Post 7, Week 8: Islam in Europe

In “Muslims in Europe: a short introduction” Justin Vaisse details different perceptions of Muslims throughout Europe, and how they can be drastically different from reality. The first myth Vaisse points out is “Being Muslim constitutes a fixed identity, sufficient to fully characterize a person.” Vaisse contends that with immigrants, people assume that religion “rather than nationality, gender, social class, etc” defines identity. Islam is religion, not a definition of who a person is, and that’s just one assumption to be overcome. Myth #2, “Muslims in Europe are, in one way or another, inherently foreign, the equivalent of visiting Middle-Easterners who are alien to the ‘native’ culture.” One argument Vaisse makes is that European cultures have always had Muslim influences, dating back to the 8th century. Most of these immigrants see themselves as Europeans, and hold that as a new national identity. Myth #3, “Muslims in Europe form a distinct, cohesive, and bitter group” Vaisse reminds us that these immigrant groups are anything but unified and cohesive. These sweeping generalizations of Muslim immigrants only serve to group them under one inaccurate label and delay assimilation. The areas of the world practicing Islam are global, representing thousands of different people groups and cultures. As Vaisse put it, “In other words, to speak of a ‘Muslim community’ is simply misleading.” Myth #4 “Muslims are demographically gaining on the ‘native’ population.” These communities aren’t an organized coalition of voters, they’re diverse politically as well as ethnically. “This assumption is contradicted by the significant rates of intermarriage and conversions (in both directions) and, more importantly, by the reality of integration in many countries, where Muslims are simply patriotic, law abiding citizens…” Obviously, these immigrants are facing numerous obstacles, not just economically, but in the perceptions of their countrymen. Without facing these myths head on, progress can’t be made toward a more diverse tomorrow.

In the West, the Islamic religion is assumed to be concurrent with political beliefs. It is widely believed that the political and religious dimensions of Muslim people are one and the same, when in fact they are distinctly different. Hunter says, “By making such a statement, one gives the impression that it is not possible for a Muslim to integrate into a secular society, which is a completely wrong view.” (Hunter, 209) In fact, Islam has specific guidelines for behavior in both sacred and secular contexts. In worship, specific texts must be followed and each step is outlined strictly. However, in social and secular contexts, a text is required to forbid someone from doing it. This means that politics and religion are not inextricably tied together, and that these peoples do have political agency.

“A community, a nation of responsible beings, can be assessed through its readiness to invest in the education and training of tomorrow’s adults.” (Hunter, 216) Hunter argues that in a diverse, multicultural society requires adequate education to combat bigotry between different peoples. “The role of school education, today even more than in the past, is to train individuals who are capable of questioning meaning, of discussing values, and do not remain confined to a mere selective management of technical abilities and performances.” These issues are important to all Europeans, not just for immigrants. Traditional worldviews and ways of understanding have to be reworked for the 21st century, with changing social and political landscapes. These “social rifts” just serve to divide people and inspire xenophobia, they don’t promote progress as a unified nation. Efforts need to be taken to understand different cultures, not just live next to them but with them. “Muslims in Europe, instead of relying only on the principles of their religion in its Asian or North African versions, should come back to these fundamentals of their faith and play their part within industrialized societies. Together with the members of other religious communities and with all men and women of good will, they must participate in the necessary debate about the place of faith, spirituality and values in the modern and postmodern societies.” Through education and a mutual desire for working together, I think that European countries can be welcoming to these immigrants and the immigrants can find new homes as European citizens.

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