RECENT TRENDS AND DEVELOPMENTS OF IMPORTANCE FOR THE MUSLIMS OF EUROPE –

by Imam Abdalhasib Castiñeira

A speech from the annual meeting of the EMU – The European Muslim Union – in Vienna, Austria on Sunday 11th September 2011

We, the Muslims of Europe, must be aware of our reality, our circumstances, our environment and the changing trends that affect us directly and indirectly. There are recent developments in which one can observe trends that are hostile towards Islam and Muslims, which were not so established a few years ago even during the Bush ‘War on terror’, and definitely not before that.

The trends are apparently inauspicious for Muslims, but upon deeper, more careful examination they reveal a moment in which it is possible to take the initiative, an opportunity to outdo the mediocre society of individualism and frivolity; the historic moment in which we live is fertile ground in which, with Divine guidance, to restore the greatness of the human being and the right time in which to remind our fellow human beings of the basics of human existence, preserved by the revelation but otherwise so much lost in our time: the fitra and the natural condition of the human being.

The massacre in Oslo on the Island of Utoya in the last month of July set alarms ringing across Europe. With the ongoing financial crisis, voters may feel attracted to far right parties, many of which are building support by opposing immigration and stirring up hatred against Muslims.

During the last Eid al-Fitr I attended salat al-Eid at a Mosque in the Northern German city of Rostock. Looking for the location of the Mosque I saw an electoral banner hanging from many street light-posts with the text: KEIN MOSCHEE IN ROSTOCK – No Mosque in Rostock.

This is a new trend, that is spreading throughout Europe, of political parties promoting a policy that is openly anti-Islam:

1. In Norway, the NDL ‘Norway Defence League’ to which the mass-murderer of Oslo and Utoya Island was affiliated for several years.
2. In the UK, the English Defence League, a movement started in the city of Luton that has gained ground in the last couple of years.
3. In the Netherlands, the Party for Freedom of Geert Wilders, the racist, zionist and ferocious defamer of Islam who has called for the ban of the Qur’an. His party gained twenty-four seats in the elections of 2010.
4. In Austria, the Freedom party (FPO) that, together with the Alliance for the Future (BZO), secured the votes of almost a third of the electorate in the elections of 2008.
5. In Russia, there are neo-Nazi groups.
6. In Catalonia, Plataforma per Catalunya (PxC, Plataforma por Cataluña) is an openly racist and anti-Islamic party that has already prevented the construction of Mosques in Badalona and is trying to stop mosques being built in other cities.
7. In Germany, the National Democratic Party of Germany – The People’s Union (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands – Die Volksunion, NPD), is an extremist right-wing German nationalist party, and was responsible for the banners I saw in Rostock.

The list goes on and on.

The OIC ‘Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’ published a report of 74 pages last May 2011 (we can send it to whoever wishes to study it) about intolerance and discrimination against Muslims, covering from May 2010 to April 2011.

The report of the OIC Observatory on Islamophobia notes three significant developments:

a) a continuation rather than a reversal of trends from the preceding period, reflected in the ban of mosque construction and the use of Islamophobia as an instrument in electioneering.
b) an exacerbation of these trends, reflected in events such as new legislation clearly hostile to Muslims, high profile statements against multiculturalism and the reprinting of the stupid cartoons.
c) a new and growing element of statements from politicians condemnatory of Muslim communities and Islam itself.

There are specific media and websites completely dedicated to promoting unfounded fears, mistrust and rejection of Islam and Muslims.

Using ‘guilt by association’ or ‘collective guilt’, there are groups that use a virulent discourse condemning Islam and promoting discrimination against and harassment of Muslims, in some cases even encouraging violence against Muslims.

In recent months, the political leaders of major western European countries have participated in a chorus of disappointment about the model they call multiculturalism, launching a policy overtly against Muslims.

When during the Reunification Celebration in October 2010, Christian Wulff the German President made positive remarks about the immigrant Muslim population of Germany and their valuable contributions to the development of the German economy and society, he did not expect the negative reaction his words were going to spark. At the end of that month, Chancellor Angela Merkel declared coexistence with immigrant Muslim communities ‘a complete failure’. In February 2011, David Cameron made headlines in the media worldwide by affirming that multiculturalism in Britain, a policy of which the country had been proud for many decades, was ‘a failure’. In the same month, Nikolas Sarkozy, the French president, affirmed that the country had given ‘too much attention to protect the identity of the person arriving and not enough attention to protect the identity of the person who was receiving him’. Even the former Spanish primer Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, lent his voice to this chorus declaring that ‘multiculturalism divides and debilitates western societies’. In his book Germany Dismantles Itself, published in August 2010, and widely publicised by specific powerful media groups in Germany, the former governor of the Deutsch Bank, Tilo Sarrazin, openly criticised Turkish and Arab immigrants in Germany accusing them of being economic parasites, an extremely unjust and biased analysis.

The Muslim communities of Europe are being targeted. We must understand the situation in which we live and where we are establishing our families, our communities and our Deen.

Muslims are instructed by Allah and His Messenger to be steadfast and not be overpowered by fear of the changing circumstances and the growing hostility of their enemies. Allah is sufficient for us. These attacks and this hostility are a test for us, an examination of our sincerity, our patience and our determination.

Another fact that has been proving very decisive in recent times, a continuing phenomenon that is affecting the lives of Muslims and non-Muslims alike deeply, is the financial crisis. The financial crisis is the collapse of a system. In the middle of the continuing collapse of a financial model that cannot be sustained, because it is, as Ezra Pound put it in his Cantos, ‘contra natura’ – completely contrary to the laws of nature, and to the laws of God, the Muslim communities have to excel in conveying our message and in demonstrating it in action. We have now the chance to offer alternatives and solutions to the financial order based on usury. The time is ripe. People of reflection and understanding all over the world are expecting this news. The revival of the lost pillar of zakat, and the practice of halal trade. The restoration of a legitimate means of exchange with intrinsic value. A new economic order where inflation, monopoly and speculation are not permitted.

The matter may seem too big for us but we have the ability to limit the usury power and eventually to dry up the sources of the banking system by abandoning it and turning to the forms of halal trade and economics that are free from usury. The clear and indisputable prohibition of usury in all its manifestations renders the Qur’an, and the message of Islam, enormously important in this time. This is the right moment to remind ourselves and others that Allah has forbidden usury and made trade legitimate, that our Deen is mu‘amalah, not only ‘ibadah, and that ethics must return to the market place.

So, the crisis, or rather the collapse, of the usurious model, represents a tremendous opportunity.

***

In contrast to this bleak picture, a complete set of new trends must be recognised and these are all signs of the real opportunity before us.

All of these signs have been present in this conference:

1. More and more people in Europe are embracing Islam.
2. Young Muslims, second and third generations of the early Muslim immigrants, are becoming educated Europeans, professionals, committed members of their societies and yet proud of their Deen and sure of their Muslim identity.
3. The growing number of indigenous Europeans who have become Islamic scholars of high calibre (Abdal Hakim Murad Winter, Shaykh Abdalhaqq Bewley, Aisha Bewley, Yahya Michot, Abdulghani Melara… ) in western Europe, speaking native European languages as their mother tongues.
4. The Muslim population is growing at a much higher rate than the non-Muslim birth rate in Europe. The most frequent name in the Municipality of Brussels among new born babies during the year 2009 was Muhammad.
5. Muslims and Muslim communities are gradually becoming a natural part of the neighbourhoods and the cities of Europe. Open days in hundreds of mosques and public iftars in many, Muslim cultural activities all over Europe are full of non-Muslims. Public iftars have become a common practice of many municipalities, heads of State and non-Muslim Embassies, including the US Embassy.
6. The increasing number of Muslim institutions with high standards in education, and foundations, publishing houses, humanitarian and relief organisations, as well as some Muslim communities which are models of good management, unity and knowledge. We can cite as examples: the Austrian Muslim community, the Islamic Community in Spain, Islamic Relief, some of the best private schools in the UK, Al Hijrah School in Birmingham, the Karimia Institute of Dr. Musharraf Hussein, in Nottingham, the Islamic University of Rotterdam, the Islamia schools of Yusuf Islam, to mention just a few, and many, many other local Muslim communities all over the continent led by honest and committed leaders.
7. The approach towards Islam, its belief, its history and its cultural achievements has changed in every country and is broadly positive in universities, museums, publications, exhibitions and cultural foundations such as Cambridge University, Legado Andalusi in Spain, the Prince of Wales Trust …etc.

On August 11, exactly one month ago, the whole world was astonished by the voice of a single man, Tariq Jahan, a Muslim from the city of Birmingham, in England, whose son had been killed along with two other young Muslims as a result of ​the riots that swept the UK in Ramadan. Less than 24 hours after the brutal murder of his 21 year old son Harun Jahan, Tariq Jahan, overcoming his grief, affirmed with serenity in front of the cameras his belief in Allah and in the Divine decree and asked everyone to behave correctly, to keep calm and to respect their neighbours. The words of Tariq Jahan showed dignity, manliness and a sense of social responsibility that embodied the self-control and wisdom the Muslims need to show in the present circumstances. This individual embodied the confirmation that Islam in Europe is already a decisive factor of balance and sanity in the present and will play a key role in the future.

Islam will be the ark of Noah, safinatu Nuh, in the times of great confusion and degradation of the society that we are already witnessing.

We the Muslims of Europe must be aware of our strengths, our formidable energy and vitality, and always keep a clear vision of our highest aspirations in front of us. We are the community of the last of the Messengers, the bearers of the last revelation.

The historic role of the Islamic community is clear in the ayat of Surat al Baqara:
وَكَذَلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِّتَكُونُواْ شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ وَيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ عَلَيْكُمْ شَهِيدًا
In this way We have made you a middlemost community, so that you may act as witnesses against mankind and the Messenger as a witness against you. (Surat Al Baqarah, 143)

This role of witnessing means that the community of Islam must be exemplary. It must set the highest standards of behaviour and performance and be the reference point for others.
This is the historic mission of the Muslims. And it is this very criterion that qualifies the Muslims as the best human community that has ever appeared on the face of the earth.
It is in these moments when we are reminded of the need for unity, and the need to support one another to hold on firmly to our Din and to obey Allah and His Messenger as the formula for success. We the Muslims of Europe must be aware of our reality, our environment and the changing trends. We must recognise our blessings, and remind ourselves of our highest aspirations and have gratitude to Allah.

You are the best nation ever to be produced before mankind. You enjoin the right, forbid the wrong and believe in Allah. If the People of the Book were to believe, it would be better for them. Some of them are believers but most of them are deviators. (Al Imran 3:110 )

***
The Dutch politician Geert Wilders and the Norwegian murderer Anders Breivik are one type, one model of a decaying, marginal minority of Europeans. They represent one trend.

Tariq Jahan, the ordinary Muslim father of Birmingham, embodies the other trend of a growing Muslim reality in Europe, one of gratitude to Allah for the gift of Islam and the many, innumerable gifts of life and the struggle to be a khalifa of Allah on Earth.

To summarise, yes, there are many challenges ahead of us, and we will be confronted by enemies. We must not be naive about it, but they are not our main concern; we are not obsessed by them or the danger they pose. They desire to extinguish Allah’s Light with their mouths (with their discourse of hatred), but Allah will perfect His Light, though the unbelievers hate it. (Qur’an 61, 8)

On the contrary, we recognise the blessings we enjoy and are thankful to Allah for them. Then we look at our shortcomings and our weaknesses and act to put them right.

Our main concern is, on our part, to do our best, look at our own shortcomings and put them right. We do not complain, and we do not fear our adversaries for Allah is our friend. But we must act and struggle with sincerity and with knowledge. Each one of us individually has a task in establishing worship of Allah – ibada, and the mu‘amalat, our transactions – in our selves first, and in our families and communities, individually and collectively.

The presence of Islam in Europe is not, as they want to misrepresent, a danger or a source of problems for European societies. On the contrary, the growing presence of Muslim communities in the cities of Europe is a source of sanity, a healing for decaying European societies. Fresh air to breath, pure water to drink and clarity to see.

Surat At Tawbah 105
Say: ‘Act, for Allah will see your actions, and so will His Messenger and the believers. You will be returned to the Knower of the Unseen and the Visible and He will inform you regarding what you did.’

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