Social and religious dynamics of Muslims in Europe: 7 trends and 4 responses (II)

European Muslims seem to create a balance between loyalty to the global ummah and loyalty to the local state. Many seek to harmonize a Salafist claim of the true Islam with the cultural and religious pluralism of the societies they live in.

03 FEBRUARY 2021 · 12:37 CET

Photo: <a target="_blank" href="">Utsman Media</a>, Unsplash CC0.,
Photo: Utsman Media, Unsplash CC0.

Read part I of this in-depth analysis article by Bert de Ruiter.

Trend 4: A new hermeneutics of interpretation of the Qur’an and Sunnah

As a consequences of the proliferation of religious authority, as well as the democratization of information due to mass-media and also because of the globalisation of the world, and perhaps due to the influence of secular Europe, we observe a growing diversification in interpreting the Qur’an.

This new hermeneutics of interpretation of the Qur’an and the Sunnah can particularly be seen in the writings of four renowned Muslim reformers, based in Europe: Bassam Tibi, Tariq Ramadan, Tareq Oubrou, and Abdennour Bidar. According to Islamic scholar Mohamed Hashas, these four are all contributing to the idea of a European Islam. (1)

- Bassam Tibi (born in 1941) is Syrian-German. He describes himself as a pious, yet liberal Muslim. He believes Islam is a cultural system that can reform itself and adopt itself to new contexts and circumstances. Tibi is critical of the classical interpretation of Islamic law.

Tibi argues that shari’a and democracy are incompatible. Tibi sees that Sharia, Islamic law, should be reformed to take into account the current world system and international relations treaties, conventions, and protocols. Such a reformed Islamic law builds a pluralist culture and society which affects positively the world at large, for the Muslims and Islam are all over the world.

Tibi advocates the revival of the tradition of ijtihad (intellectual exertion) in the Islamic tradition. Tibi calls for secularization instead of the “Shariatization” of Islam.

- Tarik Ramadan (born 1962), a Swiss of Egyptian origins (the grandson of Hassan al-Bana, the founder of the Muslim Brothers) is a writer, scholar, lecturer and public intellectual.

Ramadan frequently states that the message of Islam is universalist, humanist, and pluralist, and thus applicable to any space and any time as long as reading it in light of new circumstances is done seriously and from within the same tradition.

Ramadan promotes a radical reform of Islam. He wants to leave behind the classical divisions of the world into the abode of Islam and the abode of war or of the infidel, he believes that Europe is not an Abode of War (Dal al Harb) but an Abode of Testimony. Ramadan called publicly for a moratorium on the death penalty, corporal punishment, and stoning in the Muslim world.

- Tareq Oubrou was born in Morocco in 1959, but living in France. He is former president of the Association of the Imams of France. After he had left biology and medicine studies, he pursued religious studies, and has become a self-made theologian, and public intellectual, besides his profession as an imam.

He proposes the secularization of Islamic thought and Sharia of the Minority. He believes that a theological secularization of Islam appears necessary to realize the bond between Islam and the West. He calls for a new Islamic theology.

- Abdennour Bidar (born 1971), is a young French philosopher. Bidar argues that “Islam as a religion, as a system of truths, is behind us.” He introduces the concept of Self Islam. He defines Self Islam as: “An expression of rational, and not only personal, spirituality in which the individual is the “heir of God” on earth where he gains infinite presence and secures historical immortality beyond the metaphysical classical interpretations.

Spiritual responsibility of every Muslim is to find his [or her] own way, his Islam – which I call Self Islam, personal Islam, that means the adequate way of each to attach to Islam, and to Islamic culture […] according to a principle: “take of Islamic obligations just what you need for your spiritual path. […] This has to correspond to an interior status. Bidar believes that Europe is a suitable soil for that process of reform.


Trend 5: Individualization of Islamic thinking and practices

Ordinary Muslims now have multiple, and often conflicting, sets of interpretations and norms, and therefore they have to choose the religious path they want to follow.

Individualization of religious beliefs is a major development in Europe’s Muslim communities. It is an Islam where the believer decides autonomously which elements of Islam (s)he considers to be binding or not.

Among Muslims in Europe we see a growing liberation from the Islamic traditional thinking and practices. We see a gradual disappearance of several different law schools that is common in traditional Islam (e.g. Hanifi, Maliki, Shafi’I, Hanbali and Jaferi schools).

In the Muslim world these law schools were found in the various regions of the Muslim world, e.g. the Maliki school in North Africa, Hanifi school in Turkey. Although in Europe all of the law schools are present in Europe, they mix much more easily and individuals find their way through them even more than in one of them. Thus it is no wonder that European Muslims are beginning to speak of the European school as the fifth law school in progress.

Also we see a growing emphasis on individual choice in religious practice. For a growing number of Muslims religion becomes a private concern, having to do with their own spiritual question. E.g. one practices their prayers at home rather than at the workplace.

Also we see an increased emphasis on Islam values (kindness, honesty, care for family etc) , rather than Islamic practices, such as prayer and fasting.

The principle mode of individualization of European Muslim populations takes the form of an attempt to reconcile the maximum amount of personal freedom with a belief in a more or less well-defined form of transcendence which can then be adjusted to the constraints of the dominant societies.(2)

The outcome of this individualization of Islamic faith and practices does not automatically mean a decline in religious practice, nor a liberalization of Islam, nor a complete loss of religious conviction.

It sometimes leads to a critical attitude among second-generation Muslims towards the Islam of their parents and religious authority. Some break away from the Islamic culture of their parents in search of what they call ‘pure’ Islam.


Trend 6: Growing plurality and diversity

Closely related to the individualization of religious practices and believes is the growing plurality and diversity of Muslims in Europe. I don’t think we can even speak of Islam in Europe, but should refer to Islams (plural).

The internal plurality brings traditional beliefs and practices into question and produces self reflexivity, which in turn accelerates the process of pluralization.(3)

Among others, one can identify the following ways of being Muslim in Europe: Cool Muslims; Converted Muslims; Critical Muslims; Cultural Muslims (secular Muslims/nominal Muslims) Orthodox or neo-orthodox Muslims (traditional Muslims) ; Progressive Muslims; ExMuslims; Angry Muslims; Reformist Muslims; Liberal Muslims; Mystical Muslims.


Trend 7: A continued struggle to belong in an environment of islamophobia;

Islam has become a permanent part of European society. Most Muslims that came as guest workers and refugees are here to stay. Their children and grand-children are European citizens, who grow up here, study here, make a living here and consider themselves Europeans.

Nevertheless, the society around them, who invited them in the 1960s to help rebuild our societies and regain our welfare, is becoming more and more intolerant.

Across Europe we see expressions of anti-Muslim racism and islamophobia. Political parties, thriving on populism, consider Islam problematic for Europe. Muslims in Europe are often the object of racialization.

Muslim migrants are believed to pose a danger to European values and norms and Islam is considered to not be compatible with democracy and European secular identity. The presence of Muslims is considered a threat to social cohesion. Their culture is essentialized. Muslims are being labelled as “unacceptable Others’.

While Muslims are trying to link their Islamic faith with their being European, the society they want to be part of rejects them for not fitting in.

Being negatively regarded by the majority Europeans and being told that they are not part of the society naturally influences how Muslims perceive their sense of belonging to that society.

Therefore it is not surprising that their attachment or loyalty to that society might diminish. For some this means they intensify ties within their religious group, or worse join radicalized groups in the Middle East, as we have seen with ISIS.

But other Muslims have initiated organisations to identify and address Islamophobic incidents.(4) E.g. in 2013 The Collective against Islamophobia and Discrimination (CTID) was established in the Netherlands.

The CTID is a member of the European Islamophobia Monitoring and Action Network (IMAN) and organises meetings to raise awareness of Islamophobia; it has also established a service to which people can report any racist incidents. Muslims begin to talk back, by defining the terms used, reporting incidents and creating awareness.

Claiming a Muslim voice through anti-Islamophobia work proves to be a complex endeavour: the initiatives want to show Muslims as objects of hatred and abuse but do not want be seen as playing the victims.

They disturb the debate about Islam but they do not want to silence the debate or threaten free speech, they want to challenge the system that racializes them but also want to play according to its rules.


Concluding remarks

Some of the trends that I’ve mentioned seem to contradict one another. For instance, the individualization of religion with the growing influence of Salafism. Muslims seem to create a balance between loyalty to the global ummah and loyalty to the local state.

Other Muslims seek to balance Islamic faith with Western values. Or they seek to find a mid-way between loyalty to the religious and cultural traditions of their parents with the values of secular Europe that are growing up in. Some seek to harmonize a Salafist claim of the true Islam with the cultural and religious pluralism of the societies they live in.

It is this light that one scholar refers to Islam in Europe as “Cosmopolitan Islam”, which she defines as: “a certain mindset and ability to navigate between supposedly incompatible worlds and cultures”. (5)

I observe a growth of an expression of Islam that becomes more and more European, It is a deculturized and a recontextualized Islam; an Islam that is compatible with European modernity.

At the same time, I am concerned that a lack of strong Islamic institutions of education in the Europe, allows outside forces, such as Salafism to influence European Muslims, which could be the basis for future conflict and turmoil.


Four Christian responses to these trends

In light of what I have written I want to suggest four ways European Christians could respond to the development of Islam in Europe:

1. Research

And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart…..” (Matthew 10:11)

We have to know the people we want to reach out to. We cannot assume that we know Muslims in Europe because we have studied Islam in university or somewhere else, or because we have years of experience living in an Islamic country.

Islam in Europe gradually but surely takes on a European face. Also, as I have already pointed out, we should be careful to generalize and assume that all Muslims, irrespective of culture, age, locations think alike, practice their religion in the same way or interpret the Qur’an the same.

We have to be careful that we reduce the Gospel to a set of spiritual doctrines that we present to everyone we meet, assuming that these doctrines it what this person ultimately needs.

We should study our Bibles, we should have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, but we also need to study the people we seek to reach out to.

Learn about them, learn from them. Listening to them before we speak prevents us from provide them with answers to questions they have never asked. Proclaiming the Gospel message is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

2. Reflect

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting“. (Psalm 139:23,24)

The atmosphere towards Muslims in Europe is strongly influenced by islamophobia, which can be an expression of racism. Unfortunately, this mindset also has found its way among Christians and in Churches.

It might even have found room in our own heart. It is important to reflect in God’s presence whether we find a trace of racism toward Muslims in our own hearts. If we do, let’s confess, repent and ask Him to fill our hearts with compassion, love and grace for Muslims in Europe. The Gospel is a Gospel of grace and the way it is proclaimed should be from a heart full of grace and in a gracious manner.

3. Relate

I regularly observe that Christians make the Gospel into a product, and evangelism into an activity, into something you do. I believe evangelism, primarily, is not something you do, but refers to who you are. The Gospel is all about relationship.

The Triune God wants to restore the broken relationship with His beloved creatures. When God wanted to show His great love, He incarnated into a human being. Jesus came and lived among us and related with us.

We need to find ways to relate with Muslims we want to share the Gospel with. My motto is taken from 1 Thess. 2:8, where Paul writes: “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but our lives as well.”

4. Relax

Sharing our lives and the Good News of Jesus Christ with our Muslim friends is something that God call us to. It is His desire to bring many Muslims in Europe to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and He is eager to use His people to accomplish that purpose.

His love and compassion for Muslims in much larger than ours will ever be. Already He is bringing many Muslims to conversion and more will come. However, let us remind ourselves that God remains in charge of the how and the when.

I sense a tendency among some Evangelical Christians to manage the evangelism and church-planting process with deadlines as when the job needs to be finished. I don’t believe that is something we can or need to control.

God wants to use us to carry out His purpose for Muslims in Europe, let’s be careful not to do it the other way around. Yes, reaching out to Muslims with the love of God is a great, intensive and sometimes difficult task, but ultimately it is God’s task. So we can relax, stay close Him, be open to His guidance and leave the timing, the outcome and the results into His hands. He says:

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth”. (Psalm 46:10)


Bert de Ruiter, Consultant Christian-Muslim relations with Operation Mobilization and the European Evangelical Alliance.



1.  Mohammed Hashas, On the Idea of European Islam: Voices of Perpetual Modernity.

2.  Jocelyne Cesari, European Muslims and the Secular State

3. Allievi, Producing Islamic Knowledge.

4. de Koning, M. 2016. “‘You Need to Present a Counter-Message’: The Racialisation of Dutch Muslims and Anti-Islamophobia Initiatives”, Journal of Muslims in Europe 5: 170-189.

5.  Jocelyne Cesari, “The future of Islam: Religious Trends in European Islam”

Published in: Evangelical Focus - Engaging Muslims - Social and religious dynamics of Muslims in Europe: 7 trends and 4 responses (II)