KARACHI, Nov 17: European culture and Islamic culture have different ethos and both are bound to collide unless there is assimilation and compromise.
Anwar Shaheen of the University of Karachi’s Pakistan Study Centre said this here on Thursday on the second day of a two-day international conference on ‘Islam in Europe’ while speaking on the topic of hijab and burqa in Europe. The seminar was organised by KU’s Area Study Centre for Europe in association with the Hanns Seidel Foundation.
Ms Shaheen, who had conducted a survey of Muslim women living in Europe as well as Pakistani scholars to back up her research, said European society was justified in its reaction to Muslim women wearing hijab. She said proponents of the veil considered it a divine commandment while other women faced patriarchal pressure to observe the veil. However, she said many women also wore hijab out of free will.
Those who objected to the veil viewed it as a form of discrimination while others felt it did not conform to “contemporary corporate culture”.
She criticised the “self-righteousness” of some women who observed the veil as “suicidal” and felt many of these women thought of themselves as more pious than those Muslim women who did not veil themselves.
“If Muslims don’t feel comfortable with European laws they should come back” to their countries of origin, she said, while adding that “European governments should not frame discriminatory laws”.
Nigerian scholar Najimdeen Bakare spoke on Islam and European democracy. He said there was no clash of cultures but “a clash of interests”.
He added that it was important for Europe to understand Islam and Muslims as they were a sizable minority in the continent and that the Muslim World was no longer confined to the traditional lands of Islam, but now included those countries which hosted Muslim minorities.
Mr Bakare said there was a need for a “cosmopolitan mazhab” for European Muslims as the community could no longer depend on fatwas originating from Muslim countries. He said the elements defining western, European democratic values were secularism, pluralism, political freedom, liberty, equality, rule of law and freedom of speech.
Referring to secularism, he said western society recognises religion but insists it should be confined to the individual level. He observed there was a history of secularism is Islam, for in both the Umayyad and Abbasid empires there was a clear balance between the state and the mazhabs, which sprang from society.
He said the first generation of Muslim immigrants to Europe following World War II was not very literate and was primarily concerned with their economic well-being. The second generation was confused about traditional family values and values of the host society while the third generation of immigrants sought public visibility and wanted to move from the margins to the mainstream. This included wanting to express their religion publicly. “If western society fails to acknowledge the reality of Muslims there will be discord,” he said, adding that Muslim-majority nations need to have less influence on Muslim minorities.
German scholar Dr Rainer Brunner spoke on ‘Euro-Islam’ and identity formation of European Muslims. He said it was pertinent to ask who spoke for European Muslims. “There is no shortage of pretenders, but it is not clear how much influence they have”.
He said among European Muslim thinkers Swiss academic Tariq Ramadan called for a reform of Islam, returning the faith to its “pristine” roots. This, the scholar said, was reminiscent of conservative Salafi thought. He said Mr Ramadan rejects the concepts of Dar al Islam and Dar al Harb, instead proposing that Europe is Dar as Shahada, which was a concept close to the Muslim Brotherhood’s line of thought. This, said Dr Brunner, was not surprising as Mr Ramadan is the maternal grandson of Hasan al Banna, the Brotherhood’s founder.
He said Tariq Ramadan tries to stick to religious dogma while also trying to reconcile dogma with a western lifestyle, for example equating Muslim immigrants to Europe with the muhajiroon of the early Islamic era who left Makkah for Madina.
He said in Europe different countries had different domestic roles for religion: France was completely secular while in the United Kingdom the monarch was the head of the Church, while in Germany religious education in schools was guaranteed in the constitution.
Mujeeb Afzal of Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, spoke on the post-Cold War West and Islam. He said the Muslim reaction to European dominance over the last few decades has been either of resistance or collaboration, though the collaborationists have prevailed and have “learned from their masters”. He said during the Cold War both superpowers had a negative view of Islam, while the Muslim world was divided between “radicals”, such as Arab nationalists, and “conservatives”, such as the various monarchies that dot the Muslim world. However, revivalism soon emerged, which was less impressed by the West and considered it “decadent”.
Drawn to revivalism Shia revivalism triumphed in the shape of 1979’s Islamic Revolution in Iran, while Sunni revivalists joined hands with the conservatives and the United States to take on the USSR in Afghanistan. The Soviet defeat in Afghanistan was not only the victory of capitalism, but the revivalists also felt they had a hand in the superpower’s fall, said Mr Afzal. After communism’s demise, “democracy and free-market capitalism were considered the only ‘viable’ systems”.
He said Muslim youths were attracted to revivalism as there was no alternative ideology to capitalism. “Revivalists don’t pose a threat to the West, but to the imperialist hegemony of the West”. However, he observed that “Islam was now part of the West”. Within the West there were two schools where Islam was concerned: accommodationists and confrontationists. The accommodationists feel that Muslim revivalists’ anger is fuelled by the West whereas confrontationists denounce Islam as “anti-secular and anti-modernity”.
Dr Nazir Hussain, also of Quaid-i-Azam University, speaking on perceptions of Muslims post-9/11, said that today, perceptions were shaped by the media, not academics. He said Muslims had played a major role in Europe’s progress over the last 50 years, but now some European leaders were saying that multiculturalism had failed and that immigration had to be controlled.
He said there was duplicity in western policy, observing that Bahrain’s monarchy had been protected against popular protests, while Libya had been invaded. “The western media invented Islam as the enemy. Somebody needed a villain. The media are now policymakers”.
Turkish scholar Dr Ersin Embel spoke on the problems Turks were facing integrating into German life while Dr Amel Boubekeur, addressing the seminar via Skype, discussed the influence of North Africa on European Muslims.