Cause for Concern

The growth of visible symbols of Islam helps explain why white Europeans have become so perturbed about the Muslim presence, which is presently not immense when set beside the continuing Christian strength suggested earlier. Some other factors explain why a society should be so concerned about a minority of only 4 percent or 5 percent. One is a matter of perception. Projections of ethnic minorities sometimes conflate nonwhite immigration with the Muslim presence, so that imagining European cities achieving "majority-minority" status late in the present century implies Muslim domination. In fact, many recent immigrants are Hindu, Sikh, or Christian.35

But even allowing for just Muslims, we have to recall the novelty of a non-Christian presence in Europe. Until recently, no nonChristian faith was anything like as much in evidence as Islam is today. For centuries, most European conflicts over religious tolerance involved rival Christian denominations rather than non-Christian faiths. Through the nineteenth century, Jews would have made up perhaps 2 percent to 3 percent of the European population, but the great majority of these were found in the eastern parts of the continent, in Poland, Ukraine, or the Baltic states, while the Jewish populations of England, France, Germany, or the Netherlands were numerically tiny. Only from the 1880s onward did migrations create significant Jewish minorities in western Europe, and the hostility they attracted, even in tolerant Britain, closely resembles modern charges against Muslim immigrants. In most Western nations, of course, the high Jewish population was a transient phenomenon and was savagely reduced by the persecutions of the 1940s. To put this earlier non-Christian presence in perspective, between 1880 and 1940, the European continent as a whole had almost as many Muslims as Jews, though their geographical distribution made them virtually invisible to western Europeans.36

In race as much as religion, European Muslims represent a real novelty in most countries. While dark skins have been familiar to Europeans for centuries, they were usually confined to major cities and

Table 5.1 The Expansion of Muslim Populations in Western Europe

Muslims (thousands) in















1,353 450 635 43

3,850 2,850 1,050 600 170 533 335 137 139 158 55

60 90

18 16 12





Source: David B. Barrett, George T. Kurian, and Todd M. Johnson World Christian Encyclopedia, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

seaports and never represented large numbers. In 1930, Sweden recorded a Muslim population of exactly fifteen—not 15,000, but fifteen. Today, the figure exceeds 400,000. The United Kingdom had 23,000 Muslims in 1951, rising to 369,000 in 1971, and topping a million by 1991: the present-day figure is 1.6 million. France in the 1940s had just 100,000 Muslims, compared to perhaps 5 million today. Illustrating this mushroom growth, we might look at a table of Muslim growth offered by the World Christian Encyclopedia. We can certainly challenge these figures in detail. The compilers of these data missed some Muslim populations at the start of the century while underestimating figures at the end of the period. Even so, the table does give some idea of the scale of growth and its speed. Realistically, the increase of Muslim populations was even steeper than is suggested here, with the figure perhaps quadrupling between 1970 and 2000 (see Table 5.1).

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