Often I’m asked to speak on the topic of Islam in Europe and how the church should deal with the presence of millions of Muslims on their doorstep.
One of the first things we have to understand is that there is no such thing as Islam in Europe. Of course, Islam is a religion that is practiced by many Europeans. Nevertheless, a discussion about Islam in Europe can so easily remain on the abstract and intellectual level.
Many Christians point out to me that they consider Islam to be a threat to the West, that Islam is focused on world domination, that Islamic values clash with European values etc.
When talking about Islam in Europe many Christians consider it to be a fixed entity. Many have a predefined image of Islam in Europe. They read books on Islam and believe that as a result of this they know all there is to know about Islam in Europe. This knowledge becomes a set of glasses through which they look at the Muslims in their streets, towns and cities. And if these Muslims do not fit their predefined image of what Islam is? Too bad for them. I have heard people say to me: “Well, if these Muslims would know their Qu’ran better they would behave differently, and would be true Muslims.”
Some time ago I showed a video clip of several Muslim singers praising God to a group of Christians. One of them responded: “This is not Islam.” This kind of Islam did not fit into his preconceived idea about what Islam is like and he had a hard time coming to grips with it.
Maybe this is our problem. Maybe we start from the wrong end. How about talking about Muslims in Europe in stead of talking about Islam in Europe?
When talking about Islam as a religion one tends to forget that the real issue is not Islam as such, but rather Muslims. We are dealing with persons, not with a concept or a religion as such. Islam cannot answer questions, but Muslims can; we cannot befriend Islam, but we can befriend Muslims, we cannot drink tea with Islam, but we can drink tea with Muslims.
Talking about Muslims in Europe in stead of about Islam in Europe makes a huge difference. When talking about Muslims in Europe we are talking about people. People that are more than just religious beings; people with feelings, dreams, anxieties; young people struggling with their identity; fathers trying to be the authority figure for his children in a society where there is unlimited freedom; couples that try to keep their marriage healthy in a society where one of three marriages break up; men and women in their sixties wondering whether they can fit into the European retirement homes etc.
When talking about Muslims in Europe we realize that they practice their Islamic faith in a variety of ways. One can find conservative, orthodox, liberal, progressive, moderate, reformed, traditional, fundamentalist, mystical and cool Muslims, just to name a few ‘categories’ that could each be subdivided into smaller segments. Quite a lot of people who are Muslims by birth do not practice Islam at all. We cannot speak of Islam in Europe, nor of thé Muslims in Europe. One of my friends wrote a book, entitled The Muslim does not exist.
So how do we learn about Islam in Europe? By talking to Muslims and sharing our lives with them. When Islam gets a human face it is easier to understand and communicate that God loves them and that Jesus died for their salvation.
When was the last time you talked with a Muslim?