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Ramadan’s end signifies joy, unrest

September 6, 2011

Muslims pray during the Eid al Fitr prayer marking the end of the Islam’s holy fasting month of Ramadan in a Marseille mosque, southern France, Tuesday Aug. 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

Across Europe, first, second, and third generation Muslims gathered in mosques and markets last week to celebrate the three-day feast of Eid al-Fitr. Baklava imported from Turkey, dates from Tunisia, and goat or mutton filled the neighborhoods with delicious aromas. A month of fasting is broken with a sacrificial lamb or goat and with great joy for Muslim families. All however, is not so cheery in their everyday lives. Fellow Europeans, especially those of indigenous descent, are increasingly vocal in their distrust of a growing Islamic population.

There are numbers of reasons that native Europeans may feel uncomfortable with such celebrations. Violence marred celebrations in other parts of the world. The everyday existence of Muslims praying, wearing religious clothing, or purchasing from only Hallal stores, all seem to go against the private practice of religion now the norm in many European cultures. A 2001 film demonstrates this clash of civilizations. Insha’allah Sunday is a Franco-Algerian production directed by Yamina Benguigui about Algerian immigrants in southern France during the 1970s. It portrays a woman trapped by over-bearing mother-in-law and her husband in a French neighborhood that exudes cultural upheaval. While arguably overdramatized to illuminate stereotypes in each society, it reveals the roots to Europe’s current predicament.

The immigration of Pakistanis in the United Kingdom, Turks in Germany, North Africans in France and Italy, among many others, continued European ties with former colonies while filling menial labor positions that locals had left behind to create the new upper-middle class. Decades later, the economic and social gap remains between European youth of non-European descent and their native equivalents. In fact, some might say the gap has widened. On June 16, the Dutch Interior Minister Piet Hein Donner introduced a plan to his parliament reducing subsidies to Muslim immigrants that states: “The government shares the social dissatisfaction over the multicultural society model and plans to shift priority to the values of the Dutch people.” From minarets in Switzerland to burqua in France, many flashpoints exist in what many call the cultural war over European cultural identity.

There are, however, many Europeans of non-Muslim heritage who have become involved in Islamic festivities. First are the growing number of converts to the Islamic faith who have assumed rites and rituals like the Eid. Second, political parties and action groups have been formed to promote the Islamic faith in the larger society – a dozen in the United Kingdom alone according to Wikipedia. National governments have also instituted organizations that educate about the Muslim faith or help with the initial stages of immigrants’ integration, even if some efforts have been tossed aside. In a 2002 webpage, for instance, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs states: “The Dutch government…pursues policies aimed at the integration of ethnic minorities, to which the majority of Muslims belong. The objective is to enable them to participate in democratic society, to combat disadvantage and to prevent and counter discrimination and racism.” It is unclear how these policies will be carried out into the future.

Europe has long relationship with Islam. It has been long and tumultous thus far, and bears importance for those living in “the West.” To help examine this association, West European Studies is sponsoring “Researching Western Muslims,” at Indiana University Bloomington on September 23, 2011.

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