How Muslims in Europe can tackle Islamophobia and also counter extremism within their ranks? There is a silent storm that is emerging in Europe. It is somewhat audible now and if counter measures are not taken, it is likely to cause significant damage. The storm is the rising xenophobia and its epicenter is the Muslim community of Europe.
The Swiss have recently passed a vote to ban minarets in their country. Denmark and the Netherlands have also had their fair share of anti-Muslim controversies. In the United Kingdom, the British National Party, which is openly against the presence of Muslims in Britain is making inroads and has even gained a seat in the European parliament. The French ban on religious dress in public educational institutions has made headlines. It seems like there is a sudden resurgence of religious intolerance in Europe.
Mind you that this sort of thinking is not new. It has been around since medieval times. Muslims and their religion have been portrayed negatively in Europe in the past.
Evidence to the effect is available when we study the translations of the Qur’an, the sacred scripture of Muslims that were done by medieval scholars in Europe, who do not make it a secret, as to the intention behind their work.
“…one of the first English translations commonplace in the English speaking world was that of George Sale, which is said to have been based on a latin translation by Maraci in 1689 with the Arabic Text and quotations from various Arabic Commentaries, carefully selected and garbled, so as to give the worst possible impression of Islam to Europe. Maracci was a learned man, and there is no pretence about the object he had in view viz.. to discredit Islam by an elaborate show of quotations from Muslim authorities themselves. Maracci was himself a Confessor to Pope Innocent XI; his work is dedicated to the holy Roman Emperor Leopold I; and he introduces it by an introductory volume containing what he calls a Refutation of the Quran. Considering that Maracci’s object was to discredit Islam in the eyes of Europe, it is remarkable that Sale’s translation should be looked upon as a standard translation in the English speaking world.” (Preface to an English Interpretation of the Holy Qur’an by A Yusuf Ali).
While translations of the Qur’an were deliberately distorted to malign Islam in Europe, it is also known that prominent institutions, such as Oxford University had Islamic studies as part of their teaching curriculum for hundreds of years but without the involvement of any Muslims at all!
In other words for hundreds of years, Islam was taught in Europe, not by those who believed in it, but by those who rejected the faith!
What type of an image the European masses would receive in such a situation shouldn’t be surprising. We should ask: If it would be strange to have a faculty on Women’s studies without women, it is equally strange to have a faculty of Islamic studies without Muslims!
Sadly, this is how some Europeans have known the Qur’an and Islam – not through an objective analysis, but through the works of those whose aim and intention was clearly to malign the faith, and it is no surprise that prejudices are deep rooted.
It is equally tragic, that the trend continues nowadays, the European public impression about Islam is being shaped by the right wing politicians, press, media, and even by extremists within the Muslim community, who in no way are representative of the moderate but silent majority.
If such are the motives, then we shouldn’t be surprised by the impressions that their work creates in the minds of common people.
The ball is in your court
The duty lies on the shoulder of the Muslim community residing in European lands, to have a dialogue with their European friends and colleagues, to remove misconceptions and increase understanding. If it does not then there will remain a vacuum, which will be filled by vile elements. So dialogue is the need of the hour in these turbulent times.
What should be done to remedy this situation? A lot can be done. But my emphasis is foremost on one aspect.
I believe that the presence and longevity of Muslims in Europe is dependent strongly on their link with the Qur’an. For as long as European Muslims take the Qur’an as their guide, instead of religious opinions that are contrary to it and apply its principles to their situation, their peace and sustenance will not be disturbed, for this is a divine promise.
Well, it may sound strange, but are not the Muslims already living their lives on the precepts of their holy book? To an outsider this may appear so, but a closer look at the community will reveal that this is far from the truth. Beliefs and practices that are prevailing within the community are in fact in no way endorsed or advocated by the Qur’an.
All those practices and habits which gain media attention and about which hue and cry is made are in fact anti-Qur’anic. Subjects like forced marriages, compulsory veiling, intolerance towards other faiths, partaking in violence on religious grounds, suicide bombers and all the other bad stuff that you hear about are not Qur’anic edicts but their source and origin lie elsewhere.
Muslims needs to re-educate themselves first and foremost by the Qur’an, as sadly they are not. A fresh look at the Qur’an to extrapolate guidance relevant to their circumstances is the need of the hour instead of looking at static interpretations of the past.
The outsider remains unaware that Muslims of today are in the habit of a ceremonial association with the Qur’an, and assume that all that they hear about the community in the press and media is probably the teaching of their holy book.
The hurdle between the Qur’an and the Muslim community
The actual case is that most Muslims in Europe may be able to recite the Qur’an in Arabic, but its meaning and teachings bear little relevance in their day to day lives. For decisions it is not the divine book that they turn to but to self styled religious ‘experts’. (A large proportion of European Muslims are from non Arabic backgrounds), many of whom are foreign imports from far distant lands.
When people in the Muslim community face religious dilemmas, they are in the habit of consulting such imams and scholars of various sects and schools of thoughts which have gained a foot hold in the community and it is rare to find a common Muslim being told by them to directly consult the Qur’an for their problem.
The Qur’an is deliberately kept as a means for blessing in spiritual terms, whose mere chanting is sufficient. But apply it in contemporary or religious matters of the common Muslim – this, the imams are reluctant to do so, because they have been advocating that the book is not for the common man, but for ‘experts’ only. ‘Let the ‘experts’ do the thinking and the common man blindly follow them’, so it is said!
The common Muslim is in fact discouraged from reading and studying the Qur’an by such ‘experts’, who instead have their own voluminous books and fatwas which the laity is to consult. Hence, the Qur’an is being restrained from the minds of the commoner, and a mere ceremonial and non intellectual reverence is prevailing.
Time to revisit the basics
The study and contemplation was not the sole remit of religious ‘experts’, but was the duty of each and every Muslim. The simple and clear injunctions are addressed to each and every one of them, to put into practice in their everyday lives, irrespective of their geographical location or time-dimension.
The Qur’an calls for each successive generation to engage with it, and discourages from blind imitation of the thinking of the past.
“A Book which We have revealed unto you, which is full of blessing, that they may ponder over its verses and that people of core take heed.” 38:29
“Do they not ponder over the Qur’an, or are their hearts locked up by them?” 47:24
The call is for each addressee of the Qur’an to understand it in view of the circumstances that he or she dwells in and apply the guidance in their own relative situation. The Qur’anic principles are immutable, but people’s level of knowledge and circumstances keep changing and are not static. Therefore the interpretations of a past generation are not necessarily a standard for successive generations, as each generation will have to understand and apply the Qur’an for their own situation. Hence the Qur’an becomes a dynamic text applicable in all times and eras. It is also worthy to note that mimicking the wisdom of the previous generations is detested in the holy book:
“And when it is said to them follow what God has revealed, they say: ‘Nay! We will follow what we found our ancestors to follow!’ What! Even if their ancestors were devoid of guidance and lacked wisdom?” 2:170
Whether the matters be of personal nature like modesty, dietary prescriptions, gender roles, to religious practices like prayers, fasting, pilgrimage and charity, or of a wider public interaction like education, health, arts, social conduct, peacemaking, social and economic justice and community relations, Islam’s revelation has ample guidance for such and many more matters.
The intellectual affinity with the Qur’an is not there in the community. The need is for them to study the book as they would study an academic text to pass exams at school or college, making notes, marking pages, underlining texts and pondering deep on the meanings. What is the Qur’anic position on contemporary issues should be known to them.
Tackling violent extremism
Once they are educated by the Qur’an then they empower themselves with knowledge and can be in a position to counter the wrong portrayal which is promoted by right wing politicians, and also (sadly) by extremists within the Muslim community itself. The Qur’an is the anti-dote to this intolerance.
Extremism and religious fanaticism is a result of a stage by stage process. Before a person becomes fanatical, he or she undergoes gradual steps, which may involve reading certain types of literature and keeping the company of certain types of individuals, which fashion the person into his final radicalized form.
Qur’anic education is the best way to counter radicalization and prevention of violent extremism. Once the common European Muslims are educated about the contents of their divine scripture, they will then be in a position to know what is Islamic and what is not, and even if radicals attempt to instill their propaganda, Qur’anic concepts of peace and tolerance will act as a shield.
If certain elements approach the youth of the community with a particular narrative for conducting violent acts in the name of religion, then the empowered community will be able to tackle them and counter their arguments immediately, as through first hand Qur’anic knowledge they will already know what the true tenets of their belief are and that extremists are distorting the faith for their vile ends.
Hence the community will be able to tackle extremism and nip it in the bud before it gets out of hand. In this manner, Qur’anic education serves numours purposes. It is not only an antidote to Islamophobia and a means of community reform, but also the shield against extremist tendencies.
Such intellectual counter extremism measures initiated from within the Muslim community will also demonstrate to the wider European public that the conduct of mainstream European Muslims is not drawn from extremists or fanatical clerics, and they will be able to distinguish between the real Islam of the Qur’an and the false pretenses of religious exploiters.
Therefore the need of the hour is for a mass awareness campaign for the importance of Qur’anic education.
European Muslims should be able to quote chapter and verse directly from the book to demonstrate that it is a part and parcel of their value system to work towards the establishment of a society that is free from war, poverty, ignorance, superstition, fanaticism, discrimination, oppression, despondency and injustice, and one that flourishes with peace, prosperity, rationality, scientific achievement, equality, knowledge, tranquility and fairness in all segments.
This is the same Qur’an, about which a famous European once said:
“I hope the time is not far off when I shall be able to unite all the wise and educated men of all the countries and establish a uniform regime based on the principles of Qur’an which alone are true and which alone can lead men to happiness.” Napolean Bonaparte (Correspondance de Napoléon Ier Tome V pièce n° 4287 du 17/07/1799)
It is only the Qur’an which can save European Muslims, who have in the past faced genocides in these very European lands and had their entire populations wiped out. If Andalusia, Cordoba and Grenada were in the distant past, the events in Bosnia and Kosovo are only yesterday. The clarion call is sounding one more time and European Muslims needs to pay heed.
Their only hope is to go back to the original, reform themselves by it and counter those who deceptively portray the true Islamic identity.
European Muslims are at the cross roads. Turbulent times are coming ahead. However the challenges are also an opportunity to reshape the community which needs to wake up to the call of the Qur’an. The time has come for them to take the lead and instead of cultivating religious identities through ancestral tradition, human conjecture, religious charlatans, extremist groups or cultural practices of their ethnic communities, they need to mould their character through Islam’s original source and Revelation, the Qur’an. For it alone can help them:
“And We reveal in the Qur’an that which is healing and a mercy to the believers…” 17:82
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