Into the West

For most west Europeans, affairs in Sarajevo or Pristina or even Moscow appear distant and exotic. What has changed in recent years has been the upsurge of obvious Muslim communities on their own soil, and it is in western Europe that the Muslim presence has grown most sharply and attracted most attention. To put the overall numbers in perspective, if western Europe's 15 million Muslims represented a single nation, they would be the sixth largest country of the European Union, more populous than Belgium.30

Also, as we have seen, these communities are not spread evenly across the country but are instead heavily concentrated in major cities and metropolitan regions. While overall numbers have risen in the last thirty or forty years, growth has been particularly sharp in areas that come within the consciousness of Western opinion makers, especially in the capital cities. An Italian observer remarks how Muslims have in a very few years moved from the exotic to the everyday, to quotidianita.31

Apart from the growing numbers of visibly non-European people, Muslims have over time become more confident about building their own institutions. People of the first generation had little incentive to invest time and effort in building mosques or other facilities, to plant religious roots in unbelieving soil, since they thought they would ultimately return to their homelands. Over time, this resolution faded as families formed and children were born. From the mid-1970s, we see a clear shift toward building communities and religious institutions, and this is the point at which mosques and Muslim schools began to proliferate. Literally as well as figuratively, Muslims now established themselves in the European landscape. In 1966, Britain had just eighteen mosques, but that figure grew by seven a year over the next decade: 338 mosques were registered by 1985, and a thousand by 1997.32

Mapping Muslim Europe is a difficult task, since terms like "mosque" are somewhat vague: some writers reserve the term for a specialized institution with a minaret, describing smaller facilities simply as prayer rooms. Taking both categories together, Europe as a whole today has around 9,000 mosques and prayer rooms, of which 1,200 are found in Bulgaria alone. About 7,000 mosques can be identified in the nine west European nations listed earlier, with 80 percent concentrated in just three countries: Germany (2,400), France (2,000), and Great Britain (1,500). Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands combined account for another thousand.33

From the 1980s, some Muslim communities signaled their presence by building conspicuous religious facilities to compete with the great cathedrals that traditionally dominated the skylines of Christian Europe. France, for instance, has eight such "cathedral mosques" that can accommodate a thousand worshipers apiece, places like the Great Mosque in Paris. Duisburg-Marxloh now has a three-story mosque complex on this scale, modeled faithfully on Ottoman styles. Other facilities are even grander. The evocative great mosque of Cordoba opened in 2003 and overlooks the Alhambra palace, the heart of the once-great Moorish kingdom of Spain. Its sponsors explicitly want this to serve "as a focal point for the Islamic revival in Europe." Also in 2003, the Ahmadiyya Muslims opened in Morden, England, a facility that holds 10,000 worshipers. Another proposed mosque, the London Markaz, would accommodate at least 40,000, becoming indisputably Europe's largest, and if built, it would provide the backdrop for many events in the London Olympics of 2012. Adding to the controversy surrounding such a dominating structure, the Markaz project is the work of the missionary order Tablighi Jama'at, which many have linked to extremist causes.34

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