A+ A-

Belgian academic says Muslims in Europe lack religious intellectual leadership

By Nawab Khan

BRUSSELS, Jan 22 (KUNA) -- A Belgian professor of sociology and researcher on Islam Felice Dassetto is calling on rich Muslim countries to assist in establishing Islamic theological schools and faculties in Europe to overcome the gap in intellectual leadership of European Muslims.
"One of the major problems Muslims in Europe face, except perhaps for UK, is the absence of religious intellectual leadership," said Dassetto who teaches sociology in the university of Leuven and has published three books on Islam.
In an interview with the Kuwait news agency, KUNA, he explained that the reason for this vacuum is the absence of Islamic theological faculties in Europe.
He said Gulf countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia can help in the establishment of such Islamic faculties in Europe.
"They must help because the European Muslim must be in contact with the Muslim world," said the Belgian academic.
Howeverm, he stressed that Muslim countries must accept that Muslims in Europe will develop their own specific interpretation and autonomous way of Islamic thought.
Dassetto, who is a member of the Royal academy of Belgium, said he became interested in the anthropology and sociology of Islam after the first arrival of Muslim immigrants from Morocco, Turkey and other countries to Belgium in the end of 70s.
"It was a new fact in Belgian and European societies when Muslim immigrants started building mosques and Islam became visible and from sociological viewpoint if was very interesting because it was new reality," he stressed.
He published his books in French titled "Islam transplanted" in 1984, his second book titled "Islam in Europe" in 1992 and in 2011 he published his study on Muslims in Brussels titled the "Iris and the Crescent." The flower Iris is symbol of Brussels.
More than 20 percent of the population of Brussels is of Muslim origin coming from Morocco, Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other African countries.
Dassetto whose origins are from Italy said Europe is now also Muslim continent and Brussels is now also a Muslim town which means that acceptance of the fact that Muslims are here to stay.
There are 77 mosques or prayer rooms in Brussels and over 300 across Belgium, he noted.
The Belgian scholar, however, laments that among the 77 imams or prayer leaders in Brussels there are only two or three who can speak Dutch or French, the official languages of Belgium.
"It is nearly thirty years that Islam came to Belgium and it is not possible that after thirty years to continue like this." he said. Under Belgian law it is obligatory in public schools to teach religion and the Belgian state pays to 800 Muslim teachers who teach Islam to school children .
But most of these teachers are not trained because there is no institution to train them and their knowledge of Islam is also limited to reading a few books, he noted.
"The Belgian state is spending a huge amount of money on tuis. This is a unique case in Europe" underlined the Belgian intellectual.
He said the current tendency is to import to Europe the model of Islamic studies in the Muslim world.
"But you cannot transfer the reality of Islam for example in Turkey or Morocco directly to Europe. This is for me the big challenge to develop a Muslim theological faculty in Europe," he said.
After the September 11 attacks in the US, Dassetto published a brochure called "Islam of the new century" in which he argued that September 11 was a shift for the Muslims and a clear dissociation from violent acts in particular in Belgium.
The Belgian professor thinks that there are some politicians and political parties in Europe who are hostile to Muslim but they are in a minority and that there is a general acceptance of islam.
"There are some questions in the European mind about radicalisation or relations between women and men but this does not mean that there is hostility. It means we need a debate because the presence of Islam in Europe is an extraordinary new fact and for Muslims living in a non-Muslim context is also an extraordinary new fact," he told KUNA. (end) nk.asa KUNA 220936 Jan 12NNNN