Europe and Islam
Islam: Europe's Second Largest Religion
As in the rest of the world, Islam is in the midst of a rapid growth in Europe. This development has been attracting more attention in recent years, as evidenced by the many theses, reports, and articles published on "the place of Muslims in Europe" and "dialogue between European society and Muslims." Along with these academic reports, the media has carried frequent reports about Islam and Muslims. The root of this interest lies in the continual growth of Muslim population figures in Europe, and that this increase cannot be ascribed solely to immigration. While immigration certainly has had a significant effect on the Muslim population's growth, so many researchers have addressed this matter for quite another reason: high conversion rates.
The Roman Catholic Church, headquartered in Vatican City, is one of the institutions that follows conversion trends. One of the main topics during the October 1999 meeting of the European synod, which was attended by almost all of the Catholic clergy, was the Church's position in the new millennium. The conference's main theme was the rapid growth of Islam in Europe.
The National Catholic Reporter reported that some radical individuals stated that the only way to prevent Muslims' gaining power in Europe was to stop tolerating Muslims and Islam; other more objective and rational individuals underscored the fact that since the two religions believe in one God, there should be no room for any conflict or struggle between them. In one session, Archbishop Karl Lehmann of Germany stressed that there is more internal pluralism within Islam than many Christians perceive, and that the radicals' claims about Islam had no basis in truth.61
Considering the position of Muslims when elucidating the Church's position in the new millennium was quite proper, for a 1999 United Nations' survey showed that between 1989 and 1998, Europe's Muslim population grew by more than 100 percent.62 Today, about 13 million Muslims live in Western Europe: 3.9 million in Germany, 3.3 million in Britain, 7.5 million in France, and the rest in other countries.63
Relevant research also has revealed that while the number of Muslims in Europe continues to grow, there is a deepening of religious awareness among Muslims. According to a survey conducted by the French newspaper Le Monde in October 2001, compared to data collected in 1994, many Muslims continue to perform their prayers, go to the mosque, and fast. This awareness is seen much more among university students.64
In an Aktuel magazine article, which was based on reports in the foreign press, Western researchers said that Europe would become one of the most important centers for the dissemination of Islam about 50 years later.65
Along with this sociological and demographic research, we also must not forget that Europe has not become acquainted with Islam only recently, but that Islam is actually an inseparable part of Europe.
The History of Islam in Europe
Europe and the realm of Islam have had close relations with each other for centuries. First, the state of Andalusia (756-1492) on the Iberian Peninsula, and later the Crusades (1095-1291) and the Ottoman capture of the Balkans (1389), brought about a constant interrelation between the two societies. Many historians and sociologists assert today that Islam was the leading cause of Europe's movement from the darkness of its Middle Ages to the brilliance of its Renaissance. At a time when Europe was backward in medicine, astronomy, mathematics, and many other fields, Muslims possessed a vast treasure of knowledge and great possibilities of development.
The first event that made Europeans aware of Islam's coming important place in their lives was the caliph 'Umar ibn al-Khattab's capture of Jerusalem (638). This caused Europe to realize for the first time that Islam was spreading and approaching its own borders. The main reason for the Crusades, launched four centuries later, was to take Jerusalem back from the Muslims. But the Crusaders who set out for this purpose gained something else, for the contact they made with the Muslim world was the first step toward Europe's rebirth. Dominated by darkness, conflict, war, and despotism, Europe encountered the Islamic world's advanced civilization and saw that its inhabitants were both highly prosperous and civilized, as well as quite advanced in the fields of medicine, astronomy, and mathematics as in their social lives. They also saw that values rarely found in Europe at that time (e.g., pluralism, tolerance, understanding, compassion, and self-sacrifice) were aspects of the high morality expressed by Muslims, who were aware of their religious responsibilities.
Meanwhile, as the Crusades continued, European societies also had relations with a Muslim society much closer to home: the Muslim kingdom of Andalusia, located in the southern part of their own continent. Andalusia had a great cultural influence upon Europe until its demise in the late fifteenth century. Many historians who have studied Andalusia's influence upon Europe agree that this kingdom, with its social structure and high level of civilization, was far more advanced than the rest of Europe, and that it was one of the principle factors in the development of European civilization. The prominent Spanish historian Blanco Ibañez writes that:
Defeat in Spain did not come from the north; the Muslim conquerors came from the south. This was much more than a victory, it was a leap of civilization. Because of this, the richest and most brilliant civilization known in Europe was born and flourished throughout the Middle Ages between the 8th and the 15th centuries. During this period northern peoples were shattered by religious wars, and while they moved about in bloodthirsty hoards, the population of Andalusia surpassed 30 million. In this number, which was high for the time, every race and religion moved freely and with equality, and the pulse of society was very lively.66
With its well-illuminated streets, the capital Cordoba provided a striking contrast to the European cities and according to the English historian John W. Draper, "Seven hundred years after this time, there was not so much as one public lamp in London. In Paris, centuries later, whoever stepped over his threshold on a rainy day stepped up to his ankles in mud."67
Andalusia finally ceased to exist in 1492 with the fall of Granada, the last Muslim kingdom on the Iberian Peninsula. But now, Europeans came face to face with the Ottoman Empire, which was beginning to advance in the Balkans during the fifteenth century as a result of several victories and mass conversions among the Balkan people. This conversion was never forced or obtained by pressure. In time, the Islamic morality put in place by the Ottomans brought those who witnessed it to choose Islam freely. Ottoman civilization, built on the Qur'anic moral values of justice, equality, tolerance, and compassion, remained in the Balkans for 400 years, and its traces can still be seen there. (A large number of these remains were destroyed by Serbian troops and missiles during the war in Bosnia, but this does not change the facts of history.) This Qur'anic-based civilization made Islam an important part of Europe. Even today, quite a large number of European Muslims live in the Balkans.
One person who believes that European civilization has learned much from Islam and that the two civilizations have always been intimately connected is Charles, Prince of Wales. Prince Charles describes Islamic civilization and what Andalusia and the Ottoman experience in the Balkans has taught Europe:
Diplomacy, free trade, open borders, the techniques of academic research, of anthropology, etiquette, fashion, alternative medicine, hospitals, all came from this great city of cities. Mediaeval Islam was a religion of remarkable tolerance for its time, allowing Jews and Christians to practice their inherited beliefs, and setting an example which was not, unfortunately, copied for many centuries in the West. The surprise, ladies and gentlemen, is the extent to which Islam has been a part of Europe for so long, first in Spain, then in the Balkans, and the extent to which it has contributed so much towards the civilization which we all too often think of, wrongly, as entirely Western. Islam is part of our past and present, in all fields of human endeavour. It has helped to create modern Europe. It is part of our own inheritance, not a thing apart.68
The Swedish ambassador Ingmar Karlsson, known in Turkey for his book Islam and Europe, says that in the Andalusian period, Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived together in peace and that this should be taken as a model in Europe.
High representative for the International Community in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Wolfgang Petritsch, stresses in an article in the November 20, 2001 edition of the New York Times that the struggle against terror must not be directed against Islam and that it must never be forgotten that Islam is actually a part of Europe. In his article, "Islam is Part of the West, Too," he states: "When we step beyond the us-and-them paradigm, we might remember that Islam is part of the European tradition."69 Keeping this historical fact in mind is one way to prevent the chaos desired by those provocateurs who put forward the "clash of civilizations" thesis. Differences in civilization are not reasons for conflict; rather, they can be an important means of advancing dialogue.
European Leaders and Islam
European leaders have considered two facts very carefully: There will be no conflict between Islam and Christianity, and Islam has not allied itself with terrorism. Most European governmental leaders and prominent politicians have sent messages commending Islam and expressing their interest in its moral teachings.
As mentioned above, Prince Charles has a close connection with Islam. He first expressed this at Oxford in 1993. Since that time, he has had close relations with Muslims living in England and has attended many meetings and openings organized by Muslims. He also has expressed his admiration for Islam many times. At Wilson Park in 1996, he made his admiration for Islam clear, as well as the reasons for it. Stressing the following points, he stated:
I feel that we in the West could be helped to rediscover the roots of our own understanding by an appreciation of the Islamic tradition's deep respect for the timeless traditions of the natural order.... Modern materialism is unbalanced and increasingly damaging in its long-term consequences.... But during the past three centuries, in the Western world at least, a dangerous division has occurred in the way we perceive the world around us. Science has tried to assume a monopoly, even a tyranny, over our understanding. Religion and science have become separated... We are only now beginning to gauge the disastrous results... Science has done the inestimable service of showing us a world much more complex than we ever imagined. But in its modern, materialist, one-dimensional form, it cannot explain everything.... This [materialist] view is quite contrary, for example, to the outlook of the Muslim craftsman or artist, who is never concerned with display for its own sake, nor with progressing ever forward in his own ingenuity, but is content to submit a man's craft to God. That outlook reflects, I believe, the memorable passage in the Koran: "whithersoever you turn there is the face of God and God is all-Embracing, all-Knowing".... There are many ways in which mutual understanding and appreciation can be built. Perhaps, for instance, we could begin by having more Muslim teachers in British schools, or by encouraging exchanges of teachers. Everywhere in the world people want to learn English. But in the West, in turn, we need to be taught by Islamic teachers how to learn with our hearts, as well as our heads.70
Through the Prince Foundation, Prince Charles has sought to benefit Muslims. The Oxford Islamic Research Center, which began its activities in 1993, was founded with his sponsorship. The Visual Islamic and Traditional Arts department, which carries on its activities in conjunction with his foundation, works to provide, among other things, the sociological and economic means to support the traditions and cultures of British Muslims, cover the costs of education for Muslim children, and establish interreligious dialogue. Lately, through this section, the prince raised 10 million pounds for the Muslim Centre Project to be established in London.71
Prince Charles is especially concerned with educating Muslim youth. In 2001, for the first time he invited Muslims to attend a Ramadan celebration in Buckingham Palace, and there expressed his thoughts on this matter to specially invited Muslim young people. The event was reported in The Muslim News in the following words:
He welcomed the "greater sensitivity and imagination" offered by Muslim youth, because without that "we will become so much more dry and sterile." Prince Charles acknowledged the diversity of the Muslim youth present: "You make up what I can only describe as a very rich tapestry that makes an enormous difference to the diversity and richness of our country. One of the things I have always tried to get across, which is not always easy, is that in a world which is increasingly secular, increasingly materialistic, it is absolutely essential for all those who believe and have faith in something greater than ourselves in something beyond the purely material, are remembered and celebrated."72
During this reception, he chatted with individual young Muslims about their needs for more than an hour, asking them if they encountered any difficulties in their education, careers, and the practice of Islam. Among other things, the prince was especially curious about whether young people understood the spirit of the Qur'an, if they had read it from cover to cover, if they had encountered any difficulties at school during Ramadan, and whether they were happy with the food offered by their schools for the iftar meal.73
The interest shown by Prince Charles is certainly highly important. The change in the thinking of prominent statesmen on this matter is a huge step toward eradicating the false opinion that certain circles in the West have been trying to create about Islam. Clearly, a society whose leaders realize the beauty and superiority of Islamic morality will be able to approach Islam far more easily, and Muslims living in that society will enjoy more peaceful lives. For this reason, it is an important responsibility to ensure that prominent people receive accurate information about Islam. People familiar with Islam and its moral teachings, no matter what their position, certainly will share their impressions with others. If they are among the leaders of that particular society, both those who direct society and who address the masses will benefit from these impressions.
Therefore, when you read these descriptions, realize the extraordinary nature of these developments. In the Western world today, there is a growing rapprochement with Islam. Certainly this is good news for Muslims who work to show the proofs of God's Existence and Unity, defeat the prevailing materialist ideologies, and communicate true religion to others. Believers also are responsible for relating this good news to all Muslims.
Those Who Turn To Islam
As stated above, the sympathy that leaders feel for Islam deeply affects the desire of people to approach Islam. One indication of this is the number of Europeans who, over the last few years, have converted to Islam. Research shows that these new converts are not uneducated; rather, most of them have a university education and a career.
The April 30, 2001, edition of The Daily Telegraph published information about the turn to Islam, especially in England. While interviewing converts, the following picture emerged: Most of them have status in society, have strong family connections, and chose Islam after considerable research and study. For example, Joe Ahmed-Dobson, son of the former Minister of Health, was 16 years old when a friend gave him a copy of the Qur'an as a gift. In it, he says, he found the answers to all his questions. He officially accepted Islam at the age of 23, and was supported by his family in this decision. Apparently, his father gives him Islamic books as Christmas presents every year. Among recent converts in England are people like the son of John Birt, the former general director of BBC, and the daughter of Lord Justice Scott, a prominent judge. Over the past 20 years, an estimated 20,000 people in England have converted and, as in many other countries, the movement toward Islam has accelerated. According to the Manchester Mosque, after the events of 9/11, sixteen individuals accepted Islam there alone. One of the interesting things revealed by such research on converts is that far more women are turning to Islam. In America, one in four converts is a woman; in England, the figure is one in two.74
Islam also is growing rapidly in Denmark. After the official Protestant religion comes Islam, and the number of Catholics is slightly less than the number of Muslims. Of the 5.5 million Danes, 3% are Muslims.75 This growth in the number of Muslims is the result of high immigration. This increase was discussed in the Danish press in a report entitled "The Future of Denmark: Every Second Person is a Muslim." Research done by the well-known sociologist Eyvind Vesselbo, who lives in Denmark, shows that the number of Muslims in Denmark will increase considerably in the near future.76
Reports of Islam in the Media
Interestingly, the number of objective reports in the Western media introducing Islam has increased. Especially after the 9/11 attacks, people were curious about Islam and were seeking accurate information. In response, the media produced various reports and programs. The BBC broadcast documentary films about Islam on many television channels, invited special guests to appear on talk-shows, and produced a program series introducing Islam. Furthermore, many television stations added special sections about Islam on their Internet pages to provide information about Islam's basic requirements, history, sayings of the Prophet, and Qur'anic verses. Web sites that provide more comprehensive information also are provided.
In addition, many magazines and newspapers contain articles about Islam to answer people's questions. For example, the October 1, 2001, edition of Time magazine carried an article by Karen Armstrong entitled "True, Peaceful Face of Islam," which provides the following information:
The very word Islam, which means "surrender," is related to the Arabic salam, or peace. When the Prophet Muhammad brought the inspired scripture known as the Koran to the Arabs in the early 7th century A.D., a major part of his mission was devoted precisely to bringing an end to the kind of mass slaughter we witnessed in New York City and Washington.... In the Koran, therefore, the only permissible war is one of self-defense. Muslims may not begin hostilities (2:190). Warfare is always evil, but sometimes you have to fight in order to avoid ... persecution.... The Koran quotes the Torah, the Jewish scriptures, which permits people to retaliate eye for eye, tooth for tooth, but like the Gospels, the Koran suggests that it is meritorious to forgo revenge in a spirit of charity (5:45).... Islam is not addicted to war ... The primary meaning of the word jihad is not "holy war" but "struggle".... In a statement in which the Arabic is extremely emphatic, the Koran insists, "There must be no coercion in matters of faith!" (2:256). Constantly Muslims are enjoined to respect Jews and Christians, the "People of the Book," who worship the same God (29:46). In words quoted by Muhammad in one of his last public sermons, God tells all human beings, "O people! We have formed you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another" (49: 13)—not to conquer, convert, subjugate, revile, or slaughter, but to reach out toward others with intelligence and understanding.77