In “Muslims in Europe: A Short Introduction,” Justin Vaisse recognizes four myths involving Muslims in Europe. The first myth is: “being Muslim constitutes a fixed identity, sufficient to fully characterize a person.” Vaisse acknowledges the overwhelming stereotypes given to Muslims, which include, but are not limited to, the disregard of nationality, gender, and other characteristics. When a person identifies themselves as Muslim, he is saying that characteristic is the only characteristic that matters to most people. Yet, this is simply not true. Muslims are not a fixed identity. Their personal self is much deeper than the religion they associate with.
The second myth he describes is: “Muslims in Europe are, in one way or the other, inherently foreign, the equivalent of visiting Middle-Easterners who are alien to the “native” culture.” This myth describes the idea that Muslims have simply never been fully accepted into the European culture. No matter how long a Muslim has lived Europe, even if they were born in Europe, they are always seen as foreign. Yet, their nationality does mean something, and they are accepted into the country they are citizens of.
The third myth is: “Muslims in Europe form a “distinct, cohesive and bitter group,” in the words of a 2005 Foreign Affairs article.” Vaisse is explaining how the term “Muslim communities” explores a completely different vision than the current situation in Europe. There is no unity among the Muslim inhabitants in Europe, they are dispersed and unified with any region they live in.
Lastly, the fourth myth is: “Muslims are demographically gaining on the “native” population.” Muslims are believed to be living in clusters, unable or unwilling to blend with the rest of the European population. Yet, in many countries, intermarriages and conversions rates are high enough to matter, and many Muslims are simply law-abiding patriots of their countries. They are not “gaining” on any kind of population, simply blending in with them.
Religious and political dimensions of Islam are very different. The importance of distinguishing between the two lies behind the general confusion, stereotypes, and myths that revolve around Muslims. Political Islam, otherwise known as Islamism, is defined by the Merriam-Websiter Dictionary as “a popular reform movement advocating the reordering of government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam.” Political Islam typically refers to governments which have been infiltrated by the Islamic religion and occasionally where Shariah law has been implemented as the law of the land. Typically, these laws are taken to the literal meaning of the text and punishment is nothing short of inhumane. Political Islam fosters the spread of the Islamic faith and elimination of opposing religious beliefs. Some, including Oklahoma state legislature John Bennett, go so far as to say political Islam “…is a social, political system that uses a deity to advance its agenda of global conquest.” Essentially, political Islam’s goal is to spread Islam and Islamic beliefs across the world by any means necessary.
Much different from political Islam, religious Islam refers to Muslims who follow the teachings of the prophet Muhammad and the Qu’ran, which they believe is the literal word of god. Religious Islam is centered around personal belief and practice of the religion. This particular form of Islam is about the person as an individual and bettering themselves through Islamic beliefs.
The main difference between these two types of Islam is individual religious beliefs and growth versus widespread political reformation and conversion based on the religious beliefs. It is important to distinguish between the two because Muslims alone are not political Islamists. Just because a Muslim practices Islamic beliefs and follows the teachings of the Qu’ran does not mean they are a political Muslim. These two groups do not go hand in hand, and one should not assume both parties to be the same thing.
In Islam, Europe’s Second Religion, the author Shireen Hunter addresses four critical challenges: understanding subtlety and complexity, spirituality, education, and social rifts. Education is one of the most important aspects of a person’s life, which is why its such an important challenge to overcome. Muslim participation in education is lacking throughout Europe. Hunter explains the role of education as shaping and molding “tomorrow’s adults.” In order to continue creating cohesiveness and equality in Europe, education is an important cornerstone for continued growth.
Social rifts are another key challenge Muslims face in Europe today. First, unemployment is staggering across the European, and specifically the Muslim, population. This unemployment could have a direct correlation with the lack of education. Social exclusion has been a problem for a long time, but does not seem to be relenting for Muslims. Delinquency, violence, and crime affect many towns inhabited by Muslims. Hunter urges all Europeans, no matter their gender, race, ethnicity, or religion, to come together and help close the gap between society and Muslim inclusion. Hunter asks Muslims to look deep into the roots of their religion and use the teachings to provide patience and trust for each other, as well as all citizens of Europe. Hunter recognizes the time cost of this, but acknowledges his belief in unity across Europe.
Ramadan suggestions a couple remedies for these challenges. Ramadan is a month long holiday in which Muslims participate in fasting, donation to charities, nightly prayers, and recitation of the Qu’ran. Ramadan is a reminder for Muslims to stay humble. They refrain from sinful acts and believe they are rewarded for their fasting and good behavior. Donating to charities reminds Muslims that, though they may be oppressed, there are always humans much less fortunate than them. They are reminded to not hate those who oppress them, but to pray for them. Their strong dedication to their faith will be rewarded with righteousness and piety. It keeps Muslims fighting for justice in a peaceful way.