All immigrants face challenges in their new countries. For Muslim immigrants or their offspring in the West, these challenges are heightened. How can Muslims successfully integrate without losing their rich, unique religious heritage?
We are living in a globalized world. Different communities live side by side more than any other time in history. The transition comes with many challenges such as language barrier, culture shock, differences in work, family ethics, and religious traditions. The experience of the Muslim communities living in the West offers many case studies for those who research globalization and its effects on the host countries as well as the new comers. While some Muslim groups live in isolated towns, some groups try to develop projects to be an active part of the society. While some host countries have passed harsher regulations that lead to alienation of Muslims, others have been able to develop a smoother transition through more integrative policies. On the other hand, radicalization of marginalized Muslim youth presents a challenge to all the host countries. Hence, concepts like European Islam or Globalized Islam are here with us which need to be explored.
According to Roy (2004, xi), “[g]lobalised Islam refers to the way in which the relationship of Muslims to Islam is reshaped by globalization, westernization, and the impact of living as a minority.” Roy (2004) defines global Muslims as those who have either settled in the West permanently or are trying to distance themselves from a local version of Islam by identifying with the worldwide Muslim community (the Ummah).
In studying Muslims in the West, one must take into account “the instances and places of reciprocal [historical] influence between the cultural constructs of the European and Muslim worlds” and the transcultural space created by this mutual influence in “the context of globalization, characterized by the mobility of cultures and religion” (Cesari 2004, 5). According to Cesari (2004), the Americanization or Europeanization of Islam cannot be separated from the space and time dimensions of global Islam, as well as its political crises. Cesari (2004) also posits that Islam should be examined as a process of the local, national, and international levels; it is the conglomerate production of cultural meaning and symbols. Hence, it is important to avoid the trap of essentializing Islam and Muslims based on assumptions on a single level, especially without considering Islam at all three levels.
“European Islam is connected with the stakes and political and cultural difficulties of the Muslim world, as demonstrated by September 11,” and key issues that are being debated about Muslims in the West such as pluralism, citizenship, and religious education cannot be limited to the national contexts of the West due to cultural globalization (Cesari 2007, 22). Although there is an interconnectedness of the Ummah, Western Muslims are not an exact reflection of issues elsewhere, since they are at the heart of religious and cultural developments connected to the Western context. Accordingly, cultural globalization has had an accelerating effect on the formation of a hybrid European or American Islam. This “hybrid” Islam is based on tolerance and respect for the other, which has been a product of Muslims living in the West (Cesari 2007, 23).
European Islam is a nascent phenomenon in that “the emergence of such an Islam does not imply the rediscovery of an Islam sui generis, but the invention of a new religious model, through the intensification of contacts among European Muslim communities, the confrontation of their uncertainties and the hybridisation of their practices” (Bougarel 2007, 20). This hybridi[z]ation is likely to grow stronger in the large cosmopolitan European cities as Muslims try to find solutions to their common problems, such as ethnic and religious discrimination, and requires a shared intellectual space where diverse communities can exchange ideas (Bougarel 2007). In its current form, European Islam “often encompasses phenomena that are quite distinct, or even largely opposed to one another” (Bougarel 2007, 1).
Pauly (2004) argues that a clash of identities takes place as a result of the establishment of minority communities in the West. Such clashes can be traced back to religious as well as broader cultural differences between the migrants and the majority populations, and integration can be a vehicle for bridging such identity gaps (Pauly 2004). Angenendt, Barret, Laurence, Peach, Smith, and Winter (2007) outline the integration strategies used by European states in recent years. These strategies have either generated mixed results or been criticized.
Dialogue with Muslim councils is one strategy that has been applied in Britain, Germany, and France – to mixed results, as the councils need to build youth participation, deliver tangible results effectively, and increase diverse participation.
Another strategy, primarily in Italy and Finland, has been a multicultural policy that promotes religious symbols. This approach encourages cultural differences and supports migrants in preserving their religious identities. Multiculturalism has its critics who claim that it promotes isolation rather than integration, all while creating economic disparities. In Britain, however, multicultural policy has fostered migrant social mobility in adults (no data on youth was available at the time of my research) (Angenendt et al. 2007).
In contrast to multiculturalism, France has attempted to transform migrants into French citizens first and Muslims second by diminishing their religious identities, specifically through a ban on religious symbols in schools. Similarly, in Germany headscarves were banned for teachers in certain states. Forced integration contracts and citizenship tests in countries such as Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark require migrants to learn the native language and social norms. In general, such programs have been received negatively by Muslims, who view them as unwelcoming (Angenendt et al. 2007).
France is an interesting case of mixed approaches. Despite a tradition of harsh secularism, France also has proposals ensuring employers hire minorities – and a university actually started recruiting students using what the U.S. calls “affirmative action.”
In a similar vein, Britain and the Netherlands passed stricter anti-discrimination laws in an effort to extend equal opportunities to migrants. Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands have also attempted to teach Islam at schools.
Not all tensions in European Muslim communities are between immigrants and native citizens. According to Pauly (2004), Muslims in Europe suffer from a lack of political representation and cooperation between different communities. There are many divisions across heterogeneous ethnic, philosophical, and national boundaries. There are also clashes that emanate from countries of origin, such as the one between Turks and Kurds (Pauly 2004).
To create a Euro-Islamic identity at peace with the larger societies of their respective countries, instead of isolating themselves Muslims need to become active and get involved in all aspects of social life. There is no inherent conflict between such involvement and their faith or religious requirements (Ramadan 2004). Economic and political involvement is the way to a successful hybrid European Muslim identity that strikes a balance between the two extremes of total isolation from the larger society and abandonment of Islamic identity (Pauly 2004). Accordingly, Muslims should not be afraid to integrate into their European home lands. They should be able to blend their British, French, German, or American culture with their faith, shaping hybrid identities while enriching the cultures of their home countries.
In this respect, Gülen Movement (Hizmet) volunteers exemplify such an effort and could serve as an example for Muslims living in the West. In Germany, for instance, the Gülen Movement has worked on transforming the image of Muslims, focusing on reintegration of immigrant youth into the German education system.  Furthermore, Hizmet has realized social engagement and dialogue with the German non-Muslim community by establishing cultural and dialogue centers to build bridges between cultures, all while offering a cosmopolitan and tolerant form of Islam.  According to Hunt and Aslandogan (2007, 19-20), “[o]riginating in Turkey but becoming increasingly transnational, the [Hizmet] movement represents novel approaches to the relationship between faith and reason, peaceful co-existence in liberal democracies with religious diversity education, and spirituality.” As Yavuz (2013, 247) contends, the Gülen Movement “has the potential to be the beginning of religious Enlightenment in its Turkish and wider modern Islamic context where we are witnessing a new era of Muslim religious revival deeply embedded in modern processes of neoliberal market reforms and middle classes, open public spheres, democratic governance, modern education and technology-driven globalization.”
Moreover, Turkey’s membership in the European Union could have helped integrate Muslim communities living in Europe to their countries by buttressing the European Union’s credibility among Muslims. Given the current circumstances, this does not seem to be possible in the near future. Such an accession would mean redefining European identity as a more inclusive one. EU membership for Turkey would also help shape the evolving relationship between Islam and Christianity around the globe (Pauly 2004).
In sum, Muslims in the West face both challenges and opportunities in the countries in which they live. The challenges may emanate from cultural differences and identity clashes as well as the failed integration policies of the host countries. Nevertheless, Muslims living in the West can shape a brighter future both for themselves and the global Muslim community by becoming active contributors to their societies – and without any fear of losing their religious identities. There are many opportunities for Muslims living in the West to build bridges between the West and their homelands, as well as among the followers of different faiths. Embracing their host countries, while working as active contributors to society, is the key to building a peaceful future for all.
Cesari, Jocelyne. 2004. When Islam and Democracy Meet: Muslims in Europe and in the United States. Palgrave Macmillan.
Cesari, Jocelyne. 2007. "The Hybrid and Globalized Islam of Western Europe." Portability and Exportability. 21.
Hunt, Robert, and Yuksel Aslandogan. 2007. Muslim Citizens of the Globalized World. Kindle Edition.
Roy, Olivier. 2004. Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah. Columbia University Press.
Bougarel, Xavier. 2007. “Bosnian Islam as ‘European Islam’: Limits and Shifts of a Concept.” Islam in Europe. Diversity, Identity and Influence. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Pauly Robert J. Jr. 2004. Islam in Europe: Integration or Marginalization? Aldershot. UK : Ashgate Publishing Limited.
Ramadan, Tariq. 2004. Western Muslims and the Future of Islam. New York: Oxford UP.