Islam does not stand in antithesis to the West
"The number of Muslims in Europe is set to increase significantly" and "Europe is becoming more Muslim". These are just two examples of the tone of headlines used by most German media reporting on the results of a study conducted by the US Pew Research Center.
Although these headlines are actually quite sober, they do make it sound as though owing to a potential demographic shift, we should brace ourselves for an inevitable natural catastrophe that could shake the very foundations of European societies. It is in any case likely that these reports will at the very least have triggered a sense of unease, in particular in those cases where the media concerned neglected to critically analyse the unrealistic results of the study.
And just as expected, right wing populists and Islamophobes of every hue, people who tirelessly tour the length and breadth of the country warning of the dangers of an Islamisation of Germany and the West and of the emergence of a "Eurabia", saw their worst fears confirmed by renowned US academics.
But upon closer inspection, it swiftly becomes apparent that the results of the study do not necessarily provide a good basis for the formulation of reliable predictions about actual population developments in Western nations. This is because the study expressly hypothesises on the basis of extreme conditions. Compounding this: in recent decades, valid statements on global migration movements have turned out to be highly erroneous.
Religious freedom is a basic right
However, those who enter the fray backed by nothing but battalions of numbers unwittingly engage with the logic of the paranoid agitator and the prophet of doom. After all, these people have no sincere interest in the integration of immigrants into the democratic community. It is therefore much more important to consider the fundamental question of how constitutional democracies respond to the fact that the number of Muslims in Europe will increase in the future.
To begin with, whatever citizens in a pluralist, democratic constitutional state believe or do not believe, is a private matter for them alone. In our liberal-democratic constitution, the basic right of religious freedom not only enjoys great importance, the ideologically-neutral state even has an obligation to protect religious freedom – regardless of whether the values of a religion correspond to the societal norms of the majority society or even run contrary to them. This does not, of course, mean that all the demands of a religion can be anchored in law and therefore implemented in the democratic constitutional state.
The recent study by the Pew Research Center suggests without doubt that European societies must gear up for a more visible presence of Muslims in the public sphere in the future and also for the fact that Europe's Muslims will expect to be able to practice their faith as openly and freely as followers of other religions, first and foremost Christians, are able to do on a daily basis.
But these findings are no reason to conjure up the spectre of an "Islamisation of the West". After all, "Islam" as a static, invariable entity does not exist. That is a fantasy of both fatuous Salafists and Islamophobic movements. Nowhere in the world do Muslims make up a monolithic block. Their conduct is not defined by religion alone, or to put it more bluntly: they are not "Koran machines". Moreover, the Islam that is actually propagated and practised in each and every Muslim-majority nation is different.
80 per cent of Muslims in Europe are secularised
For this reason too, attempts by right-wing nationalist forces to present the apparently "backward and violence-prone Islam" as a counter model to an enlightened and civilised West, are doomed to fail. This simple dualism does not do justice to the complex reality of the world.
Already, more than 80 per cent of the Muslim citizens of Europe are secularised in the liberal sense of the word. New figures show that the number of practising Muslims in Europe is on the decline; despite all the fantasies of world domination held by radical Islamists, a quiet retreat from religion is underway.
The number of Muslims in Europe is not important here. What is much more crucial is that we reflect once more on the meaning of citizenship within a democracy. That means creating new possibilities for genuine participation for all citizens in the immigration societies of Europe – while at the same time defending the attainments of liberal democracy.
© Qantara.de 2017
Translated from the German by Nina Coon