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EU Muslims, Can We Change Our Reality? (Part 1)





By El-Sayed Amin



This article is part one of a long series of analytical pieces that sheds light on different issues that have to do with Euro Muslims and the impact of the mosque, with its all elements, on them. In its coming parts, the series’ topics will include the European Madrasa (schools), EU imams…realistic memoirs, EU mosque frequenters….Is it all about praying, and EU mosques from inside…Da`wah, engagement and much more.


Many people write about Islam, yet it seems that their writings are unrealistic as they disfigure our faces as European Muslims. Many articles and situations impinge on our mental and physical hard drives which portray our Mosques as extraordinary community centers from which the ‘others’ are supposedly instructed to learn Islam in its entirety. Interestingly, the first attempt to apply any of the basic tools of self-criticism was received with frown faces, fiery eyes, and eventually with deaf ears except for rare cases here and there.


Let me first start by stating certain important facts:



The writer of this article is a born Muslim who is currently staying in the West and is badly shocked by the image of several Mosques and community centers. A writer who believes that sometimes looking at the empty half of the cup is capable of revealing our faults to us which is sometimes necessary to revive our conscience.


The idea of self-criticism is an important tool for the better religious management of our Mosques with the elapse of time especially among second and third generations.


The role of our current imams and their discourse needs a drastic review process.


Our Deeply-Rooted Sense of Self-Criticism


To start with the second point, one can say that self-criticism is a deeply-rooted concept in our creed as Muslims. God addresses early Muslims referring to the Battle of Hunayn saying, “…and on the day of the Battle of Hunayn. You were pleased with your large numbers , but they were of no use to you: the earth seemed to close in on you despite its spaciousness, and you turned tail and fled.”[1] The fact that early Muslims were closer to Allah than us today does not prevent the Qur’an from criticizing their behavior in a bid to educate them to avoid vainglory. Even the most beloved to God (i.e. Muhammad PBUH) was gently criticized when he turned away from `Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum [2]who eagerly came to him seeking knowledge. [3]


Therefore, critiquing communities or individuals in a constructive way with the pure intention of reform is a basic concept in the Qur’an itself. There are other countless pieces of evidence from the Sunnah and the history of the righteous predecessors a reference which is beyond the focus of this article; the discourse of our EU imams and its impact on the European community.


The Discourse of Our Imams in Europe


The Friday Speech (Khutbah)


To focus on the third point raised above, it is undeniable that the greatest majority of our imams in the West come from different ethnic, geographical, and sometimes ideological backgrounds. These different characteristics have their impact on us as a target audience who cannot help but succumb and unwillingly yield to such narrow-minded vision. A very clear example of this is the way most of the imams in the UK, for example, run their Friday Prayer. The predominantly Hanafi school of jurisprudence [4]is the most vivid pattern applied no matter the wishes of the attendees are.


Few years ago, I was disappointed as a result of performing the Jum`ah Prayer in one of the biggest Mosques in the second largest city in the UK where the imam and the Mosque committee insist on literally applying the Hanafi pattern in running the main speech prior to the khutbah in Urdu, and then a 5-minute hastily prepared and given khutbah prior to the Friday prayer.


What adds to my sadness is that only a sizable minority of the senior citizens of the community were present for the speech, but the young men and women who flock to the Mosque while the Urdu speech is being delivered grasp their copies of the Qur’an to read Surat al-Kahf[5]sitting inattentive to the imam. Screeing their faces, I began to feel the same agony they are facing as I myself regretted not attending a free Urdu course at al-Azhar University seven years ago, at least to be able to break the language barrier and to decipher the terminology used. The calamity continues with the imam mixing Urdu with broken English causing people to lose concentration and continue their anticipation and surprise.


The above exposition, is just a single example of how the image of our imams in Europe is portrayed for the young men and women in their communities resulting in their emotional, Islamic, psychological, and community alienation if not negligence. Instead of making sure that our Mosques do accommodate the different demographical segments of the community especially the youth, we are still running a clannish election style in the 21st century where only the senior members of the community who don’t speak the language or let’s say make faltering attempts doing it the way it is done in … and … . 6]

Countless are the young men who reveal to me that they come in the last minute for the khutbah losing their reward of coming early because they are sure that the imam’s Arabic khutbah, which is a ta`bbudi (i.e a form of worship to be done in Arabic) in the Hanafi madhab, is a repetitive speech done in a parrot-fashion style every week. This criticism is clearly harsh, I admit. However, wounds in our bodies can’t remain there without prescribing the suitable cure.


A Chronic Disease: Any Cures?


The cure is always within reach, but we, as imams and religious leaders in Europe should:



Demonstrate that we are really open minded to accept the ‘other’ view from our fellow Muslims let alone the view of the ‘other’ non-Muslims.


Run our Mosques in a very democratic way by respecting the minds of the attendees through circulating feedback forms, for example, that anonymously assesses our performance and allows us to see our true pictures reflected on the mirror of our Mosque’s reality.


Have a fresh look at our weekly khutbah discourses, and think of changing our style in a way that copes with the changes of time, age, environment and surrounding circumstances.


Master the national languages of our European societies while putting the output of our kids in grammar schools and A levels into consideration.


Gather the youth around us by endearing ourselves to them first through breaking the ice first, and then charting out the suitable communicative discourse.


Finally, let us raise this slogan high and seriously attempt to apply it,


“God does not change the condition of a people unless they change what is in themselves.” [7]


[1]M. A. S. Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an A New Translation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 118.


[2]He is one of the Prophet’s Companions who died as a martyr in the Qadisiyyah Battle during the rein of `Umar bin al-Khattab on 14th year A.H. See,, accessed: 3\89.


[3]See Qur’an 80: 1-10; Ibid., p. 409.


[4]Sunn» schools of Islamic jurisprudence are the Shafi`i, the Hanafi, the Maliki, and the Hanbali. For a Thorough study of the lives of the four imams and a general explanation of their lives of see, Muhammad Abu Zahra, The Four Imams the Lives and Teaching of Their Founders (London: Dar al-Taqwa, 2001).


[5]Surat al-Kahf is the 18th Surah of the Qur’an. It is part of the Prohetic Sunnah to read it on Friday.


[6]With these two dropped suggestions I don’t mean different countries, but I am anchoring the very clannish style applied between the same worshippers who come from almost the same country but would compete which each other from which province the head, his deputy, or the imam should be selected.


[7]Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, p. 154.


El-Sayed Amin is currently a PhD candidate in Islamic Studies at the University of Birmingham, UK. He is also a junior lecturer, Department of Islamic Studies in English at Al-Azhar University, Cairo.

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