Islam in Europe: Ideals and Realities

by Mustafa Ceric*

     The history of Islam in Europe is full of useful insights for dialogue today, especially about memory and understandings of identity. We may believe that we have freedom today to create our identities, but more often they are created by others and profoundly shaped by our past.

     Yet, humans fall into two categories: those whose identities and the memories on which they are founded are locked in the past and those whose memory draws from history but looks to the future.

     Europe’s debates about its religious identities and the memories on which it is founded are a case in point. We would do well to recall the facts of history to build our future.

     Like the sun, all the revealed religions originated in the East. The great prophets and messengers all came from the East, and none from Europe. The three Abrahamic faiths all came to Europe at times and by paths that we can pinpoint.

     All are equal in belonging to Europe. Europe must understand that we are here as indigenous Muslims. We are not the ghosts. We are the hosts of Europe.

    Islam arrived in Europe by two main gates: the gate of the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century and the gate of the Balkan Peninsula in the 14th century.

     Eight centuries of Islamic presence in Andalusia, Spain produced a unique tradition of religious and cultural tolerance as well as academic freedom, which helped propel Europe on its way to humanism and renaissance.

     This ideal of the Andalusian tolerance, sadly, did not survive the European history. Why Islam did not survive in Andalusia, but did in Bosnia is a legitimate question to ask.

     One result of the withdrawal of Islam from the Iberian Peninsula was the forced migration of 70,000 Jews to the Balkans, especially to Sarajevo. Before World War II there were 11,000 Jews in Sarajevo, today there are fewer than 1,000.

     They are the Sefars, and their manuscripts (the Sarajevo Haggada) are carefully preserved in a museum in Sarajevo; a Muslim family twice saved them. In 2012, a conference in Sarajevo will celebrate the Sephardic Jewish history and their salvation by the Ottomans.

     Islam has been indigenous to Europe for five centuries, with deeply engrained traditions and five centuries of memories.

     In June 2007 Bosnia celebrated 600 years of Islamic tradition in the Balkans.

     There are three kinds of people: those who remember, those who think and those who dream. Most people remember the past, fewer people think, and the least numbers of people dream or create new values of life. We need more people who dream that our future will be better than our past. (T/R-022/R-006)

Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)

*Mustafa Ceric has served as Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzogovina since 1999 till 2012. In 2007 he received the 2007 Theodor Heuss Foundation award for his contribution to spreading and strengthening democracy


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