Producing Islamic Knowledge. Transmission and dissemination in Western Europe

Van Bruinessen M. e Allievi S. (a cura di) (2010), Producing Islamic Knowledge. Transmission and dissemination in Western Europe, London-New York, pp.196
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L’islam en Europe devient-il européen?

Allievi S. (2010), L’islam en Europe devient-il européen?, in “Afkar/Idées”, n. 25, printemps 2010, pp.16-18

Al-Islâm al-Itâlî. Rihla(t) fî waqâ’i’ al-diyâna al-thâniya

Allievi S. (2010), Al-Islâm al-Itâlî. Rihla(t) fî waqâ’i’ al-diyâna al-thâniya, trad. ‘Izz al-Dîn ‘Iniâya e ‘Adnân ‘Alî, Abu Dhabi, Kalima, pp. 279

Ayodhya surprise

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Allievi S. (2010), Ayodhya surprise, in “The Telegraph”, Calcutta, 23 ottobre 2010, intervista di Radhika Ramaseshan

Catholic Church backs Muslim struggle to build Milan’s first mosque
While New York frets over the construction of an Islamic cultural center and mosque near ground zero, Milan is pushing back against construction of its first mosque. Local Muslims have found an unlikely ally in the Catholic Church.
By Anna Momigliano, Correspondent / September 21, 2010
Milan, Italy
American pundits and politicians continue to argue over whether building an Islamic cultural center two blocks from ground zero – where Al Qaeda destroyed the World Trade Center nine years ago – is appropriate.But as the debate, centered around religious freedom and the role Islam itself played in the 9/11 attacks, continues in New York another of the world’s great cultural cities is arguing over a proposal for its first mosque. And proponents are getting help from an unlikely corner: the Vatican.
Milan, the northern Italian city famed for finance and fashion, is home to about 100,000 Muslims, mostly migrant workers from North African countries. But within city limits, there isn’t a single mosque.
Local Muslims say they have been unsuccessfully seeking permission to build one for years, perhaps due to growing Islamophobia, which is particularly strong in Northern Italy, where the anti-immigration Northern League has its stronghold.
Now, the Catholic Church is backing the Milan Muslims’ quest.
“Milan civil institution must guarantee everyone religious freedom,” Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, the church’s highest authority in town, told La Repubblica daily newspaper on Sept. 4. “Muslims have the right to practice their faith while respecting the law. Often the mosque issue has been distorted for political reasons, while it could become a instrument for civil coexistence.”
‘Islamic exceptionalism’
Cardinal Tettamanzi’s call reflects a wider view among Catholic leaders, says priest Davide Milani, a spokesman for the Milan diocese. “The Bishop’s conference is behind Tettamanzi, [the Catholic Church] cares about religious freedom for everyone.”
But it’s not clear whether clerical authority will sway Milan’s leaders. Building a mosque “is not a priority for Milan,” deputy mayor Riccardo De Corato of the center-right Freedom Party told the ASCA news agency. Mr. De Corato accused the local Muslim community of being close to “jihadi fundamentalism” and suggested the city hold a public referendum on whether or not to permit the building of a mosque.
“That’s pure nonsense, you never heard a politician suggesting we should have a referendum for granting the permit to build a church or a synagogue,” says sociologist Stefano Allievi, author of a study called “Conflicts over mosques in Europe.” He points out that freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Italian Constitution.
“It’s what I call the Islamic exceptionalism,” argues Professor Allievi. “When it’s about Islam, the usual rules are no longer valid and Europe betrays its own principles of freedom and equality.”
But Matteo Salvini, a European Parliament member from the Northern League, says he has good reason to seek an exception for Islam: “In Milan there are plenty of religious buildings and we never have had any problems with Jews, Buddhists, or Protestants. How so we have had so many problems with Muslims?”
Last winter there were a series of arrests in Northern Italy among Muslim immigrants accused of having ties to terrorist organizations. In November, for instance, two Pakistani nationals were arrested on the charge of having raised funds for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, where 173 people lost their lives. In a similar move, a judge in Milan issued 17 arrest warrants for people accused of raising 1 million euros ($1.49 million) to fund terrorist activities in Algeria.
Not just a religion?
To those pointing out that freedom to practice one’s religion is a constitutional right, Salvini replies that “Islam is not just a religion.” In his view, it “is a tool to spread a way of life and political views that are not compatible with Western democracy.” The Milan native says “there is no need to build a mosque here.” He agrees with the idea of holding a local referendum, confident most Milanese would reject the mosque.
Salvini believes the major obstacle lies in the “lack of a reliable partner” on the Muslim side. “Once we would have a credible interlocutor, with no ties with jihad, we can talk about building a mosque.”
“Again, this proves that, when it comes to Islam, authorities don’t feel obliged to play according to the rules,” says Allievi, the sociologist. “Could you imagine a politician refusing to meet with the chief rabbi of Milan because he doesn’t consider him a reliable partner?”
Milan’s Muslim community is ethnically divided and relies on about 10 cultural centers that provide prayer spaces and educational services. None of them have a proper mosque, although one was built in the early 1980s in Segrate, a small town outside of Milan.
“It’s a matter of dignity, 100,000 people need a proper place to pray, until now we have been forced to celebrate Ramadan and other high holidays in the most random places, including garages, disused sheds, and movie theaters,” says Abdelhamid Shaari, president of the Islamic Institute of Jenner boulevard, one of the major Muslim organizations in town.
Shaari says his organization has been seeking local permission to build a mosque for more than 20 years. “We haven’t ever received an answer at all, the mayor has always refused to meet our representatives”
Shaari says he does not expect local authorities to pay for the project. “I see two possibilities here: either they provide a plot of public land which we would pay for and where we would build a mosque at our expenses, or they allow us to buy private land and ensure we will receive all the permits to make our building open to the public.”
In Italy, construction permits are strictly regulated and one needs loads of permits to open a building for public use. Shaari’s main concern is that, because of Islamophobia, if the Muslim community simply buys an existing building and turns it into a mosque it will never get all the required papers.
“We want an agreement… making sure they will grant us all the permits,” he says. “It would be all to easy for the administration to use bureaucracy to stop our project.”
A Muslim woman wearing a hijab walks in Duomo Square in Milan on Oct. 7, 2009.
Alessandro Garofalo/Reuters/File
Allievi S. (2010), Catholic Church backs Muslim struggle to build Milan’s first mosque, in “The Christian Science Monitor”, 21 settembre 2010, intervista di Anna Momigliano

En Europe, seules les mosquées suscitent des conflits
Stefano Allievi : « En Europe, seules les mosquées suscitent des conflits »
Le sociologue italien Stefano Allievi a, professeur à l’université de Padoue, a supervisé une enquête, encore inédite, sur les constructions de mosquées en Europe et les oppositions que cela provoque
La Croix : La votation en Suisse, ce dimanche, visant à interdire les minarets est-elle un cas unique en Europe ?
Stefano Allievi : Non, c’est une idée qui vient de l’Autriche, où l’interdiction est déjà entrée en vigueur dans deux régions (Carinthie et Vorarlberg). Dans ce pays, comme pour les promoteurs du référendum suisse, l’interdiction de minarets repose sur des arguments de type urbanistique. Cela permet, sur un plan législatif, de ne pas s’attaquer directement aux libertés publiques.
Mais en réalité, l’argument urbanistique masque le véritable enjeu, de nature culturelle ou religieuse : on ne rencontre pas les mêmes réserves à l’encontre d’une tour de centre commercial ou un multiplex de cinéma ! L’interdiction des minarets va bien, selon moi, contre le respect de liberté religieuse.
Vous venez justement de rendre une étude européenne sur la construction des mosquées en Europe. Comment se comporte notre continent ?
Le premier résultat intéressant, et auquel à vrai dire je ne m’attendais pas, c’est que, d’un point de vue statistique, il n’y a pas de problème de liberté religieuse en Europe pour les musulmans. En effet, nous avons recensé toutes les salles de prières et mosquées. Sur une population de 18 millions de musulmans pour toute l’Europe, le nombre de lieux de prière est satisfaisant, avec une salle pour 2 000 musulmans. Mais qualitativement, de nombreuses salles de prière restent non satisfaisantes.
L’affaire suisse révèle qu’il y a encore beaucoup d’obstacles pour ces lieux de culte. Cette hostilité est-elle générale à l’Europe ?
Les constructions de mosquées continuent de susciter beaucoup de conflits. Il est à noter qu’aucun autre lieu de culte, temple sikh, lieux de culte pentecôtiste, ne provoque ces oppositions. Sur les trente dernières années, seul l’islam rencontre ce problème. Nous avons examiné les arguments opposés aux constructions, il ne s’agit que rarement de points précis tenant aux modalités du lieu, au voisinage (problèmes de parkings, d’affluence), mais plutôt des arguments généraux, c’est-à-dire idéologiques.
Y a-t-il des différences entre pays ?
Non, cela dépend des régions. En France, par exemple, toutes les situations coexistent : parfois, le projet de mosquée bénéficie d’un degré d’implication des pouvoirs publics (nationaux ou locaux) qui n’est pas imaginable dans les autres pays, pourtant moins à cheval sur la laïcité. Mais on peut rencontrer aussi des situations conflictuelles dures.
De même, aux Pays Bas, il est difficile de voir aboutir un projet de mosquée à Utrecht, mais non à Rotterdam. Cependant, d’une manière plus générale, les conflits sont moins importants dans les pays où les musulmans sont représentés dans des institutions, comme la Grande-Bretagne et la France.
Comment naissent les conflits autour de mosquées ?
Au plan local, pour un projet urbanistique, le conflit permet d’exprimer des intérêts divergents. Mais si l’on examine les situations de plus près, on s’aperçoit que ces conflits dérivent lorsque ce que j’appelle des « entrepreneurs politiques de l’islamophobie » s’en mêlent, car ils n’ont aucun intérêt à résoudre le conflit, qui connaît alors une évolution pathologique. D’autant plus qu’ils sont rapidement court-circuités par les médias, qui s’en emparent – l’islam se vend bien ! – et le hissent au niveau national.
Quel est le mauvais élève ?
L’Italie, le pays où l’on trouve le moins de mosquées. Sans doute parce que, sur la péninsule, ces « entrepreneurs politiques de l’islamophobie » contrôlent le ministère de l’intérieur : la Ligue du Nord a toujours considéré l’islam comme dangereux, et dans les régions où elle domine, Vénétie, Lombardie, les constructions de mosquées sont quasi impossibles.
Qui finance les mosquées européennes ?
Pour la majeure partie, les immigrés eux-mêmes par leurs contributions. Les grands centres islamiques sont financés par l’Arabie saoudite, par l’intermédiaire de la Ligue islamique. Cela soulève la question de la réciprocité, car il est impossible de construire des églises dans ce pays.
Recueilli par Isabelle de GAULMYN
Allievi S. (2009), « En Europe, seules les mosquées suscitent des conflits », in “La Croix”, 29 novembre 2009, intervista di Isabelle de Gaulmyn

Obama and Islam – Arabic

وباما والإسلام

كانت المقابلة التي اجراها الرئيس أوباما على قناة العربية بمثابة استشراف لرياح جديد: انها علامة التغيير والتحول السياسي، وهو ما لم نكن مستعدين لتوقعه من قبل الولايات المتحدة. التحول الثقافي لا يمكن ان يكون اكثر وضوحاً. انه يحتمل وضوحاً رمزياً للقضايا: أوباما اختار شبكة عربية لإجراء اول مقابلة دولية له، مدركاً ان التأثير سوف يكون عالمياً. لقد كان شيئاً جديداً حتى في جانبه اللغوي: “نحن بصدد استخدام لغة الاحتراملهو امر لم يعتد العرب والمسلمون على سماعه من جانب الولايات المتحدة.

ستيفانو ألييفي هو استاذ في علم الاجتماع في جامعة بادوفا. وقد ألّف كتباً عديدة عن الاسلام، كان آخرها فخ الاوهام: الاسلام والغرب” (منتدى إيديتسزونيه Edizioni) في عام 2007. قد لا تكون عبارة كندي Ich bin ein Berliner، لكنها يمكن ان يكون لها العواقب السياسية نفسها. وقد لا نجدها في أوروبا، لكن للعالم العربي والإسلامي المتعب والممتعض، المنزعج من تاريخ طويل من الإذلال والهزائم التي عززتها الآن الحرب في غزة، كانت المقابلة التي اجراها الرئيس أوباما على العربية بمثابة استشراف لرياح جديد: انها علامة التغيير والتحول السياسي، وهو ما لم نكن مستعدين لنتوقعه من قبل الولايات المتحدة. ان تحدي اوباما هو اكبر مما كان عليه تحدي كندي: فكندي كان يخاطب اوروبا، لا سيما المانيا المنهزمة والمتضررة، بانتظار كلمة المسيح وكذلك بالنسبة للمواد الاساسية للمساعدة والتي كان الاميركيون يقدمونها بالفعل. اما اوباما، وبدلا من ذلك، يتحدث الى عالم عربي اقل واقل تأييداً للولايات المتحدة الاميركية، واكثر انتقاداً، حيث برز الاستياء القديم العارم وانفجر اثناء عهد بوش، وهو عمل على تغذية مشاعر هذا الاستياء ولم يفهم حقيقةً الاسلام. كلام اوباما ينبئ بتحول طفيف: سنرى الى اين سوف تؤدي هذه الكلمات. عندما ذكر الرئيس ان الشعب سوف يحاكمني لا على كلماتي بل افعالي وافعال ادارتي، كان يبلغ بوضوح ان هناك بالفعل خطة عمل في البيت الابيض.
وربما ستعرض الخطة في الخطاب الذي طال انتظاره والذي سوف يكون من عاصمة اسلامية، خلال أول مئة يوم من ولايته. نحن اذاً ندرك بالفعل السياسة الجديدة: نهاية الأحادية التي تجاوزت الحدود (كما، وهو ما يهم العالم الاسلامي، السياسة المؤيدة بشكل صارخ لاسرائيل)، واغلاق غوانتانامو، وسحب قوات الجيش من العراق، والالتزام الجاد من أجل حلّ الصراع الفلسطيني الإسرائيلي، وحتى اسلوب مختلف تجاه ايران، وفقا للخطة التي تتطلع إلى التعامل مع الأعداء، بدلا من شيطنتهم. وقد أكد أوباما أن إسرائيل ستبقى حليفا قويا للولاي
المتحدة، اذ ان العكس قد يثير الدهشة
. لكن أوباما تحدث عن حليف قويوليس حليف وثيق“. انه لم يتحدث عن الحصن الغربي في الشرق الأوسط، كما نجد في اللغة المستخدمة في خطابات السنوات الماضية. وفي غضون ذلك، وزير الدفاع الاسرائيلي باراك علق زيارته الى الولايات المتحدة. هذا يمكن اعتباره نقطة فاصلة لتحضير الفكر حول التغيير في موقف الادارة الاميركية. بالتأكيد ان هذا هو الاصح وليس مقتل جندي إسرائيلي جراء هجوم من حماس كما أعطي التبرير.
التحول الثقافي لا يمكن أن يكون أكثر وضوحاً. انه يحتمل وضوحاً رمزياً للقضايا: أوباما اختار شبكة عربية لإجراء اول مقابلة دولية له، مدركاً ان التأثير سوف يكون عالمياً. لقد كان شيئاً جديداً حتى في جانبه اللغوي: “نحن بصدد استخدام لغة الاحتراملهو امر لم يعتد العرب والمسلمون على سماعه من جانب الولايات المتحدة. اما فيما يتعلق بعلاقته مع العرب والمسلمين، أوباما حدد نفسه ضمن: “الاستماع والاحترام“. ولقد اصر على ذلك: “نحن على استعداد لبدء شراكة جديدة، تقوم على الاحترام المتبادل والمصالح“. “ابدأ بالاستماع بدلا من أن تبدأ بالاملاءهي واحدة من أكثر الجمل قوةً والتزاماً في المقابلة، وتكاد تكون لا تصدق بالنسبة للعرب. هنا، لا بد ان يكون لخلفية أوباما دوراً في ذلك. لقد ذكرها في المقابلة واستخدمها كوسيلة لاستقطاب التعاطف. ان جوهر الرسالة موجه الى جمهور ناخبيه ويقوم على أساس التزام مزدوج: ايصال رسالة الى المسلمين ان الاميركيين ليسوا باعداء لكم. احياناً نحن نرتكب اخطاء. ولم نكن كاملين، والى الاميركيين انالعالم الاسلامي مليء باناسٍ استثنائيين يريدون فقط أن يعيشوا حياتهم ويشهدوا أطفالهم يعيشون حياة أفضل، وهو حتماً ما يرودونه هم ايضاً. نحن ابعد ما نكون بنحو الف سنة عن خطاب محور الشر“.
كيف كان رد فعل العرب؟ البعض بكى (وكأن الحجاب انهار اخيراً، اكثر منه بسبب السعادة)، وأعرب البعض عن الحماسة، والبعض الاخر ابدى مفاجأة خجولة. والبعض معظمهم ينتظر بحذر. ولكن هناك أيضا بعض الممتعضين او الذين يتهمون الرئيس بانه منافق. والجدير بالذكر انه ليست عرضياً ان يكون حتى على شبكة تلفزيون من الاعلى كفاءة والاعتدال التي استضافت المقابلة، ان حوالي 15% من ردود الفعل كانت سلبية. وهناك حتى بعض ردود الفعل التي رددت اصداء اللغة العنصرية التي استخدمها الرجل
الثاني في القاعدة الظواهري، والذي كان وبعيد انتخاب أوباما نعته بـ
عبد البيت“. كما وان هناك البعض الذي انتقد أوباما لكونه غير مسلم كأبيه (حتى ولو ان ذلك لم يكن ليساعد المسلمين بشيء لانه لو كان أوباما مسلماً لما وصل الى سدّة الرئاسة في الولايات المتحدة). حتى ان حماس اختارت نبرة عفا عليها الزمن للتعليق على مقابلة أوباما: “بالنسبة الى حماس، لا فرق بين بوش وأوباماكما اعلن الناطق باسم الحركة أسامة حمدان من بيروت لقناة الجزيرة. “وهذا من شأنه أن يؤدي إلى جعله يرتكب نفس أخطاء بوش، والتي وضعت المنطقة في اتون النار بدلا من تثبيت استقرارها“. أوباما يتجه إلى أربع سنوات اخرى من الفشل في الشرق الأوسط“.
على الرغم من ذلك، في المجتمع المدني في العديد من البلدان الإسلامية، وبخاصة العربية منها، اثارت المقابلة الاهتمام والتعاطف، والتي اعادت التأكيد بالفعل على خطاب اوباما التاريخي يوم انتخابه، والذي بدى فيه وكأنه ينظر نظرة ازدراء وريبة تجاه الزعماء المستبدين، او تجاه الحلفاء الغربيين ذوي الديمقراطية المزيفة، وهم يميلون الى المحافطة على السلطة حتى انتهاءهم تقريبا وحيث خلافتهم تؤدي الى ازمة دراماتيكية ومثيرة: “نحن نبحث عن سبل جديدة لمنطقة الشرق الاوسط، ترتكز على اساس الاحترام المتبادل والمصالح. لهؤلاء القادة الذين اشعلوا الصراع ونسبوا الاضرار في
مجتمعاتهم الى الدول الغربية
: سيتم الحكم عليكم على ما بنيتم، وليس على ما دمرتم. وللذين يصلون الى السلطة بطريق الفساد والخيانة وارهاب المعارضين، اريد ان انبهكم انكم على الجانب الخطأ من التاريخ، لكن سوف تجدون يداً ممتدة من جهتنا، فيما لو كنتم على استعداد لمدّ يدكم اولاً“. لكن ماذا تقول أوروبا؟ الجرح الفلسطيني ما زال ينزف في الفرع الاوروبي للأمة الإسلامية. الكلمات لن تكون كافية. ولكن رياح الأمل تهب. حتى لو كان المسلمون، وبخاصة العرب منهم، اعتادوا على رؤية الفشل في التغيير الجذري في النوايا المعلنة من قبل قادتهم الجدد (كما رأينا بالفعل في الجزائر والمغرب والاردن وسوريا)، والتي عادة ما لا تحترم. ان الامل هو فضيلة لدى المسلمين، وكما نعلم، هي الشيء الاخير الذي يمكن التخلي عنه. واذا ما نظرنا اليه من الوجهة النظر الايطاليا، فهو يتخذ ظلالا اخرى: ان الامل يبقى، في ايامنا هذه، وهو البعيد جدّ البعد ان يتحول الى حقيقة، يبقى في ان شيئاً ما سيتغير ايضا في الوطن. الامل ان العداء الاعمى للمسلمين في عهد بوش، والذي ترجم في الايطالية على انه ثقافة المغالطة Fallacism المتفشية حتى في احلك اوقات المواجهة من جانب المسؤولين السياسيين، سوف تؤول الى تعابير اكثر ملموسة ومدنية. لكن هذا يبدو انه ما زال بعيد المنال، أوباما لا ينتمي الى ايطاليا حتى الان، وان رياح التغيير التي يحمل تبدو غير مدركة بعد.
ان تأثيره الثقافي، في هذا الجزء من العالم، لم تتضح رؤيته، حتى الان. ترجمة كلوديا دوراستانتي
فبراير 2009

Obama and Islam

Stefano Allievi

For the tired and disenchanted Arab and Muslim world, exasperated by a long history of humiliations and defeats now strengthened by the war in Gaza, the interview President Obama released to al-Arabiya is more than a breath of fresh air: it’s a sign of change and political turnover, something we weren’t ready to expect from the United States. The cultural shift couldn’t be more sharper. It has evident symbolical issues: Obama chose an Arab network for his first international interview, knowing that its impact would have been global. It was something new even on the linguistic side: “We are going to use the language of respect” is something that Arab and Muslims are not used to hear from the United States.

Stefano Allievi is Professor of Sociology at the University of Padua. He has written several books on Islam; last one “Le trappole dell’immaginario: Islam e Occidente” (Forum Edizioni) in 2007.

It might not have been Kennedy’s Ich bin ein Berliner, but it could have the same political consequences. And we may not see it from Europe, but for the tired and disenchanted Arab and Muslim world, exasperated by a long history of humiliations and defeats now strengthened by the war in Gaza, the interview President Obama released to al-Arabiya is more than a breath of fresh air: it’s a sign of change and political turnover, something we weren’t ready to expect from the United States. Obama’s challenge was tougher than Kennedy’s: Kennedy was addressing Europe, particularly an affected and defeated Germany, waiting for the speech of the Messiah as well as for the fundamental material aid the Americans were already providing to. Obama, instead, is speaking to an Arab world less and less pro-American and more and more criticizing, in which older resentments outcropped and exploded during Bush’s era, who fed those resentments and never really understood Islam. Obama’s words foresee a mild turnover: we’ll see where these words will lead to. When the President stated that “people are going to judge me not by my words but by my actions and my administration’s actions”, he informed clearly that there’s already a plan of action in the White House.
Probably the plan will be presented in the longed speech going to come from a Muslim capital, within the first hundred of days of the mandate. We are already aware of the new policy: end of overweening unilateralism (and, for what concerns the Muslim world, a blatantly pro-Israelis policy), Guantanamo’s closure, troops withdrawal from Iraq, serious commitment for the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; even a different attitude towards Iran, according a scheme that looks forward to deal with the enemies, instead of demonizing them. Obama has confirmed that Israel will remain a strong ally of the Us, since the contrary would have been astonishing. But Obama spoke about ‘strong ally’ and not ‘close’ ally. He didn’t speak about the Western bulwark in the Middle East, as in the rhetoric of the past years. Meanwhile, Israelis Minister of Defense Barak suspended his visit in the United States. This could be seen as a break to get ready and to reflect upon the change in the US administration attitude. It has surely more to do with this than with the death of an Israelis soldier in a Hamas ‘attack given as justification.
The cultural shift couldn’t be more sharper. It has evident symbolical issues: Obama chose an Arab network for his first international interview, knowing that its impact would have been global. It was something new even on the linguistic side: “We are going to use the language of respect” is something that Arab and Muslims are not used to hear from the United States. For what concerns his relationship with the Arabs and Muslims, Obama defined himself as: “listening, respectful”. He insisted on this: “We are ready to begin a new partnership, based on mutual respect and interests”. “Start by listening instead of start by dictate” is one of the most committed and powerful sentences of the interview, and it is almost unbelievable for the Arabs. Here Obama’s personal background has a part in the game. He mentions it in the conversation and uses it as medium to build empathy. The core of the message is addressed to his electorate and is grounded on a double commitment: communicate to the Muslims that “the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect” and to the Americans that “the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives”, more and less like they want. We are thousand of years apart-away from the “axis of evil” rhetoric.
How did the Arabs react? Some cried (as for a veil finally falling apart, more than for joy), some expressed enthusiasm, some shy disclosure. Some – the most of them – are waiting with caution. But there is also who is disenchanted or accuses the President to be a double-dealer. It’s not casual that even on the super efficient and moderate television network that hosted the interview, almost the 15% of the reactions were negative. Some reactions even echoing the racist language used by Al Qaeda’s number two in chief, Al Zawahiri, who in a message soon after Obama’s election called him “house slave”. There’s also a quite few of people who criticize Obama for not being Muslim as his father (even if this wouldn’t serve the Muslim cause since Obama, as a Muslim, would have never become President of the United States). Even Hamas chose anachronistic tones to comment Obama’s interview: “For Hamas there’s no difference between Bush and Obama” declared the movement’s spokesperson Osama Hamdan from Beirut to Al Jazeera. “This would lead him to make Bush’s same mistakes, which set the region on fire instead of steadying it”. Obama is destined to “other four years of failures in the Middle East”.
In the civil society of many Muslim countries, especially the Arab ones, though, the interview arouse interest ad sympathy, confirming Obama’s words in his already historical inauguration speech, who sounded as a distrust towards those autocrats leader, or fake democrats Western allies, who tend to stay attached to their power till they’re almost done and whose succession will lead to dramatic crisis and turnover: “We’re looking for new paths for the Middle East, based on mutual respect and interests. To those leaders who set the conflict on fire attributing the damages in their societies to Western countries: You will be judged on what you’ve built, not what you’ve destroyed. To those who arrive to power through corruption and dishonesty and awing dissent, I warn you that you are on the wrong side of History; but you will find an extended hand from us, if you’re ready to unclench your fist”.
And what does Europe say? The Palestinian wound still bleeds in the European branch of the Muslim umma. Words won’t be enough. But hope is in the air. Even if the Muslims, especially the Arabs, are used to see failure in the radical change intentions professed by their new leaders (as already seen in Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, Syria), which are usually never kept. Hope is a Muslim virtue and, as we know, is also the last thing to give up. Seen it from Italy, it gets another shade: the hope, nowadays far to be true, that something will change also at home. The hope that the blind Anti-Muslims of Bush’s era, translated in Italy in the subculture of Fallacism widespread even in the most critics moments of the confrontation by the higher politicians in charge, will achieve words that are more sensed and civil. This seems to be still far away; Obama doesn’t belong in Italy yet, the wind of change he carries with him it’s not perceivable.
His cultural influence, in this part of the world, is just not still visible.
Translated by Claudia Durastanti

Obama and Islam, in ResetDoc, Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Conflicts over Mosques in Europe. Policy issues and trends


Conflicts over Mosques in Europe. Policy issues and trends

Il pdf di questo libro è disponibile qui.


The ‘Religion and Democracy

in Europe’ initiative

The Network of European Foundations (NEF) is an operational platform primarily

committed to strengthening the potential for cooperation in the form of joint ventures

between foundations at the European level. The NEF offers its members the

opportunity to identify common goals and, as an open structure, to join forces with

other foundations in Europe which may share similar concerns and objectives. It

is also open to collaboration with the public and private sectors in developing its

initiatives. Its areas of intervention to promote systemic social change include

migration, European citizenship, support for the European integration process,

youth empowerment and global European projects. The NEF is based in Brussels.

In January 2007 the NEF launched a special initiative on ‘Religion and

Democracy in Europe’. This was conducted with the participation of Hywel Ceri

Jones, NEF European policy adviser, and was based on a partnership between

several foundations, including: Van Leer Group Foundation (chair); Arcadia Trust;

Barrow Cadbury Trust; Bernheim Foundation; Compagnia di San Paolo; Ford

Foundation; Freudenberg Stiftung; King Baudouin Foundation; Riksbankens

Jubileumsfond; Stefan Batory Foundation; and Volkswagen Stiftung.

The ‘Religion and Democracy in Europe’ initiative focuses on the relation

between religion and democracy in European societies, covering both religion

and the public domain and religion and the state. The aim is to contribute to a

better informed debate on the topic through seminars and research on related


The first year of activities, which included a roundtable with specialized

journalists and a series of youth debates, culminated in the publication through

6 Conflicts over mosques in europe

Alliance Publishing Trust of a compendium in which all the material presented in

an international symposium held in Jerusalem was collected. This publication is

available on NEF’s website at

The second phase of the ‘Religion and Democracy in Europe’ initiative

(2008–9) aims to develop a series of reports addressing specific aspects of the

interaction both between the state and religion and between religion and society.

The reports are a mapping exercise of existing practices and different approaches

to specific issues, set in the broader context of the religion and democracy debate.

They target practitioners, policy makers and civil society actors. The reports have

been developed by acknowledged experts and address the following questions:

Religion and Healthcare –– in the European Union Dimitrina Petrova and

Jarlath Clifford

–– Teaching about Religions in European School Systems Luce Pepin

–– Conflicts over Mosques in Europe Stefano Allievi

–– Religion and Group focused Enmity Andreas Zick and Beate Kupper

Through this and other activities, the ‘Religion and Democracy in Europe’ initiative

aims to open up and contribute to the public debate on issues of strategic

importance for the future of European societies.

For more information

For more on NEF and its activities, please contact

For more on the ‘Religion and Democracy in Europe’ initiative, please contact (chairman) or cristina.pineda@nefic.

org (coordinator).

About the authors

Stefano Allievi is Professor of Sociology at the University of Padua. His special

interests include migration issues, sociology of religion and cultural change; he

has particularly focused his studies on the presence of Islam in Europe, a subject

on which he has published extensively.

The text is also based on researches conducted by Jordi Moreras (Spain),

Maria Bombardieri (Italy), Athena Skoulariki (Greece), Ernst Furlinger (Austria),

Azra Akšamija (Bosnia Herzegovina), Felice Dassetto and Olivier Ralet

(Belgium), and Goran Larsson (Sweden); and on national overviews contributed

by Sophie Gilliat Ray and Jonathan Birt (Great Britain), Omero Marongiu Perria

(France), Michael Kreutz and Aladdin Sarhan (Germany), Nico Landman

(Netherlands), and Goran Larsson (Finland, Norway, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia

and Lithuania).




The research background: exceptionalism and Islam

As the reader will immediately see, the present study is the only one in the series

not to have a general point of reference. Instead of addressing a broad issue such

as places of worship, it focuses right from the outset on a single issue: the question

of mosques, which is identified as a separate issue with its own specific


This approach faithfully reflects the current state of affairs, as we will

demonstrate in the pages below. Although forms of discrimination on the basis of

religion are not completely absent – in particular, cases of discrimination towards

certain minority religions or religious beliefs, some of which have even come

before the European courts – in no country and in no other case has the opening

of places of worship taken on such a high profile in the public imagination as

the question of mosques and Islamic places of worship. With the passage of time,

the question of mosques has led to more and more frequent disputes, debates,

conflicts and posturing, even in countries where such conflicts were previously

unknown and mosques were already present. This simple fact already puts us on a

road that we might define as ‘exceptionalism’ with reference to Islam: a tendency

to see Islam and Muslims as an exceptional case rather than a standard one; a

case that does not sit comfortably with others relating to religious pluralism, and

which therefore requires special bodies, actions and specifically targeted reactions,

unlike those used for other groups and religious minorities, and (as in the

present study) specific research.

8 Conflicts over mosques in europe

An example of this exceptionalism is seen in the forms of representation

of Islam in various European countries, which vary from case to case but differ, in

particular, with respect to the recognized practices of relations between states

and religious denominations in general. The most symbolic case is the creation

in various countries, such as France, Spain, Belgium and Italy, of collective bodies

of Islamic representation, with forms that often contradict the principles of

non interference in the internal affairs of religious communities proclaimed and

enshrined for other denominations and religious minorities. Forms of exceptionalism

from a legal, political and social perspective are, however, present in many

other fields, following a pervasive trend which affects countries with the widest

range of state structures and which appears to be in a phase of further growth.

This situation, together with the increasingly evident emergence into the

public arena of the dynamics of a conflict involving Islam (a kind of conflict in which

the construction of mosques is the most frequent and widespread cause of disagreement),

led to a desire to analyse recent cases of conflict, including clashes

in countries that are regarded as peripheral within the European Union (EU) or

that lie beyond its borders. For this reason, we have chosen, contrary to the usual

practice, to pay closest attention to the least studied and analysed countries,

for which scientific literature is least abundant. Setting off on this supposition,

we believe that meaningful data for the interpretation of broader dynamics may

emerge from an extensive analysis of the frequency and pervasiveness of these

conflicts, which are also affecting countries with a long history of immigration

and are more generally affecting the relationship between Islam and Europe.

For this reason we conducted a set of empirical investigations across

seven European countries that are among the least studied and least known

in this respect. We selected three Mediterranean countries which in certain

respects vary greatly from one another: two countries in similar situations, where

there is new immigration from Muslim countries and the memory of ancient

historical domination (Spain and Italy); and one in which there is new immigration

from Muslim countries along with a significant historical Islamic presence

(the memory of Turkish Ottoman domination) that poses a number of problems

(Greece). Also chosen were two countries which have a very significant historical

Islamic presence but which also face a number of new problems (Austria

and Bosnia Herzegovina); the Nordic country with the largest Islamic presence

(Sweden); and a central European country which has a long history of immigration

and a particular institutional nature (Belgium). The last of these is also notable

for its markedly local management of conflicts, which from a methodological

perspective makes it an interesting control group.


For countries that are better known and for which the literature is much

more abundant and readily available in English or in languages that are widely

known and spoken in the EU (Great Britain, France, Germany, Netherlands), we

have consulted available literature and produced an overview (including some

particularly important recent empirical cases). The same was done for very

little known smaller countries, such as the Nordic and Baltic States.1

Keywords: conflict, mosques, Islam, Europe

Key elements and keywords of the research are: mosques, conflict, Islam, Europe.

‘Mosques’ and ‘conflict’ represent or describe the actual situation. This

tallies with the observation that these two words, which we will define in greater

detail below, tend to ‘go together’ – at least at this time in history, and in many

countries – with relative ease, producing specific dynamics. On the other hand,

Islam and Europe (or Islam and individual nations, or Islam and cultural interpretations

of their respective national self definitions, variously defined as Britishness,

Italianita, identite republicaine, etc, depending on the country) are the main

interpretative categories that arise from the collision of the first pairing.

It is interesting to note that the first pairing produces and expresses the

second one, which, however, rests on a different interpretative plane and at a

different level. The first pairing is local, the second global; the first is concrete

and has a clear empirical basis, the second is abstract and refers to cultural

value based registers; the first has a spatio temporal localization that is missing

in the second, or that expresses it in a completely different manner; and so forth.

Thus these words, paired together, end up having a contrasting value, which is

in itself a cultural product. ‘Mosques’ and ‘conflict’ are already two words that

directly express dissonance, the idea of a problem. The same is true if we take the

words ‘Islam’ and ‘Europe’. However, this is not necessarily the case if one looks

at facts rather than cultural interpretations. In fact, Islam and Europe have historically

lived in different degrees of approximation, and this should be outlined,

albeit briefly.

1 The following people have worked on the research, coordinated by Stefano Allievi: empirical

researches – Jordi Moreras (Spain), Maria Bombardieri (Italy), Athena Skoulariki (Greece), Ernst

Furlinger (Austria), Azra Akšamija (Bosnia Herzegovina), Felice Dassetto and Olivier Ralet

(Belgium), Goran Larsson (Sweden); national overviews – Sophie Gilliat Ray and Jonathan Birt

(Great Britain), Omero Marongiu Perria (France), Michael Kreutz and Aladdin Sarhan (Germany),

Nico Landman (Netherlands). Goran Larsson also provided a summary of the Baltic and Nordic

countries (Finland, Norway and Denmark; Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania). The authors provided

papers on the respective national cases. Where no other sources are mentioned, the data on specific

cases quoted in the report may be presumed to come from the above mentioned papers. Mistakes of

fact and interpretation rest on the shoulders of the author of the report, who relied on his personal

skills and experience in the field in his effort of reinterpretation.

10 Conflicts over mosques in europe

Islam and Europe: stages of approximation

We cannot here go into the details of historical processes that are long, complex

and far from linear. We can, however, attempt to summarize them, albeit in a schematic

manner that does not seek to reconstruct historical detail but to highlight

current trends (Allievi 2005a; Allievi 2005b).

Phase 1: Islam and Europe A long first stage, lasting for at least the first

ten centuries of the history of Islam, was one of major conflicts (analysed as

such, however, only at a later date), symbolized by the Crusades, which saw Islam

and (Christian) Europe facing one another, conceived and perceived as mutually

impenetrable and self referencing. All this was in spite of reality and history,

which show how permeability and exchange (of philosophical ideas, scientific

concepts, and artistic forms, as well as economic and trading links) were more

the norm than the exception.

Phase 2: Europe in Islam In the second phase, we see European dominance

of Islamic lands (the most powerful symbolic moment of this was the Napoleonic

expedition to Egypt in 1798). First, in the age of empires and the colonial

period, Europe dominated Muslim countries directly. Later, during the ongoing

stage of neo  or post colonial influence ‘at a distance’ – through economic

globalization, the pervasiveness of the mass media and western consumption

patterns – Europe has gradually brought the Muslim world within transnational

economic trends and political institutions.

Phase 3: Islam in Europe In a third, more recent phase, Islam began to

spread in Europe through migration. This began in France, for example, between

the two world wars, and in most European countries during the period of postwar

reconstruction and economic boom – in the 1950s and 1960s in the centre and

north, and later still, from the late 1970s onwards, in southern Europe. It is still a

phase characterized mainly by first generation immigrants coming from former

colonies (from Algeria to France, for instance, and from the Indian subcontinent

to Great Britain), but there are also new forms of immigration (such as Turks

coming to Germany), which gradually expand as more and more countries export

labour in response to European demand.

Phase 4: the Islam of Europe In a fourth phase we observe the emergence

and consolidation of an Islam of Europe, through a gradual process of insertion,

manifested in the processes of integration – initially in the workplace, then in a

social and sometimes political context – and of generational transition. Together,

these contribute to the formation of a middle class and an intelligentsia of Islamic

origin: one that still has relations with the countries of origin, but which does not

come from outside, and is born and socialized in Europe – self formed and forced

or encouraged to build its own identity and its own space.


Phase 5: European Islam The result of this process should be the formation

of a genuine European Islam, with its own pronounced identity different from

that of Arabic Islam or that of other countries and cultural areas of origin. This

Islam is (and even more in the future will be seen to be) a native European movement,

largely the result of a gradual and substantial process of ‘citizenization’

of Muslims residing in Europe, who look forward to the prospect of full rights on

an equal footing with other Europeans, with whom they share a common destiny.

Of this phase, for now just given in outline, one cannot say much, except that its

outcome will depend on the internal evolution of Muslim communities and their

populations; on the dynamics of global Islam; and, perhaps most importantly, on

the reactions and policies adopted towards them by the governments of individual

European countries, which will in turn be influenced by their political parties

and public opinion. In a word, the outcome will depend largely on non Muslims,

on the manner in which they approach the problem, on discussions of the issue,

and on the fears and visions of the wider world.

Today, most European countries find themselves somewhere between the

third and fourth phases, although there are some hints of the beginning of the fifth

phase, which will become more visible in the years and decades to come. It should

be borne in mind that the cycle constantly starts over again with the arrival of new

immigrants, and that the tendencies outlined are precisely that: general trends

that are empirically verifiable, but which do not involve entire Muslim populations,

who will show resistance, counter tendencies and differing positions on these

processes. Such resistance can also be found among second generation citizens.

Like all social phenomena, these cannot be generalized, and show elements

of complexity, contradiction and ambiguity.

The important point to appreciate is that we have in fact emerged from a

contraposition that we can now recognize as a false opposition: one that seeks

to place Islam and Europe as two horns of an insoluble dilemma. Today, Islam is in

Europe, and it is here to stay, albeit progressively and in different forms. And yet,

as the conflicts surrounding mosques in Europe show, interpretations increasingly

tend to go in the opposite direction: a sign that the trend we have outlined is

not really perceived and accepted as such. Interpretations of conflict are tending

increasingly to appear even in countries where the process of inclusion, of mixite,

of progressive ‘citizenization’ have gone furthest.

Cultural conflicts and public debates on Islam in Europe

The presence of Islam in Europe’s ‘public space’ could not go unnoticed either

socially or culturally. It is, or is perceived to be, too visible or too different not to

12 Conflicts over mosques in europe

provoke debates or even tensions, for historical, cultural, religious, political and

social reasons.

Confrontation seems to occur ‘across the board’. Islam is itself questioned,

often through essentialist and simplistic interpretations and controversies

regarding dogmatic aspects and customs. Some aspects of Islam are also

called into question for the way they manifest themselves, particularly in Muslim

countries: of these aspects, the most discussed are those related to the condition

of women and to gender equality, and to the relationship between religion and

violence, fundamentalism and, more generally, politics. Finally, confrontation

leads to questions and debate about the host society itself: on its degree of ‘openness’,

on its borders, on the possibilities of and limits to integration, on how best

to achieve this (in essence, this is the debate on multiculturalism), and on the

definition of any possible ‘tolerance thresholds’, at an ethnic or religious level.

All this may happen without there necessarily being any debate or direct

dialogue or confrontation with Muslims, or between society and the Muslims who

live in it. Often these are debates within societies about Muslims and Islam.

To give some examples, the presence of Islam in Europe raises various

kinds of tensions, controversies, debates and conflicts:

Conflicts about principles and ideas: from the Rushdie –– affair in Britain

(and elsewhere) to the cartoons affair in Denmark (and elsewhere). All

these are perfect examples of global/local – or ‘glocal’ – issues, showing

how easily questions concerning Islam in Europe can become influential

and produce a repositioning of public and social actors, both in Europe

and in Muslim countries.

–– Conflicts brought about by dramatic events happening in Europe

concerning Islam and caused by Islamic actors: terrorism (9/11 and its

consequences in European countries – where some of the terrorists,

such as Mohamed Atta, came from; the terrorist attacks in London and

Madrid) and individual demonstrative acts, such as the assassination of

Theo van Gogh.

–– Controversies frequently raised and discussed in public debate relating

to gender issues: the hijab is symbolic of this, but more generally, there

are questions on the role of women in Islam, how this is perceived

in the West and its effects on Muslim families, conflicts between

generations, etc.

There are controversies, however, in which not only different opinions regarding

relations with Islam are involved but also the Muslim social actors themselves.

The case of mosques is the most significant in this sense, even if it is not the only


one, because it relates to a conflict that is not only debated within society, but is

about society itself. This point seems particularly significant, in that it implies the

perception of control over the territory and its symbolic imprinting. After all, control

of and over the territory is not only a cultural and symbolic fact, it is also (and

remains, in spite of everything) a very concrete and material sign of dominion and


These disputes are not limited to the establishment of places of worship;

they also include the question of their visibility in European cities, which has an

evident symbolic value. This issue encompasses related questions regarding the

broadcasting of the adhan, the call to prayer, from mosques to the areas surrounding

them, as well as the issue of Muslim cemeteries and the right to obtain religiously

exclusive areas within existing cemeteries. These questions are important

for various reasons. They not only show how the presence of Islam in Europe

is debated and confronted; they are also crucial in understanding the broader

issues of Europe as a whole: its problems, its values and its identity.

The mosque issue, in itself, may not even exist. On the one hand, there is

nothing more obvious and natural than that foreign communities should wish and

need to have their own meeting places according to their religious affiliations, and

that they should enjoy the same fundamental rights that European constitutions

grant to other minorities. On the other hand, these conflicts reflect a malaise and/

or a deeper rejection, the reasons for which must be taken into account. Very few

of those opposing the presence of mosques or prayer halls would say that they

want to prevent anyone from praying. The reason given is always other than this; it

goes deeper and is linked to the symbolic appropriation of territory, which has to

do with history and its reconstruction, but it is also linked to deep socio cultural

dynamics, and to Islam itself and its presence in Europe. These conflicts cannot

be interpreted only from the perspective of political fearmongers. The building of

a mosque or the adaptation of a prayer hall is hardly ever merely an architectural

and urban planning issue; it generates in depth social and cultural discussions

and reactions. These conflicts also appear to be semantically over determined in

cultural terms.

The above set of reasons and empirical evidence help to explain why we

have conducted this research.

Guidelines and methodology of the research

In most European countries a clear national framework or a well defined policy

regarding the construction of mosques does not exist. In different countries

almost every possible approach to the subject has been tried, from opposition

14 Conflicts over mosques in europe

and refusal to political and even economic support. However, the way of dealing

with mosque construction has also changed over time for political reasons and

as a result of socio cultural changes. There may be differences in the policies

adopted in different regions and there may be striking differences in the policies

operating in different cities of the same country. There may also be significant

similarities in the policies adopted in the cities of countries with completely different

legislative frameworks and different systems of relations between the

state and religious communities. In order to understand how the various factors

interact, local research and investigation are needed, as well as a comparative

analysis and multifactorial explanations. The standard approach is to analyse

similar cases in different contexts, and different cases that imply different solutions

in similar contexts, in order to bypass the local influence of specific variables

(such as ruling political parties, etc), and also to compare and contrast other


The variables that must be taken into account include the form of the

state; the judicial systems governing church–state relations; the status of religious

minorities; differences in the laws covering citizenship; the percentages

of migrant and foreign populations; and the length of the period of immigration

(when it started, how it began and how it has changed over the years and generations).

It is important, in this sense, to have a common comparative framework,

but, as we shall see, these variables are far from providing a definitive explanation.

Conflicts and disputes regarding the question of mosques in Europe are

present in countries with formal church–state relations (such as concordats or

other agreements) as well as those operating other systems; and they occur both

in countries with a long history of immigration (such as those of central and northern

Europe) and in countries where immigration is more recent, such as those in

the Mediterranean region. It is therefore important to compare countries that have

similar systems and situations in terms of the presence of migrants and Muslim

populations, but which operate different policies as a result of different political

situations (eg Italy and Spain). At the same time, great care should be taken over

less studied countries, for which literature is scarce or rarely translated, but in

which changes in policies towards Islam and new trends are emerging.

To allow for a better comparison of the cases studied, an identical analysis

grid was given to all researchers. At the same time, for each country, an analysis

was requested covering a number of specific cases of conflict in greater depth.

The choice of cases analysed, and the criteria according to which this was carried

out, were agreed on a case by case basis with the research coordinator on the

basis of different criteria – in terms of their representativeness compared with

other similar cases but also in terms of their significant peculiarities. A criterion


of proximity over time also prevailed, even if more temporally distant cases were

also analysed in order to see if there had been changes in issues triggering conflicts

and in their management and outcomes. For older cases in particular, and

for the best studied countries in any case, reference was made to the literature,

not particularly abundant, but significant at least in certain contexts.

Empirical studies were carried out in the following places:

Spain: Premia de Mar, Mataro, Bermejales –– (Seville), Lleida

–– Italy: Colle Val d’Elsa, Genoa, Brescia, Padua

–– Greece: the Great Mosque (Athens), minor Athenian mosques, Komotini

and other cases in Thrace

–– Austria: Bad Voslau, Bludenz (Vorarlberg)

–– Bosnia Herzegovina: Ustikolini, the King Fahd mosque and the Ciglane

mosque in Sarajevo

–– Belgium: Bastogne, Neder over Hembeek, Borgerhout (Antwerp)

–– Sweden: Gothenburg (three different mosques)

Although other studies were not planned, for countries in which studies were

mainly carried out through literature, we asked researchers to examine some

important cases in depth. The following instances were examined:

–– France: Roubaix, Bobigny

–– Germany: Cologne, Bochum

–– United Kingdom: Newham (East London), Stoke on Trent

–– Netherlands: Driebergen (the Hacy Bayram and Nasr mosques) and

Rotterdam (the Essalam mosque)

Many other empirical instances of conflict were analysed using available




1 Results of the research

1.1 Defining the mosque in Europe

The first problem that arises is defining what we mean by a mosque. We do not

expect to find an exhaustive and universally shared definition: put simply, a

shared definition does not exist, certainly not in non Islamic countries, the focus

of our research. Here we will use an extensive and commonsense criterion: all

places open to the faithful, in which Muslims gather together to pray on a regular

basis, will be considered to be mosques. We are aware that this definition contains

an inevitable margin of error, but at the same time it is more meaningful and

more comprehensive of the dimensions and dynamics of the phenomenon we are

discussing. It appeals to the principal function – prayer – and its collective and

public aspect.2

Within the category of mosque, a number of differences are discernible.

Employing a scale of decreasing importance, the first element is that of ‘Islamic

centre’. By an Islamic centre we mean a centre of significant size, which has, in

addition to the function of prayer and worship, a number of social and cultural

functions through various forms of gathering (a Koranic school; courses and

meeting opportunities for adults, women and converts; conferences and other

2 This is what usually causes a problem for the opponents of mosques. They never say that they

are against the fact that Muslims pray – ‘they should do it at home’ was heard repeatedly by

representatives of the anti Islamic movement; rather, they are against the fact that they do it together

in places open to the public. As they put it, they are not against Islam, they are against mosques.

18 Conflicts over mosques in europe

educational and cultural activities),3 usually conducted in separate rooms from

the prayer hall itself. Such a centre also carries out the activities of institutional

and symbolic representation of Muslims. Islamic centres are a small but important

part of what we call mosques. Only in major cities might there be more than

one, and often there are none at all. Not infrequently they perform a centralizing

function of representation at a provincial or regional level. Usually, they also

organize special meetings, for example those relating to Islamic holidays.

One category that we often encounter, especially given its significance

in relation to conflicts surrounding places of worship, is that of ad hoc, or purpose built,

mosque, usually with visible signs of a dome and one or more minarets

(the real masgids).4 These may overlap, and are often the same as Islamic centres,

but there are cases of ad hoc mosques that are not organized and structured

Islamic centres, as such centres are not infrequently located in converted buildings

that do not have the visible form of a mosque and where signs of recognition

and external visible clues are limited to a sign or a plaque.

A third category – numerically by far the most significant in all European

countries – is the Islamic musalla, or prayer room. Musallas may be located in

industrial buildings, warehouses, former shops and apartments.5 They may only

serve to host the activity of prayer, but more often other activities are also performed

there (eg Koranic schools and other educational events). Within this category

we also find ‘ethnic’ musallas, which are attended only by members of one

ethnic group, usually on the grounds of language (non Arabophone ethnic groups,

for example). Special mention should be made of the prayer halls or Sufi zawiyas,

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