Islam in France

Praying in the streets was banned in France in 2011. Photo:

A recent article in National Geographic speculates that Marseilles may become the first city in Europe with a majority Muslim population. Official statistics are unavailable, but experts estimate that about 30 percent of the southeastern French city is Muslim.

Although the city is known for its tolerance, France as a whole is not, especially when it comes to its Muslim population. The country is home to about 6 million Muslims (the largest number in Western Europe), and is known for its bans on burqas, niqab, and for considering banning halal meat. Praying in the streets was also banned in 2011. At the end of 2011, the French Council of the Muslim Faith, an umbrella organization for various Muslim groups, released a study saying Islamophobia is on the rise in the country.

I spoke with John Bowen, Professor of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis about Islam in France. Bowen is the author of Can Islam be French? Pluralism and Pragmatism in a Secularist State. Continue reading

Imam Training Course

With all the negative news about Muslims in Europe,  the University of Osnabrueck’s opening the first public higher education program for imams comes as a welcome gesture. On October 11th, the German university  began a course to train Muslim spiritual leaders in German language, the German political system, Islamic theology, and religious education.  Thirty students enrolled in the course, but many more expressed interest.

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Anti-Islam Message in Children’s Books

While many people assume that textbooks reflect history as fact, often they really indicate the position of the author. This is an important issue because students receive much of what they learn in school from textbooks. It is for this reason that the Council on American-Islamic Relations began a campaign last month against the “World of Islam” books put out by Mason Crest Publishers in partnership with the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

The ten-volume series is meant for middle school and high school students and covers a range of topics. The titles in the series include: Divisions in Islam; History of Islam; Islam in Europe; Islam, Law and Human Rights; Islamic-Jewish Relations before 1947; Islamic Rituals and Celebrations; The Monotheistic Religions; Muslims in America; The Muslim World: An Overview; and Radical Islam. Continue reading

Jail Time for Gaza Protest

Should someone be sentenced to prison for throwing a bottle at a police officer in a political demonstration? That is what Yahia Tebani, a Muslim Brit, is facing when he is sentenced this month.  Tebani is one of 78 protesters, young men in their 20s and almost all Muslim,  who are being charged with public order offenses. This story goes back to the Israeli attack on Gaza in December of 2008 and January of 2009. Continue reading

Islam and Media:

This is part 5 of our series, Media and Islam. Previous parts explained why we started the series and examined Al Jazeera, Global Voices and CNN.

Having lived through the atrocities of the Nazi era, Germany is very sensitive to issues of tolerance. Perhaps that is why it has put more effort into integrating its four million Muslims, or 5% of the population, into society than many European countries. For instance, German public schools now teach Islam along with other religions. A recent study found that many German Muslims are more German than expected, doing quintessentially German things such as joining soccer clubs or senior citizens’ groups. For many non-Muslim Germans, as talk show host Michel Friedmann remarked, “most of those five percent are honest, bourgeois, boring and sweet — just like their German Christian neighbors.”

A great example of Germany’s effort to promote dialogue with the Muslims is, an Internet portal designed “to discuss controversial issues openly and to highlight common ground between cultures.Qantara means “bridge” in Arabic. Published in Arabic, English, German, Turkish, and Indonesian, the portal is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office and is jointly run by Deutsche Welle, Germany’s public broadcasting service, the Goethe Institute, the Federal Agency for Civic Education, and the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations. Continue reading

A Swiss Perspective on the Minaret Ban

This is a guest post by Dominique Haller, a producer for the Here on Earth show at Wisconsin Public Radio. She is from Switzerland.

The vote banning the construction of minarets in Switzerland leaves that country with many questions. How did it come to this vote? What does the Swiss political system have to do with it? Why did no one – not the politicians, not the polls, not the media – foresee this result? And what are people in Switzerland really expressing with their vote? Continue reading

Banning Minarets

Mosque in Zurich

On November 29th, a referendum was passed in Switzerland to ban the building of minarets. The referendum passed with a 57% majority vote and a 53% voter turnout. Many in the Swiss government have opposed the referendum but according to the Swiss system the referendum will be added to the Constitution.  There are a number of aspects of this recent vote that are troubling. Continue reading

First Muslim Mayor of Rotterdam

Some people, both inside and outside the Muslim community, question whether Muslims should become involved in politics at all. The portrayal of the intersection of politics and religion in most mainstream media coverage of Islam leads to questions of where a Muslim politician’s loyalties might lie and whether personal faith might interfere with the job performance of an official who is supposed to act in the best interest of a broader population. It would seem that these questions should be asked of anyone of any faith who chooses to enter public office, but it seems that Muslims are singled out for special scrutiny.

These concerns are increasingly important as the number of Muslim politicians in the Western world increases. In the United States, for example, Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) became a highly visible example, especially when he asked to be sworn in on Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Qur’an. Of course the increased involvement of Muslims in Western politics is not limited to the United States. In fact, the rapidly growing Muslim presence in Europe makes it only natural that Muslim Europeans would want to go into politics to give voice to some of the concerns of not only Muslim but also non-Muslim constituents. One such example is the mayor of Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Ahmed Aboutaleb became the first Muslim immigrant to become mayor of a major Dutch city this past January. The appointment of Aboutaleb, a Moroccan-born immigrant, has created controversy in Rotterdam, which has witnessed serious clashes over the issue of immigration. Geert Wilders, leader of the right-wing Dutch Party for Freedom, is among the most vocal of those that have questioned Aboutaleb’s loyalties. Wilders has demanded that Aboutaleb give up his Moroccan passport as a gesture of his loyalty to the Netherlands. Muslims, on the other hand, are excited and hope he can begin to build the necessary bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims there. There are also non-Muslims who support Aboutaleb as mayor, but even they seem to believe it is important that he prioritize the issue of integrating Muslims into Europe over other topics.

The competing demands will not be easy to balance. Aboutaleb has already received criticism from some Muslims for expressing support over the firing of Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Islamic scholar, and from non-Muslims who question an official trip he made to Morocco in June. Whatever the concerns of both sides, however, Aboutaleb’s appointment represents an important step for Muslims in Europe and other Western nations. It is not just a question of integration, but also one of participation in the larger society.

What do you think of Muslim participation in politics? Should someone’s faith play a role in whether they are involved in politics or not? What does integration mean for Muslims in Europe? Please leave your comments.