Roger Scruton is a friend, not a foe, of Islam

Ed Husain on the recent and less recent controversies regarding Scruton (Government sacks Roger Scruton after remarks about Soros and Islamophobia):

I am not a right-winger. I am ashamed to say that I discovered Sir Roger Scruton only four years ago when an argument in a Washington DC think-tank led to a search for contemporary philosophers who took a long view of civilisation, history, ideas, and implications of philosophy. 

It happened when I was an advisor to Tony Blair and visited Washington DC for a think-tank meeting representing Tony. There, left-wing Muslim activists, who put their community’s interests before their country, accused me of being a ‘neoconservative’ because I argued that the national security of our countries and peoples mattered more than any Muslim community identity. A safer country, logically, meant a safer Muslim community.

The attacks from them kept coming that I was a ‘neo-con’. To better understand what was really meant by ‘neo-con’, I started to read Leo Strauss, the so-called founder of neo-conservatism. This German Jewish philosopher worked wonders for my growing appreciation and learning of how the West was built on the ideals of Athens and Jerusalem; his own struggles as a Jew with the modern West were instructive for me.

I discovered, through Strauss, the great Muslim philosophers, particularly al-Farabi (d.950) and Avicenna (1037). I was hooked. Here were renowned Muslim luminaries who honoured Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and merged early Islam with the classical West. Knowledge was not limited to the Quran or the Bible, but came from the great Greek pagans too.

This encounter and subsequent discovery drew me to seek out Sir Roger as the supervisor for my doctoral research for six reasons.

First, he is fair to the contributions made by Muslim philosophers to the West. He is not dismissive of God and divinity, as is fashionable among too many Nietzschean academics. In his seminal A Short History of Modern Philosophy he writes how al-Farabi, Avicenna and Averroes ‘all of them Muslims’ ‘systematised and adapted’ Aristotelian thought. Where others sought to downplay or ignore Muslim contributions to the emergence of the modern West, Scruton was true to the historical record.

In his book on Spinoza, among the greatest of the Enlightenment thinkers, Scruton repeatedly emphasises that Spinoza was reading the Muslim philosophers of Andalusia before Spinoza read Descartes or Hobbes. Commenting on Spinoza’s Spanish Jewish ancestry, Scruton writes:

‘For several centuries such people had lived relatively securely in the Spanish peninsula, protected by the Muslim princes, and mingling openly with their Islamic neighbours. Their theologians and philosophers and scholars had joined in the great revival of Aristotelian philosophy […]’

In The Soul of the World Scruton admiringly quotes Muslim mystics and heaps praise on Ghazali and Rumi, quoting from the latter’s verses and shows a grasp of the Muslim mystical mind.

For me, it was clear that Scruton’s objection was not to the Islam of beauty, co-existence, spirituality, poetry, civilisation, art and architecture. But like millions of Muslims, his fight was with the literalists, the supremacists, the Islamists and Salafists. Islam of the philosophers and mystics belongs firmly in the West and is part of the West’s heritage.

Second, sitting in class I was taken aback by his polymathic mind. In addition to his mastery of an array of disciplines, not a single tutorial has passed to date where he has not referenced the Quran in Arabic or Avicenna’s thoughts, Ghazali’s writings, Rumi’s poetry or others. Even when discussing the Austrian genius Ludwig Wittgenstein, Scruton could see and identify parallels with Islamic Sufism, the immersion in God. It is often Scruton evoking verses from the Quran on the soul, the Sun, the galaxy, and I am left catching up trying to match my Arabic recall with his.

Third, leading Muslim theologians in the West understand and respect Scruton. Here is Shaikh Hamza Yusuf, described by the Guardian as ‘arguably the West’s most influential Islamic scholar’, in deep and detailed discussion with Scruton on ‘sacred truths’. Then here is Scruton and Yusuf discussing ‘What Conservatism Really Means’. Shaikh Hamza’s admiration for Scruton has directed many Muslim influencers around the world to better understand conservatism as explained and advanced by Scruton: identify what we love in civilisation and then protect these virtues and values from current threats so that our children can also find a beautiful world. 

Fourth, Arab Muslim princes and scholars are asking questions about how they can reform, and what went wrong with the Arab spring that led to Islamist revolutionaries taking over in Egypt, and to this day angling in Damascus, Gaza, Jordan, Tunisia, Libya, Kuwait, Bahrain, even Saudi Arabia. What is the way forward to head off Marxism-influenced Islamist revolutionaries, but still make political reforms? Like Scruton, they wish to take the long view and in that I have seen them reading Scruton’s Fools, Frauds and Firebrands to better understand the dangers to civilisation. If the kids are reading Chomsky and Zizek, the grown-ups are with Scruton.

Fifth, he cares deeply for the values informing architecture and aesthetics in the Muslim world. It was from Scruton that I heard about Marwa al-Sabouni, an architect, hijab-wearing Muslim, trying to rebuild her native Homs in Syria. Not only has Scruton mentioned her book to every willing audience, he has invited her to think-tank events in London, including here at Policy Exchange. Here was a philosopher who applied his thinking and worked with Muslim women to build and bolster places and identity in the most difficult parts of the world.

Finally, Scruton does not shy away from the tough questions, the true hallmark of a philosopher with a philosophy. I liked his courage and the fact that the mob could not silence him. For me, yes, anti-Muslim hatred exists and must be uprooted but ‘Islamophobia’ is an oxymoron: Islam seeks peace and how can people have a fear of peace?

The Muslim Brotherhood, their naïve acolytes, and their left-wing allies have used accusations of ‘Islamophobia’ to try to silence criticism of Islam and Muslim practices. Scruton often tells me that Islam and Muslims need to remember the spirit of the witty and wise 13th century Molla Nasreddin Hodja, who laughs at himself. Scruton is right to say that we Muslims take ourselves too seriously, too mired in victimhood narratives and need to re-embrace the Greek spirit of comedy and mockery.

Scruton is not a binary thinker: he admires Islam, but is critical of it too. Scruton is asking tough questions: can Muslims learn to put country before faith community? Do away with notions of blasphemy and accept liberty? Those questions need answers. For all of our futures depend on it.

If Muslim countries and communities make progress towards liberty, pluralism and peace, it will be because their conservative instincts were helped, understood, and respected by an Englishman fond of wine and hunting, music and aesthetics. And long may he live.

Source: Roger Scruton is a friend, not a foe, of Islam

Friday essay: how Western attitudes towards Islam have changed

Interesting historical account:

Less than a week after the attack on the Twin Towers in New York on 11 September 2001, US President George W. Bush gave a remarkable speechabout America’s “Muslim Brothers and sisters”. “These acts of violence,” he declared, “violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.” After quoting from the Quran, he continued, “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.”

This speech is remarkable, not only for its compassion towards Muslims in the face of the attack on the US, but also because Bush was contradicting what has been, since the beginnings of Islam, the standard Western perception of this religion – namely that it is, at its core, a religion of violence.

Since its beginnings in the Arabia of the 7th century CE, the religion of Muhammad the prophet had pushed against the borders of Christendom. Within 100 years of the death of Muhammad in 632 CE, an Arabian empire extended from India and the borders of China to the south of France. Militarily, early Islam was undoubtedly successful.

Since that time, for the Christian West, regardless of the Islamic precept and practice of religious tolerance (at least as long as non-Muslims did not criticise the prophet), Islam has remained often threatening, sometimes enchanting, but ever-present. Indeed, the West created its own identity against an Islam that it saw as totally other, essentially alien, and ever likely to engulf it.

Thus, from the 8th century to the middle of the 19th, it was the virtually unanimous Western opinion that Islam was a violent religion whose success was due to the sword.

 

That Islam is, at its core, a violent religion is an attitude still present among some today. In the aftermath of the horrific murder of 50 Muslims in Christchurch by an Australian right wing nationalist, the conservative Australian politician Fraser Anning declared (straight out of the West’s medieval playbook), “The entire religion of Islam is simply the violent ideology of a sixth century despot masquerading as a religious leader, which justifies endless war against anyone who opposes it and calls for the murder of unbelievers and apostates.” Any violence against Muslims, he suggested, was therefore their own fault.

Anning has been roundly condemned for his statements by both sides of politics. He is clearly wildly out of step with mainstream public opinion in Australia. A change.org petition with more than 1.4 million signatures has been delivered to Senator Mehreen Faruqi, Australia’s first Muslim senator.

Clearly, blaming innocent people at prayer for their deaths at the hands of a right wing zealot crossed all the boundaries. But Anning’s view of Islam does echo an historic Western emphasis on the use of force in Islam as an explanation for its success.

This was, of course, part of an argument about the relative truth of Christianity and Islam. According to this, the success of Islam was due solely to the sword. The success of Christianity, having renounced the sword, was due to divine favour. The one was godly, the other Satanic.

This Western image of a benign, peaceful Christianity against a malevolent, violent Islam was a mythical one. With few exceptions, its proponents ignored both the violence that often went along with the spread of Christianity and the religious tolerance that often accompanied the extension of Islam. But the myth did reflect the deep-seated Western horror, always potent in the collective imagination, of being literally overrun by the fanatical hordes.

A 14th century miniature depicting Crusaders at The Battle of Wadi al-Khazandar (Battle of Homs) of 1299. Wikimedia Commons

Ripe for colonialism

In the 19th century, however, attitudes did begin to change. Muhammad was, on occasion, imagined not as the ambitious, profligate impostor of old but as a “silent great soul”, a hero who spoke “from Nature’s own heart”, as Thomas Carlyle called him. The Dublin University Magazine described him in 1873 as “one of the greatest ever sent on earth”.

Grigory Gagarin. Muhammad’s Preaching (circa 1840-1850) Wikimedia Commons

Islam too now came to be seen more benevolently. The increasing cultural and global political power of the West rendered obsolete the traditional fear of being overwhelmed by Islam. The “religion of force” was now meeting a greater secular force, that of the imperial West. Islam no longer looked as threatening as it once had. The doctrine of Jihad (holy war), declared The Quarterly Review in 1877, “is not so dangerous or barbarous a one as is generally imagined”.

Islamic cultures now came to be seen as spheres of Western patronage, secular and religious. The image of a vibrant, active, progressive West against a passive, inert Islam was congenial to colonial enterprise. Ironically, the religion of aggressive action now came to be viewed as passively stagnant, decadent and degenerate, ripe for domination by an assertive West.

The inability of Western commentators in the 19th century to endorse a newly submissive Islam arose from a deep-seated Western incapacity to treat Islam on equal terms. Indeed, the greater value of the West over all those it variously characterised as backward, degenerate, or uncivilised was a central feature of most discussions of non-Western forms of life.

In short, Islam and progress were incompatible. And there was a strong tendency throughout the Victorian period to blame Islam for all the imagined ills of Oriental societies – the moral degradation of women, slavery, the physical and mental debilities of men, envy, violence and cruelty, the disquiet and misery of private life, the continual agitations, commotions, and revolutions of public life.

Contemporary times

Cut to the 21st century and a post-imperialist age, and Muslim nationalisms are again on the rise, not only in the Middle East and North Africa, but in Indonesia, India and Pakistan. The West once again feels under threat. The myth of Islam as essentially violent has re-surfaced. But, interestingly, it has done so in a different way.

On the one hand, the growth of terrorism has moved the imagined military threat of Islam from the borders of the West to its very centres – to London, Paris, New York.

On the other hand, Islam is now seen as a cultural threat as much as a military one. Even at its most benign, it is perceived as threatening Western values by virtue of the Muslims in its midst, stubbornly refusing to acquiesce to Western values. Thus the need to keep Muslims out. In December 2015, to the outrage of many Americans, then presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the US. Better the enemy kept outside the wall than the enemy within.

The refusal of the UK to allow Shamima Begum, the school girl who left London in 2015 to join ISIS, to return to England is the most recent example of the fear of home-grown terrorism and the enemy “within”. That she appears to endorse a violent Islam and is lacking in remorse has not helped her cause.

In addition, a new discourse has emerged of Islam as having failed to have a Reformation and an Enlightenment as did the West. Thus, for example, former Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott declared in December 2015 that Islam has never had its own version of the Reformation and the Enlightenment – the two events that seem to symbolise for Abbott the transition from barbarism to civilisation.

“It’s not culturally insensitive,” he declared, “to demand loyalty to Australia and respect for Western civilisation. Cultures are not all equal. We should be ready to proclaim the clear superiority of our culture to one that justifies killing people in the name of God.”

Does Islam need an Enlightenment like Europe had in the 18th century? Well yes, in the sense that European governments finally legislated freedom of religion to stop Catholics and Protestants slaughtering each other. Like Christianity in Europe in the 17th century, Islam in the 21st is as much at war with itself (especially in the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites) as it is at war with the West.

So, in the light of this history of Western attitudes to Islam, what are we to make of President Bush’s claim that Islam really is a religion of peace and that Muslim terrorists are, as a consequence, not true Muslims?

At its simplest, it is a recognition that there are vast numbers of Muslims, indeed the majority by far, both inside and outside the West, who endorse the virtues of tolerance, compassion, kindness and – simply put – just getting on with each other and with others.

It is also a recognition that multicultural and multi-religious societies thrive on unity and not divisiveness. As then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull put it in March 2017, “What I must do, as a leader, and what all leaders should do in Australia, is emphasise our inclusivity, the fact that we are a multicultural society where all cultures, all faiths are respected and that is mutual. So, trying to demonise all Muslims is only confirming the lying, dangerous message of the terrorists.”

Many religions under one name

It is foolish to deny that there is a violent edge to Islam, as there is to Christianity and Judaism. In all these traditions, there is the tension between the idea of a God whose will is always good and a God whose will is always right.

And where God is seen as a being whose will can transcend the good (as he is in Islam, Christianity and Judaism), evil acts committed in his name can abound. Both peace and violence can equally find their justification in the Muslim, Christian and Jewish idea of God.

The willingness of the Islamic State group to accept reponsibility for the horrific bombings in Sri Lanka indicates their belief that such acts are in accord with the will of God.

That said, the question of whether Islam is essentially violent is not one that any longer makes much sense (if it ever did). The supposed fundamental oppositions between the West and Islam fail to map on to any reality.

“Islam” and “the West” are no longer helpful banners behind which any of us should enthusiastically rally. There really is no clash of civilisations here, not least because the notion of “civilisation”, Islamic or Western, really doesn’t have any purchase in a globalised world.

Moreover, we now know that it is difficult to identify the essence of any religion and futile to search for one. Any one religion is really many religions under the one name. So there are many Islams – Sunni and Shiite, but also Indonesian, Albanian, Malaysian, Moroccan, Pakistani, all culturally nuanced in quite different ways. This was evident in the many nationalities of those at prayer in the Christchurch mosques.

So too, there are many Christianities, often so different as to be hardly recognisable as parts of the same tradition – think Pentecostal snake handlers in the American south, Catholic peasants in Sicily devoted to the Virgin Mary, or cool Lutherans in Scandinavia.

The fault line in modern religion doesn’t go to a clash between civilisations or even to a clash between religions so much as to a struggle within religions and within cultures, between theologies, ethics, political ideologies, ethnicities, exclusivism and inclusivism.

It is a struggle between liberals and conservatives, fundamentalists and moderates, reason and revelation. It is a battle within theologies between a God who is thought to be knowable through nature, man and history and a God who is thought to be only knowable through the revelations contained in the inerrant pages of the Torah, the New Testament or the Quran.

It is a struggle within all religions between those who believe there are “many paths to Heaven”, endorse freedom of religion, encourage tolerance and support mutual respect against those who believe there is only “one way to Paradise” and desire to impose this on everyone else, whatever it takes.

Source: Friday essay: how Western attitudes towards Islam have changed

Stoning Gay People? The Sultan of Brunei Doesn’t Understand Modern Islam

Akyol on blind literalism:

At a time when Islam’s place in the modern world is a matter of global contention, Brunei, a small monarchy in Southeast Asia, has offered its two cents. By April 3, the nation, which is predominantly Muslim, had begun adhering to a new penal code with harsh corporal punishments. Accordingly, gay men or adulterers may be stoned to death, and lesbians may be flogged. Thieves will lose first their right hand, and then their left foot.

Understandably, these bits of news brought outcries from the United Nations, human rights organizations and celebrities like George Clooney. In return, the Brunei government dismissed all criticisms, reminding the world that the country is “sovereign” and “like all other independent countries, enforces its own rule of laws.”

As a Muslim, I should first tell my coreligionists in Brunei that their argument is not very good. Of course every country can enforce its own laws, but the content of those laws isn’t immune from criticism when it violates human rights. Otherwise, we would have no basis to criticize China’s totalitarian persecution of Uighur Muslims or the illiberal bans on “religious symbols,” including the Islamic head scarf, in France and, more recently, Quebec.

However, the real issue isn’t Brunei. It is Islamic law, or Shariah, the penal code from which law is applied not just in Brunei but in about a dozen other nations as well, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan. It includes brutal corporal punishments that shock the rest of the world. It also criminalizes acts that shouldn’t be crimes at all — such as consensual sex, loss of faith in Islam (“apostasy”) and the right to criticize it (“blasphemy”).

Muslims who insist on keeping or reviving these measures have a simple logic: Shariah is God’s law, and enforcing it is a religious duty. But their blind literalism is wrong for three reasons.

First, the corporal punishments in the Quran — amputation of limbs and flogging — may simply be related to the context of the Quran. In seventh-century Arabia, where the Prophet Muhammad lived, there were no prisons in which to incarcerate and feed people for a long time. For the same reason, corporal punishments — much cheaper and easier than imprisonment — were the universal norm until a few centuries ago. The Hebrew Bible commanded many of them, as did pre-modern European laws.

Second, much of the Shariah is actually man-made. Islamic scholars expanded jurisprudence based on debatable reports about the words and deeds of the Prophet, as well as the norms of their time. That is how blasphemy, apostasy and drunkenness, none of which is penalized in the Quran, became crimes.

Third, Islamic jurisprudence was developed for Muslims only, whereas Christians and Jews had their own laws. But all modern nation-states, including Brunei, are both centralized and diverse. So imposing Shariah as the law of the land will go against the rights of minorities, in addition to unorthodox Muslims.

All of those arguments are persuasively made by reformist thinkers in Islam. But I doubt that conservative authorities in Brunei will have much heart for them. So let me call on them to check an authority they can’t dismiss that easily: the Ottoman Empire, the last Islamic superpower of the world and the last seat of the Sunni Caliphate.

The Ottomans, who followed the flexible Hanafi school of jurisprudence, were pragmatic about law from the beginning. Decrees issued by sultans introduced fines or prison sentences instead of corporal punishments, rendering the latter often practically obsolete.

Moreover, in the mid-19th century the Ottomans initiated a major Reform (Tanzimat) era, which included the Imperial Ottoman Penal Code of 1858. The French-inspired law was designed to be valid for all Ottoman citizens, regardless of their religion, and remained in practice until the end of the empire with some modifications. It replaced all remaining corporal punishments in Ottoman law with prison sentences or forced labor. It also decriminalized apostasy and penalized blasphemy, or “interference with religious privileges,” with only “imprisonment of from one week to three months” (Article 132).

The penal code’s section on sexual crimes is worth a look, for it is much more liberal than the laws Brunei just began implementing 161 years later.

According to Article 200, for example, “an abominable act” with “a girl who has not yet been married to a man” was an offense — but only when done “by force.” In other words, consensual premarital sex was not a crime.

Extramarital sex, or adultery, was an offense under Article 201 — but to be punished with a prison sentence of “three months to two years,” not stoning to death.

What about homosexuality? The Ottoman penal code didn’t say anything about it. John Bucknill and Haig Utidjian, who translated the law into English in 1913, noted, “It will be observed that unless committed with force” or upon a minor, “sodomy is not a criminal offense under the Ottoman Penal Code.”

Malaysia’s government spots a vote-winner: ‘defending’ Islam

Not encouraging:
As Malaysia’s ruling Pakatan Harapan government contends with a marriage of convenience between the two largest opposition parties, pressure is mounting on it to show it can defend the interests of Malay-Muslims, who make up 75 per cent of voters.

Enter a new initiative to crack down on insults against Islam. On March 7, the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim), the country’s most powerful Islamic affairs agency, set up a special unit to police insults against Islam on social media and other platforms.

Each complaint would be scrutinised and legitimate ones reported to the police or the communications regulator, said Deputy Minister Fuziah Salleh, who is overseeing the unit.

In just a week, the complaints body received 10,000 reports and as of Wednesday, it had 13,498 reports.

In Mahathir’s new Malaysia, a perfect storm for Pakatan Harapan?

The agency’s creation came soon after a 22-year-old Malaysian, whose details were withheld by the authorities, was given an unprecedented sentence of 10 years for posting content online that insulted Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, a decision that lawyers said went against the rule of law.

And police are investigating the organisers of the International Women’s Day March under the colonial-era Sedition Act, on the back of public accusations that the presence of LGBT activists at a Women’s Day parade on March 9 glorified behaviour not in accordance with Islamic teachings.

In Muslim-majority Malaysia, same-sex relations are banned, and sedition laws have been used against those who express dissent or excite disaffection against state institutions.

Observers such as Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs have pointed out the irony of these developments. Pakatan Harapan, led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, won office on promises of legal reform and improved human rights for all Malaysians.
But it is now moving to stem the growing appeal of an alliance between former ruling party the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) and the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) – the former championing Malay rights and the latter milking pro-Muslim sentiments.
Umno-PAS’ attractiveness to voters has been heightened by the government’s struggle to realise its election pledges of higher salaries and a lower cost of living.

“The Malay parties in Pakatan Harapan have to pander to the conservatives by regressing to religio-racial supremacy in order to maintain a foothold in the Malay vote bank, especially in view of their successive crushing defeats in recent by-elections,” Oh said.

Political economist Terence Gomez, along with prominent local activists, also criticised this political “trend” of political parties capitalising on perceived insults to religion to gain popularity.

“In the application of laws prohibiting insulting religion, we must strive for a rational and liberal balance with the protection of the freedom of expression while being mindful of the religious sensitivities of our multi-religious communities. Hence open mindedness and moderation should be the norm in the interpretation and application of the existing laws,” the group said.

It added that criticising issues such as child marriage or female circumcision – permitted under Malaysia’s sharia laws – was “perfectly defensible”.

Fuziah said the complaints received by the unit regarded insults to Islam and the Prophet.

“One touches on insulting the Agong,” she said, referring to Malaysia’s ruler and head of state. She did not comment on whether any police reports had been filed.

Where does Malaysia stand on gay rights? Nobody knows

But so far only 28 links had been sent to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, which is supposed to take them down. Another 15 complaints were being investigated, Fuziah said.

The commission told the South China Morning Post it had not received any reports as of Wednesday, but would “provide assistance to Jakim as required”.

When the new Jakim unit was launched, Fuziah told local media she was aware some insults online were published by those with fake accounts. Some were also “unhealthy retaliations”, she said, sparked by comments by opposition politicians against non-Muslims.

Source: Malaysia’s government spots a vote-winner: ‘defending’ Islam

Finding a Place in Women’s Mosques

Of interest:

These are heady times for Kahina Bahloul, organizer of a women’s mosque in France, a country that is home to the largest Muslim population in Europe. Practical considerations dominate the spiritual — a search for an affordable location, a flurry of radio and television interviews marking the rise of a vanguard of women imams leading pop-up mosques from Berlin to Berkeley, Calif.

Ms. Bahloul, 39, who was trained as a lawyer in Algeria, said she stopped attending formal prayer services in Paris about three years ago because “I didn’t feel respected.”

She said she was taken aback by mosques that isolated women, steering them to back doors and relegating the worshipers to basements or seats hidden behind screens. She gave up after one mosque directed the women to pray in a nearby garage.

“I felt excluded by the mosques,” said Ms. Bahloul, who is earning a doctorate in Islamic studies from France’s École Pratique des Hautes Études and intends to be one of two imams leading prayers at the mosque. “I felt excluded by my community — and a lot of other women felt the same way.”

Together with Faker Korchane, 40, a high school philosophy teacher and a freelance journalist, she is developing the Fatima Mosque while searching for rental space in the Paris region. Their concept is a liberal mosque that will host weekly prayers led alternately by a female and male imam with worshipers of both sexes separated on either side of the same prayer hall.

Ms. Bahloul is building on an evolving tradition of women imams with history dating from the 19th century in China among the Hui Muslims. There, women lead mosques exclusively for women. But in the last three years, women imams elsewhere have begun to organize women’s mosques with varying styles in Denmark, Germany, Canada and the United States.

In 2016, the Mariam mosque opened in central Copenhagen, with the call to prayer sung by women. A year later, Seyran Ates, a Turkish-born German lawyer and activist, founded the Ibn Rushd-Goethe mosque in Berlin. To great fanfare and speeches, a women’s mosque started in Berkeley, Calif., in 2017 at Starr King School for the Ministry, a graduate school and Unitarian Universalist seminary.

Rabi’a Keeble, a Muslim convert and graduate of that seminary, founded the Berkeley mosque, Qal’bu Maryam. But she quickly faced challenges. It was not easy to attract Muslim women, who were wary of the organizers, she said.

“You assume there must be other like-minded people all over the place,” Ms. Keeble said. “What woman wants to continue to sit behind, walk behind, listen to men interpret scripture to their benefit? There must be a bunch of women waiting for someone to step up and kick those doors down. Well, that’s just not true.”

The Berkeley mosque’s location was always tenuous. After a year occupying free space, the group moved to a temporary home, she said, and recently found new quarters at First Congregational Church of Oakland.

Real estate is the critical issue that determines the strength of reform mosques. In 2012, Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed opened a mosque in Paris designed to be inclusive to women and welcoming to homosexual Muslims. Faced with insults and some hostility, Mr. Zahed said members preferred to be discreet, moving locations every three months to avoid being targeted. The mosque closed after three years, and Mr. Zahed has since resettled in Marseille in the south of France to run an institute to train reform imams.

“We had threats and people identified the places,” Mr. Zahed said of the Paris mosque. “Then owners didn’t want us to stay any longer. They were very happy to have us in the beginning, but they had so much political pressure that they wanted us to leave. It was always like this.”

Ms. Bahloul has not faced that kind of pressure for the Fatima Mosque, a concept she has openly promoted since January with a series of television interviews in France that have provoked hundreds of comments. She has also drawn coverage in Brazil, Italy and Canada, and in Northern Africa in Morocco, which characterized her concept as revolutionary.

“Among Muslims there are two reactions,” she said. “Most are very favorable — ‘finally a breath of fresh air. We have been waiting for this for a long time.’ There are others who are insulting and accuse us of trying to change the real Islam. But what is real Islam? Those critics have a very simple approach and have a superficial understanding of Islam.”

Ms. Bahloul’s views are shaped by her eclectic background, divided between France and Algeria, where she grew up in northern Kabylia, the child of an Algerian father and French mother. Her maternal grandmother was a Polish Jew and her grandfather French Catholic.

“Since I was young, I have always posed questions,” Ms. Bahloul said. “What really struck me was the evolution of the practice of Islam of my paternal grandparents, who were very traditional, cultural and spiritual. And after that I watched the spread of the conservative Salafist movement and the first veils worn by women in the 1990s.”

For now the organizers are preoccupied with practical concerns — renting a location, eventually organizing a crowdfunding campaign, reaching out to city officials who could aid in the search for space for Friday prayers and community meetings.

In the meantime, Ms. Bahloul teaches about Islam online through her association, Parle-moi d’Islam, with lectures on how to read the Quran or prosaic themes such as: “Does the Quran say to hit wives?”

Mr. Korchane, the co-founder, also says they must work to reach another pivotal group. He wants to create special videos to attract young Muslims, who he says sometimes lack deep knowledge of Islam. “They think, for example,” he said, “that eating halal or wearing a veil are part of the pillars of Islam.”

Source: Finding a Place in Women’s MosquesOrganizers of reform mosques are building on an evolving tradition of women imams that dates back centuries. But some Muslim women remain wary.

Switzerland: Mistrust of Islam nearly three times higher than negative views of muslims

Interesting trend and distinction between Islam the faith and Muslims the people:

Every two years, Switzerland’s Federal Statistical Office compiles a survey of attitudes towards people of different race, religion and nationality. The survey entitled: living together in Switzerland, asks a wide range of questions covering attitudes held towards different people and experiences associated with those differences.

More than 3,000 permanent residents of Switzerland between the ages of 15 and 88, selected at random across Switzerland’s main regions, were asked a series of questions. Those questioned included Swiss citizens and foreign nationals.

One group of questions, which looks at attitudes towards muslims, shows a large difference between how the population views the faith compared to it’s followers. In 2018, 29% said they mistrusted Islam, while 11% said they held a negative view of its followers.

The survey also looked at attitudes towards the jewish community. 9% said they held a negative view of this group. There was no separate question on attitudes towards the jewish faith.

Negativity towards muslims in Switzerland has declined since 2016. In 2016, 14% said they held a negative view of them. In 2018, the figure was 11%.

On the other hand the percentage declaring negativity towards the jewish community increased from 8% in 2016 to 9% in 2018.

In line with these trends, support for negative stereotypes of jewish people rose between 2016 and 2018 while it fell for muslims. The percentage saying the negative stereotype of muslim people, defined as fanaticism, aggressivity, oppression of women and non-respect of human rights, applied strongly and systematically fell from 16.8% to 13.7%, while the percentage saying the stereotype of jewish people, defined as greed, being too exclusive, thirst for power and political radicality, applied strongly and systematically rose from 11.9% to 12.5% – the report cautions against reading too much into the stereotype figures because of the limited number of characteristics included and the high percentage of respondents not answering the question.

Religious discrimination was ranked the fifth most frequent form of discrimination in Switzerland. First was discrimination based on nationality. 58% said they’d experienced this. Next were language or accent (27%), gender (19%), professional status (18%) and religion (15%). Skin colour (15%), socio-economic group (14%), age (13%), political opinion (12%) and ethnicity (11%) completed the top ten.

Source: Mistrust of Islam nearly three times higher than negative views of muslims

Third of Britons believe Islam threatens British way of life, says report

Not surprising:

More than a third of people in the UK believe that Islam is a threat to the British way of life, according to a report by the anti-fascist group Hope not Hate.

The organisation’s annual “State of Hate” report, which will be launched on Monday, argues that anti-Muslim prejudice has replaced immigration as the key driver of the growth of the far right.

In polling conducted by the group in July last year, 35% of people thought Islam was generally a threat to the British way of life, compared with 30% who thought it was compatible. Forty-nine per cent of those who voted Conservative in the 2017 general election thought it was generally incompatible, and 22% of Labour voters agreed.

Nearly a third (32%) said they thought there were “no-go areas” in Britain where sharia law dominated and non-Muslims could not enter. Almost half of Conservative voters (47%) and those who voted to leave the EU (49%) believed this was true.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/charts/embed/feb/2019-02-17T14:35:21/embed.html

The report said that while polling showed that attitudes towards Muslims in Britain had improved between 2011 and 2016, the terror attacks in the UK in 2017 had had a negative impact on perceptions.

In a separate poll of more than 5,000 people in August 2018, 30% said they would support a campaign set up by local residents to stop proposals to build a mosque near where they live. Twenty-one per cent say they would still support the campaign if either side became violent, because the matter was so serious.

Among the issues in the report is that of leftwing antisemitism. Hope not Hate said that while extreme antisemitism and Holocaust denial were less common, there were many examples of “conspiratorial” antisemitism and the use of antisemitic tropes, “especially in relation to supposed Jewish power”.

The report points to research that found an increase in antisemitic Google searches in the UK. It found that 5% of UK adults did not believe the Holocaust happened and 8% said the scale of the Holocaust had been exaggerated.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/charts/embed/feb/2019-02-17T14:36:44/embed.html

The report’s authors said a large group was involved in “denying a problem exists and dismissing the issue as a rightwing and Zionist smear”. It concluded that the Labour party was still not doing enough to tackle antisemitism.

“The family history of so many members of the British Jewish community includes first-hand experience of persecution. Many people in the Jewish community therefore identify with a sense of the precariousness of their safety, where material security and educational attainment are not seen as guarantors of security and safety,” it said.

“The inability of the Labour party leadership to understand and acknowledge this experience is particularly chilling when the Labour party and the left in general hold values of equality and antiracism as core to their identity.”

The report also found that while the numbers arrested for terror-related offences in 2018 was down on the previous year, there was a growing threat of far-right terrorism, which came both from organised groups such as National Action and from lone actors who are radicalised over the internet.

The group warned that there could also be a rise in support for Islamist extremist group Al-Muhajiroun following the release of one of its founders, Anjem Choudary, from prison.

“Our latest polling also reveals a disturbing level of anti-Muslim prejudice and discourse running through society, with a third of people saying they believe there are Muslim-run no-go zones, and rising antisemitism on the left, which we have exposed in a new investigation,” said Nick Lowles, the chief executive of Hope not Hate.

“Meanwhile, while the banned terror group National Action has finally been destroyed by the authorities, there is a growing threat of violence from the younger neo-Nazis emerging in their wake. There are justified concerns that the police response to these rising threats, especially against MPs, has fallen short. We believe a very real threat remains from terrorism carried out by lone actors, too, radicalised over the internet.

“Added to this febrile mix is the release of Anjem Choudary and many of his network’s leading figures, likely to regalvanise their supporters and provide yet another seedbed for the far right to grow their support, too. We cannot wait for a traditional, united, far-right umbrella organisation to emerge before we act. We need to start connecting the dots now.”

Source: Third of Britons believe Islam threatens British way of life, says report

The Economist: Third-generation Muslims in the West are devising a new Islam for themselves

Worth reading and thoughtful exploration of the different tendencies and developments:

People are of two types in relation to you,” Imam Ali, the prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law and one of his first caliphs, or successors, is reputed to have said. “Either your brother in Islam, or your brother in humanity.” The Shia community of Mahfil Ali in north London tries to turn word into deed. Women often open services with a prayer. Sermons are in English. For the past decade the community has gone to the local church on Christmas Eve to attend midnight mass. Most ambitiously, it is turning its two-hut mosque into a £20m ($26m) Salaam (Peace) centre, complete with sports facilities, a restaurant, a theatre and a public library. There is talk of making a prayer space for Christians and Jews. “We want to nurture the community that nurtured us,” says a local leader.

Mosques in the West have come a long way since migrant workers rolled out plastic mats in their back rooms. A new generation of cathedral mosques has brought Islam out of Muslim districts into the public arena. Instead of traditional structures with inward-looking courtyards, their architects now design wide staircases that connect to the street. Sports facilities draw in younger Muslims who may have lost interest in the faith, as well as non-Muslims. The Islamic Centre of Greater Cincinnati, spread over 18 acres (seven hectares), is one of many in America that feels more like a country club than a mosque. Christian and Jewish teams compete in its basketball league.

Foreign organisations, Western governments and jihadists have all sought to speak for and mould Islam in the West, but the more established the faith becomes there, the less truck it wants with any of them. Of the three generations that have grown up since Muslims arrived in the West in the 20th century, the third is the most stridently opposed to government interference, be it foreign or Western, and to jihadist propaganda. As time passes, the old ties loosen. In most of the West, unlike in Muslim countries, no licence is currently needed to become an imam. Instead of a faith shaped from outside, millennial Muslims are creating something unprecedented: a do-it-yourself Islam.

That makes the religion frustratingly messy, but also diverse, dynamic and fluid. It is fragmenting into myriad interpretations, permutations and sects. Each by itself might be small, but collectively they are acquiring a critical mass that is pushing the faith’s boundaries. Western Islam covers the full spectrum of Islamic traditions, from the most conservative to the sort that considers Islam a culture but no longer a faith, and everything in between.

The four schools of Western Islam

To outsiders, the Salafist strand of the faith looks deeply traditional and unwelcoming. Its members wear Islamic dress and send their children to segregated Muslim schools. Boys in white tunics shiver in the cold. Teachers focus on scripture. But the Salafists insist that much of what they believe chimes with a Western approach to the faith. “Its appeal is like that of Protestant reformation in Christianity,” says Yasir Qadhi, America’s best-known preacher, who studied with Salafist masters. “It gives the individual direct connection to the text without going through a cleric or priest. It’s intellectually empowering.”

Though German officials, among others, have cut off dialogue, a new generation of Salafists is experimenting with greater openness. Searching for allies to stem secularism’s advance, Salafist imams engage in interfaith dialogue with like-minded conservatives of other faiths. The rapid influx of converts, too, has forced them to find ways to deal with their non-Muslim relatives. For role models, preachers look to the first Muslims in Mecca 1,400 years ago. They were also converts but kept their ties with their pagan families. And when they were persecuted, they embarked on the first hijra, or migration, and found refuge with the Christian rulers of Abyssinia. From his home in Memphis, Tennessee, Mr Qadhi plans to launch a new Islamic seminary later this year, staffed exclusively by Western lecturers. The teaching there, he says, will be “post-Salafist”, concentrating on the essentials. “While old-school Salafists are arguing over the minutiae of Islamic law, their children are debating whether or not God even exists,” he adds.

Western Islam is fragmenting into myriad interpretations

The second strand of the faith, political Islam, has long advocated engagement with non-Muslim society, not least to defend the interests of the umma, or Muslim community. Its main organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood, began as an armed anti-colonial movement in the Middle East. But chased into exile, its leaders have established a host of offshoots which profess loyalty to the West and praise its democratic systems (to the horror of the Muslim rulers they fled). It can be highly pragmatic. At a class at the Institut Européen des Sciences Humaines in Paris, Europe’s largest Muslim college and a bastion of Brotherhood orthodoxy, a female lecturer emphasises the flexibility of the sharia, or Islamic law, and its guiding principle of maslaha, or communal interest.

Another of the Brotherhood’s institutions, the Dublin-based European Council for Fatwa and Research, is rewriting orthodox precepts. Its jurists have approved mortgages, despite the Islamic prohibition on interest. They have ruled that female converts to Islam can keep their non-Muslim husbands. And some increasingly turn a blind eye to ways of life hitherto deemed deviant. “I’m not God. It’s his business. I don’t interfere,” says Taha Sabri, the imam of an Islamist mosque in Berlin.

If the Brotherhood gives Islam a Western hue, liberals, the third strand, give their Western lifestyles an Islamic one. For more than a generation, Bassam Tibi, a devout academic of Syrian origin at Göttingen university in Germany, has campaigned for “euro-Islam”, which by his definition is rooted in the principles of the Renaissance, Enlightenment and French Revolution. The faith, he says, has to adapt to its new environment, just as it did when it spread elsewhere in the world. “Africans made an African Islam and Indonesians made an Indonesian one,” he notes. “Islam is flexible and can be European.”

A few congregations of women-led mosques have surfaced in the West beyond the ivory towers of academia. Some are women-only, others mixed. Weekly prayers are often conducted on Sundays for members unable to leave work on Fridays. In 2008 Rabya Mueller, a former Catholic nun who converted to Islam, formed the Islamic Liberal Bund, modelled closely on liberal Judaism, and has begun leading prayers. Together with Lamya Kaddor, a German woman with a Syrian background, she is replacing Islam’s patriarchal baggage with gender equality and a commitment to gay rights. Much of their work, she says, involves marrying Muslims and non-Muslims of either gender. On Twitter, @queermuslims advertises prayer meetings for homosexual adherents of the faith. A training centre for gay imams has opened in France.

At the far end of the spectrum, a fourth strand wants to dispense with the religion altogether. In November six German academics, including one non-Muslim, formed the Secular Islam Initiative to promote “a folkloric relationship to Islam”, according to one of its founders, Hamed Abdel-Samad, the son of an Egyptian imam and author of a critical biography of the Prophet Muhammad. The organisation is still at the fledgling stage, but it may express the views of a surprising number of Muslims born in the West. According to a German government survey, only 20% of the country’s Muslims belong to a religious organisation. Many of the rest lead secular lives.

The number of lapsed Muslims in France is probably even higher than in Germany, particularly among descendants of north Africa’s Berbers, many of whom have long viewed Islam as a figleaf for Arabisation. Half the men of Algerian origin in France marry outside the faith, and 60% of those of Algerian parentage say they have no religious affiliation. In America the Pew Research Centre estimates that 23% of Muslims no longer identify with the faith. “We’re facing the same problem of assimilation as the Jews,” says an imam in Dearborn, Michigan.

Thinking the unthinkable

Mosques seeking to rejuvenate their flock are having to adapt to changing sexual practices, too. Half of America’s Muslim students, male and female, admit to having had premarital sex, according to a study in 2014. “When I began teaching in 2003, no girl would admit to having a boyfriend,” says Ms Kaddor, who until recently taught religious studies for Muslims in a Rhineland school. “Now, some openly say they’re bisexual.” Muslim dating apps abound. “Find a beautiful Arab or Muslim girl on muzmatch,” promises one that claims a million users, complete with an optional chaperone feature.

Women are also increasingly demanding a say, not least because they are now typically better educated than men. The number of women on mosque boards is still small but growing, even in orthodox communities. Inside the prayer hall, women, originally confined to the gallery, are moving to the back of the ground floor and sometimes down the sides. In many Black American mosques men and women share the same hall. Prejudice against homosexuality remains strong but is retreating. Among British Muslims over 65, 76% want to ban the practice; for those aged 18-24, the proportion is 40%.

Adherents of all four strands often change allegiance. Mr Abdel-Samad was briefly a Muslim Brother before converting to secularism. Many Salafist preachers were nominal Christians who trod the path in reverse. Such cross-fertilisation does not always breed understanding. Imams deviating from orthodoxy risk expulsion from their mosques. Abdel Adhim Kamouss, a Salafist preacher in Berlin, has been ousted from two mosques for asserting that the Prophet did not condemn homosexuality or shaking hands with women. Mr Kamouss is one of several people interviewed for this report to receive a fatwa sentencing him to death for apostasy. In the suburbs of some British cities Muslim shopkeepers are forced to close before Friday prayers. And women can still become victims of honour crimes in conservative enclaves such as Dewsbury in northern England.

Optimists say such violence is a sign of desperation. In France the last known honour crime was committed two decades ago. Across the West Muslims turn out to vote in greater numbers than the rest of the population and increasingly interact with non-Muslims. For many of the younger ones, divisions of sect, ethnicity and religious observance are less and less relevant. In short, given a range of choices, Muslims in the West increasingly see Islam more as a matter of personal choice than a creed guided by government, whether at home or abroad. “The younger generation has won the battle,” says Olivier Roy, a French author on Islam in the West.

Arab governments sometimes berate their Western counterparts for not doing enough to curb extremism, by which they often mean curbing their exiled dissidents. In fact, Western governments do monitor hate speech and support for terrorism. But viewing Islam primarily through a security prism distorts relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in the West.

Religious leaders are seeking to bridge divides

Muslim inclusion in local decision-making can break down prejudice but often faces resistance from communities. Jennifer Eggert, a Muslim expert on terrorism, tours London mosques arguing for Muslims to play a bigger part in countering terrorism. The New York Police Department overcame communal mistrust by creating a Muslim Officers Society, the first in America. This has helped increase police recruitment among Muslims from fewer than a dozen in 2001 to over 1,000, says its founder, Adeel Rana. The inauguration last month of America’s first two Muslim congresswomen may also help normalise Muslim participation at all levels of society.

Integrating Islam more into national histories could play a part, too. In some British mosques imams pinned poppies on each other to mark the centennial of the first world war and remember the hundreds of thousands of Muslims killed in battle. But their sacrifice is rarely commemorated at national level, contributing to the feeling that Muslims remain outsiders. Now “we are creating a generation not of foreign fighters but of foreign citizens,” says Khalid Chaouki, a former mp in Italy’s parliament who runs the country’s largest mosque in Rome.

Cultural programmes, too, can cross communal boundaries. When the Benaki Museum in Athens began offering school tours of its Islamic art collection, an mp accused it of spreading the culture of terror. A decade on, the museum has expanded the programme to include interactive tours of life in Ottoman Athens. “We’re filling a big gap in our history that most schools skip over,” says Maria-Christina Yannoulatou, the head of the museum’s education department, referring to 450 years of Muslim rule that Greece omits from its curriculum. “We want to challenge taboos and show the ordinary lives that heroic histories obscure.”

Religious leaders are also seeking to bridge divides. Many priests work hard to counter far-right narratives, accusing anti-immigrant politicians of betraying Christian ethics. Many churches double as sanctuaries for refugees. Some synagogues as well as churches in America host Muslim Friday prayers for congregations lacking a space to worship. In the same vein, after a right-wing gunmen fired on a Pittsburgh synagogue in October, Muslims packed the vigils, sent tweets of condolence and spoke at events on anti-Semitism. In Germany’s election in 2017 church-going voters were three times less likely to vote for the far-right afd party than secular ones.

Having settled in the West for the third time in history, this time in a different role, Islam seems destined to stay. The journey so far has not been easy. But a third generation of Muslims now seems set to become a permanent part of a more diverse, more tolerant Western society—as long as that society continues to nurture those virtues.

Source: Third-generation Muslims in the West are devising a new Islam for themselves

France Has Millions of Muslims. Why Does It Import Imams?

Valid question and reveals some of the straitjackets of French history and policies:

What to do about Islam in France? Considering Islamist terrorist attacks, communalism and the international manipulation of Muslim communities, the matter is pressing. But it’s contentious, because managing Islam seems to go against laïcité, France’s staunch version of state secularism, and a 1905 law that mandates the separation of church and state.

Wouldn’t revising that law be an admission that secularism is bowing to Islamism? On the other hand, if the law isn’t revised, or if the French state cannot find other ways of monitoring and steering Islam, then Islam in France risks falling under the control of foreign states or the influence of radicals. That is already the case, actually: Since laïcité prohibits the French authorities from using public funds to build mosques or train imams, Algeria, Morocco, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have stepped in. According to the newsmagazine L’Express, 70 percent of imams practicing in France are not French.

In an attempt to overcome these paradoxes, President Emmanuel Macron recently convened at the Élysée Palace the country’s various Muslim leaders and then representatives from all religions. The order of the day for the broader meeting, held on Jan. 10, was old emergencies: how to punish radicalism, control the financing of mosques and make Muslim authorities accountable. The news daily Le Monde, which obtained the note that the president handed to attendees, reported that the government was proposing to revise the 1905 law while “confirming” “its principles.”

It was an attempt to square a circle, a malaise, so very French. And the narrower question of what to do about imams — their origins, their trainings, their salaries — summarizes it well.

Here is a first hurdle: It’s virtually impossible to tally imams in France. No one really knows how many there are, partly because the collection of data based on ethnic or religious grounds is prohibited. The last available estimates from the interior ministry — which date back to 2012 — put the number of mosques in France at around 2,500. (A 2016 report by the Senate said it was closer to 3,000.) But those figures are as outdated today as they were imprecise in the first place: What even counts as a “mosque” when so many Muslim believers gather in the basements of low-income building complexes or other improvised prayer halls? And there being 2,500 mosques doesn’t mean there are 2,500 imams: In Sunni Islam, the version of Islam most prevalent in France, anyone can declare oneself an imam and volunteer to lead prayers or the Friday Sermon.

There is no central authority overseeing Islam in France. Anyway, how do you supervise the mosques you don’t fund or imams you can’t pay?

For the time being, France, for lack of its own theological schools, has favored filtered immigration: It brings in imams from abroad, mostly from the home countries of its main immigrant communities, either for long stretches or just for Ramadan. Paradoxically, one of the justifications for this policy — though rarely admittedly publicly — is security: It seems less risky to rely on an official imam from Algeria than to let a self-proclaimed imam emerge in a Paris banlieue, or suburb.

For example, Algerian imams wishing to go to France must first undergo investigations. And as the Algerian government puts it, modestly, the “Algerian expertise” in internal security matters ensures quality vetting. The government has also offered its services to the United States, Belgium and Italy.

In 2018, Algeria sent approximately 100 imams to officiate in France. Morocco and Tunisia contributed about as many each. In 2017, L’Express ran the headline “Morocco, the factory of French imams,” with an article on imam-apprentices, some sent from France, whom the kingdom was training in how to dispense “middle-ground” Islambefore dispatching them abroad. According to the news weekly Le Point, Turkish “consular structures” oversee more than 250 mosques and about 200 official imams seconded by Turkey to France.

The filtered import of foreign imams may look like a good practical solution; in fact, it’s an ideological trap. These imams, even if acting in good faith, can only reinforce communalism in France and work against integration, because they are not French. In the name of laïcité, France is dangerously delegating its Islam to other states.

Those states benefit. For the Algerian government, the export of imams seems to confirm the country’s return to stability. Saudi Arabia sees proselytizing as a form of soft power. So does Turkey, which appears invested in maintaining a religious lobby abroad.

The stakes are high, apparently. When last year the Austrian government expelled about 60 Turkish preachers to counter, it said, the creation of “parallel societies” and “political Islam,” Turkey called the move “racist” and “Islamophobic.” When the French government said it wanted to create a distinct “Islam of France,” Algeria — speaking indirectly, via an expert’s op-ed in state media — accused it of “arrogance tinted with ignorance.”

The import of imams, the foreign financing of mosques — these delegations of power by the French authorities are a dead end: They won’t do enough to stem radicalism in France, and they will do even less to nurture the emergence of, precisely, an Islam of France.

The president’s office seems to want to overcome all this. But some of the participants in that first meeting convened by Mr. Macron at the beginning of the year reacted with calculated anger before accepting the invitation. Members of the French Council of the Muslim Faith decried the “colonial administration of Islam.” It’s a clever conflation: By invoking colonialism, they can leverage guilt as a bargaining chip while maintaining Islam’s communal valence. Why do that? For fear of losing power if France develops a sui generis form of Islam. Harping on Muslims’ status as a once-colonized group is a way of highlighting their ties to their countries of origin, over those to their host country.

Past attempts to create Muslim councils — the Great Mosque of Paris, the Federation of French Muslims, the Union of Islamic Organizations in France (also known as Muslims of France) — that could effectively represent France’s various Muslim communities have failed. One reason is the rivalry among the groups’ leaders, different confessional strands and foreign governments with ties to immigrant communities.Algeria competes with Morocco, and both of them compete with Turkey and Saudi Arabia: As the journalist Henri Tincq has pointed out on Slate.fr, the Paris Mosque is “loyal to Algeria,” the Federation of French Muslims has “ties to the Muslim World League and Morocco” and the Union of Islamic Organizations in France is “close to the Muslim Brotherhood.”

It’s difficult to separate Islam from its community and the community from its country of origin without being accused of interference. Whenever the French government tries to manage Islam in France, Algeria says it’s meddling, when in saying so, it is Algeria that is meddling in France’s affairs.

So what can be done? One solution has been put forward by Hakim El Karoui, an international consultant close to Mr. Macron and the author of the recent report “The Islamist Factory” and, in 2016, of “A French Islam Is Possible.”

First, he recommends strictly supervising external financing or informal funds collected in mosques, neighborhoods or local associations. He also suggests creating an independent fund for training imams by taxing halal businesses, money collected through the Muslim alms known as zakat and commerce around the pilgrimage to Mecca. Those are good ideas for trying to keep state and church, or cult, separate while integrating French Muslims into France.

But just what should be uniting is proving divisive: Mr. El Karoui’s proposals are controversial, notably for the French Council of the Muslim Faith. One of the organization’s vice-presidents called them an “insult” to Islam and accused Mr. El Karoui of conflating Islam and Islamism. That reaction sums up well the endless-seeming debate between those who want to maintain a monopoly over Islam in France and those who wish to develop an Islam of France.

Germany: Blood sausage at Islam conference stirs controversy

While accommodation generally should work both ways (i.e., as long as food is labelled and choice of alternatives), it does seem a lack of sensitivity at a national Islam conference. Would the Interior Ministry serve pork at an antisemitism conference?

When Canada organized an international antisemitism conference in 2010, all the food served was kosher:

Germany’s Interior Ministry has come under fire for serving blood sausage at a national Islam conference last week, despite pork being forbidden for practicing Muslims.

The issue has stirred a heated debate — one that touches on the fault line issues of integration and respect for different religions — between critics of the ministry and right-wing groups who justified the decision to serve the dish.

The ministry has defended its decision to serve the sausage consisting of pig’s blood, pork and bacon at the evening buffet on Wednesday. It said the serving reflected the “religious-pluralistic composition” of the event, which brought together Muslim associations and leaders with officials from the federal and local governments.

The ministry added that there was a wide range of food at the “clearly excellent” buffet, with vegetarian, meat, fish and halal dishes available. “If individuals were still offended for religious reasons, we regret this,” it said.

Nonetheless, some have viewed the choice of blood sausage as a deliberate provocation by hardline Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.

In March, Seehofer caused a stir when he said in an interview that “Islam doesn’t belong to Germany” and that “Germany has been shaped by Christianity,” a comment he partially dialed back last week at the Islam conference.

#BloodSausageGate

Turkish-German journalist Tuncay Ozdamar, who first reported the “#BloodSausageGate” scandal, questioned on Twitter what message Seehofer had intended to send with the culinary decision.

“A little respect for Muslims who do not eat pork would be appropriate,” wrote Ozdamar, who himself claims to eat pork.

In comments published on the website Watson.de, Ozdamar said he had no objection to offering pork in schools with Muslim children because Germany is a multi-cultural country.

“But if I convene an Islam conference and invite Muslims to engage in dialogue, solve the problems of religion that arise in everyday life, then I have to be a bit sensitive, tactful and respectful,” he said.

Green Party politician Volker Beck also slammed the Interior Ministry, writing on Twitter that “appreciating diversity means also considering different habits.”

No clear markings?

Ali Bas, a Green Party spokesman for religious issues, told Watson.de that the blood sausage was not clearly identified at the buffet, but was rather served on appetizer trays. The Interior Ministry had said the food servings were clearly marked.

Many Muslims abstain from eating meat if it is unclear whether it is halal. Blood sausage could potentially be confused with sucuk, a halal sausage widely consumed in Turkey and the Arab world.

The Interior Ministry reportedly served ham in the first year of the annual Islam Conference in 2006.

Far-right AfD sees threat 

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) quickly entered the discussion, accusing critics of the Interior Ministry of launching an attack on German culture.

“Tolerance starts at the point where the blood sausage is seen simply for what it is: a German delicacy  that no one has to like, but that, just like our way of life, cannot be taken away from us,” AfD lawmaker Alice Weidel wrote on Twitter.

The post was accompanied by a picture of Weidel smiling in front of several blood sausages topped with basil leaves.

Ozcan Mutlu, a Green politician of Turkish descent, responded to the hysteria with a jab at the far-right.

“While the Twitter Nazis are fighting for the survival of the blood sausage and getting riled up over #BloodSausageGate, I’m drinking a beer at a German beer garden in Brooklyn to honor those sensible compatriots back home,” he wrote on Twitter, using the hashtag “#87percent” to refer to the percentage of voters who did not back the AfD in the 2017 general election.

Source: Germany: Blood sausage at Islam conference stirs controversy