Are Islam and Europe incompatible?
Unfortunately a large number of Europeans think that Islam is not compatible with their way of life. But is that the only way to think about this important relationship? Which Islam are they talking about? There are 73 different versions (Denominations) of Islam. Is there a version that Europe can embrace as its own? It would help to do some historical and contemporary analysis to find a good answer.
The recent announcements by Sweden and Denmark about reinstating the border checksbetween the two countries does not come as a surprise. The refugee crisis has come at the heels of a deep financial turmoil that Europe has not fully recovered from. Despite firefighting and some measure of success in moving ahead from the Greek Crisis Europe does increasingly face an existential crisis. This crisis compels everyone to look deeply into the very reason why the Union was formed and what does it really stand for. Other factors are also at play which are a cause for concern. There is a deeper worry about the growing indifference that Europeans have developed towards political participation with voting at a historic low. The rise of far right, which seems to bank on those who are more politically committed, in the back drop of this general voter apathy is an ominous trend. Increasingly there is a trend to find “Other” among them to blame for the possible but not inevitable failure of the great social experiment called the “European Union”. Immigrants especially Muslims immigrants, who are seen as a threat to European values and who look different are easy targets- and thus the rise in Islamophobia.
Notwithstanding its colonial exploits and extraction of wealth from colonized nations, there is much to be admired about Europe and the values it has come to represent. Having paid with millions of lives in a struggle to secularize, and to have built a union based on liberal values, of sworn historical enemies, was no mean feat. For more than half a century Europe has symbolized and carried ahead humanist values which have shown the world how human rights can provide a basis for modern state formation and consolidation.
The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have put enormous strain on values that Europe holds dear. The response increasingly indicates that level of tolerance is wearing thin and is already leading to measures to curtail civil liberties. With Muslims forming more than six percent of European population and projected to increase, there is a deep sense of worry in the non-Muslim majority about the role Muslims will play in Europe and how this role will be shaped more by the version of Islam they follow rather than the values of their adopted societies. Increasingly this is seen as a clash between Muslims, Islam and European values that Europeans feel have been acquired with a lot of struggle and bitter lessons from their history.
Many Europeans perhaps consider the Crusades as Europe’s first encounter with the Muslim civilization. These did not leave any good memories. Their second encounter with Muslims was with the Ottomans Empire. The Ottoman incursions into the heart of Europe created a lot of resentment among the European elite. This is rather unfortunate as preceding the Crusades the significant contribution that the Andulsian (Muslim Spanish) civilization had made in partly triggering and sustaining the European renaissance is largely forgotten due to overwhelming negative portrayal of Islam and Muslims in the media. Recent events like the Paris attacks unfortunately shape opinions more than a dispassionate look at the history of constructive interaction between Muslims and Europe. Historically instead of recalling the positive contribution made by the Muslim Spain, it is the crusades and the Ottoman conquest of parts of Europe that feed the fear of Muslims among the common people despite the high level of literacy and awareness.
On a more mundane level, in addition to the extensive and biased coverage of violence committed by a minority of self-proclaimed Muslims, the ordinary European’s view of Muslims and of Islam in practice, is shaped by the immigrants who have arrived and settled in Europe since the end of Second World War. Significant migration happened during the Iran-Iraq war and the post 1979 revolution of Iran. A steady stream of immigrants of North African origin have continued to pour into Europe throughout this period. The aftermath of Afghan war in 1980s and more recently the Middle East turmoil has brought a large number of predominantly Muslim refugees. Germany has remained a favourite destination of Turkish immigrants given the historical ties between them as partners in both the First and the Second World War and more by the Syrian refugees. A significant number of Muslims from Pakistan started arriving after 1974 when the then Government declared Ahmadiyya Muslims as Non-Muslim. This accelerated further into serious and overt persecution after another Government issued Ordinance XX in 1984which made the ordinary lives of Pakistani Ahmadiyya Muslims akin to committing a criminal act. Regrettably this new wave of predominantly Muslim refugees has given rise to an even more pernicious hysteria about Europe losing its sense of identity.
Given the varied places of origin of migrants and refugees, the European Muslim diaspora is as varied and diverse as Islam is. All major schools of thoughts named after the four great Imams of Islamic Jurisprudence are represented. These include different sub sects of Shias, Sunnis and other smaller sects. According to many Muslim religious scholars there are as many as 73 different denominations of Muslims, certainly a rich and varied collection of thinking patterns and behaviours that they all believe, with sincerity, represents Islam.
Thanks to the western media, most Europeans end up hearing more about the Wahhabi or Salafi denomination of Islam due not only to the deep strategic ties their Governmentshave had with Saudi Arabia as an ally but also because of the overwhelming majority of those who are involved in violent events being from this particular school of thought. The other one which is closer to home and perhaps too close for comfort is Turkish (Sunni but with more Sufi inclinations) brand of Islam. This tended to be positive due to the founding of modern Turkey by Mustafa Kemal who successfully transformed the Ottoman Caliphate into a secular modern Turkish state. Unfortunately recent developments with successive wins by the AK party, who seems to be relentlessly moving into the direction of Islamization of Turkey do not augur well either for Turkey or for the Turkish image of Islam in Europe.
Given the plethora of denominations and lack of unified Muslim leadership it is very difficult to characterize Muslims as a whole. What can be said with a some confidence that a majority of Muslims are quite confused about the nature of relationship between religion and state, the definition of Jihad, the role of women, and take pride in their deep adherence to the cultures they originally come from. With no clear or easy answers to reconcile the two different value systems, comes a lack of confidence or security in their own identity and gives rise to undue suspicion and defensive attitude towards the host culture. This poses serious challenges to the process of integration. This sense of alienation is the push factor and the pull comes from extremist ideologies claiming to represent Islam. Nothing is more rewarding for a young Muslim to quickly find self-confidence albeit ill founded, a pseudo-identity and a sense of self-worth than joining a group that satisfies a deep desire for socializing and being a part of a group. This is what the extremists capitalize on.
There is no question that versions of Islam that cause confusion, increase insecurity, create an identity crisis, results in low self-worth and self-doubt leading to maladaptation of its followers to their host cultures is not good for Europe, its Muslim citizens and its future. It is a disservice both to real Islam and to those who follow it. It is dangerous for humanity.
What Europe needs is an Islam that is self-confident, peaceful, open, secular, progressive and embracing of its best human values. It also needs an Islam that unifies, integrates and can be related to as one body under a single enlightened and global leadership. An Islam that represents its true magnificence and universal character and the one that Europe truly deserves.
And here is the real good news. This version of Islam exists and is very much already a part of Europe, transforming Muslims and their relations with their host cultures into a harmonious relationship, since the early 1920s. I am referring to the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in 1889 and led currently by its fifth elected head the Khalifa of Islam. Known for its secular character, a deep aversion to all forms of militancy (the so called Jihad) in the name of religion, steeped in human service and absolute commitment to universal human values and rights it has encouraged its members in Europe to integrate and to embrace all good values of its adopted culture.
So here are six things that Ahmadiyya version of Islam brings to strengthen Europe.
First it resolves the confusion in the relationship between secularism (mosque/church and state) and Islam and expands it even further. Muslims in Europe who see secularism as irreligiousness or an onslaught on their moral values by the West can find heart in the fact that the Quran unequivocally defends Secularism as a universal human value. The first state of Medina founded by the Holy Prophet of Islam had a secular and pluralistic manifesto. It also advocates for moderation in secularism so there is no need for states to prescribe how women should dress. This teaching not only reassures the Muslims by addressing their insecurity but also shows European States, Governments and its non-Muslim citizens a way to reconcile secularism with the existence of religious beliefs. Islamic secularism truly encourages plurality and imparts a level of sacredness to it. A sacredness that was taken away by the violent rupture between the Church and State in Europe.
Second, it returns the concept to Jihad to its original meaning and purity as taught by Quran and practiced by the Holy Prophet of Islam, i.e. to educate and get educated, to stay informed, to spread literacy, to love reading and writing and to embrace enlightenment in all its forms. It demolishes the narrow basis on which all brands of religious or non-religious extremism stands. It encourages the embrace of the unknown and the “Other”. Ahmadiyya Islam removes this misunderstanding and creates the basis for harmony and peace in Europe for all its citizens.
Third it strengthens human rights and values that are so dear to Europeans. The Quranic Charter on Human Rights goes well beyond the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It emphasizes the equality of men and women, protects human life and dignity by declaring it a part of duty to God imparting it with a divine sanction.
Fourth it defends, stands by and supports European integration. Coming of nations together is a deeply human centred initiative. It is a part of Islam’s understanding of a divine design that considers humanity as a one large family, divided into nations for the sake of identifying each other and not for killing each other. It moderates the sense of nationalism with this universal ideal of one humanity created equal by One Divine Being.
Fifth in a return to original ideals of Islam it teaches complete spiritual equality between men and women. It frees women to pursue their interests, be professional and be a full contributing members of any society. It elevates the status of women to beyond the status given to them by European laws by emphasizing their high spiritual status and by negating the objectification of them in the media and on the streets.
Finally it creates and teaches a deep sense of gratitude to the host nation and teaches loyalty to the adopted motherland. It allows its followers to become deeply committed and responsible citizens of the nation they have become part of. This fosters a sense of self confidence and socialization that makes them invulnerable to ideologies that promise immediate and superficial returns.
So Europe would do well to recognize and work with Ahmadiyya Islam. It is here to stay, to keep Europe safe and to spread love for all, and hatred for none.
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