What does it mean to be Islam?

  1. What are some of the myths about Muslims in Europe that Justin Vaisse discusses? Justin Vaisse, in his “Muslims in Europe: A short introduction,” debunks a myriad of myths regarding Muslims in Europe, which many Europeans have held true, as the Muslim populations in Western European countries has continued to rise. One of the myths he discusses that I found the most relevant, was that “Being Muslim constitutes a fixed identity, sufficient to fully characterize a person” (pg. 1). Why is it that followers of Islam are almost immediately identified by their religion, and first referred to as a Muslim, when oftentimes, people are not primarily identified by their religion? Other groups are not being referred to as Catholics or Christians, before they would be identified as French or German, so it’s quite interesting to me that it is so common for us to use Muslims as a primary identifier. This myth exemplifies the difficulty many Muslims in Europe may face when trying to fully assimilate or become active members in European society. This point leads into the second myth, which Vaisse identifies as, “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” (p. 1). Vaisse says that a French Muslim would differ in political and social culture from a German Muslim, and that the majority of the Muslim population in Europe holds a Western European nationality and are proud of this fact. I think the biggest misconception that Vaisse is trying to clarify for readers by debunking these myths, is to show that the Muslim population in Europe cannot be lumped together or easily defined as one group. Each is different, reflecting the social and cultural norms of their country.
  2. Why is it important to make a distinction between the religious and political dimensions of Islam?I think that being able to identify and discuss the distinctions between the religious and political dimensions of Islam is a critical component to engage in knowledgeable conversation on the topic. The emphasis on anti-terrorism within the past decade has led to a widespread Islamophobia in American and many Western countries, whose citizens don’t fully grasp or understand what Islam is or what it means. People have a tendency to lump all Muslims into one group, meaning that the average Muslim is being grouped with the radicals we see about in the media, the ones who are responsible for the terrorist attacks. To make this generalization is not fair for the majority of the Muslim population across the world, who do not associate with this radical view or practice of Islam. I think that this distinction is also difficult to identify, because in its origins, politics and religion were woven together in Islamic countries. There was no distinction in these societies and governments, it was just the way of life. I think that the spread of democracy across the world, and the movement of Muslims into Western countries, has led to controversy and conversation on separating church and state. This separation and secularity is common for Western nations, and so I think it is difficult for us to be willing to learn and understand more about Islam and how it works. But it is critical to realize that not all Muslims are practicing Islam in terms of politics.

    169_feature_kaufmannImage courtesy of  http://www.futurecenter.ae/en/analys.php?analys=454

  3. 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?

The Muslim populations living across Western Europe face a variety of difficulties and prejudices brought on by misconceptions and Western ideologies. Western European political and social practices often create a disconnect that prevents Muslims from being able to fully practice their faith and also be an active citizen. For example, the female Muslim population in France had to deal with a ban on wearing Hijab’s in schools, as well as a ban on full-face veils in public places. French public figures and feminists argued that this practice directly clashed with their cultural and political framework that emphasizes individual freedom. However, this seems hypocritical, as it is preventing Muslim women and students from being free to express their religion. Policies like this can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. When Western European laws prevent Muslims from being able to practice or express their religion fully, Muslims may be more likely not actively seek to participate in the communities beyond their neighborhoods, because they feel like they are not welcome. I think that many European countries feel as though Muslim populations are incapable or unwilling to fully assimilate into their cultures, even though they are perpetuating policies that create a subtle prejudice and discrimination towards Muslims. Ramadan encourages Muslims to exist peacefully and practice their faiths in the midst of the dissonance it may have with the culture of their country. During Ramadan, Muslims are supposed to fully immerse themselves in their faith, fasting and worshipping, while also avoiding impure behavior or activities. But if, as in France, a female Muslim student cannot wear her hijab during Ramadan, how does she handle the situation? Ramadan suggests not engaging in conflict, so I think that Muslims living in Europe have had to adopt to the cultural standards set forth.

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