When it comes to integrating people from other cultures, there is no denying that the Muslims who have come to the West pose a particular challenge. In the analysis, one must first of all pay attention to where these lines of conflict come from, where the so-called “majority society” has failed so far, where politics, but also what demands we in Europe place on the people who want to live here. In Germany or Austria, the Islamic religious education offered in state schools is taught by teachers who are under the control of the Islamic associations, which evade any state control because they are allowed to work completely independently. The situation is similar with the special Quran schools in Europe: teachers who, through their training in Muslim countries, have a world view that contradicts Western values are allowed to teach. Another problem, as practiced in Turkey, is the very nationalistic and party-political training practices, which contradict a neutral and critical examination of religion.
Many governments in Europe have a far too uncritical relationship with the Islamic associations. This behavior legitimizes and empowers them within and outside their communities, but at the same time weakens the voices of those who have long called for reforms within Islam in Europe. It is not irrelevant to make the distinction between Islam and Islamism in the political and social context, since the distinction between Islam as a religion and political Islamism indicates that, on the one hand, there are Muslims in Europe who accept Western values and norms in have adapted their religion, while others propagate exactly the opposite: Islam is a priori the system of values for the individual and society, and there can be no other norms.
The Islamic associations are not interested in Muslims living here identifying with Europe and its values, because only then, in their limited view, can they find legitimacy through the alleged gap between Muslims and European values. An entire Islamic economy has built itself around this gap: Islamic banking, pilgrimage tourism, halal food, halal living, etc. The fear of conservative Muslims of the supposedly sinful European way of life is the capital of these associations. It is not in the interest of the Erdogans, Al-Qaradawis of this world, that the Turks or Arabs living here feel like Europeans. Rather, it is a tried and tested means of enforcing politics and interests in this country as well. Hence the interest in and lobbying with state structures, not having to relinquish sovereignty over Islam lessons and imam training.
There are many millions of peaceful Muslims living in Europe who cannot help what Islamist movements preach here and try to pass on to young people. This needs to be said again and again. It is the task of the majority society to recognize these Muslims as loyal citizens, not to treat them as strangers and to protect them from discrimination and racism as well as from the ideology of Islamism. One should support these Muslims and fight those who seek to gain political influence in the name of their religion and equate critical examination of Islam with racism. It is precisely this rhetoric that is increasingly being used by representatives of political Islamism. With these means, they try to nip any critical confrontation with Islamist tendencies in European societies in the bud with “cancel culture”, to present themselves as discriminated victims, to compare themselves with “Black Lives Matter”. Apart from the fact that the comparison is inadmissible, it is increasingly used in many circles of political Islamism and is often accepted and shared in solidarity by liberal and left-wing circles within the public discourse. It is particularly interesting to see that precisely those representatives of “We are the poor victims in a European society that is persecuting us” never raise a critical word against the authoritarian, totalitarian, patriarchal structures of many Islamic associations in Europe, not commenting on the contradiction of the immanent interpretation of religious scriptures in a 21st century society.
There are now enough initiatives and programs to set up Islamic theological centers that promote a reformed and critical European Islam. The majority of the powerful Islamic associations, however, refuse to employ graduates of these universities as teachers or imams. They continue to ensure that the progressive forces are not supported because they threaten the political and ideological orientation of the associations. This is exactly where politics should start. Europe must support the forces of reform within the Islamic communities and protect them from the Islamists’ agitation. The spokesman for the largest German Islamic association said publicly at the 2018 German Islam Conference that the reform theologians, trained at European universities, would not meet the standards of his organization. The reaction of German politicians to this rejection was characterized by silence, a lack of support for the representatives of Islam in the 21st century and continued support for the old association structures.
Enlightenment, also in Islam, is more necessary today than ever! Bassam Tibi, a well-known scientist in the German-speaking world, says: “Europe could today repay its gratitude for the rational impulses from the Arab philosophers of the time by trying to convey back to Islam the rationalism that it was allowed to receive from this side at the time. But this also requires willingness on the other side, and the conditions for this are currently anything but favorable.”
European politicians say often enough that Muslims must carry out these reforms themselves and should not be pressured to do so from outside, but they do not adhere to the required neutrality of politics towards religion. If they did that, they would not support the reactionary forces of Islam in Europe, would not give them an important voice, would not continue to finance their projects in the “name of tolerance and diversity”.
If Europe does not want to openly support a 21st century Islam, then at least it should neither do so with its enemies. Of course, this does not exclude open but critical dialogue with all Islamic groups, but it must be open-ended and impartial. There is also an urgent need not to look at the dialogue theologically. The clear line of conflict is the secular world. Therefore, it needs to focus on issues of coexistence. A consensus of values does not mean finding a middle ground between religion and freedom. Freedom should be the umbrella under which religion exists. Currently, however, religion in Muslim communities acts more like a shield against freedom.
All publishing rights and copyrights reserved to MENA Research and Study Center.