Islam’s Presence in Europe


A study published into La Libre Belgique has warned about the great number of Muslim residents in Brussels, foreseeing that within twenty years the first religion of the European Union’s capital will be the Islam. Excepting the sensational of this news, we must not overlook the tone of the article, written with the straining of the researchers in front of this hypothesis which tends to become reality. The same tone characterized an impressive number of articles on this theme, dealing with extremely diverse subjects, from the cartoons of prophet Mohamed to the attitude of Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams regarding the adoption of of Shari’a norms into British legislative system. Is it justified such an atitude? Could we judge the Islam starting from secundary and external causes and without  paradoxically considering even its exclusevly religious essence? There are questions that everyone should ask, not only under a so called social activism or under a false interest towards this matter, but becauseof our inner structure, based on the need of understanding and communion.

Islam is not a novelty for the European world. For more than 1500 years the old continent has dialogued on different levels and with different tones with the Religion of the Prophet, trying to understand its message and to respond to its challenges. The attitudes were quite varied as time goes on, from the radical critics of the Byzantine emperor Michael the 3rd Paleologus to the conciliating opinions of Nicolaus Cusanus or John of Segovia, from the warlike and intransigent attitude of crusades preachers to the apology of Moslem people integration in an Europe structured on totally Christian bases.

The most interesting aspect of this dialogue lies in the programmatic antagonism - if the term is allowed – between the two religious spheres.  After a couple of months from Constantinople’s collapse, Cusanus wrote a work about the peace among religions -  De pace fidei – where  he foresaw the possibility of a religious cohabitation, based on the metaphysical priority of knowledge. The history seems not to render justice to the great humanist, if we consider the tragic events as the siege of Vienna, Ottoman domination in Romanian Countries, or the recent inter-religious conflicts in former Yugoslavia. The Islam was and still is associated with the image of the unbeliever, of the one who, using force and terror, tries to impose himself in front of Christian world. The most of the statistics shows that the Christian population’s perception towards Moslems is a negative one. The insurmountable difference between the two traditions, the diametrically opposed mentality, the totally different concepts regarding the sense of the existence all contribute to this attitude. The attempts of a profound dialogue, meant to produce a real and efficient outcome, are generally doomed to be a failure. An inveterate Muslim will never be able to advance a “scientifically” objective opinion in regard to another faith, just like a Christian would rather be conditioned, in his approach, by apologetic reasons than by unbiased desideratum. In such a situation, the speech decency could only be saved through exposing the entire information, through sincerely admitting the positive and negative aspects of one or another religion, as well as through avoiding launching opinions of relative and conditioned value. Of course, we do not talk about eliminating the moral, doctrinary and social obstacles, by dint of an a-religious attitude. Here is about an honest acceptance of the values that Islam has brought and is still bringing to the European society, and also about respecting the principles the Christian states are based on. Europe is indebted to admit the cultural values of the Islamic world. It is enough to think of Aristotle’s work - brought to the western civilization through Avicenna – about medicine, mathematics, geography, music or Arab literature. Whether in respect of a purely theological approach, a fortunate encounter between the two religions would not be possible, the social and cultural disagreements seem to seriously pale. The most eloquent example is represented by the good cooperation between the Red Cross and the Red Crescent societies in order to help people in need, hit by the earthquake in China. Under such circumstances, the sterile dogmatism precepts disappear and leave the place to an undestroyable bond linking people far beyond the religious obstacles.

At present time, the European Union and Turkey have already started talks for its latter’s adhesion. Many people rushed to launch bleak assumptions in regard this step, even talking about Islamizing the Europe, about a „Eurabia”, as it was called in a recently article published in The Economist. We must not forget that the Islam belief was connected to terrorism by people that construed the Koran exclusively literally and that see the saint war as the main objective of the contemporary Islamic world. All this in spite of the efforts made by certain political or religious Muslim leaders to segregate from such attitudes. The present situation in and the state of the Islamic communities in the European countries do not allow, thus, either radical attitudes, nor unconditioned reject. The integration of the Islamic communities into the United Europe should start from a thorough knowledge of the culture, civilization and mentalities. Using the Islamic veil or showing the crescent will not change at all the image of a Europe that  is willing to preserve and to protect the freedom of speech, including the religious one, but the ignorance and the lack of understanding could lead to tragic conflicts, that we would hardly succeed to grow deem.  

The presence of Islam in Europe is a fact that we could not pass by. The debates on this topic are undoubtedly benefic, especially because they can contribute to that authentic and unbiased mutual knowledge I was talking about. Europe’s tradition is the tradition of dialogue and, by reason of this tradition, the Islam is able and is to be accepted as an equal partner not only in the mere act of speech, but also in the act of acceptance and of assuming constructive alterity.