By way of introduction, I
like to make a few remarks about this subject for it is so vast.
Islam in the West
Islam has four faces. Islam
can be seen as the self-realization of the Arab Nation, as a great
monotheistic religion, as a body politic, and as a civilization.
I will deal with all these ‘faces’, but especially with Islam as a great
monotheistic religion and as a body politic. Moreover, Islam can be divided
into three majority groups: the Sunnis, the Shiites (the latter comprising
the Zaydī, Isma‘īlī and the Imāmiyyah) and the Extremists: the Druzes, the
Nusayrī and others. Since about 85% of all Muslims are Sunnis, most of the
expansion in the West was undertaken by Sunni Muslims.
Role of the Christian Church
In Christianity there are
many churches. I mention the largest denominations: the Roman Catholic
Church, the Orthodox (Eastern) Churches, the Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican
and Presbyterian Churches. With regard to the Roman Catholic Church, I shall
refer to the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue (formerly
called the Secretariat for Non-Christians) and with regard to the other
Churches I shall refer to the sub-Unit of Dialogue with People of Living
Faiths and Ideologies of the World Council of Churches, which represents
very many, if not all, of the churches of the Reformation.
Between 643 and 683, the
Arab Muslims conquered the whole of North Africa. The western part they
called the Maghrib (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia) and the eastern part
Ifrīqiyyah (Libya, Tripolitania, Egypt).
Islam in the West
When we say ‘Islam in the
West’, we can think of Islam in southern Europe (Spain), Islam in western
Europe (England), Islam in eastern Europe (Turkey, the Balkans, Russia) and
Islam in central Europe (France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands). It is
not possible to deal with all these topics. I have decided to take two
topics: Islam in southern Europe and Islam in central Europe, with special
reference to the Netherlands.
a. Islam in Southern Europe
i. The Muslims in Al-Andalus
At the turn of the seventh
century, the Visigoth Kingdom in Europe (the present Spain) was in decay.
Troupes of Berbers, led by Arab commanders, used to cross the strait between
the Maghrib and al-Andalus to raid the country. In 711, Mūsā Ibn Nusayr
decided to try an attack. He did not go himself, but sent one of this
lieutenants, Tāriq Ibn Ziyad. The question of Tāriq’s existence is a matter
of discussion. But even if he did not exist, somebody must have been sent.
Tāriq landed at Gibraltar (the same is derived from Jabl Tāriq (mountain of
Tāriq). The Visigoth King Rodrigo received a crushing defeat at the hands of
the Muslims. Having captured Cordoba with difficulty, Tāriq pushed on to the
capital Toledo, which he easily conquered. Then he proceeded to Saragossa.
In 712, Mūsā entered al-Andalus
with an army and via Merida and Talavera met Tāriq at Saragossa. From there,
both went westwards; Tāriq to Astarga and Mūsā to Gijon. Thus, in lightning
speed, the Moors (Arab-Berber Muslims) conquered practically the whole of
al-Andalus. From the North they crossed the Pyrenees to make raids into
France. In 732, they got nearly as far as the river Loire, but were stopped
and put to flight by Charles Martel at a place in between Poitiers and
Tours. For the Moors, the march was only a raid: for the Christians the
victory a great feat and the beginning of the Reconquista, the recapture of
al-Andalus. The presence of the Muslims in al-Andalus was to last almost
eight centuries, from 712 to 1492.
In 750, the Abbasids
snatched the caliphate from the Umayyids and exterminated the members of the
reigning Umayyid family. One of them, ‘Abdu’l-Rahmān, managed to escape. Via
Ifrīqiyyah and the Maghrib, he arrived in al-Andalus. Immediately, he
claimed the emirate of Cordoba and founded a dynasty. In 929, he had himself
appointed caliph. Although the conquered territory of al-Andalus was
nominally subject to Damascus and later on to Baghdad, it soon arrogated to
itself a great measure of independence. Under ‘Abdu’l-Rahmān III al-Andalus
flourished. At his time, Cordoba was probably the greatest and the richest
city in the western world. Many Christians converted to Islam.
By the middle of the tenth
century, Muslims were in majority in al-Andalus. However, the glory faded.
Because of the machinations of the viziers and the internal divisions caused
by the rivalry of small states (in the 10th century there were 15 of them),
the unity was destroyed. In the twelfth century, the Almoravids and the
Almohads tried to restore unity, but did not succeed. In the beginning of
the 13th century, the greater part of al-Andalus was again in Christian
hands. Only the emirate of Granada remained in the hands of the Nasrids.
After a along siege the emirate fell. On 2 January 1492, the Roman Catholic
rulers, Ferdinand and Isabel, received the keys of the city from Boabdil,
the last Muslim ruler in al-Andalus. The Reconquista was completed. The Jews
were expelled. The Muslims were forced to become Christians (Moriscos).
Between 1609-1614 about 300,000 Moriscos were expelled. Thus, the ‘ethnic
cleansing’ was complete and the Muslims disappeared from Spain.
ii. The Muslims in Sicily
When Ifrīqiyyah was no
longer a direct subject-province of the Caliphate, but had become an
independent emirate, only nominally dependent on the Abbasids of Baghdad,
the Aghlabid emir at Qayrawan decided to send an expedition into Sicily. At
the head of a small fleet, he landed at Mazara in June 827. He easily
defeated the Byzantine army and advanced into the interior of eastern
Sicily. He conquered the principal towns of Palermo (831) and Mesian (842).
Syracuse fell after a long siege in 878 and Taormina was captured in 1901.
Thus by 902 the whole of Sicily was in Moorish hands. From Sicily, the Moors
made raids into Italy. Two Italian provinces, Calabria and Apullia, were
from 840-880 in Moorish hands. From there, the Muslims raided Italy. Rome
was not forgotten. In 846, the Muslims landed at Ostia. They failed to
penetrate into the Vatican, but sacked the churches of St. Peter and St.
Paul. Afraid of the continued threat of the Muslims, Pope John VIII
(872-882) paid tribute for two years.
The recapture of Bari by
the Christians in 871 marked the beginning of the end of the Muslim threat
to Italy and Central Europe. In 880, the Byzantine Emperor Basil I captured
Taranto. A few years later, he expelled the Muslims from Calabria and
brought the Muslim presence in Italy to an end. In Sicily, it lasted longer.
The Shiite Fatimid Dynasty
(909-1171) took over control of Sicily from the Aghlabids in 909. Besides
the old feuds between the northern and southern Arabs, there was also
friction and rivalry between Spanish and African elements among the Muslim
population of Sicily. The third Caliph, Al-Mansūr, appointed Hasan al-Kalbī
as governor of Sicily in 948. Under him and his successors the Island
flourished until it was gradually conquered in 1090. During the Norman
occupation we see the strange phenomenon that Sicily experienced an
efflorescence of Christian-Islamic culture, especially during the reign of
Roger II (1130-1154) and Roger’s grandson, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen
(1215-1250), who together were called ‘the two baptised sultans of Sicily’ (Hitti).
iii. The Islamic Legacy
The Muslims had a great
influence on the culture of al-Andalus (Spain) and Sicily. As far as I know,
the influence was similar, but longer and deeper in al-Andalus than in
Sicily. Therefore, I confine my attention to the former. The following
description I have derived mostly from Bernard Lewis.
Moorish Spain at its peak
presented a proud spectacle in many ways. It contributed to:
moors repaired and extended the Roman irrigation system. They introduced new
crops; aubergine, artichoke, apricots, sugarcane, almonds, henna, madder and
saffran. Probably the greatest gift was the Merino sheep.
Industry: The Moors
developed many industries: textiles, pottery, paper, silk and sugar
refining. They opened mines of gold, silver and other metals. Textiles were
the chief industry.
Trade: The Moors
carried on an extensive trade with the Middle East and even the Far East.
Politics: Arab terms
still persist in the local administration and the military vocabulary.
Art and Architecture:
Perhaps the most distinguished contribution was art and architecture. They
succeeded in finding a happy mixture of Arab and Byzantine models. The most
famous examples are: the mosque of Cordoba, the Ciralda Tower and the
Alcazar in Sevilla, and the Alhambra of Granada.
Science and Religion:
The Arab heritage in science and religion must be regarded as of great
importance to Spain and indeed to all western Europe. A great part of the
legacy of Greece came to the West in the translations from Arabic into Latin
made in Spain. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Toledo School of
Translation, where Jews, Christians and Muslims co-operated, translated
works of Aristotle, Euclid, Ptolemy, Galen and Hippocrates, enriched by
their Arabic commentators.
The Moorish conquests destroyed the political unification furthered by the
Roman rule and the piecemeal manner of the re-conquest obstructed full
reunification causing political fragmentation.
Nine centuries of Moorish occupation alienated Spain from the rest of
The Spaniards invested most energy in the re-conquest, neglecting the
country’s economic development.
The sustained effort of the re-conquest engendered a warlike mentality.
The religious character of the Reconquista enhanced the power of the clergy
and clerical influence, which has been harmful to Spanish politics.
Intolerance: This concerned the Mudejars, Muslims under Christian rule,
as well as the Mozarabs, Christians under Muslim rule. It was manifested in
several programs of Jews. ‘Even when this (the negative aspect) has been
taken into consideration, says Gabrieli, ‘the impartial observer cannot fail
to recognize that the long centuries of Arab domination were a time of
long-lasting glory for Arabism, and made a positive contribution to the
general history of civilization… we cannot say as much for Arab dominion in
iv. The Present Situation
Since the seventies of this
century, Spain has again a growing community of Muslims, which consists of
both legal and illegal immigrants, mostly from Morocco, and some Spanish
converts to Islam. The Yamaa Islamica de Al-Andalus tries to achieve the re-islamization
and independence of Andalusia, The Church in Spain encourages dialogue
between Christians and Muslims, recommends the study of Islam and
co-operation between Christians and Muslims. The progress is slow.
Though the Moorish
occupation of Spain has left many traces in the language, architecture,
science, agricultural technology and the art-and-crafts, the Reconquista is
still seen as a holy war of Christian Spain against the Muslim hordes. This
myth is still celebrated every year in southern Spain in the form of sham
fights between Cross and Crescent. (Fiestas de Moros y Christianos). History
has a long memory.
b. Islam in Central Europe
After World War II, Europe
soon recovered from the pangs of war. An economic boom started. The labour
force was not large enough to cope with it. In the fifties, the central
European countries imported labourers from Spain and Italy. Whenever that
supply was not sufficient, they began to recruit labourers in Turkey and
Northern Africa. These labourers were Muslims. Thus, the number of Muslims
began to grow considerably. In 1971, the number of Muslims in the
Netherlands was 50,000. Originally, the plan was that they would stay for a
few years and then return to their home countries. In the seventies, the
Muslim labourers, mostly Turks and Maroccans, began to send for their
families. In 1975, the number of Muslims in Netherlands was about 100,000;
in 1992, more than 414,000, and their present number is estimated to be
about 630,000. By now, the number of Muslims in Central Europe being more
than seven million, using about 6000 mosques or prayer rooms.
As their numbers grew, the
Muslims began to organize themselves in order to demand the recognition of
their own culture, and to obtain the rights granted them in the Dutch
Constitution. They requested permission for and financing of their mosques
or prayer rooms, permits for imams, burial facilities, ritual slaughtering
of animals, facilities for circumcision for boys, recognition of Islamic
festivals, permission for the teaching of religion in and outside schools,
permission for establishing their own schools, their own broadcasting
station, and special time on radio and television, observance of their own
dietary laws in the forces, prisons and hospitals, recognition of their own
family laws and opportunities to participate in advisory bodies and
i. Places of worship
Permission to build mosques
and furnish prayer rooms was readily given. Financial support for the same
was not easily obtainable, since in the Netherlands there is constitutional
separation of church and state. In the beginning, a few exceptions were
made, but since 1984 no more grant-in-aid was given. Even so the Muslim
community has built some beautiful mosques in the Netherlands. There are
about 400 Muslim places of worship.
The basic meaning of imam
is leader of the institutional prayer especially on Friday afternoon.
Besides this function, the imam gives religious instruction, teaches
recitation of the Koran, settles disputes and does some pastoral work. There
are about 400 imams; half of them are qualified, the others are not
qualified. The qualified imams are generally imported. The Turkish community
(on 1st January 1995, the number of non-naturalized Turks was 158, 653) has
about 120 qualified imams, sent out and paid by the Turkish Directorate for
Religious Affairs Diyanat. The Moroccan community (on 1st January 1995 the
number of non-naturalized Moroccans was 182,089) has fifty qualified imams
from Morocco and the Surinam-Hindustani community has fifteen imams from
India and Pakistan. The number of unqualified imams is about 200. In
general, the imams function badly because they have either language problems
or do not know the local situation.
Undertakers could easily
adapt themselves to Islamic burial rites. Two difficulties remain: a
deceased person may only be buried after 36 hours by law and the number of
Islamic burial places is not sufficient. Many Muslims of Turkish or Moroccan
origin prefer to be buried in their home countries.
iv. Ritual slaughter
After much discussion and
several court cases the secretary of State for Internal Affairs allowed the
Islamic way of slaughter in 1975, by analogy with the Jewish manner. When,
in 1981, the European community wanted to make a treaty to this effect and
also allow the export of such meat, some political parties objected wanting
the practice to be outlawed. They did not succeed. The treaty was ratified
As contrasted with the
circumcision of girls, circumcision of boys has not met with any opposition.
It is regularly practiced in hospitals as well as homes.
The Islamic festivals have
not yet been recognized officially. Working Muslims have to ask leave if
they wish to celebrate them.
vii. Schools and Religious
Muslims are allowed to
build and run their own schools, provided they comply with all the
government rules and regulations. In non-Muslim schools (though not all),
religious instruction in Islam is given. If parents desire, Muslim pupils
can receive instruction outside school hours in their own language and
viii. The media
The Muslim Information
Centre (MIC) publishes a quarterly ‘Qiblah’. The Islamic foundation Soera
publishes, the quarterly ‘Soera’, a journal about the Middle East: The women
publish ‘al-Nisa’. There is an Islamic Broadcasting Organisation, the
Nederlandse Moslim Omroep (NMO), which provides a TV presentation in Dutch
every Sunday from 12:30 to 13:00 hours, and broadcasts on the radio: every
Monday to Friday from 18:00 to 18:30 hours in Dutch, from 18:30 to 1900 in
Turkish, and from 19:00 to 19:30 hours in Arabic, dealing with religious or
socio-economic questions of the Muslim community.
Because of social and
psychological differences the Muslims in the Netherlands have organized
themselves along religious, political and ethnical lines. We can distinguish
along religious lines: Sunnis, Shiites and the marginal group of the ‘Alawī
and the Ahmadī; along ethnical lines; the Moroccans, Turks, Indians,
Pakistanis, Surinams, Africans; along political lines: among the Moroccans
(1) members of the Union of Moroccan Muslim Organizations in the Netherlands
(UMMON), Moroccan government sponsored, and (2) the Netherlands Federation
of Maghriban Islamic Organisations (NFMIO) independent; among the Turks; (1)
those associated with the Turkish Directorate for Religious Affairs (Diyanat),
government sponsored, but non-political; (2) the two other organizations:
the Turkish Islamic Cultural Federation (TICF) and the Islamitische
Stichting Nederland (Islamic Foundation of the Netherlands), the purpose of
which is not very clear; (3) they Sulaymanci and Milli Gorus, fundamentalist
organizations Surinam Muslims have joined either the World Islamic Mission (WIM)
or the International Muslims Organization (IMO). It should be evident that
these divisions are great obstacles to the efficiency and integration of the
Muslim community in the Netherlands.
The Role of the Church(es)
during the first generation of Muslims after the Prophet Muhammad’s death
(632), misunderstandings, prejudice and enmity between Christians and
Muslims started and have continued – of course, with laudable exceptions –
till the twentieth century. The first time the Church issued official
positive statements about Islam was during the Second Vatican Council
The Islamic Religion
The Church regards Moslems
with esteem. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in himself,
merciful and all-power, the creator of the heavens and the earth (Cf. St.
Gregory VII, Letter 21 to Anzir, King of Mauritania [PL 148, cols. 450f.]),
who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly even to his
inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham (sws), with whom the faith of Islam is
gladly linked submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus (sws)
as God, they revere him as a prophet. They also honour Mary, his virgin
mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. Moreover, they look
forward to the day of judgement when God will render their deserts to all
those raised up form the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and
worship God, especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting. In the
course of centuries, there have indeed been many quarrels and hostilities
between Christians and Muslims. But now the Council exhorts everyone to
forget the past, to make sincere effort for mutual understanding, and so to
work together for the preservation and fostering of social justice, moral
welfare, and peace and freedom for all mankind. (Nostra Aetate, 3).
On 17th May 1964, Pope Paul
VI established an institute for inter-religious dialogue, called
Secretariate for non-Christians (Secretariatus pro no-Christianis), since
1989 called the Pontifical Council for the Dialogue among the Religions (Pontificium
Concilium pro Dialogo inter-Religious). It has a special department for
dialogue between Christians and Muslims. In January 1971, the World Council
of Churches set up the Sub-unit of Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and
Ideologies (DFI). Both institutions have done much to promote and improve
relationships between Christians and People of other Faiths, including
Muslims. The Pontifical Council in Rome publishes a journal for
inter-religious dialogue: The Bulletin, and the Office on Inter-religious
Dialogue of the World Council of Churches in Geneva a monthly: ‘Current
Dialogue’. Moreover, the Roman Catholic Church has in Rome the Pontifical
Institute for the study of Arabic and Islam, which publishes the important
yearly issue of Islamo-Christiana. Furthermore, the Christian churches have
started centres for the study of Islam and Muslim-Christian Relations in
many countries: e.g. in Morocco, Tunisia Egypt, India, Pakistan and
Indonesia. On the international ecumenical level, the Christians have formed
a Council of European Churches (CEC), in which the Roman Catholic Church,
the Eastern Church and the Churches of the Reformation co-operate to Develop
common policies, also with regard to people of other faiths. On the national
and local levels, various institutions and organizations have been
established. In the Netherlands, the Christians have started a National
Council of Churches which has various sub-units, one for Christian-Muslim
The three main churches,
the Roman Catholic Church, the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands and the
Dutch-Reformed Church have each an ‘Islam-office’, which provides
information about Islam and tries to suggest ways and means for improving
relations between Christians and Muslims. Together the three churches
publish the journal ‘Begrip’ (Understanding).
Dialogue in all its
different forms, has apparently become a very important – probably the most
important – way in human relationships and community living. There will be
no peace in the world without peace among the religions is a favourite
thesis of Hans Kung. This can only be achieved through dialogue, when people
keep on talking, not to one another, but with one another. To quote Dr.
Beyond the field of
doctrinal conflicts, there exists on earth a place of meeting for all people
who believe, namely the Sacred Valley. There is heard the truth without
hesitation, as if God Himself were speaking.