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November 17, 2011

‘Islam in Europe a reality despite challenges’


November 17, 2011

Islam in Europe today is a reality the world would have to contend with despite the immense challenges it faces there.
This was the majority opinion among speakers at the two-day seminar, “Islam in Europe”, held at a local hotel, under the aegis of the Area Study Centre for Europe, University of Karachi (KU), and the Hanns Seidel Foundation, Islamabad on Wednesday.
The keynote speaker, Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, EU ambassador to Pakistan, could not turn up on account of the inordinate delay in the PIA flight that he was supposed to come by.
The first one to speak, Prof Dr Naveed Ahmed Tahir, Director, Area Study Centre for Europe, University of Karachi, said that Islam in Europe was a reality which could no longer be seen as a temporary phenomenon to be just glossed over by the decision-making European elite. The Muslim population of Europe, which by some estimates had risen to 50 million, in addition to the universality of the message of Islam which was attracting large numbers to its fold, was viewed by many in the West as a disturbing phenomenon which, they felt, could not only change the demographics of Europe but also its cultural identity.
Tracing the history of Islam, she said that the Arab Muslims developed a brilliant civilisation that nurtured literature, philosophy, the natural sciences, and wherever they ruled they left an enduring influence on local cultures.
The Muslims, she said, constituted 23 percent of humanity and possessed the most prized commodities of the industrialised world — oil and gas. Islam, she said, was today the fastest spreading religion of the world.
However, she said, there was a dismal side to the picture too which was manifest in poor governance, deep-rooted corruption, illiteracy, poverty, and stunted socio-economic conditions which had served as a breeding ground for extremism.
Talking about the challenges, she referred to the Swiss ban on minarets and the Swiss People’s Party’s contention

that minarets were a symbol of the political will to snatch power and impose Shariah on the country. She said that over the last three decades, the far right in Europe was becoming extremely influential as regards shaping opinions on Islam and the Muslims.
Martin Axmann, resident representative of the Hanns Sedel Foundation Pakistan, in his paper, said there were 53 Muslim groups in Europe in 2007. He said that throughout Europe, including Germany, all individuals were free to practise their religions. Muslims, he said, had existed in Europe since the 12th Century AD and Islam and Europe had interacted much more than was known.
In his opinion, it was really after 9/11 that Islam and the West came to be considered as antithetic to each other. What followed, he said, was other developments in France Switzerland, and Germany that sharpened this cleavage.
Dr Pirzada Qasim Raza Siddiqui, Vice-Chancellor, Karachi University, said that the Balkans and the large number of Muslims in Germany and France, and the fact that they numbered 44 million, or six percent of Europe’s population, made Islam a reality to contend with in Europe.
Muslims may have learnt from Europe but it just could not be denied that they had given it a lot too.
He was a little concerned about the global financial crisis of 2008 which had encompassed the West and still had many countries in its grip, which, he said, could prove very damaging because it was during financial crises like these that discontent arose on account of economic hardship and, if allowed to go unbridled, it could assume the shape of resentment and finally violence against religious or racial minorities.
In his paper titled, “From the Hijab to the Burqa”, Michel Boivin said that Napolean had taken measures to ensure that religious rituals, customs, and practices fell within the ambit of the law. The scarf affair, he said, was seen by the French as a challenge to their much cherished value of secularism.
This was exacerbated by the publication of Samuel Huntingdon’s “Clash of civilisations”. Also, the political right wanted to make dents into the vote bank, he said.
Duriya Kazi, head of the Visual Studies Department, in her paper, tiled, “Flying carpets lost in desert storms”, talked about the deep-rooted antagonism of the West towards the Muslims, an antagonism which she contended, had become all the more accentuated on account of the most prized resource of the industrial world, oil, which was virtually the exclusive domain of the Muslim world, as, she said, it had increased the dependence of the West on the Muslims.
Former career diplomat Tariq Fatemi lamented the framing of laws in France and Belgium which militated against the rights of the minorities and were racist in content. They projected Muslims as aliens even though Muslims were the citizens of these countries, he said. “Are we witnessing a weakening of the noble and cherished values which formed the foundations of the European community?” he posed the question to the participants. The trends, he said, were frightening because when an economic crisis came, nationalism and fascism reared their ugly heads.
Dr Pierre Gottschlich, a German University professor, said that the main opposition to Islam in Germany came from the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), but there were other parties of the left, notably the Green party, which were all in favour of giving due representation to the Muslims in German political life, stipulating that religion should be treated as a purely private and personal affair, totally detached from politics. He lamented that today there were four million Muslims in Germany but no political representation.
Dr Ijaz Shafi Gillani traced the history of the Muslims in various European countries and talked about the mutually negative perceptions and cited the results of various polls conducted. He quoted the results of a certain poll in Germany, where 34 percent of the respondents had said that the Muslims were responsible for Germany’s problems and only nine percent had answered in the negative. Similarly, he cited the findings of another poll in the UK where 79 percent of the respondents had said that the ascendancy of Muslim identity in the UK was to the detriment of the country.
Former ambassador Shahid Amin was of the view that relations between the West and Islam really started undergoing a dip after the events of 9/11, and said that it would be in the interest of both to realise that they all had a common destiny and that they would sooner or later have to devise ways and means to live in harmony.
Prof Abdul Wahab Suri of the Department of Philosophy, KU, delivered a philosophical lecture on modernism and post-modernism and discussed the issue in the light of these phenomena.

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