C Explanatory memorandum
by Mr Jensen, rapporteur
On 2 September 2008, I was appointed rapporteur for
the Committee on Culture, Science and Education on “Islam, Islamism
and Islamophobia in Europe” on the basis of a motion for a resolution
) tabled by Mr Margelov and others. On 26 April 2010,
a new motion for a resolution entitled “Burqa – is action needed?” (Doc. 12159
) was referred to the committee, to be taken into account
in the present report.
For the preparation of this report, the Committee on Culture,
Science and Education held a hearing on Islam, Islamism and Islamophobia
in Europe in Copenhagen on 8 September 2009. The record is available
as document AS/Cult (2009) 20 rev. An earlier report on freedom
of expression and respect for religious beliefs by my Finnish colleague,
Mrs Sinikka Hurskainen, may also serve as a reference (Doc. 10970
3. This report aims at highlighting the challenges European societies
face in respect of Islam and their growing Muslim communities and
how these challenges can be overcome in order to ensure respect
for all persons, regardless of their religion.
2 Islam in Europe
For centuries, European countries and countries in
North Africa, the Middle East and Asia had strong relations with
each other, characterised by wars of conquest but also by periods
of peaceful cohabitation, of understanding, of intellectual, cultural
and in particular commercial exchanges. After the foundation of
Islam in the 7th century, the civilisation and culture of Islamic
countries had an important impact on science, knowledge and culture
in Europe. In 1991 the Parliamentary Assembly adopted a report on
the contribution of the Islamic civilisation to European culture
), which acknowledged the importance of Islam’s past
contribution and Islam’s potentially positive role in the Europe
5. Following the conquests by Arab leaders of the Iberian Peninsula
from the 8th to the 15th century and of Sicily from the 10th to
the 11th century, as well as the conquests in South-Eastern Europe
by the Ottoman Empire from the 13th to the 17th century, there has
been a Muslim presence in Europe. Four member states of the Council
of Europe have traditionally a predominantly Muslim population.
In Western Europe, their presence increased rapidly through the
second half of the 20th century. Following bilateral treaties of
Turkey with, for instance, Germany (1961) granting working visas
for Turkish citizens, a first generation of Muslims came to meet
the needs of those countries for manual labour. Such immigration
was then perceived as temporary, but gradually became permanent
and an integral part of European societies. After the independence
of the former European colonies in North Africa and Asia, their
citizens had privileged access to France, the Netherlands and the
United Kingdom, for example. Today, Muslims come to Europe from
the Middle East, Africa and South-East Asia because of economically
or politically difficult conditions in those regions. Islam is part
of the religious landscape and the cultural heritage of modern Europe.
6. Religious tolerance is a fundamental value in Europe which
took centuries to develop. In the wake of the human suffering from
the Thirty Years’ War, peaceful religious cohabitation between Roman
Catholics and Protestants was established in Europe through the
Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The emancipation of Jews in Europe
was gradually established through national laws, for example, in
1791 in France, in the German Kingdom of Prussia in 1812 and, finally,
in Switzerland in 1874. With industrialisation and linked migration
as well as the introduction of mandatory school education, religion
was losing its societal importance in Europe. The Jewish Holocaust
and the crimes against humanity in former Yugoslavia reminded Europe
of the terrible potential of religious or ethnic intolerance and
the paramount importance of human rights and democracy for any civilised
7. Religion maintained its centuries’ old importance for the
Islamic countries in North Africa and the Middle East, many of which
had been under European colonial rule and remained largely agricultural
with widespread poverty and high illiteracy. The enormous profits
from oil and gas resources in some of these countries over the past
decades were kept for small elites within these countries. The political
struggle for control over these resources led to the emergence of
religiously framed extremism in some countries, for instance the
so-called Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. In addition, the conflict
in the Middle East and the situation of the Palestinians gave rise
to organised terrorism, ranging from suicide attacks on ordinary
people in Israel to the Palestinian attack on the Israeli team at
the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972.
8. While Islam gained a visible presence in Europe, differences
emerged over political and social values, in particular with regard
to secularity, human rights in general and the rights of women in
particular, but also Europe’s liberal views on gender equality,
marriage or sexual issues. Debates on the role of Islam in Europe are
sometimes very tense and provoke anxiety among Muslims who see Europe
as a threat to their religion and non-Muslims who see Islam as a
threat to their values.
9. Immigrants in general face difficulties integrating into their
host country, but Muslim immigrants seem to integrate slower than
non-Muslim immigrants. Even second and third generations of Muslim
immigrants sometimes find it difficult to accept European values
which seem in contradiction to their traditional cultural or family
values. The latter values are often characterised as Islamic values.
In particular, young Muslims identify first with Islam rather than
with either their family’s country of origin or the European country
of which they are citizens. This identification with Islam is stronger
today than it was a few decades ago and is also a consequence of
the larger number of Muslims and their sometimes parallel societies.
10. Identity conflicts of Muslims, as well as conflicts between
values perceived as European versus Islamic, are skilfully exploited
by so-called Islamists who mobilise second and third generations
of Muslim immigrants to reject basic principles of modern European
societies as being incompatible with Islam. Islamism has a growing
influence among Europe’s Muslim population and supports violence
against non-Muslims. Nevertheless, Islamists are a small minority
among European Muslims.
11. Terrorist attacks committed by criminals in the name of Islam,
in particular the attacks in New York in 2001, in Madrid in 2004
and in London in 2005, have increased fear of, and intolerance towards,
Islam and Muslims across Europe, sometimes referred to as Islamophobia.
One of the objectives of these terrorist attacks was, of course,
to stir up feelings and actions against Muslims, in order to cause
subsequent counter-reactions by Muslims who perceived themselves
as being socially excluded or opposed.
12. Islam is a monotheistic Abrahamic religion, founded
in the 7th century. It is one of the world’s major religions, with
an estimated 1.6 billion adherents, known as Muslims. Essential
to Islam is the belief that the Prophet Muhammad is God’s last messenger
and accomplished the revelations attributed to earlier prophets, including
Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Muslims also believe in the concept
of a last judgment found in all other Abrahamic religions. Based
on Judaism, Christianity and Islam developed subsequently and incorporated
many of the principles of Judaism.
13. The Koran is the central religious text of Islam and the fundamental
source of every Muslim’s faith and practice. According to Islam,
the Koran contains God’s revelations delivered to Muhammad by the
Angel Gabriel fourteen centuries ago. Similar to the Bible, the
Koran’s teaching shows first and foremost the relationship between
God and humanity and provides guidelines for a righteous society
and proper human conduct.
14. The most important elements of Islamic ritual life are known
as the “Five Pillars of Islam”, which are essential duties for all
Muslims. The first pillar includes the requirement to declare that
there is only one God and that Muhammad is his messenger. This must
be recited publicly at least once in a lifetime. The second consists
of five daily canonical prayers at fixed times during the day: before
dawn, at midday, in the mid-afternoon, at sunset and at night. The
third involves the practice of charity. Muslims who have accumulated wealth
have to donate to the poor annually. The fourth consists of fasting
during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during
which adult Muslims do not eat from sunrise to sunset. However,
travellers, children, the elderly, pregnant women and the sick are
exempted. Finally, the fifth pillar includes the pilgrimage to Mecca
prescribed for every Muslim, if possible once in a lifetime.
15. The Sunna, the second most important source of Islamic law
after the Koran, recounts the sayings and living habits of the Prophet
Muhammad. The Sunna, recorded in compilations known as Hadiths,
became a model for Muslim conduct that complements the Koran. However,
Shiites and Sunnites disagree about the content of the Sunna. Shiites
reject some Hadiths which Sunnites consider as legitimate, and vice
versa. This is due to their disagreement about the religious leadership
after the death of the Prophet and gives rise to some differences
in Islamic practice between the two groups.
16. Even though the Koran and the Sunna constitute the most important
source for Islamic law known as the sharia, many Islamic principles
and ethical norms are derived from scholarly interpretation through
consensus and analogy over many centuries and constitute the Islamic
jurisprudence. Generally speaking, sharia is based on four main
sources: the Koran itself, the Sunna, ijma’ (precedent consensus
of the Islamic scholars) and qiyas (a process of analogical reasoning).
However, all other sources of Islamic law must be in essential agreement
with the Koran. Judges may use ijma’, qiyas, (mainly the Shi’a Islam)
ijtihad (independent legal reasoning) to decide new case law if
new issues arise which have not been addressed in the Koran or in
the Sunna. However, there are many distinctions within the various
Islamic orientations with regard to the acceptance of the specific
sources and to the manner in which they use these sources.
17. Islam’s very rich but also complex legacy of theological and
ethical doctrines are inaccessible to most Muslims. Only many years
of Islamic studies provide the necessary knowledge of Islamic theological,
ethical and legal doctrines. With regard to Sunni Islam only, sharia
can be interpreted in four different ways according to the four
schools of thought of religious jurisprudence developed in the first
three centuries of Islam: the Hanafi, the Shafi’i, the Maliki and
the Hanbali School, each based on the interpretation of their founders.
These schools give different weight to qiyas and ijma’ concerning
legal opinions. However, some Muslims do not follow any particular
school and others combine different schools.
2.2 Diversity in Islam
18. Islam is not a coherent and monolithic bloc; like
all other religions, the Islamic community consists of a wide range
of religious orientations, beliefs and practices. Islam has several
branches and much diversity within those branches. Most Muslims
belong to the two major denominations of Islam: the Sunnites and
the Shiites. The largest denomination of Islam is the Sunni branch,
making up more than 85% of the Muslim population, whereas the Shi’a
constitutes the second largest division of Islam – about 10% of
all Muslims. Shiites represent the majority of the population in
Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Iran and Iraq. Turkey, Afghanistan, India,
Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen have a
significant Shi’a Muslim population.
19. The schism between the Sunnites and the Shiites originates
from the question of who would succeed Muhammad as leader of the
community. Whereas Sunnis choose the authority of the prophet’s
companion, Abu Bakr, Shiites only recognised members of the prophet’s
family. Accordingly, the Sunnites accepted the first three caliphs
(Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and Uthman) as legitimate successors of the prophet
and attribute no special religious or political function to the
descendants of Ali (the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet, who was
considered by the Sunnites as the fourth caliph). The Shiites, however,
believed that the prophet appointed Ali as the first caliph and
thus only recognise him and his descendants as caliphs, referred
to as imams (that is, the political and religious leadership of
the Shi’a Muslim community).
20. The largest branch of Shi’a Islam is the Twelfer Shi’a, but
there are many other branches and subdivisions within these branches
because the Shiites disagreed on the succession of Imams. Accordingly, they
created several divisions on who would be the rightful imam, today
known as Zaidism (Fiver Shi’a), Isma’ilism (the Sevener Shiites)
and the Imamiyya (the Twelfer Shi’a). Both latter groups believe
in a hidden imam awaiting the time that God has decreed for his
return in order to guide humanity. The status of the imam within
Shi’a Islam is different from that of the caliph in Sunni Islam.
Whereas the caliph is the spiritual and political head of the community,
the imam is not only the leader of the community, but is also considered
to be infallible and sinless and appointed by God to be the perfect
example for the faithful. The institution of the Caliphate in Sunni
Islam was abolished by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1924. As the Sunnites
do not have an ordained clerical hierarchy, any Muslim with sufficient
knowledge, also called an “ulama”, may lead a religious community
and offer non-binding opinions. In contrast to this, Shi’a Islam
has a clerical hierarchy. The highest ranking ulama in the Shi’a
tradition are called ayatollahs, who lead the Shi’a community during
the temporary absence of the hidden imam. However, none can speak
in the name of all Muslims.
21. But there are other minor religious orientations distinct
from Sunni and Shi’a Islam; such as the Kharijites, the Ibadiyya,
the Mu’tazilah or the Ahmadiyyah, although the latter orientation
is not considered as Islamic in certain countries. Another significant
dimension of Islamic religious life is the Islamic mysticism known
as Sufism, a mystical-ascetic form of Islam. Sufism is divided into
a large number of orders and is frequently viewed by other Muslims
22. Muslims are therefore not a homogenous group. Besides their
diverse religious orientations and practices, they have very diverse
cultures, languages and ethnic origins.
2.3 Muslim population in Europe
23. In Europe, Islam is the second largest religion.
In certain member states of the Council of Europe, it is traditionally
the religion professed by the majority of the population, while
in others it is the religion of the majority of immigrants and of
citizens with an immigrant background or of European citizens who
have converted to Islam. Most Muslims in western Europe are immigrants
or from an immigrant background from Turkey, the Middle East, North
Africa and South Asia. Most of those living in South-Eastern Europe,
in the Caucasus, in Russia or in Turkey are native.
24. The number of Muslims living in western Europe has increased
largely in the last decades. Whereas there were about 800 000 Muslims
in 1950, there are now more than 23 million, comprising nearly 5%
of the population. The rate of growth is accelerating and the number
is expected to rise.
25. The Islamic community in Europe differs considerably, not
only in terms of their brand of Islam but also in terms of origins,
countries of reference, culture, language, traditions and ethnicities.
Some European Muslims are doctrinally rigid and others, the majority,
do not actively practise their faith; some are committed to modern
European values, and others are not. Similar to the terms Christian
and Christianity or Jew and Judaism, the terms Muslim and Islam
embrace diverse realities which must be clarified in order to avoid simplifications
26. Some European countries show a higher concentration of Muslim
communities from different countries of origin. The Muslim population
in France are mainly from the former French colonies in Africa:
Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal and Mali. In Germany, Turks form
the overwhelming majority of Muslims, while in Great Britain Muslims
are mainly Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians. In the Netherlands
and in Belgium, Muslims are predominantly from Indonesia, Morocco
27. In Europe, Muslims do not have institutional structures which
represent the whole Muslim community in one country or at European
level. Public authorities have to be careful in selecting their
Muslim interlocutors, as some Islamic structures are apparently
reliable but are in fact very radical and pursue a model of society incompatible
with the values and institutions of a democratic Europe. Islamists
are very often involved in such Muslim structures in order to obtain
political participation. European countries should rather co-operate
with structures which are committed to European values and reject
the radical ones. Muslim integration is not only a religious problem,
but a problem that all immigrants face, whatever their religious
3 Islamic ideologies
28. Islamism, also called political Islam, is an ideology
which aims at getting political influence in order to apply Islamic
principles in the world. Muslims, who think that the precepts of
Islam are not just a religious belief but should be fundamental
to the political and social order of society, can be called Islamists.
Islamists believe that Islam guides all spheres of life and therefore
do not accept the separation of religion and state. They attempt
to reach their goal either with peaceful indoctrination, propaganda
and political struggle or violent methods such as assassination
29. Islamism is not a contemporary phenomenon. Already in the
early 20th century, figures such as the Pakistani Sayyid Al Mawdoudi
or the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, often referred to as the founding father
of Islamism, advocated the establishment of an Islamic state for
implementing the sharia. Sayyid Qutb was certainly one of the key
figures of the Islamist movement “the Muslim Brotherhood” founded
by Hassan al-Banna in 1928 and which is still the most influential
political Islamic movement in the Islamic world. These movements
were among the first to organise an opposition to European colonial
30. In the early 20th century, Islamism restricted itself to the
Muslim world. Today, we can also find it in Europe. Islamism mainly
manifests itself through progressive penetration into European societies
by challenging the democratic values and norms, trying gradually
to replace them with its own standards and therefore impose its
ideology on European societies. Although Islamists constitute a
small minority amongst Muslims, they have weighty influence in European
societies: in media, in places of worship or in civil society. They
are organised, obtain funds from the oil-rich Gulf States and receive
large media coverage throughout the world.
31. Political Islam is not a unified movement: there are different
currents, various ideologies and beliefs. Terrorist attacks or passing
public death decrees (fatwa) are only extreme expressions of political
Islam. Typically, it expresses itself peacefully through political
penetration by challenging existing norms and social habits: asking
women to wear the headscarf, requesting that halal food be available
in school canteens, that men and women be separated in swimming
pools, requiring schools and employers to provide special rooms for
daily prayers and forbidding women to attend physical education
classes if schools cannot provide separation between sexes.
32. Contemporary Salafism, a branch of radical Islam, is doctrinally
rigid but not very active in political terms, aside from radical
Salafists, the so-called Salafist Jihadists, who use violent methods
against critical Muslims and non-Muslim societies. However, Salafism
seeks to revive a practice of Islam that resembles the religion more
closely as it was during the time of the Prophet Muhammad and therefore
claims to practice the pure Islam of the Koran and the Sunna as
understood and practised by the “pious predecessors”. The Salafists’ main
political advocacy is the strict application of sharia which is,
according to them, the only law to which Muslims should submit.
Therefore, they do not seek to engage in European activities but
to live their practice of Islam through isolation. However, unlike
other Islamists they consider that the adherence to the norms of sharia
is a personal commitment of individual Muslims and not a matter
of the state.
33. Salafism is not a unified group, its adherents range from
violent Salafist Jihadism to ultra conservative Wahhabism. However,
Salafism did not always refer to a movement with the desire to return
to a pure Islam as practised during the era of the Prophet Muhammad.
In the mid-19th century, the Salafist movement referred to the Islamic
reformist concepts of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad Abdu, and
Rashid Rida, who sought to reconcile Islam with modernity in focusing
on the principles of Islam.
3.2 Islamism as a challenge to
34. Islamists pursue a model of society incompatible
with the values and political structures of a democratic, tolerant
and pluralistic Europe. Their claims challenge democracy, secularity
and human rights. Islamists are not willing to submit to a national
legal framework as this is perceived to go against their religious
belief. They do not accept the separation between religion and state.
35. Islamism is growing among descendants of Muslim immigrants.
They have lived mostly in deprived areas and see Islam as a source
of identity and pride, as a means to redress perceived injustices,
weak socio-economic prospects and as a way of expressing their anger.
The more frustrated and alienated they feel, the more likely they
are to join these groups. Salafism appeals to younger Muslims because
it is a way to differentiate themselves from their parents and grandparents
and can also be a sign of adolescent rebellion, a way to affirm
their desire for individuality and to get public attention through
an uncompromising religious expression. Salafism also appeals to
converts because of its claim to authenticity. It offers Muslims
a clear and uncompromising opposition to the “West” and to the values
of European societies.
36. A few European Mosques have regularly been frequented and
even controlled by Islamists. Mosques, such as the Finsbury Park
Mosque in London, Al-Quds Mosque in Hamburg or Iqra Mosque in the
suburbs of Paris used to be centres for Islamists. Even though Mosques
provided them with new recruits and logistic arrangements, they
are seen as being no more than the location for the activities of
Islamists and cannot be seen as a place of proliferation. Since
the terrorist attacks in New York in 2001, the public authorities
and the Mosques themselves are much more vigilant – a fact which
has driven Islamist activities underground as well as online. The
role of the Internet plays an increasingly important role in Islamist
Islamists do not really want Muslims to integrate in European
societies and therefore instigate them to reject European values
and norms. Dialogue is essential in order to address integration
problems. However, dialogue can exist, and it makes sense, only
between people who truly respect each other, trust that different cultures
may coexist peacefully and are committed to build on common values
to ensure such a peaceful coexistence. Islamism plainly refuses
key features of European culture and fundamental values shared by
all European countries, as expressed in Assembly Recommendation 1804 (2007)
on state, religion, secularity and human rights. Islamism
rejects multiculturalism and can only lead to intolerance.
38. European countries have to act with a high sense of responsibility
and with knowledge towards the propaganda of Islamists because this
issue is delicate for politicians to deal with. A follower of Islam
is not necessarily a true representative of that religion, neither
is what individuals claim in the name of Islam inevitably religious.
Politicians, governments, but also the media, frequently fail to
distinguish between Muslims, Islamists and political extremists.
3.3 Political terrorism in the
name of Islam
39. Recently, Colonel Gaddafi, who had seized power in
oil-rich Libya in 1969, called for a holy war (jihad) against Switzerland
following the ban of minarets in Switzerland under the popular initiative
and his son’s arrest in Geneva in 2008 for having assaulted two
servants. Gaddafi had been linked to the bomb attacks on a discotheque
in Berlin in 1986, on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 and
on the French UTA airplane over the Sahara in 1989. In 1989, the
former religious and political leader of Iran, the Grand Ayatollah
Khomeini pronounced a death decree (fatwa) on Salman Rushdie for
having written the book The Satanic Verses. Osama
bin Laden is said to have issued two fatwas in 1996 and 1998, calling
on Muslims to kill US civilians and military personnel, before his
terrorist network al-Qaeda carried out the suicide airplane attacks
on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington
DC on 11 September 2001, causing the death of approximately 2 900
people. On 11 March 2004, a terrorist attack, linked to al-Qaeda,
killed 191 people and wounded approximately 1 800 on a commuter
train in Madrid. Following the production of his film Submission, which criticised the
treatment of women in Islamic societies, Theo van Gogh was assassinated
in Amsterdam on 2 November 2004 by a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim. The
former Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who had contributed
to the film and been critical of Muslim traditions, has been under
police protection since 2004 and finally left the Netherlands. Some
52 people were killed and around 700 were injured in the co-ordinated
suicide bomb attacks by four British Muslims on underground trains
and a bus in London on 7 July 2005. In 2006, the Grand Ayatollah
Fazel Lankarani of Iran issued a fatwa calling for the assassination
of Rafiq Tagi, a journalist in Azerbaijan who wrote about Islam
and reprinted the Muhammad cartoons of Jyllands-Posten in
the Azerbaijani newspaper Senet,
as well as the editor of Senet,
Samir Sedagetoglu. Kurt Westergaard, the author of the Jyllands-Posten cartoon showing
the prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban in September 2005,
received numerous death threats and was attacked in his house by
a Somali Muslim armed with an axe on 1 January 2010. In Palestinian
cemeteries, suicide terrorists are still accorded special places
of honour as “holy martyrs”.
40. The apparent objective behind such terrorist attacks and threats
is to create fear among non-Muslims and call for counter-reactions
against Muslims, to create the feeling of strength among Muslims
and unite them stronger against non-Muslims, and to pursue political
objectives such as the struggle for political power regionally or
internationally. During the so-called Cold War of the Soviet Union
and its allies with North America and western Europe, terrorist
fighters in the name of Islam were at times supported by one or
the other side, for instance in Afghanistan or the Middle East.
A few political leaders in the Middle East control vast oil resources
and use Islam as a source for establishing their own political power.
In 2007, 93% of the opiates on the world market originated from
Afghanistan, equalling some US$64 billion in value. Muslims in North
Africa and the Middle East burning Danish flags in front of television
cameras in the wake of the Jyllands-Posten incident
probably did not know Denmark, but were provided with such flags
for propaganda purposes by weak regional leaders who sought to strengthen
their position within their own country. As those leaders are typically not
elected freely and fairly through a democratic process, they perceive
democracy and the rule of law as a threat to their own power struggle
and thus denounce these values as infidel Western values.
4 Discrimination against Muslims
41. Although there is at present no common definition
of Islamophobia, the term is often used to describe prejudice or
discrimination against Islam or Muslims. However, this term is by
its etymology confusing because Islamophobia means fear of Islam
and does not necessarily correlate with discrimination against Muslims.
An individual can rightly or wrongly fear Islam or aspects of it
and have no prejudice against Muslims or Islam. Discrimination against
Muslims in the fields of economic, social and cultural integration
might be based on a xenophobic rather than a religious motive.
42. Public opinion in Europe is largely formed by widely publicised
terrorist acts or threats in the name of Islam. After the terrorist
attacks in New York in 2001, there was an increase in acts of intolerance
against European Muslims as findings by the EUMC (European Monitoring
Centre on Racism and Xenophobia) and the ECRI (European Commission
against Racism and Intolerance) demonstrate. Attacks on places of
worship, such as Muslim graves or Mosques, are signs of this phenomenon.
But also women, who clearly demonstrate their affiliation to Islam
by wearing headscarves, are particularly confronted with Islamophobia.
It is of utmost importance that society denounces those acts of
aggression against Muslims. Discrimination against people on grounds
of their religion and aggressive hostility towards a religion are
manifestations of intolerance which are incompatible with the values
of the Council of Europe.
The term Islamophobia is also used by Islamists to protect
them from criticism and to silence liberal Muslim reformers by accusing
their views of Islam as Islamophobic. Criticising a religious orientation
is not an act of discrimination against its followers, but part
of freedom of expression in a democratic society. The Assembly reaffirmed
this in Resolution 1510
on freedom of expression and respect for religious beliefs as
well as in Recommendation
on blasphemy, religious insults and hate speech against
persons on grounds of their religion.
44. The UN Human Rights Council Resolution of 26 March 2009, condemning
“defamation of religion” as a human rights violation, asked the
Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia
and related intolerance to report on “all manifestations of defamation
of religions, and in particular on the serious implications of Islamophobia
…”. Such a resolution can threaten the right to freedom of expression
and may be used in certain countries to silence debate and criticism
of religions or to intimidate human rights activists, religious
and political dissenters and religious minorities. It mirrors the
political objectives of a large number of Muslim countries in the
United Nations, but does not correspond to the gravity of the subject
matter or its relevance for universal human rights.
4.2 Stereotypes and misconceptions
Islamophobia is often induced by ignorance, simplifications,
clichés and negative stereotypes. Many people lack knowledge about
religions in general and therefore misunderstand Islam and Muslims.
on education and religion pointed out that religion
had to be taught so that people could understand similarities with,
and differences from, their religion, acknowledge other people’s religions
and come to terms with their differences.
46. The media play an important role in disseminating the image
of Islam. However, journalists who cover the Muslim world often
know very little about Islam and focus in particular on radical
Islam. Political extremism is sometimes pursued in the name of Islam
and media reports about non-democratic and violent regimes confuse
their political action with Islam. Thus, the media may contribute
to a distorted image of Islam which is often looked upon as extremist,
terrorist or fundamental rather than a peaceful religion. Therefore,
the image of Islam is deteriorating and fear of Muslims is growing
47. In many European countries, far right-wing parties have changed
their traditional hostile campaign against immigration and foreigners
and rather exploit public fear of Islam. Their political campaigns
encourage anti-Muslim sentiments and the amalgamation of Muslims
with religious extremists. They advocate the fear of Europe being
swamped by Muslims. Political parties, such as the French National
Front, the Dutch Party for Freedom, the Belgian Vlaams Belang or
the Swiss People’s Party have been very successful in running campaigns
against Islam and largely contributed to the stigmatisation of Muslims.
The Swiss People’s Party supported a federal popular initiative
aimed at adopting through referendum a ban on the construction of minarets
and backed it with a xenophobic campaign. The Dutch Party for Freedom
propagated the ban of the Koran, comparing the religious text of
Islam to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Their
campaigns amalgamated Islam and Islamism and regard all Muslims
as Islamists. Through simplifications and negative stereotypes,
these parties conveyed a distorted image of Islam.
48. In Switzerland, the popular initiative “against the construction
of minarets”, launched by members of the “Swiss People’s Party”
and the “Federal Democratic Union”, sought a constitutional ban
on the construction of new minarets. The initiative was approved
in November 2009 by 57.5% of the voters and by a majority of the cantons
although the Swiss Federal Council, the Swiss Federal Parliament
and most political parties argued against this ban. Consequently,
the construction of minarets is no longer allowed in Switzerland,
although it is still possible to build mosques and places of worship.
The Swiss ban was clearly influenced by a distorted image of Islam
and was directed against Islamists and their practices. The decision
to ban the construction of new minarets will not be an effective
measure against Islamic extremism. It may well have the opposite
effect. The minaret itself is an architectural symbol of Islam and,
similar to church towers, indicates a place where Muslims can practise
their faith. A general ban on minarets clearly violates the spirit
of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The fundamental
freedoms and human rights in this Convention are fortunately not
subject to populist referenda of a majority against a minority.
49. The image of Islam suffers from the attitude of some Muslims
who associate with Islam some cultural and patriarchal practices
which have nothing to do with the traditional Islamic teaching and
which are contrary to the laws of European democracies: the so-called
“honour killings”, genital mutilation or the full veiling of women
(the burqa and the niqab). Although these practices cannot be associated
to traditional Islamic principles, Islam was often used as a justification
of such acts. It is necessary to distinguish between cultural, social,
ethnic and religious practices of Islam. Therefore, opposing the
coercive full veiling of Muslim women cannot be considered as violating
50. The image of Islam also suffers from principles, ethical norms
and moral values of Islam which are contrary to European values.
The inequality between men and women is certainly a central issue
which must be addressed by European Muslims in adapting Islam to
a modern democratic Europe. Muslim women face particular difficulties
in their family or marital context, although most serious problems
as polygamy or stoning of women are not issues affecting Muslims
living in Europe. Of course, discrimination of women is not exclusive to
Muslims. Forms of discrimination, namely with regard to holding
religious charges, exist also in Catholicism and Judaism. Moreover,
cultural acceptance of gender equality is unequal in different European
regions and in most countries formal recognition of this equality
still needs to be fully implemented. Nevertheless, even though the
social status of Muslim women may differ considerably according
to their social class, educational background and their country
of origin, women’s submission to men is rooted in the Islamic tradition
and significant (if not radical) changes are required in this respect
to progress toward integration.
5 Muslim integration in European
5.1 Europe’s religious and cultural
In its Resolution
on freedom of expression and respect for religious beliefs,
the Assembly stated that religion is an important feature of European
societies; Christians, Jews, Muslims and members of many other religions
are at home in Europe as well as those without any religion. With
respect for the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights,
religious communities may exercise the fundamental right of freedom
of religion in all Council of Europe member states under Article
9 of the Convention. However, under paragraph two of Article 9 of
the Convention, Council of Europe member states may limit an individual’s
right to manifest his religion or beliefs provided that “such limitations
are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society
in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public
order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and
freedoms of others”.
52. Europe’s religious and cultural pluralism is based on principles
and values which are beyond any religious or cultural particularities
because they aim to protect the rights and freedoms of others. European values
are in particular of interest for religious minorities because they
protect their right to practise their religion even though it is
not the religion professed by the majority of the population of
a country. Human rights are the pillars for Europe’s democratic
on freedom of expression and respect for religious beliefs
points out that “the overall aim should be to preserve diversity
in open and inclusive societies based on human rights, democracy
and the rule of law, by fostering communication and improving the
skills and knowledge necessary for living together peacefully and
constructively within European societies and between European countries”.
54. When the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published
cartoons about Muhammad, a public debate about religious tolerance
versus freedom of expression emerged. The subsequent death threats
against the authors of the cartoons and the journalists are unacceptable.
The publication of the cartoons and the violent reactions against
them have been abused by both Islamists and Islamophobes to widen
the propagated but distorted distance between Muslims and non-Muslims.
55. Social, cultural and political integration of Muslims does
not mean assimilation; they can be integrated without ceasing to
be Muslims. However, granting citizenship is not always sufficient
to ensure integration. Many Muslims who were born or became European
citizens remain segregated and do not integrate in their host society.
The level of unemployment among Muslims remains higher than that
of non-Muslim immigrants and their level of education is generally
lower, especially with regard to Muslim women.
56. Secularism, one of Europe’s shared values, requires the separation
of state and religion. Islam is seen by many Muslims as a system
that encompasses all spheres of life, social and personal, and is
therefore considered by many Muslims as incompatible with secularism.
Islam provides a social and legal system and regulates domains like
matrimonial affairs, ethics, dress code and religious rituals and
practices. In this sense, Islam is not very different from other
religions, which also set standards for human and social behaviour. Secularism
does not mean that individuals cannot live and publicly practise
their own values or that politicians cannot have religious values.
It simply means that state institutions must remain neutral towards
all religions and should therefore not prefer a particular religion.
5.2 The burqa debate
57. In France, a public debate on the full veil – burqa
and niqab – led to a legislative initiative aimed at a general ban
on wearing the burqa in public places. Following the request for
an advisory report, the highest administrative tribunal, the French
Conseil d’Etat, decided on 25 March 2010 that a general ban would
not be possible under the French Constitution. On 30 April 2010,
the Belgian Chamber of Deputies voted in favour of such a general
ban, which still requires approval by the Belgian Senate.
58. Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe Commissioner for
Human Rights, wrote in his publication “Viewpoint” released on the
occasion of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2010 that women
should be free to choose how they dress, without interferences either
from their communities or from state authorities. Prohibition of
the burqa and the niqab would not liberate oppressed women, but
might instead lead to their further alienation in European societies.
59. Secularism does not mean we should ban religious practices
in the public sphere. Cultural and social expressions of religions
are part of the right to freedom of religion under Article 9 of
the European Convention on Human Rights and the right to freedom
of expression under its Article 10. Article 9 of the Convention includes
the right of individuals to choose freely to wear or not to wear
religious clothing in private or in public. Legal restrictions on
this freedom may be justified where necessary in a democratic society,
in particular for security purposes or where public or professional
functions of individuals require their religious neutrality or that their
face can be seen.
60. The veiling of women, especially the full veil through the
burqa or the niqab, is perceived as a symbol of the subjugation
of women to men, restricting the role of women within society, limiting
their professional life and impeding their social and economic activities.
Neither the full veiling of women, nor the headscarf, are universally
recognised as a religious obligation of Islam, but rather as a social
and cultural custom. This tradition may be a threat to women’s dignity
and freedom. No woman should be coerced into wearing religious clothing
by her community or her family and there is a need to protect women
against being excluded from public life.
61. European countries need to find the right balance between
freedom for Muslim women to wear the headscarf or the burqa, when
they wear it out of conviction, and the protection of those who
are forced to wear it by their parents, husbands, families or peer
pressure. A general prohibition might have the adverse effect of generating
family and community pressure on Muslim women to stay at home and
confine themselves to contacts with other women. Muslim women could
be further excluded if they were to leave educational institutions,
stay away from public places and abandon work outside their communities,
in order not to break with their family tradition.
62. Regulating religious dress codes and symbols in the public
sphere can only address the symptoms, but not the causes of religious
extremism. It is therefore not likely to reduce the influence extremism
exerts on European Muslims. Banning the burqa is one example which
distracts from the real difficulties Europe faces in integrating
Muslims in their societies. Islamism cannot be combated by banning
symbols of extremism. The burqa is a symptom of radical Islam and
gender inequality under the pretext of Islam, but not a cause.
63. States in Europe should respect the voluntary decision of
Muslim women to wear a headscarf or other religious attire, just
as Christian nuns or monks and orthodox Jewish men are allowed to
wear their religious clothing and orthodox Jewish women are allowed
to cover their hair under a wig. States should rather develop targeted
policies intended to raise awareness of the rights of Muslim women,
help them to take part in public life and offer them equal opportunities
to pursue a professional life and gain social and economic independence.
In this respect, the education of young Muslim women as well as
of their parents and families is crucial.
5.3 European Islam
64. Islam is a non-violent religion like Judaism and
Christianity. Their common roots as an Abrahamic religion demonstrate
the high value all three religions give to human life and human
dignity. Terrorist acts fundamentally violate these values. They
are political abuses of Islam and a symptom of mental coercion.
They are an insult to Islam. It is imperative that this be emphasised
during public discussions by Muslims and non-Muslims. As soon as
enough Muslims stand up and raise their voice against this abuse
of their religion, the true values of Islam will become visible
65. Considering that Sub-Saharan Muslims developed their own brand
of Islam, often referred to African Islam, or that Indians developed
an Indian Islam, it is realistic to imagine the emergence of a specific
European Islam which embraces values of democracy and human rights.
Muslims in Albania and in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for instance,
have lived and practised their faith as Europeans and without extremist
66. However, such a reform of Islam can only be accomplished if
modern interpretations of Islam are admitted by Muslims. Therefore,
states should encourage European Muslims to take advantage of freedom
of expression and information, academic freedom and democracy in
order to pursue a critical analysis of Islamic practices. Obviously,
European secularism does not permit the state to engage actively
in the reform of a religion. Religions can only be lived and reformed
by the followers themselves.
67. Many imams who preach in European mosques were trained outside
Europe. When they arrive in their host countries, they often do
not know the national language and are not familiar with European
culture and values. Imams who preach in European mosques should
have a good knowledge of the language, culture, institutions and
the values of the host country. Providing Islamic studies and Islamic
education to Muslims in Europe as well as the training of teachers
of Islam would help to integrate Muslims into European societies.
In the majority of European countries, religious courses are provided
at school, but there is sometimes a tendency to limit such education
to one religion. It is important to also provide education about
Islam in Europe.
The Assembly has adopted a number of texts on related issues,
in particular Recommendation
on the promotion of a culture of democracy and human
rights through teacher education, Recommendation 1682 (2004)
on education for Europe, Recommendation 1396 (1999)
on religion and democracy, and Recommendation 1202 (1993)
on religious tolerance in a democratic society. It is
also worth recalling the Committee of Minister’s Recommendation
Rec(2002)12 on education for democratic citizenship. Education is
certainly a way to facilitate the emergence of a European Islam
with its own authenticity embracing human rights and democratic
69. European ideals of rationality, mutual understanding
and humanity must lead to peaceful intercultural dialogue within
European societies. European Muslims should become full European
citizens with all rights and duties, citizens who embrace the fundamental
values which the Council of Europe stands for.
70. The belief that one’s own religion is the only true one cannot
justify denying the freedom of religion of others. European countries
and peoples cannot and shall not accept religious views leading
to political, social or family practices in conflict with human
rights, including for instance gender equality or non-discrimination
on grounds of sex or sexual orientation. These practices mirror
the societies when the particular religions started centuries ago.
Today, religious backwardness must be overcome in all areas of fundamental
freedoms and rights.
71. There are many European Muslims who embrace European values
and culture and consider Europe their homeland, but there are also
increasing numbers of young Muslims who feel culturally alienated
in Europe and who are not willing to respect European values and
norms as they perceive such values to interfere with their Islamic
identity. Those Muslims are more vulnerable to extremist ideologies
and are more easily radicalised by Islamists. It is therefore crucial
to achieve further integration of European Muslims in the social, economical,
political and cultural life of European societies.
72. European societies need to make further efforts to accommodate
religious diversity and consider Muslims as their fellow citizens.
Intolerance towards Islam and Muslims has been increasing in recent
years. Muslims feel they are stigmatised because of their belief,
but Muslim discrimination is multilayered; religious discrimination
is just one aspect of Muslim discrimination.
Social exclusion and cultural discrimination of Muslims, as
well as Islamophobia, must not be tolerated in Europe. In this respect,
I refer to the General Policy Recommendation
on combating intolerance and discrimination against
Muslims, adopted by the Council of Europe’s European Commission
against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) on 27 April 2000, as well
as to the Council of Europe’s White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue
launched by the Committee of Ministers on 7 May 2008.
74. Europe’s values – human rights, democracy and the rule of
law – ensure peaceful cohabitation. European Muslims can fully benefit
from these values and norms, but must accept them as well. They
should reject the establishment of a parallel society. A reformed
Islam could be compatible with European values considering that
all religious texts are read and understood differently over time.
Islam is what Muslims define and practise as Islamic.
For the Council of Europe, this debate should lead to the
against Muslims must not be tolerated in Europe, as it violates
the European Convention on Human Rights.
- Freedom of religion of Muslims must be fully guaranteed,
but this freedom must not be used to deny other fundamental freedoms
and human rights, in particular the right to life by non-Muslims,
the right to non-discrimination by women or minorities, the right
to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of religion by
- Muslim immigrants should be supported by member states
to integrate into European society culturally, economically and
- Islam should become a subject of higher education and
research in Europe, in order to avoid confusion between Islam and
- Muslims in Europe should be encouraged to speak out against
terrorism and violence in the name of I slam, in order to combat
such abuses of Islam.
- Inter-religious education should be supported by member
states, in order to raise public awareness of the common origin
and values of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and their impact on
modern European humanism.
- Contacts between Muslim as well as non-Muslim Europeans
and Muslims in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia should be
facilitated, in particular among young people, students and teachers.
- Co-operation between educational and cultural institutions
as well as cities around the Mediterranean Basin should be supported.