European Islam – an attempt at operationalisation,

an essay by Hamdija Begovic

We are constantly hearing about a so-called “European Islam” that needs to emerge if our future presence on the continent is to become conflict-free. By establishing such an Islam, customised for Europe, we will be accepted, it is claimed; it will enable us all to experience a new period of convivencia. European Islam is the solution to “the Muslim problem”, supposedly. There are, however, a few problems with such an optimistic calculation. Firstly, we know what European Muslims have gone through in the past (Andalusia, Bulgaria, Bosnia, The Crimea), so there are no guarantees that a “European Islam” automatically leads to harmony and unity. Secondly, it is unclear what such a concept is supposed to entail. What we do know is that the call for European Islam is oftentimes dishonest, such that the result is not intended to be especially Islamic or, for that matter, European (I shall be returning to this point presently). A lot of cynicism and political calculation lurk behind the talk of “Euro Islam”. Nevertheless, with all the necessary reservations made, no one should deny that the term itself is a legitimate one. Muslims living here will inevitably develop a way of understanding and practicing our religion that will be characterised by the fact that we find ourselves in a European context. The only question is how such a European Islam will manifest itself. And since it would be unwise to let things happen with no planning and foresight, it behoves us to discuss strategies and visions.

This article is aimed at Muslims who have already or intend to settle in Europe. A related and equally interesting question – that of the place and role of ethnically European (i.e. “white”) Muslims within our Ummah – will not be dealt with here, especially since it has been treated successfully elsewhere.[1] Instead, I should like to discuss the future of European Islam in general, with an emphasis on the Northern European cultural sphere (Scandinavia, Germany, Great Britain). I do not intend to touch on Islamic theology, law or other aspects of the Islamic sciences and how these should be adapted to our circumstances. The focus, instead, is on culture: Which cultural strategy should be adopted? As I see it, we face three options.

1. The first is to import the traditions found in the Islamic world, establishing ethnic enclaves (having “white” converts assimilate into these). This is a very bad option. The argument that such a strategy preserves a pristine and authentic Islam and that it protects immigrant Muslims from a decadent, secular and oftentimes hostile environment may seem attractive, but only at first sight (if that). To begin with, we must understand that Islamic civilisation has been shattered to pieces[2]; the cultural state of the Islamic world is no less decadent and much (not everything, of course) that is found in the Muslim world is incompatible with Islam, making a copy-paste approach naive. Moreover, such a strategy is counterproductive. The ghettoised, introverted minority that shuts itself off from the majority community always loses in the fight against a dominant, outward-looking majority culture subsidised by society’s institutions and its media. It was Ibn Khaldun who observed:

A nation dominated by a neighboring nation thus provides a whole host of examples of assimilation and imitation. Currently, this is the case in Spain. The Andalusians are found to copy the Galicians in their attire, emblems and most of their habits. This has gone so far that they are now drawing pictures on the walls inside their buildings and houses.

The elite are always imitated by the less privileged; prestige attracts their intelligent and ambitious (read Surat al-Zukhruf). A ghetto Islam will lead to a Muslim equivalent to the Jewish Haskalah, where Islam’s own adherents will ultimately begin to regard the religion as weak, backwards and despicable. This leads to apostasy on the one hand and on the other a watering-down or sterile ultra-conservatism among those left behind. Instead of turning away from the majority, we must develop a self-assertive approach and offer our surroundings something attractive. Confining ourselves to a sealed-off parallel society is not only strategically unwise, it is immoral. Muslims have been allowed to immigrate and we have been welcomed to settle in this part of the world; it is therefore our duty to express our gratitude by not leading a parasitic existence, offering, instead, our host nations something that will enrich their lives – and what could be better than Islam? How are we to succeed at that if we erect a barrier between ourselves and our surroundings by hiding Islam deep within an impenetrable, introverted and foreign culture? In summary, ghettoisation is not a viable alternative.

2. The second option is to adopt so-called “European (or Western) values”. This also is a bad option. Not only because what are commonly referred to as European values ​​- secularism, promiscuity, materialism – contradict Islamic values, but also because of the simple fact that these aren’t European values at all; they represent an imported vulgar Americanism.[3] Unfortunately, said Americanism has recently gone off the rails and become reduced to neo-Marxist cultural subversion that encourages everyone to question Europe’s intellectual, religious and cultural heritage. This has had the paradoxical effect that “European values” now signify a complete break with the classical European heritage (due to its alleged patriarchal, racist and other unacceptable features). This form of European Islam will not solve any social problems and only create new ones. The result will be even more division and conflict because of a literally black and white world view where hostility to Swedes and an internalised victim mentality are encouraged. Not to mention the atomisation and the rootlessness that follow in the wake of neo-Marxism. There is also a neo-liberal and less Marxist version of what is actually a slightly older edition of Americanism (before it completely degenerated), and sometimes this is what is referred to when Western or European values are invoked, but here we are dealing with differences of nuance.[4] This ideology is equally alien to Europe’s spiritual heritage and its traditional culture. There is no reason for Europe’s Muslims to embrace this forgery. If we are to have a European Islam, it should be authentically European, not American.

3. With that we come to the third option (which I advocate). Instead of importing a foreign culture, we choose to appropriate[5], perpetuate and further develop the high-culture that has been made available to us. This is not only the intellectually most attractive option, it is also historically the most successful. The Muslims did exactly this when they reached Persia (it’s not a coincidence that the pre-Islamic Rustam is the archetypical hero in both Ottoman and Mughal cultures). We did the same when we conquered Byzantium (Mehmet II proclaimed himself a Roman emperor – and whilst that title didn’t stick, the Muslims undeniably perpetuated the classical European heritage by preserving and further developing Greek learning). This is also how the Catholic Church (originally a Semitic institution, let us not forget) reaped its success, and this is how the Germanic peoples consolidated their position in Europe after first having forced their presence within the boundaries of the Roman Empire: they produced the Carolingian Renaissance. It should not be forgotten that the Vikings were considered an existential threat to continental Europe. The Hungarians were also considered the enemies of Europe. If these “barbarians” could become accepted as Europeans, so can Muslims, with time. As our society turns historically illiterate, culturally vulgarised and mentally Americanised (everything that took place outside of the US and before World War II hasn’t happened), our cultural contribution to European civilisation could be a perpetuation of its high culture at a time when said culture is being undermined through different types of subversion. Were we to do this, Islam might become associated with European culture in general and its high culture in particular, causing non-Muslims to consider it to be compatible with Europe, which, God-willing, will lead them to Islam. In particular, those who are frustrated by the fact that traditional European values ​​and culture are constantly under attack will slowly gravitate toward the group that affirms the authentic European heritage. The important thing here is that we not merely replace the Shahnameh with the Iliad and the Odyssey or Rumi with Milton[7], we also need to contribute; we need to produce European high culture. Novels, plays, movies, academic works – we cannot be mere consumers, we have to bring something to the table. In this way we can gradually Islamise European culture (so that, for example, Arabic gains a status similar to that once enjoyed by the Latin language). The ideal would be Islamic schools having their students immersing themselves in the Islamic sciences along with European high culture (so that future Muslim generations regard both as their own). At the least, this project should be considered fard kifayah (Islamic scholars are free to correct me if I am wrong).

In summary: We become extroverted or we perish. If we do reach out to our non-Muslim neighbors by appropriating and further developing European high culture, enriching it with Islam, we also increase the chances of our own survival and for the spread of Islam in society. The problem today lies in the fact that Europeans live under the impression that Islam is incompatible with Europeanness, and this is what needs to change. We should not forget that the Germanic peoples, our hosts, once proclaimed a Christianity (Arianism) that is considerably closer to Islam than it is to the Catholic and Protestant churches. Moreover, Islam may be said to be an incarnation of the Church of Jerusalem (led by James the Just who was opposed by Paul [8]) whose Christology was identical to that of Islam. If Islam is presented as a return to the pre-Catholic Arian roots of the Germanic peoples and a continuation of the Jerusalem Church – Muslims should always emphasize that Islam begins where these two ended – our religion should no longer be considered alien to Europe. This rests on the condition that Muslims do not present themselves as hostile to European high culture but rather associate themselves to it. This is my vision for Europe’s Muslims and “European Islam.” I do not need to point out that this is a long-term project that can begin but won’t be realised during our lifetime.


[2] This is not the place for an exhaustive analysis of the historical, political and socio-economic reasons for this; for those who want to explore the topic, I recommend Ali Allawi’s The Crisis of Islamic Civilization.

[3] Although Americanism has is roots in the French enlightenment, which in turn sprang out of English Revolutionary Puritanism, it cannot be denied that “European values” are a product of post-war American soft-power. Hollywood has played a crucial part here.

[4] It might seem contradictory to claim that Americanism produced both a liberal and a Marxist edition, but there is nothing strange about this if we consider the fact that these ideologies are two sides of the same coin. Historically, Marxism has been regarded as an outgrowth of liberalism (this explains why the word liberalism is more or less synonymous with Marxism in the United States). For our present purposes, it is sufficient to note that both liberalism and Marxism are leftist ideologies when contrasted with traditional European values.

[5] I am aware that Americanists consider this word to be an invective.

[6] As I stated in the introduction: there are no guarantees.

[7] This, by the way, is not what I advocate. Instead of tossing out the Shahnameh and Rumi, we should let these treasures from the Persian-Muslim cultural tradition enrich our analyses of the Iliad/Odyssey and Milton.

[8] Read the Book of Acts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *