Post #7: Islam & Muslims in Europe

What are some of the myths about Muslims in Europe that Justin Vaisse discusses?

There are numerous myths that Justin Vaisse wishes to dispel in order to fully grasp the real issues and challenges concerning Muslims in Europe. The first myth is that “being Muslim constitutes a fixed identity, sufficient to fully characterize a person.” What he means is that when outsiders think of a Muslim, they assume that their religion rules over all other parts of their identity, things like nationality, gender, class, etc. In a fews instances with news coverage, a story about urban violence in France was called “Muslims riots in France” even though the riots had nothing to do with Islam, rather people were upset over social and economic conditions of immigrant communities.

The next myth Vaisse discusses is that “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.” Though many people who identify as Muslim are born and citizens in European countries, they are still looked at as outsiders. Though they are fully European, people don’t always see that.

The third myth is that “Muslims in Europe form a “distinct, cohesive and bitter group,” in the words of a Foreign Affairs article.” Vaisse explains that there is no unity to be found at the continent level, and at the country level there are major divisions as well. Specific cultures, visions of religion, affiliation, social class, political class, ethnicity and more characteristics divide the followers of the religion, just like in other religions around the world.

The fourth and final myth is that “Muslims are demographically gaining on the “native” population.” There is an assumption that Muslims are forming a “demographic bloc” that will never blend into the rest of society. This has been contradicted by things like intermarriage and people who convert either to the religion or away from it.

Why is it important to make a distinction between the religious and political dimensions of Islam?

Islamism is an extension of Islam, in that it is the belief that politics is and must be an extension of the faith. It is important to make a distinction between the religious and political dimensions of Islam because Islamism has become more of a controversial word and many people associate negative views toward it. The Islamists we hear about in the news are members of ISIS and al-Qaeda, so it’s not necessarily anyone’s fault that we have a negative connotation toward the word. In reality, those are the extreme members of the community. Islamists are generally members of small groups who join so they can eventually reach the afterlife. They meet weekly, discuss the Quran and work toward being “better Muslims”. In other countries, including predominantly Islamic countries, it is hard to distinguish between religion and politics. So, it is important to try and make this distinction for us because we don’t live in a country where the lines between the two are blurred, so seeing the two separated can help us understand the differences between the two sects.

What kind of challenges do education and social rifts in Europe bring to Muslim communities of Europe? What does Ramadan suggest Muslims should do in face of such challenges?

One challenge Muslim communities face in Europe as far as education goes is the number of schools offering Islamic education programs. Access to Islamic education in Europe is a case-by-case situation by country. Some countries offer Islamic educations alongside other religious education programs at the public education level, but other do not. This leads to the development of private institutions that may be more expensive and not in everyone’s financial capability. Another challenge that arises in education is the banning of the hijab in some schools. This ban has created major tension in finding the balance between Muslim and non-Muslim students in schools. Again, this leads to an issue of private and public school choice. For example, the hijab is banned in French public schools, which has brought on the development of private Islamic schools.

Shireen Hunter discusses social rifts faced by Muslims in Europe. One social rift is that unemployment is extremely high for Muslims in Europe. This builds on the previous discussion of education, if people aren’t educated, their potential for a job dramatically decrease. So, the problem goes back to a lack of Islamic education in Europe and the effects of being marginalized because of one’s religion.

Ramadan reminds Muslims to face challenges like problems in education and social rifts. During Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to fast in order to bring them closer to God and to remind themselves that there are less fortunate people in the world. During the month of intense prayer, fasting during daylight and nightly feasts, they are seen to purify themselves both physically and spiritually. They are encouraged to pray for others, including ones they may not see eye-to-eye with. Overall, Ramadan encourages Muslims to remember not to loath those who oppress them, but rather stay dedicated to their faith and be rewarded for it.

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