Is Islam compatible with a secular Europe?
Posted by fidest on Wednesday, 24 July 2013
Does the integration of Islam in Europe presuppose a prior ‘religious reformation’ that would make Islam compatible with so-called ‘European values’? And what are these European values? Are they Christian values or secular values? While all European constitutions and treaties stress the commitment towards ‘human rights’, ‘religious freedom’ and ‘democracy’, the status of ‘secularism’ is more complex.In this thought-provoking article, Olivier Roy introduces the concept of the ‘theological predicament’: the perceived connection between ‘Muslim values’ and the religion’s theological core. It’s the compatibility (or not) of these ‘values’ that are often called into question; to be fully integrated into European society, some maintain, Muslims must either have a liberal understanding of their religion to generate values in line with ‘European’ ones, or their theology must be reformed to allow the same.
At the heart of this ‘predicament’ is the mistaken belief that Islam is a single, universal set of values followed by all believers, and that there is no distinction between religion, culture and politics. This creates the impression of a single set of Muslim ‘values’ which are often perceived to be at odds with ‘Christian’, ‘secular’ or ‘European’ values.
But as Roy notes, it is difficult to speak of ‘Christian’ values in an age of declining church attendance, ‘Christian’ values that might not be shared by all Christians, and ‘secular values’ (especially on matters of family or sexuality) that clash with Christian ones. Indeed, the very notion of European ‘secularism’ itself is up for discussion in this article.Roy sees the current debate as not just about Islam, rather it is a continuation of the centuries-old European debate on the role of religion in politics and society. Our current focus on the theological content of Islam and on religious observance is, Roy notes; “a legacy of the European political culture and not of Islamic politics, culture or faith”.So, where does this leave Islam in Europe? Roy explores the different ways that European governments deal with the faith. In his view, current essentialist approaches to Islam challenge the established notion of the separation of church and state, and, paradoxically, the supposedly secular nature of the European state. Intervention, such as training ‘good’ imams, for example, runs against the secular value of religious freedom.In time, though, Roy believes that state interference will ‘format’ the religion, allowing it to adapt to its new environment. The gradual integration of Muslims into European society will also lead to new forms of religiosity and ‘theological updating’; the passing of generations will also see norms and values ‘recast in a European context’. Roy’s article also draws attention to Europe’s own identity crisis, noting that Islam ‘is the mirror through which Europe is looking’ at its own, confused, self. ‘Nostalgia is not a policy,’ Roy concludes hopefully, ‘the issue now is to set out what European values are, and no doubt most of the faithful will be able to share them.’
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