Europe: Integrating Islam

Source / Courtesy: Council on Foreign Relations
Toni Johnson, Senior Staff Writer

Updated: July 25, 2011

Since 9/11, Western Europe’s growing Muslim population has been the focus of debate on issues ranging from immigration policy to cultural identity to security. Several incidents in recent years have increased tensions between Western European states and their Muslim populations: the 2004 Madrid and 2005 London attacks, the 2004 ban of the head scarf coupled with the 2011 ban of the “burqa” in France, the 2005 Paris riots, the 2006 Danish cartoon incident, and several high-profile murders. The July 2011 killing spree in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik, who preached against the “Islamization of Western Europe” (WSJ) and multiculturalism further underscored the deepening tensions on the continent.

After World War II, Western Europe welcomed a large immigrant labor force to help rebuilding efforts. Later more immigrants were admitted to meet rapid economic growth, allow family reunification, and provide asylum. At first, concerns over the influx of workers from other countries were “largely about race and ethnicity,” notes Ceri Peach, a professor of social geography at Oxford University, in a 2007 report (PDF) from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). The rise of Islamic regimes after the Iranian revolution in 1979–and more recently the increase in terrorism–has called attention to the fact that many of these immigrants were not only ethnically different but also Muslim.

Western Europe has experienced an increase in immigration from all around the globe in the last decade. The European Union’s June 2009 strategy report on immigration (PDF) shows a total of 18.5 million registered non-EU nationals and an estimated 8 million illegal immigrants living in the European Union. Since the EU does not track statistical data on religion, it is unclear what percentage of these immigrants are Muslim. According to a 2008 Brookings study, the EU countries with the largest percentages of Muslims are France at an estimated 8 percent, Netherlands estimated at 6 percent, Germany at 4 percent, and the United Kingdom at 3 percent of the population. And Muslim populations exceed 20 percent in some major EU cities.

“Muslims in Europe are working hard to try to find ways to educate their own communities and talk about the balance between being Muslim and Western, not Muslim or Western,” says Farah Pandith, U.S. envoy to Muslim communities.

The total Muslim population, including immigrant and native born, in Western Europe is about 20 million of the EU’s 500 million residents. Some experts contend the continuing influx of immigration from Islamic countries, along with higher immigrant birth rates and lower native European birth rates, mean Muslims in Western Europe could significantly increase in coming decades. However, the CSIS report says that past estimates of growth in Muslim populations seem to show inconsistencies and should be “treated with great caution,” and argues that the speed of population growth “in countries with good data” is less than estimates had suggested.

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Categories: Europe, Religion

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