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"To Allah belongs the East and the West. Wherever you turn there is the presence of God..." <Qur'an Baqara 2:115>
As the twenty-first century begins, almost one out of every five human beings is a Muslim. In the course of the 21st century a quarter of the human race will probably be Muslim. The new demographic presence of Islam within the Western world is indicative that Islamisation is now a major globalising force. Also as a manifestation of the demographic Islamisation of the Western world, there are now over a thousand mosques and Islamic centres in the United States alone. And the country has professional associations for Muslim engineers, Muslim social scientists and Muslim educators. There are some six million American Muslims, and the number is rising impressively. It can no longer be seen as Islam versus the West. It is Islam and the West or Islam in the West, as some observers have noted.
growth of the Muslim community in the West has been impressive to judge by the
mosques or mainly prayer rooms: both Germany and France have about a thousand,
Britain about 500. The central mosques in London and in Washington symbolise
this growth. The mosques are full of worshippers, they are beautifully constructed
and are the hub of Muslim social and religious activity. In France, Islam is
the second most important religion numerically after Catholicism. In Britain
Muslims have been demanding state subsidies for Muslim denominational schools.
In Germany it has been belatedly realised that the importation of Turkish workers
in the 1970s was also an invitation to the muezzin and the minaret to establish
themselves in German cities.
Muslims in Europe have a direct relationship to the colonial period. The UK ruled South Asia (British India), and therefore most of its Muslim immigrants tend to be from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Moroccans and Algerians drifted to France (they are about six to 10 million Muslims now in France). Because Germany and Turkey had a relationship going back to the First World War, Turks went to Germany (most of Germany's one and a half million Muslims are Turks). The Netherlands has about half a million Muslims who are mostly from Surinam. In Portugal most Muslims are from the former colonies in India or southern France; in Spain they are from Morocco or Algeria. In Italy, where there are estimated to be about 200,000 Muslims, they are mostly from Libya.
Muslims in America have a direct relationship with the political
turmoil in many countries of the Muslim world that has occasioned increased
emigration (exodus of Palestinians, revolution in Iran, the military coup in
Afghanistan, the Lebanese civil war
) and consequently contributed to the
Muslim presence in America.
There are some interesting differences between the USA and Europe which help us to better understand the phenomenon of Muslims living in the West, and which also highlight the broader historical differences between the USA and Europe. The main difference is the social and economic composition of the Muslim community. In the USA it is largely middle class doctors, engineers, academics. This gives the community a greater social confidence and a positive sense of belonging. In Europe, by and large, the community remains stuck in the working class or even the underclass. Its failure on the political scene is spectacular: although Britain has two to four million Muslims they have only been able to win a couple of seats in Parliament. Worse still is that their leaders tend to be divided, particularly over where to draw the line between integration and traditional Muslim identity. Another difference is that in the USA there is a greater geographical spread. Muslims are not concentrated in one state or city. In Europe there is a tendency to concentrate. Bradford in England is an example. The concentration allows the leaders of that particular city to emerge as spokesmen, that does not represent automatically the Muslim community of the UK.
Europe itself has changed dramatically in relation to its immigrants and their culture. For example, from the early 1950s to the early 1990s a number of developments took place in Britain on all levels of society: from seven curry restaurants to seven thousand, from a few mosques to 500, from no African or Asian television presenters and journalists to dozens, from only a few African or Asian authors writing in English to a number of Booker Prize winners. All this was to the good. British culture was that much richer. But it is easy to understand the British fear that perhaps too much may have been happening too fast. After all, Britain is a deeply conservative and insular society, and no such foreign influences - and from such far lands - had made themselves felt before. The fear fed easily into feelings of racial animosity. Muslims in the USA are conscious that they are there by choice. They have opted to be American. America is, after all, the land of the melting pot, where everyone is ideally "equal". This contrasts with Muslims in Europe. Many feel that they are in Europe simply because their parents migrated or were forced to migrate for economic reasons. This makes for disenchanted and alienated citizens.
In both the USA and Europe, ideas of local ethnicity also affect Muslim self-awareness.
The rise of black power in the USA helped to create a mood of assertiveness,
of identity, of exaggerated self-importance in the Muslim community. Black Muslims
like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali in the 1960s became symbols of Muslim pride.
This did not happen in Europe. There were no superstars to rally behind. The
vast majority of the Muslims were marginalised in low-paid jobs and there were
few intellectual or media figures speaking on their behalf.