In the book Islam, Europe’s Second Religion, Lief Stenburg discusses the integration of Muslims in Scandinavia. He breaks this integration down into four levels. The first is “the general integration of Muslims, in order to make Islam and Muslims an accepted part of the country’s everyday life.” Integration at this level has been difficult and slow-moving, as Scandinavians are still learning to accept Muslims and to interact with them, and Muslims are still learning to leave their comfort zones found in their local Islamic communities.
The second level of integration is at the political level. Fully integrated citizens would participate fully in the politics of their home country. However, this is not the case of many Muslims in Scandinavia, who think that any participation in government, particularly at the national level, is futile in reaching their goals. Due to existing prejudices and the small number of Muslims in Scandinavia, it is also difficult for a Muslim politician to be elected.
Muslims have also not integrated well at the level of religious rituals. The book gives an example of Muslims protesting the restrictions on slaughtering animals passed by the Freedom of Religion Act. Looking at this example, there is a large difference between what is accepted and practiced by Muslims and Scandinavians as far as the topic of religious rituals.
The last level of integration is ideologically. Muslims must learn to change their way of thinking in order to accept their Western home while still practicing their faith. This process has begun taking place, as Muslims reinterpret the Quran and begin to create a so-called “Euro-Islam.”
I. L. Garcia and A. I. P. Contreras discuss similar issues of integration found in Spain in the same book. While Spain does have a history of Muslim rule in the past few centuries, most Muslims were driven out as Catholicism in Spain grew in popularity. Additionally, Spain has never had a long-lasting colony in a Muslim country, meaning that any citizens of Spain’s colonies that moved to Spain were likely not Muslim. Thus, Spain has only begun receiving Muslim immigrants in the last 20 years.
Spain also sees different degrees of Muslim immigration based on the various groups of Muslims found in the country. For example, naturalized Muslims and Spanish converts enjoy very high integration into Spanish society. However, Muslim immigrants who have traveled to Spain for economic or other reasons demonstrate a lower level of integration, as they cannot participate in political life and often interact only within their local Muslim communities.
With these two chapters, we have concluded our study of Islam, Europe’s Second Religion. In the final remarks, editor Shireen Hunter points out a few conclusions of this book. First, Hunter concludes that “the process of Islam’s and Muslims’ interaction with European societies…is taking place within a historical context of inherited and deep-rooted cultural and religious prejudices. While prejudices are difficult to overcome, strides are being made for Muslims to be accepted and integrated into the European community. During this process, Muslims will likely find themselves reinterpreting Islam as they strive to bring together Islam and modernism.
Hunter also discusses that the best option for these immigrants is “integration without complete assimilation.” This phrase means that, while Muslims may become an integral part of the European society and begin participating in political and social life, they will still preserve their own beliefs and values, rather than taking on those of native Europeans.
Though Muslim populations in Europe differ in their cultural, religious, and political beliefs, one thing is common for almost all of them: they often constitute the underprivileged class and are economically worse-off than their European counterparts. Hopefully, as Muslims begin to integrate more fully into their respective societies, they will also be able to break out of this cycle of poverty and deprivation, and be labeled simply as “Europeans,” just like everyone else.