A hopeful vision for the future of Islam in Europe

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Competing Visions of Islam Will Shape Europe in the 21st Century

Source: The Atlantic

By David Frum

Akbar Ahmed’s new book deals with how migration is reshaping the continent, and whether leaders can cope.

Akbar Ahmed was born a subject of the British Raj. He devoted his career to building a modern Pakistani state, accepting some of his government’s most dangerous jobs, including political commissioner in the tribal agency of Waziristan. He rose to represent Pakistan as its high commissioner in the United Kingdom. Since retiring from government, he has taught at American University in Washington, D.C., where he has written books and produced documentaries about Islam’s place in the modern world. His newest book, Journey into Europe, is the culmination of years of study of the Muslim migration northward, which has accelerated dramatically since the Syrian Civil War. Ahmed and I have debated the impact of this migration for years. We continued the conversation recently over a long written exchange.

David Frum: You are promoting a new book, about Islam in Europe. As so often in your intellectual career, you perceive potential harmony where others see mostly conflict. Terrorism in the name of Islam has claimed many lives in Europe over the past two decades—and the reaction to mass migration from the Islamic world is shaking the politics of the continent.

Meanwhile much of the Muslim world seems to be turning away from the liberal values that have defined Europe since 1945. You see this especially in Turkey, once a candidate for entry into the European Union, now an increasingly authoritarian and religiously chauvinist state. Why are you so hopeful?

Akbar Ahmed: There have been too many deaths due to Muslim acts of terrorism—though more like hundreds rather than thousands—and undoubtedly Islam is now a highly debated “hot” issue in Europe today. As a social scientist who rests his analysis on field research and facts, I am concerned about the potential for violence and conflict in the future. But as a humanist with faith in the pluralist legacy that exists in Europe, I have hope that with wisdom, compassion, and courage, the leaders of Europe will be able to guide the continent through this difficult time.

Frum: Let’s begin with the first part of your analysis, within Europe. Speaking to the new Bundestag on March 21, Chancellor Merkel drew a distinction between the places of Islam and Christianity within Germany: “It is beyond question that our country was historically formed by Christianity and Judaism. But it’s also the case that with 4.5 million Muslims living with us, their religion, Islam, has also become a part of Germany.” That comment, I should add, drew some protest from some members of the Bundestag—but even on its face, it underscores that the politician who welcomed more Muslims into Europe than any other in history, almost 1.5 million people over the past three years, still sees Islam as a new and uncertain graft upon the European trunk. Your Journey Into Europe seeks to reassure her. But if even Angela Merkel is unsure, isn’t this a truly overwhelmingly difficult project?

Ahmed: There was a time when Muslim scientists, astronomers, surgeons, and mathematicians were at the cutting edge of their disciplines. Muslims were then seen as representing a powerful, sophisticated, and rich world civilization. Today, ironically, Muslims are seen as destitute refugees escaping mad and bloodthirsty Muslim rulers. In this guise it is understandable that Europeans will not see Islam as part of European civilization. Therefore they would be put at ease if they appreciated their own history, when Muslims were very much part of European culture and history, and impacted the Renaissance, Scientific Revolution, and Enlightenment. While many people talk of a “Judeo-Christian” Europe, the fact is that it is the Judeo, Christian, and Islamic religions, i.e. the Abrahamic faiths, that came together, while engaging with Greek philosophy, to create and nourish what we now know as European civilization. Chancellor Merkel’s welcoming of some million migrants was an act of compassion for which many, including me, have applauded her. It is the kind of gesture that perhaps only one other person in Europe can match—Pope Francis washing the feet of the migrants and welcoming them to Europe.

Frum: Isn’t the Muslim world even more prone to view the West with hostility rather than the other way around?

Ahmed: I see three broad, sometimes overlapping, categories within Islam: literalist Islam—those Muslims who believe that to be a good Muslim should mean to adhere to the letter and spirit of Islamic law; the mystics—those who believe in a warm, inclusive embrace of humanity which reflects the love of the divine for all creation; and finally the modernists—those who believe in balancing faith with modernity. Those in this final category believed that modernity, with its characteristics of democracy and accountability, and Islam were compatible. It is this category that is under threat directly from the literalists.

Frum: Perhaps the conflict is generated by conceptualizing people—who come from across the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia—as “Muslims” rather than as (for example) descendants of certain ethnicities or nationalities. Maybe the very project of imagining people from many different places and cultures—and especially people who may not personally be very religious at all—as “Muslims” imposes an identity that so many people from Muslim-majority lands seek to escape?

Ahmed: In each European country the relationship of the Muslim minority to the host country is different and depends on the historical relationship with their country of origin and the circumstances of their arrival. After 9/11 however, the common factor that defined Muslims in the U.S. and Europe was that they were seen simply as Muslim—that is, defined by religion and no longer by their nation of origin, ethnicity, sect, class, or profession. We were told for example by a German ambassador, when we asked him about German identity and Muslims living in Germany, that before 9/11 they were called Turks. Now he said, they are all known as Muslims, whether they are Turks, Kurds, Iranians, or Pakistanis. The third generation of Muslim immigrants born as citizens in the U.S. or Europe feels the full backlash of the prejudice against Muslims, and it is from here that some young men and women are susceptible to the preaching and allure of the more extreme literalists who argue that there can be no coexistence between Islam and the West. At the same time we must not overlook the fact that Muslims are also contributing to Western societies in significant ways—[as] the mayors of London and Rotterdam, [as] more than a dozen members of the House of Lords and Commons, [as] members of parliament in places like Germany and France, [as] major television presenters, and [as] sports heroes in cricket and football.

Frum: European Muslim communities seem to assimilate at different rates and in different ways. A Pew survey from 2006 found that 42 percent of French Muslims defined themselves as “French first, Muslim second”—the highest such rate in any of the European countries Pew surveyed. Only 7 percent of British Muslims identified as “British first, Muslim second.” I’ll personally note—and perhaps you’ve shared this experience—that it’s not uncommon to meet people of North African Muslim origin at senior levels of the French security services, something highly uncommon for their counterparts in the United Kingdom.

Ahmed: The answer to this question is rooted in the colonial encounter—the French saw Algeria, for example, as an extension of France, and therefore the immigrants from this part of Africa carried that sense of identity with them to France, seeing themselves as French with the dominant philosophy of laïcité. Thus their Muslim identity was colored by laïcité. Whether they are fully accepted as French is a separate question, and I have explored it in detail in the book. As far as the British colonies were concerned, in India for example, after the 1857 uprisings that almost toppled British rule on the subcontinent, the British consciously left religion alone. [This] allowed Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs to maintain their religious identity and even nourish it. Besides, there was a distinctly different approach to imperialism between the British and the French—after 1857 the former tended to be more inclusive and promoted schools, colleges, and participation in the army and civil services, while the French ruled their African colonies through harsh military force and compelled their subjects to give up their Islamic identity. Yet it’s also true that many Muslims in Britain told us we are proud to be British and proud to be Muslim, as distinct from France, where Muslims constantly expressed their sense of alienation, anger, and feeling of rejection by French society.

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How Islam Taught Medieval Christian Europe Religious and Political Tolerance

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2 replies

  1. First Islam is the fastest growing religion by percentage and soon with the number , and if Islam spread by war why Indonesia the largest Islamic country , Islam reached it without war , and Christianity you said huh , do you know what crusaders did to world ?!!!! pls go and do some research then come and talk. Islam is perfect but Muslims are not. Do not judge Islam by the actions of Muslims but judge Islam by the Quran. Islam the way forward.

    Nobody is asking or forcing you to accept any religious belief. But you are forcing others to accept what you believe. State funded Muslim schools with Muslim teachers, Sharia Laws, Halal meat, Mosques and Muslim cemeteries are for the Muslim community. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school.

    There is a challenge in the Quran to produce a surah (verse) that can match in literary quality or scientific truth to the ones contained in the Quran. In 1400 years many have taken up the challenged but failed every time. The smartest brains could not produce a single verse like that of the Quran. The scientific facts mentioned in the Quran 1400 years ago are only now being discovered by modern science. I think it is a miracle. Masha Allah. Don’t judge an entire religion based on the actions of a few individuals. Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance and scientific truth.

    It is obvious that in the Southeast Asia there is a population density of Muslims, in territories such as the Philippines and Indonesia, which has not stepped on any Muslim mujahedeen. In such places dozens, but hundreds of millions of people have been brought to Islam. In these countries, who forced them to accept Islam. It is worth noting that they constitute the majority of Muslims in our era.

    There are also many Muslims in the countries of Europe and the United States; the countries where the Muslim conquerors did not enter it and live in other Islamic countries of Muslim minority while Alhymadullah adhered to Islam.

    When reading history from around the time of the Medieval Crusades you see Islam not as the Christians portray them as the enemy. A very good example of this is the Muslim control of Jerusalem during the peaceful period between two of the crusades when the Muslim leaders allowed the other religions to come and worship at the sites important to them. They did not enslave, dominate, kill or stop the pilgrims from coming and worshiping at religious sites. The problems come from the Christian nations seeing them as not following the true god, as written about in the Christian bible. Since the ending of the crusades they have been banned from visiting sites which are just as important to them as the Christians and Jews. Even since the Jews where handed Israel as their country we see Israel, with the support of the west, being the aggressor. The Intrafradas are the Muslims trying to gain access to religious sites that Israel has banned them from. The problem is not Islam being violent it is Israel and the west not seeing Islam as a valid religion allowed as the pilgrims from the Christian countries want to visit and pray at the sites which should be open to all religions as each book, the Torah, Bible and Quran all list these sites at important to them.

    Islam is a religion of peace love and JUSTICE. Muslims don’t and should not prove their innocence who believe that Islam is a violent religion. ISLAM today and after 9/11 has been the fastest growing religion in the WORLD. To be honest, nobody like peaceful religion… it seems that its impossible to gain billions of followers if a prophet was evil.. and it has decline the number of Christianity in the world.. Judaism as well.. the only war today was due to people that are greedy for power.. but in majority of Muslims view, politics is only for man who wants to challenge his life. Most of us don’t like politics because later you would be put in trial in front of God. Ordinary Muslims prefer to be away from it..

    When sister of the former British PM and so many women returned to Islam some inquisitive students begun to ask, why the West comes to Islam despite deliberate distortion in the Media and constant sponsorship against Islam? As a reminder, Pharaoh killed male children but Moses was brought up in his house. Allah guides whom so ever He wishes.

    “Islam holds a place in our Western societies. Islam belongs in Europe. It holds a place in Europe’s history, in our culture, in our food and – what matters most – in Europe’s present and future. Like it or not, this is the reality.

    Truth is always bitter. According to the Holy Quran, all children are born Muslims, it is their parents who make them Jew, Christian or others. This is one of the many reasons why now western peoples are reverting to Islam on their own free will. Through out the history, Muslims never forced non-Muslims to accept Islam. This is the main reason why Muslims lost Spain and India.

    The fear of Christians converting to Islam has haunted the Church ever since the times when missionaries were sent to the Holy land to convert Muslims to Christianity but never came back. Instead they converted to Islam and stayed, drawn in no doubt by the fact that they could be spiritual and enjoy a good standard of living at the same time. If Islam did not cherish women, I don’t think these intelligent women would convert. You need to got beyond the stereotype of Women in Islam.

    According to Islam; they are reverts. Nothing much to do with Christianity or Judaism; but the belief that all children are born in to Islam, but raised differently by their parents; hence those who accept Islam are merely reverting back to their original faith. Secondly; unlike other religions; Islam has no problem accepting other beliefs and religions as a different path to the same one God. After all God sent 124000 prophets since Adam; and they were all before Islam; Muhammad(PBUH) was the last amongst them. Islam is a continuation of the original beliefs; so it is not wholly shocking to say there are similarities to the bible/ Torah. It would be more surprising if there weren’t any; considering Islam accepts that they were the true faith for their time; however it was they that became distorted overtime; and Islam came to rectify that.

    Islam is the fastest growing faith in Britain. Hundreds and thousands of Brits are reverting to Islam. By the middle of this century, over half of Brits would be Muslims.

    “I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that assimilating capacity to the changing phase of existence which can make itself appeal to every age. I have studied him – the wonderful man and in my opinion for from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the saviour of Humanity. I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world, he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness: I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today.” [G.B. Shaw, THE GENUINE ISLAM,Vol. No. 81936.]
    IA
    http://www.londonschoolofislamics.org.uk

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