European Imams Stress Social Integration
“(We need to) foster integration by participation and participation especially by imams for they have a particular role… (to) encourage people to be and feel part of society,” said Amina Baghajati, spokesman for the Austrian Muslim association (IGGIOe).
The group’s final declaration addressed a number of issues Western politicians have been calling on European imams to tackle in the face of radical ideologies coming out of the Middle East.
“We have shown how to protect ourselves from fatwas from other countries,” said the IGGIOe’s Mouddar Khouja said of the religious edicts pronounced by Europe’s imams. “We have fatwas from imams living in Europe and they speak for themselves.
Language essential to integration
The Imams emphasized the need for dialogue, cooperation and efforts to be made on all sides to achieve better understanding between cultures and religions. In particular, they said it was essential for European Muslims of all ages to learn the language and culture of the country where they live.
The Imams also stressed that integration is facilitated by participation in political, economical, cultural, social and academic areas.
“It is the principle of Islam that the Muslim in Europe be active and participate in all aspects of life,” said Ahmed Al-Rawi, president of the British-based Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe.
Imams have positive role to play
The imams called upon themselves to play stronger roles in helping their communities integrate into society.
“Imams, as teachers and preachers, have a duty to emphasize to their congregations that they can play a positive role … in addressing the plagues of Europe — hate, bigotry, racism, extremism and terrorism,” said Imam Abduljalil Sajid, president of Britain’s Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony.
While Muslims have a responsibility to adapt to their host country, Europe too must give them the opportunity to become part of that society by “talking with and not about Muslims,” the declaration concluded.
“Integration is no one-way street, but should be seen as a mutual process,” the declaration said.
In light of the Mohammed cartoon controversy, the Imams underlined the importance of freedom of speech, while denouncing the violent protests as well as the media’s focus on violence in Islam.
“Muslims are under pressure to justify themselves, as… in the coverage of crises, images of aggression and violence, often outside Europe, stand in the foreground,” the Imams said.
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Thilo Sarrazin’s book seems to play into what you call the “Islam myth”—the idea that Islam is a barrier to integration.
People see it as a barrier because of the picture of Islam here [in Germany]. What do they associate with Islam? Violence. Repression of women. Ostracism—Muslims excluding themselves, not society excluding them.
But you believe Islam could actually help encourage integration?
I talk about imams. Imams are very important figures in the Muslim community. Muslims go to them with school problems, marriage problems, and so on. Mosques in Germany are multifunctional institutions. Even not-so-religious Turks visit the mosques. The imam can serve as a bridge. He can be a role model.
Why doesn’t that happen now?
About 90 percent of imams can’t speak German. When they can’t speak German, they can’t know the society. I am sure that about 90 percent of imams don’t know about Sarrazin’s book. They have no idea…They come from Islamic countries, and they stay here only for a few years. But 3 million Turkish Muslims live in Germany. Three million. The German Muslims have a reality here in Germany. But the imams don’t know that reality. So when they preach, they preach about the situation in Islamic countries. They can’t speak about the situation here, in Europe or in Germany.
You’ve pointed out that Islam isn’t officially recognized as a religion by the German government.
The Christians are a religious community. The Jews are a religious community. But Muslims are not. And not only in a legal way—in a social way, too. A lot of German people are scared about Islam…We have about 2,400 Muslim institutions in Germany. And some of the institutions are real mosques [with minarets and domes], about 150 or so. The rest are backyard mosques.
Does perceived rejection by mainstream society help the radicals?
When you have a vacuum, and when the radicals afford you a structure, afford you a community, and so on, I think the possibility is there…You know, young people are looking for a compromise. They are European, but on the other side they are Muslim. So they are looking for a compromise between Islamic values and European values. How can we bring these values together?