An investigation of European Islam sheds light on a complex identity

Sunday 04/12/2016
Everyday Life Practices of Muslims in Europe edited by Erkan Toguslu, Leuven University Press, 234 pages.

London - Germany has banned a group calling itself True Religion for recruiting jihadists to fight in Iraq and Syria and the Huffington Post has questioned whether Muslims in Europe were the new scapegoats after the Jews during the Holocaust. Studying the lives of these people is essential to under­standing Muslim ideology.
Everyday Life Practices of Mus­lims in Europe does that with 11 research papers about their exist­ence in seven European coun­tries. The editor, Erkan Toguslu, a researcher at the University of Leuven in Belgium, sought to focus on familiar topics such as food, art, sexuality and court­ship. The collected works provide an analysis beyond surveys and questionnaires.
Jana Jevtic, of Budapest’s Cen­tral European University, points out a new generation of Muslims in the West are practising Islam differently than their parents and grandparents did in their home­lands. Many young Muslims em­phasise leading a “true” Islamic lifestyle according to the Quran and Hadith, rather than following a more “cultural” interpretation.
Jevtic’s point is important because, while the new genera­tion may challenge the older one’s cultural understanding of Islam and the common stereotypes that come with it, there are lessons learned through generations about which interpretations and implementations have worked or not worked in daily life.
Another chapter in the book explores how there is no longer a need for some Muslims to have a long-term relationship as long as the potential partner has similar attitudes towards Islam. Previ­ously, parents would choose the bride or groom for their children. More Muslims now are choosing their partners according to Islamic values, making it hard for parents who call themselves Muslim to reject their child’s choice.
However, the downside to this practice is what Leen Sterckx, of the Netherlands Institute for Social Research, calls the law of the handicap of a head start, a term coined in 1937 by Jan Romein, a Dutch journalist and historian. Women do not have more space to make mistakes on the marriage market for trial and error than before.
Sterckx’s idea made me think about the way Mus­lims might view non-Mus­lims. For girls and women who do want more sexual liberties, is the barrier between them and their Muslim peers with dif­ferent views on sexual­ity going to cause major problems?
If those supposedly morally superior Mus­lims judge those they think are not as Islam­ic as they should be, this leaves lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual Muslims isolated, as they cannot speak about their sexuality to some of their Muslim peers in Europe.
The main drawback of Everyday Life Practices of Muslims in Europe is some chapters do not develop enough analysis worth taking away. Although the intention of the book is important, the translation of everyday topics into important analysis is not always satisfactory. However, the book does provide a good introduction for those who are not familiar with the Muslim lifestyle.
What is important to learn from the book is that even though the more literal Islam­ic way of life may seem more appealing by removing the negative cultural interpreta­tions passed on by generations, what is at risk are the lessons gained from older generations. How can such interpretations of Islam work to integrate Muslims in Western society at the same time? Are Muslims prepared to start a new trial and error phase of implementing this Islam in daily life? Can they deal with the consequences if that fails?