What Are The Prospects For A European Islam?

I have a solid certainty: Islam can and must be a great resource for the West.

I have a solid certainty: Islam can and must be a great resource for the West.

I first met Islam in India where I lived for a long time and I was amazed by the nobility of its culture. In 2018 I moved to the UK, precisely to London. I had no interest in the Western lifestyle in this former “world capital”, however, and I instead wanted to discover its huge Muslim community. 

I attended several prayers in several mosques and I explored Sufi turuq. I also started doing research on the spread of Islam in the West (mostly in the UK).

The British Library was my second home and I abundantly surfed the web. I found one short video by The Economist in February 2019, particularly interesting: Is Islam in the West changing? 

In less than four minutes Robert Guest — The Economist’s foreign editor — explains how Islam is evolving in Europe into a more Western form, mostly focusing on Muslim migration.

According to his point of view, while first-generation Muslims who moved to Europe were not too involved in the local culture and second-generation ones felt slightly alienated both from their parents’ foreign religious influence and the societies they were living in, third-generation Muslims are culturally more assimilated and more liberal compared to any other generation.

Quoting the article on The Economist, related to the video:

“For young Muslims in the West, faith is increasingly becoming a matter of personal choice. Their beliefs range from ultra-conservative to path-breakingly liberal. Some prominent scholars allow female converts to keep non-Muslim husbands; a few congregations conduct weekly prayers on Sundays, because the faithful go to work on Fridays; there are even women-led mosques.”

Finally, Robert Guest argues that third-generation Muslims — creating, in the West, a new kind of Islam — could be a good example for brothers and sisters living in other parts of the world.

Maybe Robert Guest’s approach is too schematic? Frankly, in this article I will focus on the questions more than on the answers, leaving these to the readers, hoping to fuel a constructive debate.

I have, however, a solid certainty: Islam can and must be a great resource for the West!

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Considering the dramatic crisis of Christianity — the religion that for many centuries has permeated Europe and the “New World” — I mention another, very recent video (31 December 2021) by Paul Williams — a blogger and bibliophile based in London and the South of France — and shared in his YouTube Channel: Blogging Theology. 

The title is intriguing: Do Muslims Belong in Europe? 

Paul Williams begins by quoting a recent article from The Guardian:

“For the first time, possibly in a millennium, fewer than half of all Britons call themselves Christian. This month’s updating of the 2011 census suggests the latest figure is down from 60% to 51% with predictions that next year it will be in the 40s.”

After this disconcerting preamble, Mr Williams mentions Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury who has recently declared that 2022 will mark 70th unbroken year of annual decline in the number of churchgoers with less than 2 percent of the population now attending church regularly (in several other European countries the percentage is not remarkably higher). 

The main reason for this ineluctable decline is the almost absence of turnover between old and new generations (the average age of a Church of England worshiper is 61).

Therefore, if we want to have an idea of Europe how it used to be (according, for instance, to family life and the centrality of religion in the civil society), argues Paul Williams quoting an unspecified Muslim author, we have to look to Muslim minorities.

Indeed they have several antidotes to “a very recent and socially disintegrative and nihilistic philosophy” — today very common among the Westerners — starting with the 30th ayat of the 30th Sura of the Holy Qu’ran:

“So as a man of pure faith, stand firm and true in your devotion to the religion. This is the natural disposition God instilled in mankind — there is no altering God’s creation — and this is the right religion, though most people do not realize it.” (The Holy Qu’ran, 30:30)

Faced with this scenario two questions arise: 

  1. How can Islam, in Europe, properly fill the vacuum left by Christianity?
  2. What kind of interreligious collaboration can be plausible with some Christians to defend the natural disposition to religion from current nihilism after Pope Francis’ Address to Fraternity Conference, in Abu Dhabi, on February 4 2019, and his meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in March 2021? 

Maybe we could reverse the title of Robert Guest’s video Is Islam in the West Changing? to Is Islam Changing the West? 

European Islam is a very complex issue. It has been discussed by several scholars, and the main Muslim scholars are Bassam Tibi and Tariq Ramadan, supporters of crucially different theses.

At the same time, European Islam is extraordinarily real and is growing, day by day, on a pre-existing basis of native Slavic Muslims.

It is growing through migration but even because of the reversions of Westerners burning for rediscovering their natural disposition to religion (or to rediscover the homo religiosus, using a phrase popular among historians of religion of the calibre of Gerardus Van Der Leeuw and Mircea Eliade, within them).

According to my personal experience in the UK (in London and in the North of England), it is not easy to find European reverts attending the prayers in the majority of the mosques. Westerners in mosques can also be viewed with suspicion, for obvious reasons.

I found more Westerners in Sufi turuqs, mostly in London. Maybe Sufism (tasting more spiritual than normative or political) is more palatable for a Westerner?

The issue of European reverts would deserve another article. So I want to conclude this one with a wish: that a growing number of Westerners develop the desire to know better Islam in its religious and cultural richness — we know Islamophobia is often the direct consequence of ignorance — and a growing number of them, burning for rediscovering their natural disposition to religion, find the courage to become part of a community that really belongs to Europe.

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