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The Emergence of a European Islam

The Question of Institutional Status

In order to provide a legal context for the practice of Islam, several European Union member States have devised imaginative legal, institutional, political, and symbolic frameworks. Some examples, country by country.

Some 11 million Muslims of diverse origins (the Maghreb, Turkey, Sub-Saharan Africa, India, Pakistan, etc.) currently reside in Europe, not to mention native European Muslims. Some are naturalised in one European country or another, some are young Europeans born of foreign parents, others are converts, and still others are Muslims present for centuries in Europe such as in Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo, the Pomaks, or Turkish descendants living in Greece.

A process of integration with multiple aspects
For over a decade European States have been addressing the question of official recognition and status for Muslim religious institutions and have at the same time been modifying their laws to take into account this new phenomenon.
Most of the initiatives taken, with greater or lesser success, have aimed at normalising relations between public authorities and the Muslim community, along the same lines as mainstream religious communities, particularly be encouraging the emergence of a central organisation susceptible of representing the interests of the worshipping community of Muslims to national political authorities.
In Belgium, the Act of July 1974 brought to national statutes the recognition of the administrative instances responsible for the management on a local basis of Islamic worship property which meant ipso facto that Islam was included on the list of religions recognised by the Belgian State along with Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Anglicanism, and so forth.
In 1989 Spain recognised Islam as a religious practice “notably well-rooted” on national territory. In April of 1992 a historic agreement was signed between Spanish authorities and the Islamic Commission of Spain and then validated by a law regulating relations between the State and local Muslim entities.
In Italy, no less than three distinct proposals for intesa (agreements) were registered with public authorities during the 1990's by different Islamic associations or federations.

A French Council of Muslim Worship
After several top-down attempts to organise Islam in France (Council for Reflection on Islam in France, Muslim Worship Charter, et al.), in 1999 the Minister of the Interior launched a vast consultative exercise (al 'istishâra) among the main national Islamic federations and institutions, as well as several regional mosques and a certain number of recognised Muslim personalities. This process culminated in the ratification of a solemn declaration by the ensemble of Muslim groups: The Principles and Legal Foundation Governing the Relations between Muslim Religious Practice and Public Authorities. A framework agreement was also signed setting out the rules for election of a French Council of Muslim Religious Practice. Seeking to accelerate this process, the Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy established in December 2002 procedures – valid for two years - for the composition of the steering committee of this new body, before the first elections took place but with the accord of the members of the consultative commission.

The European context for this issue can be characterised therefore by a set of voluntary policies in favor of granting institutional status to Islam within the framework of the various national legal environments regulating relations between States and religious practice.


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Summary

To know more

• Fregosi Franck (dir.). La formation des cadres religieux musulmans en France. Approches socio-juridiques. Paris, L'Harmattan, Coll. Musulmans d'Europe, 1998.
• Messner Francis, Prelot Pierre-Henri, Woehrling Jean-Marie, (dir.). Traité de droit francais des religions. Paris, Litec, 2003.

Contact

Franck Fregosi
Researcher at the CNRS
Sociétés, droit et religion en Europe
CNRS-Université Strasbourg III
E-mail: franck.fregosi@c-strasbourg.fr

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