The term “Muslim” generally has a negative connotation throughout the world today. People have formed negative opinions of Muslims and Islam in general for several reasons, true and untrue. However, there are several myths about Muslims that are common misconceptions about the group. Justin Vaisse, author of Muslims in Europe: A Short Introduction, explains the following significant myths:
- Being Muslim constitutes a fixed identity, sufficient to fully characterize a person. Vaisse is stating that Muslims are treated as though their only identifiable trait is their religion, not their ethnicity, race, background, etc. Viewing one’s religion as their only defining trait is quite limiting.
- Muslims in Europe are, in one way or the other, inherently foreign, the equivalent of visiting Middle-Easterners who are alien to the “native” culture. This is incorrect because, in fact, aspects of Muslim culture have been present since the 8th century. Additionally, there are about 15-17 million Muslims living in the European Union. This group is made up of citizens of EU member states and non-citizens. The non-citizens, however, are of EU member states nationalities.
- Muslims in Europe form a “distinct cohesive and bitter group”. This cannot be true because there are several different sects and divisions of the Islamic faith. According to Vaisse, on a national level there are profound divisions between: countries of reference and their specific brand of Islam, visions of religion and affiliation, social status, ethnicity, and political views. He writes, “to speak as a ‘Muslim community’ is simply misleading (Vaisse, 2008).
- Muslims are demographically gaining on the ‘native’ population. Vaisse notes that “the assumption is that Muslims form a distinct demographic bloc defined by religion that will never blend into the rest of society” (Vaisse, 2008). He further explains that this is misleading due to the number of intermarriages and conversions both two and from Islam. Additionally, there are significant amounts of Muslims that live a law-abiding, patriotic life in their non-native country.
These myths and misconceptions about Muslims must be addressed and brought up so the ever-negative connotation associated with the word “Muslim” can be explained and possibly changed. Especially because a lot of people don’t really know much about Muslims or the Islamic faith to back up the sour taste many individuals feel about “Muslim”.
It is important to make a distinction between the religious and political dimensions of Islam. Firstly, the dimensions of Islam are so different in thought and action that they need to be clearly separated and understood as independent of one another. The views of each dimension of Islam are indeed quite conflicting. It is important to make these distinctions between the different dimensions of Islam so that statements/feelings about Muslims can be more specific to the sector of Islam in which they fall, rather than making a blanket statement/feeling about “Muslims” as a whole. According to Shireen Hunter, author of Islam, Europe’s Second Religion, explains, “from the early beginnings of Islam, in the theoretical categorization of the various fields in Fiqh, the ‘ulama drew important distinctions, not with regard to the main sources, which are the Qur’an and the Sunna, but in respect to the methodologies of their interpretation” (Hunter, 2008). Hunter concludes that by ignoring these distinctions in different dimensions of Islam is to say it is not possible for Muslims to be open and integrate into a secular society (Hunter, 2008).
There are several challenges that the specific topics of education and social rifts in Europe bring to Muslim communities. According to Hunter, “School is no longer what it used to be and ‘everything is wrong'” (Hunter, 2008). He argues that everyone in a given society are players in school life and education of that community. He says that currently, “respective duties and responsibilities are hard to define and discussions often lead to transferring responsibility to others” (Hunter, 2008). His main idea is that we, as a unified group, must define what it is we want out of an education system. That is up to the people of a society, regardless of their faith. In terms of social rifts, there is a big presence of xenophobia, the intense fear of foreigners, among Europe and other places around the globe. Similarly to the education topic, Hunter argues that we must all come together to combat these issues as a group. He also mentions that in addition to local, short-term goals, long-term goals must be established for a sustainable effort towards reform.
Hunter, Shireen T. Islam, Europe’s Second Religion. Westport: Praeger, 2002. Print.
Vaisse, J. (2008, September). Muslims in Europe: A short introduction. Retrieved from: https://bblearn.missouri.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-3161664-dt-content-rid-31262538_1/courses/SP2017.GERMAN.4810.01/09_europe_muslims_vaisse.pdf