Toward Orthodoxy

For many reasons, then, we might expect European Islam to be wildly diverse in practice and often heterodox and quite resistant to pleas for uniformity of any kind, least of all for anything partaking of Saudi norms. In theory, one of the first results of Wahhabi dominance in a community would be the prohibition or exclusion of Sufi activities and the introduction of stern sanctions against Alevis, Ahmadiyyas, and other deviants. Russian scholars note the open struggle in their country between Wahhabism and Tariqatism, that is, Sufism.9

Yet while Islamic practice has grown in Europe since the 1970s, it has actually become more orthodox, more conscious of pan-Islamic identities and causes. We also see a renewed movement toward Islamic enthusiasm, not just to the conventional forms of the religion practiced by the elders but also to fiery and committed versions, often with a potent political dimension. At its most extreme, puritanical and evangelistic forms of Islam reject cooperation with the mainstream society and even reject the legitimacy of the nation-state. This movement to a more stringent Islam is critical for the future of Muslim societies in Europe and indeed for the wider society, since this kind of demanding religion is competing for the loyalty of young Muslims, the second and third generation descendants of Asian and African immigrants.

This shift demands explanation. Olivier Roy stresses how deeply integrated Islam was in its countries of origin, with its ties to particular communities and clan structures, to shrines, saints, and sacred landscapes, all of which were severed with the move to Europe, so that Islam was deterritorialized. While early immigrants kept their personal memories alive, none of these traditions were available to younger generations born in Europe, who were cut off from their roots. "The religion of their parents is linked to a culture that is no longer theirs."10 The young respond by turning to a new universalized or globalized Islam, which in practice offers the sternest and most demanding standards of the Wah-habis or Deobandis. But in return, believers receive a vision of themselves as the heroes of a glorious historical narrative, in which faith defeats the temporary and illusory triumph of disbelief and paganism.

In a European context too, the ideals of the Umma, the Muslim community, become sharply more evident in societies in which Muslims are not the majority and where the practices of the faith cannot be taken for granted in the same way that they can in an overwhelmingly Muslim nation. In some cases, Muslims found that familiar customs were now prohibited in their new countries, which demanded that the dead be buried with coffins and tried to limit the mass slaughter of sheep during the festival of Eid ul-Adha. This latter practice proved extremely sensitive for urban white Europeans who were so far removed from their farming roots that they had no contact with the realities of animal slaughter. As Brigitte Bardot complains, non-Muslims were appalled by "unacceptable behavior which left homes covered in blood, and filled rubbish chutes with skin, bone and oozing brains." As concepts of animal rights and vegetarianism grew in Europe, white residents were increasingly likely to label Muslims as cruel and barbarous, and to limit their ritual life. Other practices, though not banned, became much more difficult. As Roy writes,

Fasting during Ramadan in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Egypt is very easy, even if one is not very religious, because social pressures push one in that direction. But Muslims living in Europe are forced to make choices: they have to decide whether the prescriptions of religion are at the centre of their lives, which ones are essential and how to carry them out in practice. . . . Such believers have no recourse to ulemas (religious scholars) and are obliged to seek out criteria for religious observance which no longer have any connection to a given culture.11

Europe's Muslim communities are in daily contact with secular societies that pose constant challenges to familiar beliefs and moral codes. Without struggle, one cannot assume that employers will grant time off for prayer, that appropriate foods will be available, that a social consensus will enforce moral rules. Asserting and defending these practices creates a sense of unity against the mainstream culture.12

In addition, Muslims in Europe are subject to the same trends as populations in their countries of origin, and thus to the upsurge of the more fundamentalist and politicized Islam that has been such a fact of global affairs since at least the 1970s. Transnational networks have been crucial to spreading these views, especially pious orders undertaking Islamic da'wa (Call), which means the proclamation of the faith to non-Muslims, but also stirring nominal Muslims to greater devotion. In modern times, da'wa was often a response by faithful Muslims to the spread of Western ideas and Christian evangelism. One key activist was the early twentieth-century Indian thinker, Maulana Muhammad Ilyas, who founded the influential religious mission known as the Tablighi Jama'at, dedicated to preaching (Tabligh). Though he was himself a Sufi shaykh of the Chishti order, he adopted some aspects of Su-fism, while rejecting others that he regarded as superstitious, aligning him to the conservative Deobandis.13

Tablighi believers join in a society or jama'at, and agree to go on journeys in which they strengthen each other's faith while promoting Islam among others. Though little known in American media, the Tab-lighi order has played a major role among European Muslims. From the 1980s, Muslim communities across Europe were intensely evangelized by the Tablighis, while Middle Eastern and Pakistani tariqat became increasingly powerful in immigrant mosques. Today, the Tablighis claim tens of millions of members and sympathizers worldwide, and since 1978 they have had a European headquarters in the northern British town of Dewsbury. Birmingham is the European home of another evangelistic movement with roots in south Asia, the Ahl-i Hadith, which resembles the radical Wahhabis or Salafists.14

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