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Muslims in the West >
Who and where are the Muslims of Europe?

Twenty to twenty-three million Muslims, representing most of the major ethnic groups of the Muslim world, are estimated to be living in Western Europe. Most numerous are Turks, Algerians, Moroccans, and then Pakistanis. Because of this great ethnic diversity, it is difficult to speak of a homogenous Muslim community in any individual country, let alone across Europe. Muslims may be found in significant numbers in most Western European countries, with large populations in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, and smaller communities in such countries as Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Austria.

Although some immigration to Britain and France began before World War II, the major waves of Muslim migration came afterward. In contrast to America, whose Muslim population is heavily indebted to family or educational migration, and the growth of Islam among African Americans, Europe's Muslim presence is due in large part to labor immigration and a colonial connection. When their countries achieved independence, many of those who had cooperated with European colonizers chose to emigrate, and in the 1960s and 1970s, unskilled laborers flooded into a Europe whose growing economies were in need of cheap labor. More than a million Muslims were admitted to France alone. Germany and Britain had similar stories. From the 1970s onward, increasing numbers of Muslim students came to Europe, as they did to America, to study. While many returned home, others, for political or economic reasons, chose to stay.

France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, five million Muslims, primarily from North Africa, and thirty-five thousand converts. Muslims represent almost 10 percent of the population, outnumbering Protestants and Jews and second only to Roman Catholics. There are grand mosques in major cities like Paris and Lyons and more than fifteen hundred mosques and prayer rooms throughout the country. Muslim communities have continued to grow because of their high birthrate, regulations permitting immigration to reunite families, and a continual flow of legal and illegal entrants from North Africa.

Britain's two million Muslims, primarily from the Indian subcontinent, and others from Africa, Malaysia, and the Arab world, are concentrated in the northern industrial cities and in the East End of London. More than six hundred mosques serve as prayer, education, and community centers, many built with funds from the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia.

Muslims who come from British Commonwealth countries enjoy British citizenship and full participation in politics as voters and candidates for elective office. Nine members of the House of Lords have a Muslim heritage, and in 2010 a record number of eight Muslim MPs—including the first women—were elected to the House of Commons. Even more Muslims have been elected to the Dutch parliament's equivalent of the House of Commons. In contrast, France and Spain have no Muslim representatives in the national legislature, and Germany has five.

Muslim integration in European society has been more difficult than in America. While many Muslims emigrated to America with education and skills, they came to Europe primarily as laborers and blue-collar workers. As a result, many in Britain, France, Germany, and Holland with limited education, skills, and social mobility have become trapped in depressed areas with high unemployment and little access to education or job skill development. In contrast to the 70 percent of American Muslims who reported having a job in 2009, the figures for Muslims in Europe showed a radically different picture: 38 percent in the United Kingdom, 45 percent in France, and 53 percent in Germany.

These conditions feed a sense of second-class citizenship, social exclusion, marginalization, and alienation and contribute to problems with drugs and crime. Gallup polling of Muslims living in Europe reveals their problems. Sixty-nine percent of Muslims living in France and 72 percent in the United Kingdom consider themselves “struggling,” while 23 percent of French Muslims and only 7 percent of Muslims in the United Kingdom say they are “thriving.” Thus it is not surprising that European Muslims also struggle even more intensely than American Muslims with their identity. Because of class structure and cultural attitudes, first- and second-generation European Muslims as well as recent immigrants feel that they will never be accepted as fully and equally British, French, or German. Despite being citizens, many believe that they have at best moved from being “guests” to being “foreigners.”

While many insist that Muslims totally assimilate, others argue that Muslims need to develop a distinctive European Muslim identity that blends European principles and values with Muslim faith and values. They argue that Islam is now a European religion; in fact, the second-largest religion in many European countries. No longer predominantly first-generation immigrants, many are second- and third-generation citizens. Despite the acts of and continued threat from a very small but dangerous minority of extremists, the majority of Muslims, like their non-Muslim fellow citizens, are loyal citizens who can partner with the rest of the European population to identify and fight terrorists.

A major study of interfaith relations in Britain, France, and Germany (Gallup Coexist Index 2009: A Global Study of Interfaith Relations) reflects what some would find a surprising level of integration. Gallup found that Muslims are more likely than the general population in Britain, France, and Germany to identify strongly with their faith, and they are also as likely as the general public (if not more likely) to identify strongly with their countries of residence. While majorities of the public in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom either did not think Muslims were loyal to their countries of residence or were unsure, strong majorities of European Muslims thought Muslims were loyal to their countries of residence in Europe. Moreover, when asked how justifiable acts of violence (like those in London and Madrid) were, majorities of Muslims in all three countries (82 percent in France, 91 percent in Germany, and 89 percent in Britain) said that violence was not justifiable at all. Gallup found that people claiming that religion was important were also likely to say that violence could not be justified for a noble cause. Clear common grounds were reflected in all three countries where the public and Muslims thought that skill in the national language, employment, and education would best help immigrants to integrate into their new homes.

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