June 14, 2011

Alien Religion Invades Europe!

I was wondering lately at the neurotic fuss of several European countries (and let's include America in Europe too, as it's kind of true in this context, and might also be amusingly irritating), about the alleged threat of "Islamification".  According to the myriad tabloid articles, political speeches, blogs etc. on the subject, European culture is under attack from an alien force called Islam.  This phenomenon is simply not compatible with European culture.  Because Europe (and America) is Christian.

The thing is, it wasn't always so.  I'm wondering what gossip surrounded the arrival of Christianity among, say, the Celts of the British Isles?  Did a proto-blogger called Brenn of Kernow circulate the word that the whole cultural make-up of the nation was being undermined by immigrants?  So what to do about it?  Perhaps organise a Celtic Defence League to fight the unfamiliar invasion?  Did they have pitched battles with gangs of bearded monks and Roman sympathisers?  Were there mass protests at the re-branding of the winter solstice festival as a birthday for Jesus?  And did early, idealistic peacemakers attempt a movement for interfaith dialogue between priests and druids?  Only to be condemned as appeasers and have mead jugs smashed on their heads?

That all sounds very familiar, and maybe something like that happened.  But if it did, it was all a very long time ago.  And that seems to be what Europe is forgetting now.  It was so long ago that people in Europe think they were always Christian.  People in America think they were always Christian, and American too, despite having only been there a few hundred years - less time than Spain was Muslim.  But Europe rolled over to Christianity so long ago, it's just become an assumption.  Some don't even have to practice any Christian rites, or even believe in God, to consider themselves somehow Christian.  

The British (Europe's least Christian nation in terms of actual practice, yet with an official Christian state religion), actually sing a song about Jesus visiting England.  "What if he did", it goes.  Not actually claiming it as fact, but asking the question and speculating about what it would have been like.  But why?  Purely to create some tenuous association, some ownership.  To make Jesus just a bit English.  Maybe  on some sub-conscious level  they could imagine he played cricket and lived in Surrey. The song's actually called "Jerusalem".  Not about Jerusalem though.  It asks, rhetorically, if Jesus came along and built Jerusalem in England.  To which the answer is obviously "no".  This is a very popular nationalist song, and of course everyone knows Jesus didn't move Jerusalem to the home counties really.  They just like to sing it and pretend on some level that he did, and retain some ownership of the whole Christianity thing.  And deep down, some of them really believe that Jesus was probably from Guildford. Probably.  

But if he had turned up in England with his asylum claim, he would have been a dark, beardy, Aramaic-speaking immigrant with a new religion to promote.  And demanding to be declared king, change the law and overthrow the unbelievers.   I wonder how that would go down now?  We will never know.  But what we do know is that even without Jesus landing at Dover, the peoples of Europe, and especially the Roman Empire, saw this new religion as incompatible with their culture, and a threat.  They had a happily multi-cultural pagan society, with many different deities and religions, all bumbling along happily together.  Then along came these beardy dress-wearing zealots from the Middle East saying that all the other gods were offensive to them and only theirs should be recognised.  They cancelled traditional celebrations, made everyone fast and pray, and destroyed any artifacts of what had gone before.  Before you knew it, the Emperor of Rome was conceding that perhaps this religion should be adopted as the new official one, and the others were gradually wiped out.

So maybe Europe should put Islam into a bit of context.  It's certainly not new to the West.  It recognises Christianity as a proper religion to be respected (which is more than Christianity ever did for anyone else), and has a lot in common with Christian teachings. Make peace, feed the poor, pray, fast, that kind of thing.  Of course there's that whole hejab and beardiness angle that some seem to think looks strange. But then I challenge you: go into any church, especially a Catholic one because they like pictures the most. Find one picture of Mary without hejab.  Come to think of it, if you go to a church in Greece or Italy, you'll barely find a mature woman in the congregation without one. Women covering their hair outdoors is so much part of European culture that many of the older generation of Christians still do.  So do nuns, for that matter.  And i'm pretty sure the last picture of Jesus I saw, even though he had mysteriously European skin tone, showed a man with a full beard.

The main problem with Islam as a cultural force in the West, then, doesn't seem to be that it's incompatible with Christianity.  On the contrary, it's making a much more gentle arrival, is much more tolerant of existing religious traditions, and much more similar in beliefs to the established Christian tradition than Christianity was to the beliefs that preceded it.  The problem with Islam in the West is that the West no longer believes in Christianity either.  Politics, humanism, secular fundamentalism are the drivers of European society and the truly sacred principles of Europe.  The badge of Christianity is simply one of convenience.  In reality, Muslims and Christians should be side by side, asking why the governments of the European societies they share, are no longer reflecting their common belief in God.

So get over yourselves "Christian" Europe.  This isn't an invasion.  It's just an upgrade. :)


Anonymous said...

There is so much I could say on this subject, but I'm going to limit my self to just a couple of points ...

1. yes, islamophobia is a disgusting reality in much of Europe, and I always cringe when I see, read or hear the ignorant rantings against 'the invasion of islam' - and I say that as a European who has lived nearly half of my adult life in Islamic countries out of choice. But ...

2. all generalisations are dangerous, including several said or implied in your own blog. The most important of these is the idea that "Europe is Christian" (or pretends to be) - I'm not, and I went to a school which had members of every religion and speakers of 135 different languages - it doesn't get more multicultural than that. Even the future King of England has said that he wants to change his title from 'Defender of the Faith' to 'Defender of Faith' to recognise this reality in UK society. You seem to recognise this, but then go ahead and lump us all under the title of 'Christian' anyway. It just turns the whole debate into a rather unpleasant and totally unproductive 'us versus them' scenario ...

Recognise problems and discuss solutions - yes. Share experiences and knowledge and cultures to promote understanding and counter stereotypes - yes. But describing Islam as an'upgrade'? don't see how that helps, you won't be changing any minds that way ...

And I promise you, I have never met an English person who thinks Jesus comes from Guildford ...

Shahirah Elaiza said...

You've highlighted many good points here. As an Abrahamic faith, not only does Islam share many values and beliefs with the Christian faith but also with Judaism - fasting, praying, food requirements, modesty in dress, etc.

Like you mentioned, one of the problems is the secularisation of the West and plain ignorance and misinformation. Not to mention, the world is becoming more and more paganistic and they don't even realise it. For example, the celebration of Christmas and Easter are rooted in a pagan traditions. And how else can we explain the craze over Harry Potter and Twilight?

Non-Muslims will never see Islam as an upgrade because many (not all) of them have pre-conceived misguided notions about the religion. I guess I can't really blame them because the media always has an agenda when it comes to portraying Islam (or anything for that matter!) but it is their duty to question and research Islam accordingly. At the same time, Muslims also have the responsibility to educate non-Muslims about the true beliefs of Islam. That is if they are willing to have an open-mind and listen to Muslim voices. Islam is actually more progressive than people think.

Elaine said...

Being a European Christian who has been married to a Muslim, I can probably tell you the real reason why Europe feels threatened in 2011, and that's because in today's reality we have accepted (after experiencing the dark ages)and want that religion is a question of one's personal choice. Like the colour underwear you choose to wear. We don't care what colour yours is... but we're going to have a problem when your choice starts to impinge on mine. When your choice starts to change the quality of my life or when you claim to be offended religiously every time my secular society farts and one colour of undies starts to get special permission to break certain rules of society so as not to offend. Like being a teacher in full niqab, for example.

Europe wants religion to remain a personal thing, but Islam by its own nature, is not personal at all.

You all may think Islam (becoming muslims) would probably be the best thing to happen to us, but one must understand, most of us just don't want it! Some may appreciate it, but for many, it's a step backwards.

Liked your FGM post btw.. it's what brought me here in the first place.


Mutassem said...

This will only lead to a whole debate about "religion" that almost always results to hate, frustration and many negative emotions.
As a Muslim, I will be happy to hear that Islam is an up-grade but as a non-Muslim I will of course find it offensive! (I always love to look at things from 3 perspectives; my own, the other & and someone just watching the both sides of the debate)
I strongly believe that for any person to be capable of talking about this topic and to draw some conclusions (although drawing conclusions will always be biased to your own pre-conceptions) should read the entire "Holy Bible" & "The Holy Qur'an"
I could see that this started as a response to the European nation feeling threatened against Islam AND it all became a religious debate, as usual with any topic discussing religion :)
If Muhammad (pbuh), Jesus (pbuh), Moses (pbuh), buddha, krishna... etc. were to sit together I can't imagine seeing them arguing about religion!!
So if the founders/prophets of major religions weren't the type who would do it, Why should we?

Anonymous said...

Before you criticise other religions and cultures why don't you sort your own out first.

No, wait. The problems perceived with Islam are never with Islam are they? It is always people who are not true Muslims.


Anonymous said...

It does not matter which way you cut it, there is simply no way I'm giving up pork, and going to pray 5 times a day.

How many globally respected universities/research&development/technologically advanced industries are there in primarily Islamic countries, versus non-Islamic?

Not a lot.

People are too busy praying to actually do anything else. That's not my idea of a full life - praying 5 times a day.

Expatmummy said...

Actually I'll think you'll find that the majority of the UK population, at least, is just bemused by the need for religion. After all less than 2% of the population bother with church on a regular basis. The few that do still claim a religion tend to do so in private.

After all most of us are basically good, we don't steal, murder,etc we don't need someone constantly reminding us not to! I personally have been through some very tough times, and got through them with the help of friends and the medical community. I've never felt the need to pray or sit and read an old book (with multiple translation options).

The problem that we have is when someone tries to force their opinions on us. Tries to make us change what we are, how we dress, what we eat and how we kill it! Those that get violent, threaten us, and then try to kill large numbers of us in the name of religion.

Now I'm not just talking about Islam here, I have a problem with all religious extremists. North America has some terrible problems because of the Christian right (bad luck with the Rapture, better luck next time). Catholicism is responsible for some terrible attrocities (cue Monty Python sketch). Everytime something awful happens it is because someone else is trying to force their beliefs on others.

So please, you have religion, great if it makes you happy, but keep it to yourself. Not interested!

J said...

If it were easier to become a citizen of Oman, I'd ask for political asylum there the day the local fascist/islamophobic party becomes the largest party in our parliament.
Maybe I'll post longer comment later, LS.

a christian ex-oman-expat

The Great Bear said...

TLS, you have broached a contentious issue here. Anyway, my feeling is that there are only three types of people in this world: The Good, The Bad and The Neutral (not The Ugly ;-)). And it is far more important that in which category each one of us falls into than being a Muslim or Christian or Hindu or Buddhist etc. Secondly, I don’t think that we need a religion to tell us what is right and what is wrong OR what is moral/ethical and what is immoral/unethical. Do we?? Because I believe that every single human being is born with an inbuilt program called ‘conscience’ that can guide and advise us on all matters moral/ethical/right. All we need is to just listen to it.

Of late, religion has been made a tool to serve our vested interests and nothing more. I am reminded of the scene from Godfather-III, where Cardinal Lamberto picks up a stone from a fountain and tells Michael Corleone that Christianity is just like the water in the fountain which is present everywhere around the stone (here stone is analogous to human beings) but hasn't penetrated it. Let me extrapolate this and say that it is applicable to most (if not all) of the religions of the world and their respective followers.

Lastly, this is just my personal opinion and is not intended to hurt/disrespect any religion or its followers.

The Linoleum Surfer said...

Well, as long as I can get a slap from all sides now and again I know I'm staying firm and true to the middle. Only yesterday someone posted elsewhere that I was "attacking Muslims" and "pretending to be" one. Nice to get some from each side!

Sure, this is something of a polemical and yeah there are plenty of generalisations. But I think a lot of the comments above merely reinforce it: Europe has the trappings of Christianity but its real religion is secularism, and as some here have demonstrated, that's the clash of philosophy. Muslims and Christians should probably be on the same side of the debate.

I like the reference to "an in-built programming called conscience". Unlike our more basic biological imperatives, it's this that makes us human, and this that makes me a Believer. I appreciate and respect that the names, rituals and terminology are many and varied, and in some ways unimportant. But to me, that "in-built" belief in right and wrong is what should define one's faith, rather than making it irrelevant. Anyway, each to his own. "There is no compulsion in Faith [Islam]", as the Holy Qur'An says.

Anyway, sure there are good and bad of every persuasion. As I often like to say, never mix up the meaning of religion with the actions of the religious! Crusaders, Nazis, Muslim suicide bombers in the market, or secular dogmatists making war in the name of "freedom" and "democracy". Wrong is wrong in my opinion, whatever the badge. Maybe we all need to get over the tendency to leap to the defence of "ours" as an instinctive reaction.

Thanks for all the comments, in every direction. It's all about stimulating the discussion, and I'm grateful to all.

Not so newbie said...

Thankfully, the vast majority of people Europe find the views of religious extremists and nationalistic whackos on both sides of the debate to be equally repulsive. I think it's important to note that although you may denounce this micro-minded, insular, ‘pull-up-the-drawbridges’ minority in Europe, you appear to write in the style of some jingoistic, 'fly the flag for the Empire' dingbat from the 19th century when it comes to your previous posts on Oman. From the blogs on Merge, it’s clear that your dislike for 'Alien' radio presenters, and sweet talk with the local ones, is not based on sound judgement and an unbiased critique, but at best a strange notion that ‘they’re not local so they don’t understand Oman’. At worst, it’s incredibly patronising and condescending to your readers and the presenters themselves - “Wrap the local presenters up in cotton wool, and give the newbie expats the brillo pad treatment.”

The Linoleum Surfer said...

Wow, that one again!

I wrote about the launch of a new radio station because nobody else seemed to be in a position to do so, and it was promising a lot. It's not an obsession. Frankly I prefer to choose my own music and don't really like listening to any of them that often.

But OK, one more go on that one: do I think local people should get first pick? Sure, if they're talented enough. And do I give more leeway to a debutant presenter than one with a decade's experience in two countries? Yep. As for "not understanding Oman", I think that's a reasonable point for a station with the stated objective of appealing to "the Arab youth". And when then very first show, presented by the producer no less, offers a prize of a Friday prayer-time pork and champagne buffet, I'll take that as maybe a work in progress eh?

But no, I'm not "disliking" anyone. It's not personal. And it's certainly not ethno-centric. I'm not Omani either, I just live here because I like it. And just to be clear, I despise nationalism in all its forms.

Thanks for coming, really. But can we get over the radio thing now? Considering the easy targets presented, I think letting them off with "they did OK" was probably quite nice. Good luck to them anyway, we all make mistakes, and they are doing a lot more right.

zeddingtontoast said...

I think, of all the comments, Elaine has made the most eloquent and important point.

I think your generalization of Islam is too soft, and not representative, Surfer. You say the problem with Islam in the West is that its not compatible with Christianity, but I don't think that's the problem. The values we see espoused in the West - of dignity, equality, and rights for all - are not Christian values. Christianity adopted them somewhere along the line.

Also, the problem is not Islam per se, but the political manifestation of it. Whether you can separate the personal from the political in Islam is a question that has never been comprehensively resolved, but is of critical importance. As Elaine said, when Islam impedes on the freedom of others, it becomes a problem, as it should be.

Surfer, have a read of this blog post:


She takes a very different stance from you, and while neither of you is necessarily wrong, I find her approach to be more useful to Muslims to grasp and think about (then again, she is an ex-Muslim, while I would guess that you are a muslim - either born so or a convert) . They should be tackling the problem elements within their societies that threaten to enslave them, rather than tolerating them.

One more thing, I think you blog about some great issues with much eloquence. But perhaps shorter blog posts would be a good idea? Brevity is an art which would enhance your readership experience exponentially.

The Linoleum Surfer said...

Thanks. What I'm actually saying is that Islam is pretty compatible with Christianity; it's secularism that is compatible with neither. As for whether religion adopts morality or gives it, if you're not religious then it's the former, if you are it's the latter.

Coexistence requires all sides to want it, and there are plenty of unreasonable Muslims around. But politicising religion also takes two sides - and making hysterical legal rulings about aspects of culture because they're supposedly "alien", is bound to engender a ghetto mentality. Cultures develop, move, meld and change. It's normal, and Europe needs to get used to it. Overreacting to Islamic influence in Europe will be about as effective as trying to ban jeans or music in Saudi Arabia.

Right, so that wasn't brief either. Ah well, some things are simple and some, well, I just like to tell the story. Thanks for reading anyway.

zeddingtontoast said...

Don't get me wrong - I enjoy your blog, and the point of a blog is for the author to write about whatever he chooses, however he chooses. I've read a fair few of your posts... it's just that I tend to skip some bits when I do. That's just me, I'm impatient.

Anonymous said...

Refreshing to read a post that isn't ranting about Islam based on skewed knowledge and assumption. Growing up, we were always taught that Christians and Jews are people of the book and that we had more in common with them than my fellow country men. So I don't get the hatred that seems to be surrounding us now like 'we' are perpetrators of all things bad and evil. Don't get me wrong, I don't feel sorry for myself or my people - annoyed, is just what I am.

David (not) from Guildford said...

How dare you challenge the known fact that Jesus was from Guildford. The A3 was originally built as the road to Damascus, did you not study any history?

Anonymous said...

One of the things I most love about Oman is the fact that faith still seems to play an important role in everyday life. I love the prayer calls, the mad parking outside the mosques, the glut of men trying to cross near motorway-traffic to get to the mosques.

I love the fact that people seem to find it quite easy to understand that you are a christian, but the idea of no faith seems so alien.

In the UK, to admit to having any faith takes some doing. You are then regarded as the 'religious nut', to be avoided at all costs. Think you have it exactly right, the god in the UK is now shopping..work, money, credit...

The Linoleum Surfer said...

David - that's the spirit!

Anon. - Amen...I can't say I share your joy and parking habits and jaywalking, but yeah! Mention God or faith to a lot of people in the West and they look at you as if you've just said you have a serious bipolar disorder,

Anyway, thanks both!

Omani Princess (not Omani LOL) said...

MashaAllah. I couldn't agree more. I was so tired of people telling Aalia and I to go "back to Saudi Arabia" in our home in Canada because we wore niqab. She being native-American and all, and my family being the original European settlers lol. People don't see the irony, but that is the thing with prejudice in all its forms, from Muslims too, alas.

Anonymous said...

Princess, maybe they should just have said "go to Saudi Arabia", rather than "go back...".


Omani Princess (not Omani LOL) said...

Nuri: a citizen shouldn't have to go anywhere in a country of so-called religious freedom. That's an ignorant thing to say. My politcal beliefs would get me killed or jailed in KSA. Why should I have to go there just because of my religious beliefs? KSA isn't exactly a Muslim ideal, saying that is based on ignorance.

maioman said...

Well if you truly believe and follow ALL of the sayings, rules, and regulations of the Holy Bible, then by no means are you afforded the right to believe in freedom of religion as well. The Bible negates the idea of it. You know the whole,"way to the father is through the son" thing.
I often hear from my "Christian" friends, when they see or hear of a Muslim doing something un-Islamic, "I thought they weren't supposed to do this or that", well that is the beauty of all religions. I get to do or say whatever the hell I want. That is the problem. The Qur'an, the Bible, and the Torah, all say do this or that, but NONE OF US FOLLOW IT ALL! Bunch of cry babies! So, absolutely nothing wrong with the religion, it's the choices that we all make that screw it up.

Anonymous said...

Princess, I was only drawing attention to the difference in meaning that one word can make. Whether they were being ignorant or not, they probably meant it without the "back". My apologies.

Personally, and as a Muslim male, I hate the whole idea of women covering their heads. This applies to whether they are Muslim, Christian, Jewish or whatever (and TLS is right that all of these religions have at some point expected women to cover up - and parts of all of them still do).

I think that far from having anything to do with God or worship, this simply reflects the cultures that existed in the region from which these religions sprang 1300-2000+ years ago. And I think that cultures that expect women to cover up, obey their husbands, have different rights to men etc have no place in today's world.

It is sad that these days, arguably increasingly, hijab is seen as a uniform, statement or badge of identity. I feel it is a way of Muslim women (understandably) wanting to make a statement about who they are; for me it is unfortunate that it has to be one that reinforces an idea of women's place in society that originates in the Arabian peninsula 1300 years ago.


Omani Princess (not Omani LOL) said...

Nuri: for me, I can't be a Muslim (I hold only myself to my conclusions not others) if I don't follow the Qu'ran and Islam of how the Prophet lived it. I don't find any of my Islamic Rights as a woman backwards, in fact, I find them to be over that of men in some instances, but then I understand them, and also my responsibilities to gain those rights likewise. If the Qu'ran says pull your headdress to wear it in a manner that it covers you chest, you know, that makes sense to me, because I see girls all the time in the loosest of abayas [modest clothing that does cover their boobs right] but you can still tell their cup size, so when you wear the hijab right as stated in the Qu'ran, it hides the breasts. Which is in no way suppressive. As for niqab, I believe as the Qu'ran states "it is purer for them and for you" and that this was directed at the Prophet's wives, who were better Muslimahs than me, so why wouldn't I want something with that kind of benefit, not that I think it is a must? The suppression/backwardness comes from governments saying you have to wear it and punishing and discriminating against those who don't wear it. Which is contrary to practices exempled in Islam 1400 years ago. As a woman, I'd rather the Islam of that day, then of so called reformed Islam that says to do extreme things beyond methods of the Prophet Mohamed, like women not leaving houses, working, driving, or speaking to men in ways halal in Islam, covering eyes and hands, or praying in Mosque ect. The Islam of that time gives me everything empowering I need as a modern woman not from the Arab world: emotional and physical support, right to vote, right to work, right to choose aspects of faith and devotion, everything I had before Islam and more. Why would I want a version based on Saudi Arabia or "updated" so to speak, thus forgetting the whyyyyyyyy of things, for example, hijab over the breasts. I wouldn't. Both kinds of "updating Islam" kind of bring my rights to the downwards slope. What the West fails to understand is that we are very modern women. Islam allllllways was very modern and progressive in regards to women, if properly understood. I don't like the idea that my beliefs are so "alien" to the constitution of my home country when they are not. Just from public understanding.

Anonymous said...

I guess I was a little late reading this post. I do enjoy reading your blogs, they are very well written, so thank you for the brain stimulation.
In regards to some of the above comments, religion is a personal thing, period.
I have to ask the question to the Muslims however, would you be Muslim if you weren't "born" into the religion?
One thing I can say about the west is you have a choice to choose who you wish to worship if anyone at all. With Islam you do not have that option. To me your relationship with God or Allah or whoever you want to call him is between him and you and my experiences with Islam it has always been forced. I will say this to be a true "believer" it is not just about the 5 pillars of faith but believing in all 3 holy books and acknowledging Christianity, Judaism as well as Islam. You cannot have one without the other. I think the main problem with Islam is most of the Muslims I do know are not even educated about their own religion.(I am a Christian Arab amd have witnessed secular violence)
Religion should be questioned, studied and respected even if you worship the Kool Aid man, it should be a choice. The point is, to each his own. What I have discovered is the most religious people I have ever met are the most hypocritical in every religion.

Suha said...

Amazing post.Love your blog.Keep up the good work. jazakallahu khairan

Anonymous said...

wow - how offensive - an upgrade? As a woman, I personally don't consider it an upgrade to have to take a smidgen of inheritance compared to my brothers... don't consider that an upgrade at all - or to be told how to dress. But that's just me - I guess others like it. I don't understand why but I respect their right to choose for themselves what they believe.

Just because you have been indoctrinated since childhood in way that makes you see your religion as superior and which repeatedly refers to how "wrong" the beliefs of Christians and Jews (and pagans) are (I have seen the IRE materials used in the schools so don't tell me they don't)- to the point that you have become so smug you think it the obvious 'logically' correct choice, and don't realise that your view and sense of logic has been influenced by this indoctrination - doesn't mean that others should or would see it as such a great improvement on their religions (or lack of religion in some cases). And this not because they have Islamophobia or they are stupid or prejudiced, they just see things differently.

As one earlier commenter pointed out, it is not correct to refer to all British people or Westerners as Christian. We are mix of all kinds of people and we like it that way. To each his own. Some people like to be told what to do - how to walk, eat, dress, think... others prefer more freedom - to do decide what is right or wrong and be judged according to our chosen actions. Some find safety in rituals or they make them feel spiritual and Holy. Others find them empty and meaningless. Some people want to be free to choose the right thing because they know it is right - not because it there is a penalty if they don't do it.

The inability to recognise that someone else's beliefs are just as important (and logical) to them as yours are to you is something I find to unfortunately be quite prevalant amongst Muslims.