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2.3 The “New” Generation of Muslims Despite what discourses on integration problems may seemingly imply on the surface, a good number of European Muslims are properly represented in various areas of public life. The youths, who now constitute the bigger percentage of the whole Western European Muslim population, have experienced a European system of education (Nielsen, 2004) and are now interacting with the wider society on a daily basis. As Islam of the new generation has been shaped by the modern context of secular Western Europe, the young Muslims are understandably more familiar with the distinctive features of their European culture - such as languages, customs, and values than those of the culture of their origin (Malik, 2009).
changes in how they seem to construct the meaning of religion, affirm its role in life, and articulate their religious identity. These changes constitute the basis for the muchdiscussed issue of ‘inter-generational gap’; the first generation have found it difficult to transmit to the succeeding generation ethnic-religious norms of their countries of origin that they have long embraced and protected. Even among the ‘in-between generation’ (those who were born in their country of origin but immigrated with their families and have thus spent most of their time growing up in the contexts of Western-European society), there was an observable trend of abandoning traditional beliefs and placing importance on different aspects of religious life; many young Muslims began to display a more individualized religiosity (Sunier, 1996). Individualization, in this context, denotes ‘a sharpening of self-consciousness, privileging personal choice over the constraints of religious tradition’ (Cesari, 2003, p.260), which transpires when one shapes their religious life by deciding independently ‘which elements of Islam (s)he considers to be binding or not’ (Peter, 2006, p. 106) without being tied to traditional Islamic prescriptions (Joseph and Najmabadi, 2005). Several distinctive features of Muslim youths’ religiosity provide evidence for this process: De-ethnicization of religion, religious decline and identity reaffirmation.
Firstly, much has already been said about the ‘de-ethnicization’ of religion, a process by which constraints of ethnic-cultural praxis lose their relevance in the shaping of religious life. Young Muslims have become increasingly critical of - and no longer identify with - the ethnic ways of their parents or grandparents, particularly those that seem unsustainable in their current modern context. This can be observed in how they have begun to question practices promulgated by many of the first generation such as
Subsequently, the new generation have started seeking to enhance their understanding of Islam of their own accord through reformative thinking by focusing on innovative approaches commonly expressed through terms such rethinking, renewing, reinterpreting, rediscovering, and so on. As evidenced by the current trend, these youths have aspired to derive ‘modern’ interpretations of the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunna to establish a proper context for their religious identity, to mainstream, and to provide a balance between what they believe as representing the ‘true’ Islamic way of life and the realities of their secular culture. In line with the pace of modernity, many technology-literate Muslims have also turned to the cyber world for learning Islam and seeking answers, a world with no boundaries where people from different backgrounds, beliefs, ideologies, and cultures come together to share ideas, all claiming their right to ‘ijtihād’. Kaya (2009) describes this new technology-savvy Muslim generation as ‘a digitalized umma’.
Additionally, European-born Muslims also comprise Muslim converts with native European background and upbringing. The absence of ethnic roots means that they tend to see Islam in its ‘non-ethnic’ form, which consequently allows them to practice a version that essentially ‘keeps pace’ with the dynamic landscape of the West. An interesting twist here is of course the fact that many of the converts tend to adhere to Sufi traditions and practices, the majority of which are ironically products of cultural influences and peculiarities themselves. Spiritual practices such as the Whirling Dance and the Fire Walking certainly cannot be said to have its origin in a non-culturallyinfluenced Islam. Thus, a Sufi-based Islam must also be viewed as a ‘cultural’ form of Islam and as one of the many versions of Islams practiced in the West. Such
danger of making generalizations, but also the impossibility of defining a ‘non-cultural’ Islam.
Another much-discussed effect of individualization is what appears as a steady decline in religious observance. It was observed in the 90s that only a small percentage of Muslims in Western Europe committed themselves to the observance of the daily prayers and the Friday prayer, although a majority of them no doubt celebrated Islamic festivals such as Eid al-Fitri and Eid al-Adha (Shadid and Koningsveld, 1995). 80% of them did not prioritize strict adherence to their daily prayers, although 70% did practice fasting during the month of Ramadan (Ramadan, 1999). In the last decade, Muslims in Britain increasingly began to engage with the state and the bigger society, drawing themselves away from one-sided engagement with the mosque (Geaves, 2005). Several recent studies also show similar findings; young Muslims in Germany, France and Belgium mostly categorized themselves as either ‘trying to fulfill religious requirements’ or ‘faithful but not fulfilling religious requirements’ (Kaya, 2009).
Additionally, it was observed that European Muslims tended to identify with Islam either sociologically or religiously; while those who saw Islam as a socio-cultural element generally embraced secular European values and were indifferent towards religious doctrines, those who identified with Islam religiously tended to ‘explicitly affirm the meaning of their belonging, follow certain rules of life, and ritualize certain moments in their lives according to Islam’ (Marechal et al., 2003, p.10).
Parallel to this has been a strong inclination to reaffirm their religious identity (Ramadan 2004). While many attribute this to more transparent problems, such as the issue of economic deprivation (Hunter and Serfaty, 2002), the effect of ‘minority’
or anti-Islamic political events prompting a defensive emotional state (Malik, 2009), some also speak of ‘religious symbolism’, a process by which religious practices ‘lose their efficacy’ and have become more ‘symbolic and secularized’ (Kaya, 2009, p.184).
Symbolic religiosity allows young Muslims to ‘feel’ religious without having to ‘act’ religiously, which can be said to subsequently testify to the paradoxical connection between religious decline and identity reaffirmation. As remarked by Maussen (2005, p.10), Muslims ‘increasingly abandoned the more ‘traditional’ elements of religious practice in favor of a conception of Islam as a marker of cultural boundaries and identity in Western European societies’.
In the midst of this individualization process, ideological diversities persist to exist. Many analysts have thus far tried to produce as precise categorizations of Muslim religious ideologies as possible. A general observation often made is that the attitudes of the second and third generation of immigrants may be subsumed under three broad categories; the first group comprises those who are thoroughly integrated and fully embrace their European identity, the second group belongs to those who embrace their European and Muslim identities, accepting that they can be faithful to both the requirements of Islam and the secular Europe, and the final group includes those who, like many of the first generation have been stereotypically seen, cling to their cultural heritage and identities due to feeling deprived of economic privileges and of any sense of belonging in the broader society.
However, looking closely at the attitudes of European-born Muslims in France and Germany reveals even deeper layers of ideological diversity and religiosity. Leveau
and Hunter (2002), for example, group Muslims in France into four different categories:
conservative (those who adhere to Islamic practice but are open to the reinterpretation of Islam in the Western context), the fundamentalist (those who consider Islamic law to be immutable and thus are not open to any reinterpretation), and the Islamist (those who adhere strictly to Islam and have political ambition to revive the ideal society of the Prophet’s time). As for the case in Germany, Goldberg (2002) identifies five categories of Muslims: Those who were already religiously inactive prior to their immigration, those who were initially observant but increasingly became nominal, those who practice their belief in an obtrusive manner, those who assert their Islamic identity after immigration, and those who are active within Islamically-oriented associations.
2.4 Euro-Islam and Islamic Europe Despite the potential seen in the modern outlook of the majority of the new generation of Muslims, the issue of Islam and Muslim accommodation and integration in Western Europe continues to foster energetic debate among many scholars and politicians. In most discussions, careful distinctions are made between Islam as a religion, diverse Muslim ideologies and socio-economic problems of Muslims, as the conflation of these elements may dangerously lead to misinformation that undermines the ongoing dialogue between Islam and the West (Esposito, 2010; Ramadan, 2010).
Thus, it is now common to see an exponentially-growing interest in discussing diverse concepts, ideas and issues such as Eurabia, Jihad, Islamophobia, Islamism, Sharia, and the like in the mainstream media, political discourse, and academia. In some other cases, ‘Islam’ as a religion seems to be represented as a totemic symbol for many of its extrinsic interpretations and affiliations (fundamentalism, traditionalism, Islamism and
against the Islamization of Europe, most commonly used by intellectual political figures like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Daniel Pipes, Geert Wilders, the late Theo van Gogh, Hans-Peter Friedrich, Jean-Marie le Pen, Franz Schonhuber and others. Certainly, one may, as many others already have, question whether anti-Islamic meta-narratives are based on true anti-Islamic sentiments or rather exploitations of Muslim problems for political purposes.
Within the dialogue between Islam and the West, Western Europe’s leading thinkers, many of whom are European-born Muslims of immigrant background themselves such as Bassam Tibi and Tariq Ramadan, have suggested that ideological tensions between the two sides can be reconciled by adopting an idealized version of Islam that is ‘unobtrusive’ and ‘in harmony’ with the secular characteristics of Europe.
This proposal has paved the way for some of the Islamic reformist thinking in Europe that revolves around tackling issues such as democracy, secularism, gender equality, and human rights from a fresh perspective, treading on a path different from that which is normally taken by orthodox and traditional thinkers. Parallel to this innovation is, of course, the problematic nature of defining an Islam that is ‘unobtrusive’ and ‘in harmony’ with Europe. Given the largely secular nature of this region, one may perhaps suggest that Islam in Europe needs to be secularized and relegated completely to the private sphere to meet the demands of its host. However, if religious expressions in France have been shown to clash with the principle of Laïcité but not present a problem in Britain’s multicultural setting, it becomes critical that “European Islam” is not seen as a monolithic concept.
Islam are often called) have argued that making Islam ‘in tune’ with the realities of Europe requires ‘adjustments’ in its theology and law in order to ‘adapt’ to its host culture. This approach has naturally earned many criticisms from its opponents, particularly traditional and orthodox thinkers, who tend to argue that Islam’s universal nature makes it the ideal ‘solution’ to which everything else adapts. Commonly-heard evidence for this idea of Islamic exceptionalism is the verse: ‘This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My Favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion’ (Qur’an, 5:3), a widely-debated ambiguous message but normatively taken by the previously-mentioned Muslim group to mean that Islam in the 7th-century was already in its most perfect form. However, reformers like Ramadan have constantly argued that establishing a European Islam does not necessarily require modifying Islamic sources such as the Qur’an and Sunna. He writes (2004, p.72): ‘This renewal is not a modification of the sources themselves but a transformation of the mind and eyes that read them, which are naturally influenced by the new social, political, and scientific environment in which they live. A new context changes the horizons of the text, renews it, and sometimes gives it an original purport, providing responses never before imagine’. Although reformers equivocally argue that reform is pivotal in the struggle to respond to the demands of our times (gender equality, religious pluralism, and human rights), is Islam in Europe now capable of reform and challenging established traditions?
Notwithstanding the afore-mentioned question, the present call to modern reform is not without precedent in Islam’s history. The challenge against subscribing to classical traditions can already be traced back to as early as the 11th and 12th century in
influenced the outlook of many more thinkers such as Muhammad Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab, Shah Wali Allah, Muhammad Abduh, and Sayyid Ahmad Khan to name a few.