CAIRO – Responding to repeated arguments about the integration of Muslims in Europe, a group of scholars and professors have met in Stuttgart to discuss the model of Islam in Bosnia-Herzegovina which accommodated morals of democracy and better interfaith understanding for centuries.
"For one thing, Islam has long been practiced there in a secular environment and in a secular state,” Armina Omerika, Islam scholar at the University of Bochum in western Germany, told Deutsche Welle on Friday, November 25.
“Also, there's a high level of institutionalization of Islam there, and that institutionalization has become the strongest support for the religion in that country."
The calls about integrating Muslims in Europe appeared following 9/11 attacks on the US. Amid such debates, many professors quoted the way Islam is practiced in Bosnia-Herzegovina as the answer for European Muslims.
Bosnia, a small country on the Balkan Peninsula, is home to three ethnic "constituent peoples": mainly Muslim Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats.
Out of Bosnia and Herzegovina's nearly 4 million population, some 40 percent are Muslims, 31 percent Orthodox Christians and 10 percent Catholics.
Living with such diversity, a Muslim institution was created which was modeled on the structures of Christian churches.
Afterwards, the role of the Grand Mufti, the leader of Bosnian Muslims, was established. Omerika believes this kind of organization of the religion could make Islam more welcome in Europe.
"It's this form of institutionalization that represents a known quantity for many Europeans, because they see parallels with religious organization in church structures," he said.
Historically, a tolerant Islam did not stop a Serb aggression in which thousands of Bosnian Muslims in one of the most shocking massacres in modern history.
Bosnia fell into civil war in 1992 that left 200,000 people dead and displaced millions as Serb forces launched ethnic cleansing campaign against Bosnian Muslims.
During the 43-month war, which claimed some 200,000 lives, nearly two million people fled their homes, half a million of them are still listed as refugees.
In the final months of the three-year war, Serb forces, led by General Ratko Mladic, overran Srebrenica, killing some 8,000 Muslim men and boys.
While some professors praised Bosnia example of Islam for Europe, the idea of “European Islam” was criticized by many scholars who say Islam is not necessarily a foreign element within Europe.
"The main problem is that there's a basic assumption that Islam is something foreign, something different, something that's not from Europe - and that the religion must therefore be domesticated, Europeanized or nationalized,” said Kerem Öktem of the European Studies Centre at Oxford.
Öktem argues that is not the case, as Islam has existed in Europe for centuries.
He added that Bosnia was not the only example, referring to Turkey, Albania and Bulgaria.
Moreover, there are the Tatars, who've lived in Poland for over 600 years and currently make up under 1 percent of the population.
But, according to Adam Was, an Islamic studies scholar at the Catholic University in Lublin, they've now been joined by a second wave of Muslims from Turkey, Algeria, Albania, Pakistanis and Iranians.
"Those are the students from various Arab lands who came to Poland in the second half of the 20th century. Most married in Poland and started families, and that's how the second group came to be," he said.
Composed of different cultures, an Islam with a European flavor was urged by some scholars to unify a rich and diverse European Muslim community.
"We need an Islam with certain European characteristics: democracy, human rights, freedom of religion," said Was.
"And that's a discussion to which Muslims who have already been in Europe for centuries can contribute."
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