Crisis within Islam
By Marc Fromager
Surveys show that many people in the West have an ambivalent attitude to Islam mixed with ignorance and fear. Islam regularly features in media headlines, more often than not in a negative way with numerous reports of violence involving extremists. Coupled with this are concerns within some sections of society about the growing visibility of Muslims in the West. This relates both to the distinctive dress of Muslims and to the community’s expanding numbers – in marked contrast to the aging population of other sections of western society.
All this creates an impression of Islam’s growing numerical strength in the West, especially Europe. This comes amid predictions that Muslims are on course to become the majority population in certain cities and regions. Muslims make up 13 percent of the population in Rotterdam but 70 percent of the city’s youth have migrant origins, many of them in Muslim countries including Turkey and Morocco.
Meanwhile demographic surveys predict that, within two generations, Muslims across Europe as a whole will have doubled to become more than 10 percent of the population. Extremist groups have openly declared their aim, as one Australian jihadi put it, to “lead the armies of jihad that will conquer Europe and America”. In September 2016, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, gave a homily in his cathedral, posing the question: “Will there now be [another] attempt at an Islamic conquest of Europe? Many Muslims think so and long for it and say: This Europe is at an end.”
And yet, in spite of all this apparent confidence about expansion, there is – to some extent concealed from view – a growing crisis within Islam. First of all, there is the division, not to say open war, between the two main branches within Islam – the Sunnis and the Shia. The tensions in large part stem from the sectarian divides between Saudi Arabia, the proponent of Wahhabi Sunni Islam and the transformation of Iran into a Shia power in 1979, changes that “revived a centuries-old sectarian rivalry over the true interpretation of Islam”. Even within these two major groups, there is conflict, notably concerning geographic areas of influence. Incidents of conflict between Al Nusra and Daesh (ISIS) – both Sunni groups – in Syria are well documented. Events in the Middle East, Indonesia, Pakistan and other regions of Asia indicate a radicalisation within parts of the Muslim world. This would not be problematic in itself – after all, Muslims have the right to practise their faith as they deem appropriate – except that such radicalisation is often accompanied by intolerance towards others. In areas where radicalised Muslims are (for the moment) a minority, there is a rejection of integration  and in other areas, where they are more predominant, there is active discrimination towards minorities which is often threatening.
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