concerned with “Euro-Islam in Secular Societies”.

Welcome Address by the Ambassador of
Germany in the United Kingdom
The German Ambassador said, “Today, about 4 million Muslims form Germany’s third-largest faith community, making up about 5% of the total population. This is significantly more than Britain’s 2 million Muslims, who make up about 3% of the British population.”

The German Federal Government set up the “German Islam Conference” in 2006 to improve integration. “The key issues are these: How can the different Muslim traditions and customs be brought into harmony with German law? How can the economic conditions of Muslims in Germany be improved? And how can prejudices on both sides be broken down?” said German Ambassador.

The very existence of the Conference is also a positive sign, said German Ambassador and added, “A sign that Islam and Muslims have become part of Germany, a part of German society.”

The German Ambassador said, “A study commissioned by the German Islam Conference on the integration of German Muslims has shown that Muslims are better integrated into German society than is often supposed. This is also confirmed by a Gallup survey of 2009, which found that Muslims in Germany (as in Britain) identify much more strongly with the state than the average population. Moreover, half of German Muslims – significantly more than the average population – were satisfied with their circumstances.”

Speaking about the image of Islam and Religious tolerance in Germany, the German Ambassador said, “last year a German opinion research institute conducted a survey on religious tolerance in several European countries. This found that over 80% of Germans were in favour of respect for all religions. However, only a third of German participants had a positive attitude towards Muslims, compared with over 50 per cent in France, the Netherlands and Denmark.”

The Ambassador also mentioned, “80% of participants in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark associated the word “Islam” with discrimination against women, about 70% with fanaticism and about 60% with violence. Only in France were these negative associations significantly lower.”

“This difference in public opinion is contradicted by a survey published in January, conducted by the French opinion research institute Ifop and commissioned by Le Monde newspaper,” said the German Ambassador and mentioned, “This found that 42% of French and 40% of Germans see the presence of Islam in their countries as a “threat to national identity”. This negative attitude has, according to the survey, increased strongly in the last ten years.”

German Ambassador said that what is needed is more contact, getting to know each other. He also mentioned, “In Britain, it was Baroness Warsi who – likewise in January – publicly lamented that Islamophobia has become acceptable in society and sections of the media. Thus in both our countries we face similar questions and problems, which will be looked at by the second Panel.”

Speaking about Islamic organisations in Germany, the Ambassador said, less than 1% of the 4 million Muslims living in Germany – that is, only about 30,000 people – are members of Islamist organisations. Most of these organisations are legal. “In Germany associations can be banned if their aims or activities violate criminal law, or if they are directed against the constitutional order or the idea of international understanding,” said the Ambassador and added, “Islamist associations currently banned in Germany are Hizb-ut-Tahrir (banned since 2003, when it had about 300 members) and the Turkish “Caliph State” (banned since 2001, when it had about 1,100 members).”

German Ambassador said Islam is “historically not new. Judaism, Christianity and Islam have shaped Europe and the Middle East for over 1000 years.”
Euro-Islam or Islam in Europe
In the Panel 4 on “Euro-Islam” the chair Kristiane Backer kicked the discussion by saying there is no European Islam; there is no Indonesian Islam; there is no Arabic Islam; Islam is Islam; but perhaps there is different experience of Islam. Then she asked Professor Tariq Ramadan to clear up this confusion. .

Professor Tariq Ramadan:
Professor Ramadan started by saying, my starting point: for all the European governments and for all the Western governments and for all the Muslims is to say, “In fact, if we come to the essence of Islam, there is only one Islam. As for principles or set of principles, or references, we have the Qur’an, the Prophetic Traditions, and then you have principles which are all the same, same prayer in Germany as we prayer in Pakistan; or in Egypt. We fast in the same way.”

Principle only one Islam; accepted diversity
“So as for the principles, there is only one Islam and now no one can deny the fact that there is an accepted diversity in Islam and the accepted diversity we have to be quite clear.”

Universality of Islam
“European Islam is to me Islamic as to the principles, European as to the culture, we have British Muslims are Muslims as far as the principles and British as for their culture,” said Professor Ramadan and emphasized, “we have to be assertive: the universality of Islam is to accept the universality of the principles and diversity of the culture.”

Beyond multiculturalism
Professor Ramadan spoke about multiculturalism and integration. He said, “Over the last few years we have this discussion, the rhetoric; multicultural failed, integration has failed; we have rhetoric of failure; saying that it does not work. I think that once again, here, we have to be consistent and clear what we are here talking about? What multiculturalism we are talking about? What we are actually addressing?”

“Now what we are facing, believe it or not, is the reality of the pluralistic society in Europe. We have common citizenship and different religious cultural backgrounds,” mentioned Professor Ramadan and said, “The only thing that we have now, we have to deal with it is pluralistic society. People are coming with different cultural backgrounds; different religious backgrounds and they have the same status. Now how we are going to deal with this? Are we serious about equality? Are we serious about taking into account diversity? Because all our Constitutions and when there is not clear constitutions, are all saying that we have to respect freedom of conscience, freedom of worship and the diversity of culture.”

Mentioning the problem Professor Ramadan said, “What should we do to be accepted as complete citizen when we have a Muslim background and a religious background. So there is a discourse, a rhetoric beyond culturalise, to religionise, to Islamise all the questions that we have.”

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