Those who fret about the Islamisation of Europe and the emergence of ‘Eurabia’ should take comfort from those parts of Europe that already have large Muslim populations
Europe’s growing Muslim population has become one of the most important political issues on the continent. The fear of non-Muslims runs something like this: Muslims have more children than the average non-Muslim, therefore, they will account for an ever greater proportion of Europe’s population. And a result Europe will become more like the Muslim world in terms of its attitudes to personal, religious and political freedom. This thesis is assailable from two directions. Firstly, it doesn’t seem that the Muslim population of the EU will grow that much, it will likely go from about 7% now to around 10% by 2050. Secondly, we can wonder if Europe might change its Muslims more than vice versa. For example, the Islamic theologian Tariq Ramadan has argued that there is evolving a distinct “European Islam” to accompany the Asian and African varieties of the faith.
One thing that tends to get overlooked in this debate is that Europe already has predominantly Muslim countries. About 70% of Albanians are Muslim and the proportion in Kosovo is probably even higher. Muslims are also the plurality in Bosnia and a majority in the Bosniak-Croatian entity within it.
However, contrary to what many Europeans would assume these countries feel more like Italy or Poland than Saudi Arabia. All are constitutionally secular and all have large groups who identify as Muslim but don’t practice. Walking around Sarajevo – a now overwhelmingly Muslim city – you see fewer people wearing veils than in London and as many people drinking: the average Bosnian drinks more than the average American!
This is in part the product of the religious history of the Balkans: most of its Muslims belong to traditions that have been influenced by Sufi mysticism and its receptiveness to folk traditions. The Islam you get in the Balkans is thus of the less puritanical and more tolerant variety.
Equally importantly Islam has been present in the Balkans for centuries. It was first introduced by the Ottomans in the 14th century and this 600 year history in European countries has given Balkan Islam a distinctly European hue.
This is not to say that everything is mysticism and tolerance: there have been concerns raised about the radicalising impact of the wars in the region. However, that is something happening on the fringe rather than the mainstream.
There are limitations to using the Balkans as a model for the rest of Europe: in particular Muslims in the rest of Europe tend to come from lands where Sufism is less influential. However, to completely ignore these examples of a genuinely European Islam is scaremongering by omission. Ironically, a region often associated with war may be a herald of how Europe will be able to live with itself in the decades to come.
P.S: If you’re wondering why I’ve not really addressed whether the wars of the 90s undermine my arguments, don’t worry I’m going to do a post on that later in the week.