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Islam in England

History, Early history

Although Islam is generally thought of as being a recent arrival in the United Kingdom, there has been contact between Britons and Muslims for many centuries. An early example would be the decision of Offa, the eighth-century King of Mercia (one of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms existing at that time), to have coins minted with an Islamic inscription on them – copies of coins issued by the near-contemporary Muslim ruler Al-Mansur. It is thought that they were minted to facilitate trade with the expanding Islamic empire in Spain.[3]

Muslim scholarship, especially early Islamic philosophy and Islamic science, was well-known among the learned in England by 1386, when Geoffrey Chaucer was writing. In the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, there is among the pilgrims wending their way to Canterbury, a ‘Doctour of Phisyk’ whose learning included Rhazes (Al-Razi), Avicenna (Ibn Sina, Arabic ابن سينا) and Averroes (Ibn Rushd, Arabic ابن رشد). Ibn Sina’s The Canon of Medicine (1025) was a standard text for medical students well into the 18th century.[4] Roger Bacon, one of the earliest European advocates of the scientific method,[5] was inspired by the works of early Muslim scientists.[6][7] In particular, his work on optics in the 13th century was largely based on the Book of Optics (1021) by Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen).[8]

Since the publication of Professor John Makdisi’s “The Islamic Origins of the Common Law” in the North Carolina Law Review,[9] there has been controversy over whether English common law was inspired by medieval Islamic law.[10] Makdisi drew comparisons between the “royal English contract protected by the action of debt” and the “Islamic Aqd”, the “English assize of novel disseisin” and the “Islamic Istihqaq”, and the “English jury” and the “Islamic Lafif” in the classical Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence, and argued that these institutions were transmitted to England by the Normans,[9] “through the close connection between the Norman kingdoms of Roger II in Sicily — ruling over a conquered Islamic administration — and Henry II in England.”[11] Makdisi also argued that the “law schools known as Inns of Court” in England (which he asserts are parallel to Madrasahs) may have also originated from Islamic law.[9] He states that the methodology of legal precedent and reasoning by analogy (Qiyas) are also similar in both the Islamic and common law systems.[12] Other legal scholars such as Monica Gaudiosi, Gamal Moursi Badr and A. Hudson have argued that the English trust and agency institutions, which were introduced by Crusaders, may have been adapted from the Islamic Waqf and Hawala institutions they came across in the Middle East.[13][14][15] Dr. Paul Brand also notes parallels between the Waqf and the trusts used to establish Merton College by Walter de Merton, who had connections with the Knights Templar, but Brand also points out that the Knights Templar were primarily concerned with fighting the Muslims rather than learning from them, making it less likely that they had knowledge of Muslim legal institutions.[10]

The first English convert to Islam mentioned by name is John Nelson.[16] 16th century writer Richard Hakluyt claimed he was forced to convert, though he mentions in the same story other Englishmen who had converted willingly.

This king had a son which was a ruler in an island called Gerbi, whereunto arrived an English ship called the Green Dragon, of the which was master one M. Blonket, who, having a very unhappy boy on that ship, and understanding that whosoever would turn Turk should be well entertained of the a yeoman of our Queen’s guard, whom the king’s son had enforced to turn Turk; his name was John Nelson.[17]

Portrait of Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun, Moorish ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I in 1600
Portrait of Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun, Moorish ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I in 1600

Captain John Ward of Kent was one of a number of British sailors who became pirates based in the Maghreb who also converted to Islam (see also Barbary pirates). Later, some Unitarians became interested in the faith, and Henry Stubbes wrote so favourably about Islam that it is thought he too had converted to the faith.

From 1609 to 1616, England lost 466 ships to Barbary pirates, who sold the passengers into slavery in North Africa.[18] In 1625, it was reported that Lundy, an island in the Bristol Channel which had been a pirate lair for much of the previous half century, had been occupied by three Turkish pirates who were threatening to burn Ilfracombe; Algerine rovers were using the island as a base in 1635, although the island had itself been attacked and plundered by a Spanish raid in 1633.[19] Around 1645, Barbary pirates under command of the Dutch renegade Jan Janszoon operating from the Moroccon port of Salé occupied Lundy, before he was expelled by the Penn. During this time there were reports of captured slaves being sent to Algiers and of the Islamic flag flying over Lundy.[20][21]

The Muslim Moors had a noticeable influence on the works of George Peele and William Shakespeare. Some of their works featured Moorish characters, such as Peele’s The Battle of Alcazar and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Titus Andronicus and Othello, which featured a Moorish Othello as its title character. These works are said to have been inspired by several Moorish delegations from Morocco to Elizabethan England around 1600.[22] A portrait was painted of one of the Moorish ambassadors, Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun.

Besides scientific and philosophical works, a number of Arabic fictional works were also translated into Latin and English during the 17th and 18th centuries. The most famous one was the One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights), followed by Ibn Tufail’s Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, which was translated into Latin as Philosophus Autodidactus by Edward Pococke the Younger in 1671 and then into English by Simon Ockley in 1708. The English translation of Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, set on a desert island, may have inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe, considered the first novel in English, in 1719.[23][24][25][26] Later translated literary works include Layla and Majnun and Ibn al-Nafis’ Theologus Autodidactus.

The first large group of Muslims in Britain arrived about 300 years ago. They were sailors recruited in India to work for the British East India Company, so it’s not surprising that the earliest Muslim communities were found in port towns. Naval cooks also came, many of them from the Sylhet Division of what is now Bangladesh. One of the earliest Bengali Muslim immigrants to Britain was Sake Dean Mahomet, a captain of the British East India Company. In 1810, he founded London’s first Indian restaurant, the Hindoostane Coffee House. He is also reputed for introducing shampoo and therapeutic massage in Britain.[27] There are other records of Sylhetis working in London restaurants since at least 1873.

The first Muslim community to permanently settle in the United Kingdom consisted of Yemeni sailors who arrived in ports such as Swansea, Liverpool and South Shields shortly after 1900. Later, some of them migrated to inland cities like Birmingham and Sheffield, where there are 23,819 Muslims.

Mosques also appeared in British seaports at this time; the first mosque in Britain is recorded as having been at 2 Glyn Rhondda Street, Cardiff, in 1860. [28] Second mosque is the Shah Jahan Mosque, Woking in 1889. The Woking Muslim Mission was established in 1913 by islamic missionaries. From the 1950s onwards, with considerable immigration to Britain from its former colonies (especially the Indian subcontinent and East Africa), large Muslim populations developed in many British towns and cities.
Demography and ethnic background

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Islam in Russia

by Abdur RaufWhat is the present position of Islam in contemporary Russia and China? In order to provide a perspective answer to this vital question this article presents a summary of an up to date history of Islam in these two famed states of the world.

History of Islam in Russia

The long history of Islam in Russia is grand and glorious as well as doleful and dreadful. Many stringent steps were taken against Islam and the Muslims during and after the Russian Revolution. Those tough and tight measures, however, failed to wipe out the Muslims and their rich cultural heritage. On the contrary, the present position rather confirms the fact beyond doubt that like all other Muslim regions of the world the Russian Muslim areas are also in the grips of a rising wave of awakening. Despite strict Russian censure of the media the entire world has known by now how vigorously the people of the Muslim majority areas of Russia have asserted their separate political identity and revitalized their distinctive cultural heritage. The more recent upsurges in all the Muslim states of Russia are simply eye-opening for everyone. All awakening movements among the Russian Muslims have always been distinctly Islamic in letter and spirit.

Islam and Muslims in Russia

Islam entered on the Russian scene in the seventh century A.D. (first century A.H.). Even during the Rightly Guided Caliphate at Madinah, the Muslim armies had started making penetrations into Russian soil. In 642, Azerbaijan came under Muslim control. The Muslims also occupied the extreme border town of Darbund in 658. After the conquest of eastern Caucasia (Qafqaz) Islam began to spread in these areas without any resistance. The Muslim armies crossed river Oxus in 673. Bukhara fell to the Muslims in 674.

The series of such conquests went on up to the tenth century when Islam became the most popular religion in the entire central Asia. With the passage of time these very areas began to be considered as the main centres of Islamic civilization and culture. Thereafter Islam’s popularity went on increasing in the whole of Russia. Such developments inspired and encouraged missionary activities of the Sufi saints of central Asia Qafqaz.

Unfortunately, however, Russia had a tight grip over the Muslim territories from the middle of the sixteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth. But despite her oppressive operations there was never any decline in the spread and popularity of Islam in Russia. The pace of Islam’s dissemination maintained a high momentum in eastern Russia. The Russian Muslims of these areas maintained their brotherly links with the rest of the Muslims world for quite a long span of time. Central Asia and Qafqaz played a vital role in promoting the Islamic civilization and its culture for full one thousand years. These areas enjoyed the same honours in the rise and glory of Islam as have gone to the lot of Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and the indo-Pak subcontinent. Taimur’s capital was Samarqand. From the literary point of view, Persian became popular in Bukhara for the first time. Khawarizam was the ancestral city of the renowned Muslim physician-cum-philosopher, Avicenna.

Movements for Autonomy

After the Russain Revolution of 1917, the Russian Muslims faced a highly hazardous situation. The leaders of the communist revolution were determined to impose such on authoritarian system over the entire Russia as was totally hostile to the religion and traditions, civilization and culture, politics and polity of the Muslims. Around 1924, a tight iron curtain was imposed on the Muslim areas. Consequently, the Russian Muslims got dissociated from the rest of the Muslims world.

Immediately after the start of the regular official moves against Christianity in Russia, a series of organized onslaughts started against the Muslims in 1928. In Spain, the inimical efforts to eliminate Islam and the Muslims after their downfall had yielded great success. But it was quite different in Russia. All Soviet attempts at uprooting Islam and the Muslims failed flatly. The period of the Russian Iron Curtain from 1928 to 1968 was the most painful tragedy of the Russian Muslim history. During that perilous period attempts to lure Muslims away from Islam and their forcible conversion to communism became a recurring routine with those in power.

Tyranny and oppressive measures gave birth to a wave of new awakening among the Muslims. Movements for independence and self-determination erupted all over the Muslim areas. Among these freedom movements, the guerilla organization called the “Basmachi Movement” is quite well-known. Unfortunately, however, the Russian Muslims got entangled into the wilderness of mutual differences and dissensions, rifts and conflicts. They were then unable to defend themselves as a united block. Consequently, all Muslim areas were forcibly annexed to the Russian territory one after the other.

Ever since Russian occupation of the Muslim territories the Soviet Union had utilized all possible devices to put an end to the distinct spiritual, moral, cultural and political identity of the Muslims. All sorts of traps of atheism, baits of modernization and lures of lewd recreations had been tried in quick succession. These dirty devices, however, failed in toto to dissociate the Muslims from the main stream of their religion and traditions and to get them merged into the blind ocean of communism.

It now appears that no power on earth can diminish or destroy the Russian Muslims’ inherent commitment to their religion and civilization. An illustrative example is the recent upsurge in Azerbaijan which erupted in 1989. It was backed by the most popular political organization of the Soviet Azris, the “Jamiat-i-Watan” (Patriotic Front). Even the most savage ‘Tank Diplomacy’ of the tumbling Russian empire failed rather miserably to quell this historic uprising. In Uzbekistan, a new underground organization, “Islamic Party” had been formed. It called for a federation of all Islamic Central Asian republic independent of Moscow. In 1990, even Tajikistan joined the great upheaval. Its capital, Doshambe, was the scene of the most violent political demonstrations against Russian communism. Thus republic after republic came under the powerful grip of the Islamic awakening. The eagerly-awaited day dawned at last. The year 1991 saw the disintegration of the Soviet Union and complete collapse of world communism. With this, started a new era in the history of the Russian Muslims. The famed Muslim states of Central Asia declared their independence. They are now cementing their broken ties with the rest of the Muslim world. They have been admitted as members of the Organization of Islamic Conference.

Asia’s Muslim Heartland

The independence of these six Central Asian Muslim republics is a great land mark in the contemporary history of Islam. Some of their basic facts are given below:

Name of the State Capital Population
1. Azerbaijan
2. Kazakhistan
3. Kirghizia
4. Tajikistan
5. Turkmenistan
6. Uzbekistan

In addition to these Muslim majority areas, a large chunk of the population in Kremia is also Muslim. They are Tartars. Apart from touching Kazakhistan, Russain Muslims resemble more their co-religionists in the neighbouring Muslim countries rather than the Soviet communists.

All of these sovereign Muslim States enjoy some God-given distinctive advantages as compared to the rest of Russia. Some such unique boons are:

(1) Significant Strategic Setting: By virtue of their close location to Iran, Afghanistan, the Persian gulf and Pakistan the special political and military significance of these areas look quite manifest. Russia in particular and the rest of the world in general can never overlook this significant strategic setting of these territories.

(2) Mineral and Agricultural Wealth: These areas have been blessed with valuable natural resources. World’s largest gold mines lie in Uzbekistan. Azerbaijan’s Baku has the biggest oil fields. Similarly desert areas of several Muslim territories have huge reservoirs of minerals, gas and oil. From the agricultural point of view these areas are not only self-sufficient but also the major sources of good supply to the rest of Russia. Unfortunately, however, it is these very areas where the Muslims had been subjected to a pathetic state of utter economic deprivation.

(3) Population Growth Factor: Since the movement of family planning has met with little success in the Muslim areas, their population growth rate was five times higher than the average Russians. The unusually high rate of population growth has also generated apprehensions that in times to come the Muslims may form majority in the entire Russian set up. This basic demographic factor was a unique advantage favouring the Russian Muslims.

According to the 1918 Constitution, all Russian nationals are guaranteed complete religious freedom. Yet religious preaching had been banned. All sorts of anti-religious propaganda was encouraged. Under flimsy pretexts, Islam was commonly subjected to the worst possible criticisms. In spite of all that, however, the Russian government always remained highly suspicious and apprehensive of its Muslim population. The Muslim areas have a network of mosques, religious education institutions and cultural centres. But extremely subtle and severe restrictions had been imposed on the religious festivals and gathering of the Muslims. All sorts of wicked devices were employed to keep the Muslims aloof and even estranged from the rest of the ummah. One of the mysterious anomalies marring the past Russian foreign policy baffled all understanding. On the one hand, Russia desired to win sympathies of the Middle-East Muslims as a part of her anti-American measures. Simultaneously, however, it never refrained from a repressive and even barbarous policy towards its own Russian Muslims of Central Asia as it had done with the Muslims of Afghanistan during the recent past.

Accusations of Foreign Intervention

The tempo of the growing Muslim awakening proved beyond any shadow of doubt that the situation was slipping fast beyond the Russian control. It is really unfortunate that instead of understanding the dynamics of these upsurges Russia was all along resorting to play up ‘the foreign hand scenario’. At one time it put the blame on a triangle of conspiracy against the Soviet Union. It alleged that a trio comprising the following foreign powers was instigating the upsurge in the troubled Muslim state: (1) Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), (2) the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), (3) the Afghan Mujahidin’s organization, “Hizb-i-Islami”, headed by Gulbadin Hikmatyar.

The accusation of foreign intervention looked utterly absurd in the face of real facts. It is Russia and Russia alone which was actually responsible for all that was happening within the Muslim states. The two major factors responsible for the more recent unrest and uprising were as follows:-

(i) Economic Exploitation of the Russian Muslims: Despite their rich natural resources all the Soviet Muslim republics had been purposely kept backward. They looked like typical colonies of the vast-Russian empire. They were obliged to export their raw materials to the developed Russian republics for paltry returns. They were constrained to import everyday consumer goods from them at exorbitant prices. This unjust and unbalanced situation has sown the seeds of poverty, deprivation, frustration and unrest in these states.

(ii) Systematic Suppression of Muslim Culture: The other main factor was the constant cultural suppression of the Muslim population. All sorts of the alien Russo-European cultural patterns and practices were being imposed on them rather unthinkingly. The Muslims felt like living in a foreign land.

Rising Strength of Renaissance

The most painful aspect of this cultural suppression was the fact that a variety of shrewd and irrational measures were being constantly adopted to alienate the Muslims of these republics from the rest of the Muslim world. However, like the Chinese Muslims, the Russian Muslims were becoming increasingly fond of cementing their fraternal bonds with the Muslim world. To fulfil this dream they had constituted a strong Islamic organization. The mounting wave of autonomy gripping the Muslim state of Azerbaijan and other Muslim states had upset the Russian plans. The Russian Muslims remained more resolute than ever before they regained religious, political and territorial independence from the iron curtain.

The other concrete proofs of the growing strength of the rising wave of renaissance among the Russian Muslim republics were:

1. increasing interest in the reading of the Holy Qur’an;
2. rising attendance at the mosques for prayers and other religious programs and construction of new mosques;
3. increasing projection of Islamic features in the radio and television programs;
4. growing demand for the restoration of the original Arabic scripts in their languages, etc.

Unfortunately, however, the Soviet Union failed to realize the futility of putting impediments in the way of this mounting wave of renaissance and autonomy. Such an undemocratic stand was neither reasonable nor even favourable for Russia’s own interests. Freed from the Russian dominance these strategic Central Asian states are now destined to play their vital roles as sovereign Muslim states.

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Islam in Germany


Muslims first came to Germany as part of the diplomatic, military and economic relations between Germany and the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century.[2] Twenty Muslim soldiers served under Frederick William I of Prussia, at the beginning of the 18th century. In 1745, Frederick II of Prussia established a unit of Muslims in the Prussian army called the “Muslim Riders” and consisting mainly of Bosniaks, Albanians and Tatars. In 1760 the Bosniakcorps was established with about 1000 men.

In 1798 a Muslim cemetery was established in Berlin. The cemetery, which moved in 1866, still exists today. By the year 1900, there was a small Islamic minority in Germany consisted of over 10,000, mostly Muslim Slavs and European Turks.[citation needed]

In World War I about 15,000 Muslim prisoners of war were interned in Berlin. The first mosque was established in Berlin in 1915 for these prisoners, though it was removed in 1930. After the war, a small number of Muslims stayed in Berlin.

In the 1920s there was a small Muslim community in Berlin, composed mainly of students and intellectuals. The first mosque built for an establish Muslim community in Germany, the Ahmadiyya Mosque Berlin was established in 1924 by the Indian imam Maulana Sadr-ud-Din. The Central Institute Islam Archive was founded in 1927.

The German section of the World Islamic Congress and the Islam Colloquium, the first German Muslim educational institution for children, were established in 1932.

At this time there were 3,000 Muslims in Germany, 300 of whom were of German descent. The rise of Nazism in the country hasn’t specifically targeted Muslims at all, but German Muslims felt an atmosphere of suspicion as a religious minority and xenophobia associated with Hitler’s beliefs against other religions and racism against “non-Aryans” (i.e. non-European foreigners). By the end of World War II there were only a few hundred Muslims living in Germany.

After the West German government inviting foreign workers (g: “Gastarbeiter”) this figure sharply rose to currently 3.5 Million (debated) within 2 centuries (most of them Turkish from the rural region of Anatolia in Southeast Turkey), sometimes called a “parallel society” within ethnic Germans.


Only a minority of the Muslims residing in Germany are members of religious associations. The ones with the highest numerical strength are:

* Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Deutschland: German branch of the Ahmadiyya Muslim based in Frankfurt am Main.
* Diyanet İşleri Türk İslam Birliği (DİTİB): German branch of the Turkish Presidency for Religious Affairs, Cologne
* Islamische Gemeinschaft Milli Görüş: close to the Islamist Saadet Partisi in Turkey, Kerpen near Cologne
* Islamische Gemeinschaft Jamaat un-Nur: German branch of the Risale-i Nur Society (Said Nursi)
* Verband der islamischen Kulturzentren: German branch of the conservative Süleymancı sect in Turkey, Cologne
* Islamische Gemeinschaft in Deutschland organization of Arab Muslims close to the Muslim Brotherhood, Frankfurt
* Verband der Islamischen Gemeinden der Bosniaken: Bosnian Muslims, Kamp-Lintfort near Duisburg

Furthermore there are the following umbrella organisations:

* Zentralrat der Muslime in Deutschland, domimated by the “Islamische Gemeinschaft in Deutschland” and the “Islamisches Zentrum Aachen”
* Islamrat in Deutschland, dominated by Islamische Gemeinschaft Milli Görüş and its suborganisations

In addition there are numerous local associations without affiliation to any of these organisations. Two organisations have been banned in 2002 because their programme was judged as contrary to the constitution: The “Hizb ut-Tahrir” and the so called “Caliphate State” founded by Cemalettin Kaplan and later lead by his son Metin Kaplan.

German converts

According to German TV reports, over 4000 Germans converted to Islam in 2006.[3][4] In 1989 a national register run by an Islamic organisation listed over 10,000 German converts.


On January 21, 2007, the Central Council of Ex-Muslims was founded.[5] It is a German association (Verein) of non-religious, secular persons who were Muslim or originate from an Islamic country. It was founded on January 21, 2007 and has more than 100 members. The apostate also represents some hundreds and thousands of ethnic Turks and South Slavs residing in Germany whom withdrew from the Islamic faith.


Since Islam is not a traditional religion in Germany and since most problems with migration into Germany focus on this religious point, currently there are several intensive disputes about the place of Islam in the German state and society.

Currently discussed topics are the head-scarf worn by teachers in schools and universities. The freedom of belief enjoined by the teacher contradicts in the view of many the neutral stance of the state towards religion; many people also see the head-scarf mainly as a political symbol of the oppression of women even though many Muslim women reject this view. As of 2006, many of the German federal states have introduced legislation banning head-scarves for teachers. It is almost clear 2006 that these laws will prove to be constitutional. However, unlike in France, there are no laws against the wearing of head-scarves by students.

In the German federal states with the exception of Bremen, Berlin and Brandenburg, lessons of religious education overseen by the respective religious communities are taught as an elective subject in public schools. It is being discussed whether apart from the Catholic and Protestant (and in a few schools, Jewish) religious education that currently exists, a comparable subject of Islamic religious education should be introduced. However, all efforts to deal with the issue in cooperation with the existing Islamic organisations is due to the dilemma that none of them can be considered a representative of the whole Muslim community.

The construction of mosques occasionally arouses hostile reactions in the respective neighborhoods. In 2007, an attempt by Muslims to build a large mosque in Cologne sparked a controversy.[citation needed]

See also: Cologne mosque controversy

Fears of religious fundamentalism came into the focus of attention after September 11, 2001, especially in relation to a renewed religious fundamentalism of second- and third-generation Muslims in Germany. Also the various confrontations between Islamic religious law (Sharia) and the norms of German Grundgesetz and culture are being discussed hotly. German critics come also from the rank of the liberals and from Christian circles. The first claim that Islamic fundamentalism violates basic fundamental rights whereas the latter see Germany as a state and society grounded in the Christian tradition.

A growing number of muslim immigrants, mostly Turks, is creating a parallel Muslim society in Germany that is in part related to Islamic fundamentalism.[6]

[edit] Islam and German intellectual life

Several prominent figures of German-language intellectual life are known for their positive attitude to Islam:

* Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), Germany’s most famous literary artist, was writing a verse drama on the life of Muhammad at his death. His work West-östlicher Diwan of 1819 is considered by many Muslims as an evidence, that Goethe even was a Muslim. This was claimed in a 1995 fatwa.[7]
* Friedrich Rückert (1788–1866) translated the Quran into German.
* Annemarie Schimmel (1922–2003) was a leading scholar of Islam and Sufism and the author of more than 100 books.
* Hans Küng (1928- ), a dissident Catholic theologian at the University of Tübingen, has called for “peace among the religions.”

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Islam in France

Islam is one of the most important religions in France because of the large number of Muslims, estimated at 3.7 to 5.5 million – an estimate because religious affiliation is not recorded as such in France.[1] In fact, the percentage of Muslims attending mosques is relatively low, like that of churchgoing Catholics. Muslims are well integrated into French society and the French have a positive view of Islam.

In order to facilitate dialogue, the French government encouraged the establishment of the French Council for the Muslim Faith (CFCM – Conseil français du Culte musulman), the French Government’s official interlocutor on Muslim affairs.

Islam is the second-largest religion in France

While Catholicism is the most widely practised religion in France with approximately 30 million churchgoers, Islam is in second place, with 3.7 to 5.5 million Muslims out of metropolitan France’s total population of around 63 million (5 to 9%).

According to the Interior Ministry, France had 1,685 mosques and prayer rooms in 2005 (1,558 in 2003). 13 of these mosques can accommodate over 1,000 people. A further 30 are currently being built.

At the moment, metropolitan France has one Muslim secondary school, a private lycée which opened in Lille in 2003. There is also one collège [11-15 year-olds] in Aubervillier (2001) and one primary school in Marseille. The first French Muslim primary school was established in Saint-Denis on the island of Réunion in 1947.

In each region of France, training is available for imams who are already working. They are given tuition in the French language and information on France’s institutions and her republican framework.

In recent years, French Muslims have gained their own representative bodySince the 1960s, many organizations have been set up in France to represent French Muslims, the main ones being the Union of France’s Islamic Organizations (UOIF – Union des Organisations islamiques de France), National Federation of French Muslims (FNMF – Fédération nationale des Musulmans de France) and National League of French Muslims (FNMF – Ligue nationale des Musulmans de France).

However, faced with the absence of a single, legitimate body to act as their interlocutor, successive French governments endeavoured to encourage the establishment of a representative body of French Muslims, and in 1999 the then Interior Minister, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, launched a “Consultation” with French Muslims with the aim of encouraging its creation.

In 2003, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy created the CFCM, bringing FNMF and UOIF members into a single body. CFCM representatives abide by all the legal principles of the French republic’s fundamental texts, such as articles 10 and 11 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen on freedom of religion, article 1 of the French Constitution affirming the republic’s secular nature, and finally, the provisions of the 1905 Act on the separation of Church and State.

Council members are elected by a general assembly, itself elected by the mosque representatives. This process guarantees the Assembly’s democratic nature and representativeness.

The CFCM has the remit to discuss societal issues, such as the wearing of the headscarf. In addition to acting as a discussion forum, it is responsible, in cooperation with the authorities, for resolving issues such as the building of mosques, organization of religious festivals, training of imams, etc. The CFCM is encouraging integration and normalizing relations with the French public authorities.

The Creation of the French Council for the Muslim Faith has fulfilled the expectations of French Muslims[2]

A 2003 opinion poll showed that for Muslims the establishment of the CFCM signified recognition of Islam’s place in France. Indeed, 81% of respondents thought creation of the Council would allow greater account to be taken of Islam and French Muslims.

Moreover, 80% thought it would improve the image of French Muslims in the eyes of the rest of the population, and 74% that it would resolve the difficulties they face in practising their religion.

78% of those polled think that Islam’s values are compatible with those of the French Republic.

Absence of friction between religions in France today, according to a PEW survey[3]

The PEW Global Attitudes Project survey carried out in spring 2006 revealed a high degree of tolerance in France:
- In the West, the French have the most positive opinion of Muslims: 65% (63% in the UK).
- France had the highest percentage of people, 74% (35% in the United Kingdom), who think there is no conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society. She also had the highest percentage of people who think there is no conflict between being a devout Christian and living in a modern society: 86% (70% in the UK).
- Of all Western Muslims, those in France have the most favourable opinion of Christians: 91% (71% in the UK)
- Over 70% of French Muslims consider that people in Western countries are “respectful to women” (49% in the UK).

Some commentators saw a religious dimension in the disturbances in France in autumn 2005. However, French researchers and sociologists have all stressed that the riots had no religious, political or ethnic character, but stemmed essentially from the difficulties the young people involved had finding a job. The government is endeavouring to address these concerns through measures to improve training and housing and promote economic development.

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Islam in Thailand

Islam religion is strongly installed in the Thailand’s southern provinces close to Malaysia. There are still problems with these provinces, which ask for greater autonomy. In 1990’s, there were bombing attacks against police or military spots. Only since 1998 it is more quiet. The attacks were not targeted against tourists. Thai Muslims feel that Thai-Chinese people control the economy and business, Thai people control administration. Then there is nothing left for them. Nowadays politics toward Southern provinces improves power sharing slowly. Since year 2004, bombing attacks against police, governmental or military spots has started again.

In Thailand’s southern provinces, there are more mosques than Buddhist temple. The temple called “WAT CHONTHARA SINGH-HE” near Narathiwat was built last century to show that these provinces belong to Thailand. English colonialists wanted to annex them. The four upper provinces of Malaysia belonged to Thailand but Rama V had to give them to English colonialists. Rama V has also given the Laos and a part of Cambodia to French colonialists to avoid war. Spoken language in southern provinces is different from Thai language, i.e. it is similar to Malaysian language.

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Islam in America: From African Slaves to Malcolm X

Thomas A. Tweed
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
©National Humanities Center

When students think of Islam—if they do at all—they might summon an image of Denzel Washington playing a stern and passionate Malcolm X in Spike Lee’s 1992 film, or maybe they imagine Louis Farrakhan on the speaker’s platform at the Million Man March in 1995. Some might have encountered Middle Eastern Muslims on the nightly news, mostly as “fundamentalists” and “terrorists.” A few have met immigrant Muslims in their neighborhood. Muslim students might be among their classmates. But Muslims are more diverse than popular images allow, and American Muslim history is longer than most might think, extending back to the day that the first slave ship landed on Virginia’s coast in 1619. It encorporates two groups—Muslims from other countries who migrated to America by force or by choice, and African Americans who created Muslim sects in the twentieth century. Thus, a consideration of the Islamic presence in America provides a new perspective on several important (and familiar) issues that will be used to organize this essay:

1. What is the history of slavery in the United States?
2. How have immigrants resisted and accommodated American culture?
3. What were African Americans’ experiences in the northern cities after the Great Migration?
4. How has African-American Islam addressed race relations since the 1960s?
5. Is America a Christian nation?

At first, you will need to introduce Islam to your students, and a helpful way to do this is to invite their responses to the word “Muslim.” What comes to mind when they hear the word? Write their responses on the board without comment, and then use the list to establish the dominant images of Muslims—for example, as militants, extremists, newcomers. Then you can begin to contest these impressions and establish that Islam is a diverse and long-standing American religion—one that has had a significant presence in the United States.

At this point you will need to introduce the basic beliefs and practices of the world’s one billion Muslims, most of whom live in Asia, not in the Middle East as most Americans presume. As in Christianity and Judaism, Islam (which is second only to Christianity in worldwide adherents) includes a number of communities or branches. The two major groups are Sunni Muslims, who constitute about 85 percent of Muslims, and Shii (or Shiite) Muslims, who account for 15 percent of the world’s Islamic population. All traditional groups are represented among the five million Muslims in the United States, along with some new movements that have been cultivated on American soil.

Muslims in prayer, Long Island, New York
Muslims in prayer, Long Island, New York
Courtesy Islamic Center of Long Island
Despite their diversity, Muslims have a good deal in common. They look to the Qu’ran— the sacred book that records the message of Allah [God] as it was revealed to his final prophet, Muhammed (A.D. ca. 570-632), and they seek to follow the example (sunna) of the prophet. All accept the Five Pillars of Islam, the basic beliefs and duties of Muslims:

1. A profession of faith (shahada). All Muslims must proclaim “There is no God but Allah and Muhammed is his prophet.” Note here that Muhammed is not God in Muslim theology but rather a spokesperson or mouthpiece for the divine.
2. Prayer (salat). All Muslims pray five times daily while facing the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
3. Alms (zakat). Faith also means outreach. To give thanks and follow the example of Muhammed, Muslims with the economic means must give alms to those who are less fortunate.
4. Fasting (sawm or siyam). Muslims who are physically able are to fast from dawn to dusk during the ninth month (Ramadan) of the Islamic calendar.
5. A pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca. At least once in their lives, all Muslims who are able must make a pilgrimage to the Great Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, toward which they have knelt while praying five times daily during their lives. (Chapter seventeen of The Autobiography of Malcolm X offers a vivid account of this pilgrimage, which was life-transforming for him. It was on hajj, he recounts, that he first glimpsed the possibility that people of different races could get along.)

Slavery and Islam

A small but significant proportion of African slaves, some estimate 10 percent, were Muslim. You might tell the story of Omar Ibn Said (also “Sayyid,” ca. 1770-1864), who was born in Western Africa in the Muslim state of Futa Toro (on the south bank of the Senegal River in present-day Senegal). He was a Muslim scholar and trader who, for reasons historians have not uncovered, found himself captive and enslaved. After a six-week voyage, Omar arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, in about 1807. About four years later, he was sold to James Owen of North Carolina’s Cape Fear region. In 1819 a white Protestant North Carolinian wrote to Francis Scott Key, the composer of The Star Spangled Banner, to request an Arabic translation of the Bible for Omar, and apparently Key sent one. Historians dispute how much the African Muslim leaned toward Christianity in his final years, but Omar’s notations on the Arabic bible, which offer praise to Allah, suggest that he retained much of his Muslim identity, as did some other first-generation slaves whose names have been lost to us. (Omar’s Arabic bible, which has recently been restored, is housed in the library of Davidson College in North Carolina.)

Muslims and Immigration, 1878-1924

Most history courses cover the immigrants who changed America’s population throughout the nineteenth century. You might point out these immigrants were not all European or Christian. Many were Chinese and Japanese migrants who practiced Buddhism and other Asian traditions. Thousands of Muslims came as well, and most of these first Islamic immigrants were Arabs from what was then Greater Syria. These Syrian, Jordanian, and Lebanese migrants were poorly educated laborers who came seeking greater economic stability. Many returned, disenchanted, to their homeland. Those who stayed suffered isolation, although some managed to establish Islamic communities, often in unlikely places. By 1920, Arab immigrants worshiped in a rented hall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and they built a mosque of their own fifteen years later. Lebanese-Syrian communities did the same in Ross, North Dakota, and later in Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Michigan City, Indiana. Islam had come to America’s heartland.

The first wave of Muslim immigration ended in 1924, when the Asian Exclusion Act and the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act allowed only a trickle of “Asians,” as Arabs were designated, to enter the nation.

African-American Islam in the Urban North

A Euro-American, Mohammed Alexander Webb (1847-1916), proclaimed himself a Muslim at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, but converts have been more prominent among Americans of African descent, especially those who followed the mass migrations of southern blacks to northern cities beginning in the early decades of the twentieth century. Noble Drew Ali established a Black nationalist Islamic community, the Moorish Science Temple, in Newark, New Jersey in 1913. After his death in 1929, one of the movement’s factions found itself drawn to the mysterious Wallace D. Fard, who appeared in Detroit in 1930 preaching black nationalism and Islamic faith. Fard founded the Nation of Islam there in the same year. After Fard’s unexplained disappearance in 1934, Elijah Muhammed (1897-1975) took over, and he attracted disenchanted and poor African Americans from the urban north. They converted for a variety of reasons, but, for some, the poverty and racism in those cities made the Nation of Islam’s message about “white devils” (and “black superiority”) plausible.

Race Relations since the 1960s

Elijah Muhammed won an important convert when Malcolm Little (1925-1965) joined the faith in a prison cell. Malcolm X, the name he took to signal his lost African heritage, became a public figure during the 1960s, although he separated himself from the Nation of Islam before his death. After Elijah Muhammed’s death in 1975, the movement split. One branch, under the leadership of the fifth son of Elijah Muhammed, moved closer to the beliefs and practices of Islam as it is practiced in most of the world. This group, which would later change its name to the American Muslim Mission, is the largest African-American Islamic movement. The much smaller Nation of Islam, which the American Muslim Mission and other Islamic groups condemn as racist and unorthodox, is much more familiar to most Americans. Many American Muslims would claim that the Nation of Islam, led by Louis Farrakhan, is not representative of either immigrant or convert Islam in the United States.

As you teach the Nation of Islam, you might ask students what the history of African-American Islam since the Great Migration tells us about race relations. Why were Malcolm X and others in northern cities so willing to believe that European Americans were “white devils”? In what sense, you might ask, is the Nation of Islam’s sacred story about the origin of whites as the mistake of a black scientist a “truthful” representation of many African Americans’ experience?

Muslims and the New Immigrants after 1965

If you are able to reach the post-1965 period in your class, you might reintroduce Muslims in a discussion of demographic changes in contemporary America. Palestinian refugees arrived after the creation of Israel in 1948. More important for the history of American Islam, the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 relaxed the quota system established in 1924, thereby allowing greater Muslim immigration. The gates opened even more widely after the 1965 revisions of the immigration law. Since then, Muslim migrants have fled oppressive regimes in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria; and South Asian Muslims, as from Pakistan, have sought economic opportunity. By the 1990s, Muslims had established more than six hundred mosques and centers across the United States.

Is America a Christian Nation?

Toward the end of your discussion of Islam in America, you might raise this final issue concerning religion and national identity. Islam may soon be the second largest American faith after Christianity, if it is not already. Estimates vary widely, and a moderate estimate is five million American Muslims in 1997—more than Episcopalians, Quakers, and Disciples of Christ. When recounting this to students, and recalling the history of Islamic slaves and the early debates about the First Amendment, you might ask students whether America is a Christian nation as some have proclaimed. Could we, you might ask to focus the discussion, elect a Muslim president? If so, would she (while we are imagining, let’s get bold!) view this land as a New Israel or take her presidential oath on a Christian Bible, as has been traditional?

Thomas A. Tweed holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University in Religious Studies and is currently the Zachary Smith Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Tweed is the author of Our Lady of the Exile: Diasporic Religion at a Cuban Catholic Shrine in Miami (Oxford University Press, 1997) and the editor of Retelling U.S. Religious History (California University Press, 1997). He most recently co-edited, with Stephen Prothero, Asian Religions in America: A Documentary History (Oxford University Press, 1999).

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