Abbès Jirari








Muslim Presence in Europe:

Can it be a Tributary to Europe's

Renewing Civilization?








Publications Annadi AL JIRARI
























Some Europeans consider that the Islamic presence in their countries creats numerous problems, be they social, cultural or identity related. It goes without saying that the objective reasons behind this negative perception requires a revision of some situations, and thereby their improvement.

Indeed, besides all that the Moslem participation has been accomplishing in Europe in various fields, this presence has yet another positive side that is seldom mentioned and that needs to be studied as being an influence on a European civilisation that is constantly developing and renewed. That is the major goal of this study.

The important feedback generated by its previous publication, in three languages, in the ISESCO’s journal “Islam Today”(*) urged me to republish it in this booklet so as to further circulate it among the interested readers.

May God guide us towards the right path.


Rabat, Ramadan, 10th 1429th AH

corresponding to september 11th 2008

Abbes Jirari














The presence of Muslims in Europe is a matter of great importance. It affects the reality of Islam and Muslims there through the various issues that this presence, with its advantages and inconveniences, gives rise to. One of these issues is how this presence may contribute to Europe's renewing civilization.

To answer this question inevitably implies to tackle the very issue of the Muslim presence in Europe, and its impact on what European countries may produce in terms of an evolving, renewing civilization. This is the aim of the present essay for which I chose the expressive title: The Muslim Presence in Europe: Can it be a tributary to Europe's renewing civilization? Addressing such an issue requires taking into consideration a number of elementary, influential elements. Most prominent among these is the fact that the number of Muslims in Europe stands at more than twenty millions. They are found in different countries of Europe, especially in France where they account for 7% of the total population. Of these, one million and a half are Moroccans; a number that may be found in other European countries.

The Muslim presence in Europe has reached its highest in the last few years. In the previous century, this presence was made mainly up of the soldiers who fought in many of France's liberation battles. Another component was represented by the workers whose labour served in building factories and in manning other fields of strenuous labour that the French and other Europeans would not like to do.

But this presence soon began to rise in standards thanks to the migrant intellectual, creative, medical and technically specialised competent people who came to work at universities, institutes, hospitals, etc. This shift conferred a new and distinguished status on Muslims, leading in the last few years to their ascension to high ranking administrative and political positions within government. Statistics supplied by the United Nations and other sources -Arab and foreign- prove that qualified people now represent one third of all immigrants.

Yet, migration for settlement and work in Europe is increasingly a source of many social and security-related problems. Would-be migrants - or those referred to as illegal or clandestine migrants (more than five million people according to a report by the Council of Europe) -may in the pursuit of their end use means that amount to taking deadly risks, let alone being suspected of perpetrating violent, criminal acts that undermine the security of their hosting countries.

Today, the whole world, whether advanced or developing, is enduring this worrisome situation and the confusion that has resulted from a series of events and crises. This applies most particularly to the phenomenon of terrorism which seems to cause officials to lose their senses and wisdom to the extent that some of them - or most of them to be exact - tend to level random accusations at Muslims, which they depict as living in a timeframe other than theirs, unwilling and unable to integrate modern times. In truth, Muslims aspire to a positive participation in the edification of the world and to a constructive contribution to building its renewing civilization while ensuring the respect of their own reality, of the teachings of their religion, their history, values and perspective on life.

 Muslims also understand the need to join ranks with the Other, particularly Europeans, in order to discharge this mission and, first and foremost, to preserve the civilization they share with them and which has flourished on the coasts of the Mediterranean, the true cradle of human civilization. These shores are an integral component of a civilization that has evolved through history, from the times of the Greeks, to the Romans, the Arabs and Muslims, and finally the Europeans. Muslims are convinced of the need for Mediterranean countries to endeavour towards bridging the gap separating them, and alleviating the divide keeping them apart. This would come through the recognition by one party of the other, helping those in need of assistance, and acquiring the ability to keep pace with the civilizational march in all tolerance.

Tolerance, in its true sense and as advocated by Islam in old times and affirmed by modern conventions, does not require the weaker party to surrender to the stronger one, or give up in all submission and humiliation his specificity and what makes him unique. It means finding the common denominators and points of convergence in order to coexist in the light of this diversity, particularly the cultural one. Difference in itself is a value that was highlighted by Islam as one of the laws of nature and the universe.

Since cultural diversity influences all other aspects of life, the political, economic and social alike, this must be kept in mind whilst dealing with such universal phenomena as globalisation. In fact, dealing with the reality of globalisation requires a certain balance, and only such balance can help fulfil common goals and grasp the prospects of the future desired.

Globalisation does not and should not mean a new concept of citizenship with a universal dimension that negates all frontiers and homelands, giving way to one homeland, the world, often described as the village. Such a visualisation is rejected by all those who take pride in their identity, including the Europeans who have advocated and continue to advocate cultural exceptionalism, and the Muslims who remain attached to their specificity, a specificity that is fed by many components, of which the most important is religion. While in theory Europeans do not give a lot of consideration to this component, it is in reality very much present in their thoughts, even attaining degrees of radicalism among some of them. The strong attachment of Muslims to their religion, on the other hand, and to their identity in general and the specificity that this identity confers on them,  does not mean that they forego or lag behind the caravan of modern times with all their products, requirements and constraints.

Thus, and in view of this deeply-entrenched religious element, and the impossibility of replacing or abandoning it, any coexistence-oriented dialogue should steer clear of faith and the specific rites and sanctities inherent to religion, and evolve within the framework of values and transactions only. This would surely help avoid conflicts and clashes and the resulting extremism that sooner or later leads to violence. This violence can only further aggravate the division that may exist within one and the same religion. This situation needs to be addressed through an internal dialogue, either Islamic-Islamic or Christian-Christian, in order to overcome any dividing sectarianism. Such process presupposes that both parties take a critical look at their internal affairs in order to reform them and remove all elements of difference dividing them. By difference here we do not mean the positive phenomenon addressed earlier in this article.

In their internal dialogue, Muslims should focus on the equations they still have to resolve, such as how to compromise between tradition and modernism, and between originality and modernity. They need to address the causes behind the failure of all reform movements and remedy them in order to place Muslim societies on the course of progress and prosperity. To reach such solutions, they need to adopt a reinvigorated vision, advanced approaches and, first and foremost, show courage in criticism and in the expression of opinions.

In its true sense, dialogue takes many forms, such as discussion, debate, conversation, review and argumentation. One of them is the style of argumentation often used in the Holy Quran where gentle ways are advocated in addressing the People of the Book. This approach is associated with defending righteousness and responding to those who reject or fight it. It is important to adhere to the positive dimensions of these forms of dialogue without falling in the trap of contention and quarrelling. These dimensions aim to encourage the expression of opinion in all freedom, and to achieve rapprochement between the differing parties without hostility or extremism.

There have always been among Muslims some belligerent and extremist individuals, or even radical and fanatic groups whose stance contrasted with that of the general public. But this should not be held against all Muslims, let alone against Islam. In fact, even Christianity experienced and still experiences division and bursts of fanaticism such as the conflicts opposing Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians. Such radicalism today is taking on more serious forms nainly through some groups of evangelism which are attempting in all arrogance and violence, and through a strange alliance with Zionism, to spread fear and terror in the world. Their designs are manifest in the events and catastrophes suffered by Muslims and by others in many parts of the world.

However, when we speak of Europe, we are not talking about a uniform, civilizational and cultural system where no differences exist between the countries making up the continent. In fact, many differences exist and should be taken into consideration when we tackle the subject of Islamic-Christian dialogue. The same can be said of Islamic societies which were certainly not created in one mould. This status becomes clearly apparent when it comes to appointing someone to represent one party or the other, or deciding who has the right to speak on behalf of all.

It is of paramount importance to distinguish between the general peace-loving public of Muslims who apply moderation and tolerance in their religion, and a party of people who took a path of extremism which led some of them to violence. Such a phenomenon has become universal, fed or fuelled by contextual factors such as poverty, illiteracy, marginalisation, divergence in stances and approaches, and other factors that are too many to address in detail here. The first manifestations of this phenomenon emerged early in the history of Islam when the Khawarij took a stand against the institution of the State.

Nor is this phenomenon exclusive to Muslims. It is found in many other religions and doctrines. Thus, recognising the extremism of some Muslims should not lead to the generalisation of the label of violence to all Muslims, and even worse, to the association of Islam itself and the Holy Book with this violence. Since it would be an absurdity to try and engage in a dialogue about faiths, an impossible feat considering the special ties between followers and Creator that these faiths embody, it is essential to exercise caution as to the call for the unity of all religions, a call made with the premise that all religions can be traced back to Abraham, peace be upon him. Those who make such calls confine themselves within the sole parameters of faith in God, the day of judgement and moral conduct. They seek to annihilate all these religions, particularly Islam, the late of all religions, as a faith, a charia and a code of conduct.

On a different note, and since the time of the Prophet, the history of Islam has abounded with instances of dialogue to which Muslims were party. Some of these took place at official gatherings and academic circles and others were even held inside mosques. There is little need for examples since the phenomenon has always been common, frequent and known throughout the times, although it was somewhat undermined under colonialism and in modern times as a result of all the challenges they brought. Notwithstanding this, and at such times of globalisation, the ongoing talk about the need for communication and mutual acquaintance is rather strange when all information or knowledge barriers have disappeared.

Despite obstacles and difficulties, dialogue has taken various forms and shapes over the past century. The most important of these were the symposia and conferences organised with the aim of bringing the followers of the three divine religions, particularly Muslims and Christians, closer together. One eloquent example is the “Light of the World” document which was drawn up in the sixties of the previous century in an attempt to highlight the human values advocated by the two religions. This document was issued by the Masonic Foundation during the time of Pope Paul VI following numerous meetings between officials from both sides. Failure to adopt use moral values as their basis explains the failure of many of these gatherings which sought to tackle issues related to faith, the faith which as we stressed earlier no party can possibly forfeit.

Such futile pursuit is likely to eclipse the real problems of the age and what humanity endures in poverty, ignorance, disease, the myriad other manifestations of backwardness, and the ensuing injustice, hegemony, extremism and violence. It is also likely to lead us away from the values common to both religions and that may help us overcome these problems or at least grasp their gist in order to find the appropriate solutions. Once this is achieved, it would help spread takaful, complementarity and justice, bring ranks closer around modern issues and challenges, prevent the escalation of trouble, and help avoid extremism and terrorism. It would also favour security, stability, serenity and peace in the world, as apposed to designs to politically, economically and culturally control and standardise the world, which is exactly what the United States of America is endeavouring to achieve by imposing the logic of force. This situation clearly shows that the onslaught targeting Islam and Muslims is not primarily aimed at annihilating this religion considering its strength, its wide reach and the uncompromising attachment of its followers to it. Instead, it seeks to control these followers, steer them towards that which will weaken them, keep them confined within the role of backward dependents, and serve the best interests of their enemies.

No beautiful hopes and aspirations can be fulfilled unless the Muslims achieve a positive presence that can be a tributary of and enrich the new world civilization. This requires certain conditions that are binding to all parties. The most important of these is the need to improve conditions within Muslim societies in such a way as to favour their stability, safety and serenity, all of which entails the generation of a true human and material development within these societies. Such goal cannot be reached without a serious endeavour to solve the political, economic and social problems that most of these societies endure. It also goes through removing all the causes of conflict plaguing Muslims, particularly in Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and other countries where grave and devastating challenges threaten to divide and hinder any development or progress. Special emphasis should be laid on the Palestinian issue which has become similar to an abscess that cannot be cured except through the reclaiming by the Palestinians of what is rightfully theirs, the recognition of an independent Palestinian state with Al Qods as its capital, and the return of refugees to their homeland.

If such actions are accompanied by a measure of frankness that is conducive to reconciliation, they might create an environment propitious to cooperation by correcting history and purifying it of all events endured by the Muslims, be it the Crusades, the inquisition trials or the colonial era. It would also involve the presentation of an apology for such events in order to erase their remnants and all factors of hatred and hostility. This apology should also extend to the acts still being perpetrated today, including the desecration of the Holy Quran, the attempt to alter its wording and, as happened recently, the distortion of the image of the Prophet (PBUH). No less damaging are the statements made recently by some officials who claim that Islamic values cannot rise to the standard of the Western ones. These insinuations reached their paroxysm last year when His Holiness Pope Benedict uttered provocative words against Islam and Muslims and the culture and civilization they edified.

Clearing the air of such pollutants can help reinstate trust between Muslims and others on the basis of mutual recognition and acceptance despite differences in traits, identity components and religious, historical and cultural personality. This also presupposes the absence of superiority sentiments and control urges, the existence of tolerance and coexistence, the adoption of everything that could favour rapprochement and harmony, and the rejection of all the factors of division and strife, with a new spirit born out of serenity and of which the importance cannot be denied in interaction that has cooperation as both its basis and its goal.

In order for this positive cooperation to become a reality, it will be essential to lay emphasis on the element of human values which converge with the divine ones advocated by Islam and other religions, as only such values can bring religions closer. It is also necessary to embrace the intellectual and scientific orientations that these values promote and that are further advocated by modern thought in view of their universal dimension and the intellectual development and industrial and commercial progress they give rise to. Such orientations were not unknown to Muslims when they were edifying civilization and culture in their times of apogee.

It is equally essential to consider all this through a long term vision of the relations between Muslims and others. This would serve to keep these relations sound and also to protect the future of humanity from annihilation by fostering love and brotherliness, which facilitates tolerance and co-existence, and by shunning the hatred and resentment which motivate hegemony and aggression.

Such vision cannot become a reality if we fail to remove the barriers preventing Muslims from penetrating the progress-conducive fields of production and from keeping pace with modern developments. Muslims need not remain mere consumers of products to which the key remains in the hands of the West. This despite the wealth available in their own countries, their strategic situation and their rich human resources forced to join the immigrant workforce in Europe, thus significantly contributing to the progress and development achieved by these countries.

It is necessary to open up more fields before these resources and encourage the moderate trend advocated by a number of Muslim scholars and thinkers. Such trend strives to cast light on the real face of Islam and make its voice heard in the Islamic world and even in Western countries where the need of a proper understanding of this religion is rather dire. There is indubitably a strong desire within these countries for such knowledge, in the hope that it might alleviate the intensity of the current juncture.

There is an equally noticeable eagerness to study Islam and learn its principles. This eagerness exists not only among the general public or the intellectuals, but also among the Christian clergy who so far have been fighting Islam out of ignorance.

This also applies to a tendency noted among European and American political leaders who have realised the worth of Islam and the importance of the Muslim presence in various fields. But, despite such awareness, they remain apprehensive about possible acts of terrorism which they attribute, erroneously and unjustly, to Islam and Muslims who are in equal need for properly understanding the religion of the Other.

Unfortunately, the keen interest that Christians, Europeans and Americans alike, have begun to take in Islam and the conversion to this religion of some of them, has prompted the Vatican and other church ecclesiastics, and even some thinkers and politicians, to voice their alarm at the spread of Islam in the West and warn against this religion. Some have even urged for banning Islam in their countries and for punishing those who convert to it, in total denial of the fact that Islam is one of the divine religions, their seal and the one religion that recognises all others.

This occurs at a time when the notion of dialogue is becoming a leitmotiv at eastern and western pulpits, including those advocating a dialogue of faith based on solid and objective foundations agreed to by all. This call for this dialogue is motivated by a desire to reveal the true essence of these religions, bring them closer together and instate cooperation within a framework of mutual respect and esteem, propelled by a desire to acquire a proper knowledge of religions, and careful not to tackle matters inherent to the essence of faith itself. Religion is, after all, the bond linking Man to his Creator and only the Creator can judge and demand accounts. Diversity is a law of the universe created by Allah and is the product of divine will. It is not born from the preconceived ideas the followers of a given religion might entertain, namely that they and only they are right, that their religion holds the key to the ultimate truth, and that those who embrace other religions become de facto the enemy. This necessitates that we move away from the misleading notion that the West's civilization and culture are superior and that they generated new, until then unknown, values, a notion where the Other is seen as a mere consumer who can take no credit for these values, nor can his own heritage or even humanity's legacy.

A civilization emerges and thrives thanks to its myriad components, no matter how small these components are. Therefore, the European civilization which has achieved tremendous progress and surpassed other civilizations in all fields, cannot possibly continue to grow and prosper if it persists in denying the role of the Islamic civilization in enriching it, or in ignoring what Muslims can offer today, projecting in the process a stereotypical image of Muslims, an image that does nothing but confirms Europe's determination to ignore Muslims and deprive them of their rightful recognition.

Any attempt to turn a blind eye to this role or undermine its contribution will be tantamount to denying the richness that diversity and plurality can offer if given a chance at give and take, in a spirit of tolerance, co-existence, solidarity and open-mindedness, and consequently consolidate ties and strengthen bonds.

There is perhaps no need to reiterate that this correlation, these solid bonds and the ensuing civilization and culture are enough, if we were take the time to ponder them, to reinstate our trust in ourselves and in our full capacities. They are enough to pave the way for such ties and bonds to ensure the continuity of the elements common to all civilizations and cultures. What it takes are a new vision, progressive concepts and an unbiased drive, and a sound awareness of the worth of these common aspects, with no prejudices to negate what is positive in our history. Consideration should be taken of the advantages of globalization and the values it champions and which do not clash with what we, Muslims and Europeans alike, advocate, the specificity of our identity that we are attached to, the freedom, democracy, plurality and respect of human rights that we aspire to, and what all this generates in terms of opportunities for constructive and fruitful cooperation.

Vast horizons open up before this cooperation which will make it possible to overcome challenges and spread peace. It will also help enforce the human rights that elevate man's status, enable him to ascend to the honourable position that Allah has reserved for Adam's progeny, and encourage him to seek further communion with his environment.

This communion is one of the fundaments of civilization. It takes the shape of openness, interaction, solidarity and complementarity, and of coexistence and tolerance, far from any clash or conflict. Civilization per se is human, and as such it is one and not plural, although the stages of its development are many and the phases of its evolution through time are myriad. This diversity lies in what people, evolving at any given time, generate by way of innovation, creativity and production, the values and principles they believe in and the legacy they leave behind. Such legacy benefits individuals and societies, selecting for foundation the mutual acquaintance which leads to reciprocal recognition and cooperation through a process of give-and-take.

To achieve all of this, starting with the desired knowledge of religions and what such knowledge can bring about, we believe that civilizational and cultural dialogue should be permanently open, and that it should become an opportunity to highlight the various opinions on the issues pertaining to dialogue and expressed by thinkers, politicians, economists, academicians, civil society associations and non-governmental organisations.

However, all of this will fail to fulfil the desired goals if it is not bolstered by good conduct on the part of all parties. For Muslims, such conduct will project a shining image of Islam. This responsibility is certainly shared by all Muslims, particularly those living in the European countries that have become for them vast platforms where they interact and mingle with the original inhabitants.

The Muslim presence in these countries has long ago surpassed the concept of minority to become a phenomenon that can only be visualised within a framework of citizenship. After three or more decades, Muslims have become part and parcel of these countries, an integrated part and a component whose contribution to advancing and enriching culture and civilization cannot be denied. Once this truth has been acknowledged, accepted and positively implemented, a solution will be found for the complex equation requiring much pondering, patience and wisdom. In this equation, the Muslim living in Europe is requested to be a secular citizen in a secular society to which he belongs by right and with the loyalty demanded by such belonging. He is requested at the same time to be a Muslim who he is free to perform his religious rites, either individually or as part of a community that tends to all matters related to his faith.

One of the priorities of such approach is achieving a balance between all parties and instating mutual trust among them, giving precedence to the supreme interests of the country but without undermining social interactions in their material and beneficial manifestations. Doubts are cast on this possibility by those who are hostile to immigrants. It is equally important to remember that the reality of mixed marriages and the succession of generations shows that the right to citizenship has been obtained in a sound manner, despite the existence of some exceptions that mar the picture. These exceptions may eventually disappear if fewer constraints are placed on the visa, residence or work permit procedures, and if fewer hardships are suffered by those wishing to immigrate and the immigrants whose situations are not regular yet. If all the immigrants are able to freely perform the rites of their religion, as are the Europeans who have started to immigrate to Muslim countries, especially in Morocco where they reside, own property and share with the citizens many aspects of their daily life. For Muslims, such freedom needs to be protected from the extremism and fanaticism born out of ignorance. This requires further sensitization about religion, and finding solutions to the problems and events that these immigrants encounter in their host countries, through a new, if not special, fiqh which is often discussed and has even been dubbed the fiqh of minorities.

That is the responsibility of the scholars of Islamic Ummah who should closely monitor the reality of Muslims in non-Muslim countries.





(*) N° 25 for the year 2008 coresponding to 1429 AH.