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Conference: "Extremism, Islamophobia & The Role of Europe's Muslims"

Islam and the tens of millions of Muslims who live in  Europe are depicted by some as inherent threats to the European way of life, even in countries where they have lived for generations. The myth of an ongoing European “Islamization” or invasion has been given impetus by racist,xenophobic, populist parties and individuals which appears to be on the rise across Europe. In recent years, Islamophobia has been fuelled by public anxiety over immigration and integration, while these tensions have been aggravated by high-profile terrorist attacks. But what should the role of European Muslims be in the face of these challenges?  

Dr Hossam Shaker from Austria, US-based Dr Shaker Elsayed and Dr Fouad Alaoui from France unpacked these important developments and other related issues at the ICCI's Annual Conference themed Extremism and Islamophobia - The role of Europe's Muslims. From assimilation to zealots, all three eloquent speakers systematically began to untangle these very complex issues from an Islamic perspective.

In choosing a theme for our 2016 Conference, the ICCI very carefully decided on a phenomenon very relevant to contemporary times, but also mindful that our annual gathering should be put in context and reflect a balance, and provide a platform where two extremes, Extremism and Islamophobia could be debated and dissected.  It is this careful consideration which thus informed the chosen theme -  Extremism and Islamophobia and the role of Europe's Muslims in this setting.

Dr. Nooh

ICCI CEO Dr Nooh Al Kaddo set the scene in his opening address by making reference to a new study, (findings released 29 April 2016) which found that a growing number of people in France and Germany view Islam negatively and believe Islam has become "too visible and influential" in their respective countries. " This represents a major challenge for Muslims and (coming on the back of the attacks in Paris), the risk of conflating Islam and terrorism is very real and unfortunately, this survey confirms that," Dr Nooh lamented.  ICCI Imam, Sheikh Hussein Halawa, said the deliberations of this timely conference should serve as important input into the discourse around Extremism and Islamophobia and help counter the many misconceptions about Islam and Muslims. Earlier this month Ireland's President Michael D. Higgins warned of anti-Muslim prejudice.

Extremism and its related damaging and destructive off-springs was the first phenomena to be tackled. The US based Islamic scholar and teacher,Dr Shaker Elsayed said Islam's position was clear and emphatic,"Islam does not justify terrorism under any circumstances." He stressed that terrorism has no religion, no race, no ethnicity and no culture. He described extremism as a transnational challenge that require a transnational response.  Dr Alsayed outlined the fundamental Islamic values including life ,mercy, justice and freedom. He listed and explained the reasons behind the extremism phenomenon. Among the factors fuelling this was ignorance or lack of understanding, lack of quality Islamic education and un-educated  or so called freelance Muslim preachers. He also drew parallels between the impact of violent extremism on Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Jihad

Dr Elsayed also explained in detail the concept of Jihad. More often than not, Jihad is an issue that is most misunderstood, not only in the west but among Muslims as well. Jihad, in essence, means to strive; for an individual to strive to develop his or her personal character, and to strive for a moral and value system in accordance with the commands of Allah. Dr Elsayed explained the meaning and purposes of Jihad, and then delved into Jihad in the context of war; the rules and regulations which needed to be followed. He then cited the distinct differences between Jihad and terrorism and very importantly, who had the authority to declare war/Jihad. 

Please refer to Dr Elsayed's detailed presentation on Extremism  - An Islamic Perspective, which forms part of this post.

What is Islamophobia?

Islamophobia is a term used to describe irrational hostility, fear, or hatred of Islam, Muslims, and Islamic culture, and active discrimina tion against these groups or individuals within them. Today, Islamophobia in Europe manifests itself through individual attitudes and behaviors, and the policies and practices of organizations and institutions.

Dr Hossam Shaker, and Austrian based author and media advisor, called on Europe's Muslims to be more proactive in countering the negative perceptions about Islam. He said the trend of Muslims to only respond or voice opinions in the aftermath of a negative development was not helping the cause of Islam. Dr Shaker said education is the key to spreading Islam's positive ethos. He also said that  it was of paramount importance for Islamic organisations to equip relevant community leaders with the necessary media/communication skills to engage effectively with the mainstream media. Dr Shaker called on Muslims to be innovative  and to create media content highlighting Islams positive message.

Islam in Europe 

Dr Fouad Alaoui, a prominent French based Muslim community leader and thinker, said it was important to understand that throughout its history, Europe has had a tenuous relationship with organised religion. Islam is viewed by Europeans as an alien concept, totally incompatible with the values and norms espoused by European society. In the case of France he explained, there is more of a growing resistance within French society to Islam. It was already the case among the far-right National Front and part of the right, but it has now expanded to the Socialist Party and within other segments of the left as well. Considering this new reality along with the latest report mentioned by Dr Nooh, Dr  Alaoui emphasised  the importance to remain engaged with the wider society and continue to impress Islam's position on tolerance,mutual respect and co-existence. He added that it was vital to work with the Muslim youth and to channel positive messages in order to destroy the terror recruitment pipeline. 

Examples of Islamophobia

  • Physical or verbal attacks on property, places of worship, and people—especially those who display a visible manifestation of their religious identity such as women wearing the hijab or niqab
  • Verbal or online threats of violence, vilification, and abuse.
  • Policies or legislation that indirectly target or disproportionately affect Muslims, and unduly restrict their freedom of religion, such as bans on wearing visible religious and cultural symbols, laws against facial concealment, and bans on building mosques with minarets
  • Discrimination in education, employment, housing, or access to goods and services
  • Ethnic and religious profiling and police abuse, including some provisions of counterterrorism policing
  • Public pronouncements by some journalists and politicians—across the whole political spectrum—that stigmatize Muslims as a group and disregard their positive contributions to the communities and countries in which they live