Europe’s imams seek Muslim identity within Western society

VIENNA, Austria — Imagine a style of Islam in which mosques link up with churches to share ideas on spirituality and Muslim scholars spur new schools of thought on how to understand and appreciate life in the West.

That’s what Muslim leaders from across Europe described Saturday as part of broad visions that touched on everything from Islamic law to lesson plans for school children — all aimed at forging a clear European Muslim identity that retains traditions but does not clash with Western values.

Some speakers even gave it a name: the “theology of integration.”

But in quieter tones at a conference on Islam’s future in Europe, there was agreement that any significant changes are still a long way off for Europe’s 33 million Muslims at a time when the pressure for reform is mounting.

One of the main reasons, experts and scholars said, is the current realities of Islam itself.

The Quran has many passages about tolerance toward non-Muslims amid Islamic settings. But there is almost nothing in Islamic codes or religious texts dealing specifically with issues facing Muslims living as minorities in different cultures, said many at the conference.

This puts Europe’s moderate Islamic leaders in the challenging role of creating a body of reference for diaspora Muslims. They also could face a backlash from conservatives over accommodations to Western society, such as Muslim men shaking hands with unrelated women or taking loans that require interest payments.

“You don’t go to Cairo or Saudi Arabia or Syria and ask an Islamic expert to solve a problem dealing with the Western society in Europe,” said Trafa Baghajati, a Syrian-born assistant imam in Vienna. “You go to Islamic experts who know Europe and what it is like to live here. We are stuck between our new world of Islam and the old world.”

The conference, which brought together more than 150 European-based imams and religious advisers, is working toward a final declaration expected today. Some participants sought clear messages on efforts to reinterpret Islamic outlooks from a European perspective and train imams in Europe rather than the widespread practice of bringing mosque leaders from Arab nations or South Asia.

“It requires a whole new field of thinking,” said Ayatollah Sayed Abbas Ghaemmagami, the chief Shiite Muslim mufti in Germany.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
AP, via the Detroit News, USA
Apr. 9, 2006
Brian Murphy

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday April 10, 2006.
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