WHY ISLAM AND THE WEST ARE AT A CROSS ROAD

In his analysis entitled “What perspectives for Islam and Muslims in Europe” published in EurActiv.com (March 5, 2004) Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a Journalist examines the evolution of the relationship between Islam and the West, by retracing a shared history and providing insights on multiculturalism in Europe. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s article suggests why Muslims and the west seemed to be at a cross road since Islam spread into Europe more than a century ago. He argued that Muslims in Europe and the west in general are as diverse as the world itself because Islam spread to the far corners of the globe and accommodated itself to the different cultural ecologies whilst at the same time implanting a universal set of basic, minimalist principles which were binding to all – the community or the Ummah. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown did not find this surprising because with 14 centuries of history, and more than 1 billion adherents on every continent, the soul of Islam should ring with hundreds of different tones. This is not surprising since the Koran itself says this human variety is what Allah created for the world.

In Britain today for example, there are 1500 mosques and 100 Muslim schools. Even though these mosques and schools share the same fundamental faith not all of them share the same language, culture, class and histories. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown argues that these geographical, racial and ethnic variations make it absurd to talk about ‘the Muslim Community’ as if it was monolithic and in any way politically uniform. He argues that if we look for example at the major schisms between Shia and Sunni Islam, we will discover that it has led Islam into further divisions into distinct faith and ethnic groups, and this division which is over centuries old still exists even today and is still carrying on. Further, Yasmin Alibhai asserts that Wahabi theologians who have inspired some of the most hard-line new conservatives among Sunnis are not accepted by most Sunnis around the world who are traditionally more tolerant and pragmatic than these new firebrands.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s argued against what is perceived by westerners as a monolithic Islam by asserting that each new generation brings its own values to the faith of the family and not in entirely predictable ways. He argued that these days young western Muslims in some families are more orthodox than their parents; other young Muslims of the same age find their families oppressive and alien and the rest find ways to live within the fold and change the older members to accept modernity. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s multiculturalism in Islam suggests that class makes an enormous difference, why the Muslim community is not a monolithic religious or political entity and should not in any way should Muslims in Europe or elsewhere be regarded as politically unified. The class differences among followers of Islam can be seen for example in a predominantly Muslim country like Pakistan, where Muslims from the middle classes of Karachi have less in common with the working class ‘tribal’ Muslims of their own rural areas than with white members of the Conservative party in Britain.

Europe and Islam have established a relationship which goes back to more than a century. In spite of the blood that has been shed on both sides Islam and Europe have both constantly made and re-made each other. Islam has been an integral, vivid part of Europe from the European renaissance to the present. The ideas of the Greek which the dark ages had buried were given back to Europe by Muslim intellectuals. gave back to Europe the ideas of the Greeks which the dark ages had buried. Muslim discoveries in mathematics, science, sociology, astronomy and medicine infiltrated European cultures and studies.

This more than a century old friendly and cordial relationship that has existed between Islam and Europe has been threatened by events that happened in the United States on September 11th 2001 when the World Trade Center was bombed by followers of Al-Qaeda. Since September 11th, Islam is now perceived as a threat to the west. September event was seen as the last straw that brought about a negative change in the ways Muslims are now been perceived in Europe and the United States. The Iranian Revolution in 1978-1979 followed by the oil crisis precipitated by the Arab oil states, Islam and its followers have been viewed with suspicion. The outrage by Muslims over Salmon Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, and the declaration of fatwa against Rushdie created the impression amongst the ultra conservatives in America and Europe of a clash of civilizations, an impression which is being turned into reality by both sides. One reality that the ultra conservatives in Europe and the neo conservatives in the US seems to forget is that Islam is the third largest faith in Europe, and the fastest growing religion in the world and it is visible. There are growing numbers of converts to Islam mostly middle class individuals, the majority of them white women. These new converts to Islam are not ‘some kind of liberal Islam-lite’ says one convert Joe Ah med Dobson, son of a British MP, but proud orthodox Muslims.

Even though in the last decade more Muslims have been victims in the hands of non-Muslims globally nonetheless, Muslims are increasingly presumed to be terrorists. The number of Muslim deaths in Bosnia, Israel, Iraq, Iran, Kosovo, and Chechnya is proof to that testament. Most non-Muslim Europeans have also come to believe that Muslims cannot live with the post-enlightenment values of Europe, with modernity or human rights. Many western Muslims reject these assumptions. They live perfectly easily as modern Muslims and feel these prejudices are meant to keep them from their rights. Feelings of exclusion can only intensify as a result. The perception since September 11th that Muslims are a threat has led to an alarming increase in hate crimes in the US and Europe, and hostile attitudes towards Muslims. There has also been a marked deterioration in positive attitudes towards minorities in general and the attractiveness of populist racist parties is growing. Some European Politicians are using this atmosphere to further alienate opinions against immigrants and Muslims. This is happening at a time when there is an acceptance in the EU that with present low birth rates and without an inflow of immigrants, standards of living and economic growth will be severely affected.

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