Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 6. Nr. September 1998

Data on Islam and Muslim Minorities in Europe in the Resources of the Department of European Islam,
Oriental Institute, Warsaw University, Poland

Agata Skowron-Nalborczyk (Warsaw)

The Department of European Islam at the Oriental Institute, Warsaw University, was established in 1994. The Department's research goal is to collect all possible information about Muslim minorities in European countries, thus to create a database and to analyze social, cultural, historical and religious aspects of the situation of these minorities in Europe. The Department strives to coordinate research on the subjects of European Islam, and a number of scholars from other departments cooperate with it. Between them the Oriental Institute (such departments as those of Arabic and Islamic, Iranian, Turkish and Indian Studies) the chef institution, but also scholars from other faculties and research institutions remain in close contact with the Department.

The research of the Department of European Islam covers two types of Muslim minorities in Europe: traditional Muslim population and immigrants from Muslim countries.

The autochthonous Muslim minorities are to be found in countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Bulgaria, the former Soviet Union and the Polish-Lithuanian-White Russian frontier. The Department pays special attention to the following research problems.(1)

The situation of Muslim immigrants differs from country to country. In the first place, they are to be found in Western Europe, and the Department's scope of research there are countries such as Austria, Germany, France, Great Britain etc.

At present the following questions are investigated into(2)

The database about Islam in Europe prepared in the Department of European Islam covers all the above mentioned problems. The database has been built by the staff of the Department and co-operating scholars of the Department; research is carried out in all European countries by way of sociological and sociolinguistic inquiry within Muslim communities. Much attention is devoted to bibliographical research in libraries, collecting information from the press, Internet, radio and television, books and newspapers published by the Muslim minorities etc.

The Department's database includes:

This database will be published on the Internet as a WWW service in order to make it accessible all over the world.

The Department's main fields of interest are as follows:

Muslims in Great Britain

The presence of Islam in Great Britain is undoubtedly connected with her Colonial Past. In this multicultural and multireligious state, Muslims are the second largest religious group after the Anglican majority. The Muslim community is definitely of imported nature and is not homogenous. More than a half of this community represents newcomers from all three countries of the Indian subcontinent, that is: Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. The other Muslims come from different Asian countries and from Africa and Europe.

This group is therefore strongly diverse in ethno-cultural and linguistic aspects, further complicating the internal religious and political distinctions. Until very recently, Muslims in Great Britain declared their stay in Great Britain to be of a temporary nature, and their Islamic beliefs had definite internal character (with exception of Jamaat-e Islami), which was the reason for their insignificant participation in politics on the level of the central government.

Problems vital for harmonious coexistence of Muslims with people of other faiths within British society were therefore not regulated by law and were solved in a customary manner within a given city or region. It was only the case of The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie that became the turning point in the process of shaping the group's religious identity of British Muslims. It was since then that demands grew steadily for education for Muslim children in accord, formally as well as essentially, with Islamic faith, for official recognition of Islamic family code - shariat, for equality of all religions in the British Act defining blasphemy, for legalizing ritual slaughterhouses and for separate cemeteries.

Islam in France

Muslims are the second largest religious group in France. The presence of Islam on French territory is also related to colonial past, especially in the North African region, most of the 4 million strong Muslim community in France are from the Maghreb (others being from Turkey, Senegal, Mali or simply converts). Despite the fact that Islam in France is an import, this immigration has the longest tradition in Europe. More than a half of the Islamic faith people are French Citizens - that is because the Muslims, groups of unqualified workers from Maghreb started arriving in the beginning of 20th century. The following waves of immigrants arrived during 1st and 2nd World Wars and immediately after - due to the great need for workforce during the restoration. Muslim emigration was mostly for economic reasons (although Muslim elite of Maghreb countries were and are educated in France) and their presence in French Republic was seen (by themselves) as temporary.

About 20 years ago the attitude of French Muslims towards the country of their residence started changing in a rather radical direction - slowly they started considering themselves being Frenchmen of Muslim faith, and, in accordance with French law they want to adhere to their religion as officially recognized by the state. Due to these changes the Charta of Muslim Faith (Charte du culte musulman)was decided which regulates many issues, and most importantly it states that one can be good a Muslim and a good French citizen at the same time. Nevertheless, the ethnic French often see Muslims as a danger due to the fact that Muslim close knit communities are seen as opposed to the secular tradition of the French Republic, and also because of the possibility that they may be used as an object of external propaganda and support for terrorist organizations.

Muslims in the Austrian Republic

The first instance that Muslims appeared on Austrian territory in greater numbers was in year 1878 after the Berlin Congress as the result of the annexation of Bosnia, Herzegovina and sanjak of New Bazaar (Novi Bazar) by Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Presently, Islam in Austria comes third in terms of numbers and is the only world religion that is constantly growing (numbers of believers doubled between 1981-1991). Muslims are mostly immigrant Gastarbeiter (since 1960) and political refugees - mainly Turks and citizens of former Yugoslavia (a great influx was caused by Balkan Wars - Austria was a target not only because of geographical vicinity, but also because between 1878-1918 Bosnia and Herzegowina was part of the Habsburg monarchy). Iranian and Arab Muslims are distinct and visible minorities, Arabs coming mainly from Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia.

The relationship between Muslim minorities and the State of Austria has been regulated since 1912 by the Islam Act (Islamgesetz) which officially recognized this religion. Based on that Act, the Muslim Faith Union was created in 1979, Muslim children are taught their religion in public schools, and teachers are paid by the State. Between older groups and newcomers there seem to appear differences in attitude towards keeping their religious tradition - nationwide accessibility of media related to Islam or propagating it, a growing number of believers concur with the cultivation of Islam and customs of their homelands.

Islam in Germany

Research and data collected on this topic are concentrated around two problems. The first is the history of Muslims in Germany, the second are problems of modern times. The percentage of people believing in Islam in Germany is constantly growing, mostly due to migration caused by economic reasons. The ethnic composition of German Muslims is not homogenous - they are mainly Turks, then people of Balkan origin (Bosnians and Albanians), Arab Muslims mostly from Maghreb.

An extremely interesting issue is the literature written by emigrated authors, among whom there is a group of intellectuals, a great part of them are political refugees. This literature is a demonstration of Muslim identity taking shape in Christian surroundings.

Another interesting aspect of Islam in Germany is the activity of Muslim sects - which are also objects of our department's research.

Muslims in Poland

Polish Muslims are chiefly Polish-Lithuanian Tatars, a 2-3 thousand strong group of them has lived in Poland (now in Lithuania and Belorussia) for some 600 years. The specific culture of Polish-Lithuanian Tatars is a particular result of a few hundred years of contacts between Muslims and Muslim Slavs. Research and gathering data on this topic takes into account mostly history of Tatars settled in those areas and also their very interesting customs and religious beliefs - even though they preserved many original attributes, they have undergone significant changes in Slavo-Christian surroundings.

Perfect material for research and a source of our data is literature of Polish-Lithuanian Tatars, written in Polish, Belorussian and a kind of mixed Polish-Lithuanian dialect, using Arabic script especially adjusted for Slavic languages. Tatar literature includes chamailas and kitabs, created mostly in XVIII century. Many of them, chiefly the ones from 19th and 20th centuries remain in private collections. Tatar literature is unique and it is the reason why we should present it as broadly as we can in scientific circles of ethnographers, anthropologists, researchers of literature and religion.

Islam in post-soviet Caucasus

Situation of Islam in post-soviet reality of the Caucasus is extremely interesting. The main object of research is the influence of recent political, social and economic changes on local Islam and its teachings. What we mean is the religious dimension of the changes, primarily the vision of society, the state, its laws as shared by religion; also the place of Islam itself in public life.

This research is so timely and valid especially due to news about fundamentalism growing in the northern part of Caucasus. Intense research will let us take part in the discussion on trends in today's Islam on Caucasus, and will let us also take a look at so-called wahhabism developing there (how much of it is truly wahhabism and how much is a completely new phenomenon given that name by media); and let us know what kind of influence the Middle East countries have on the Caucasus and how they use it, what is today's "traditional Islam" as opposed to wahhabism, how the sufi brotherhoods operate - traditionally influential among the mountain peoples of the Caucasus and how they had managed to survive the vigorous prosecution by the Soviet government for 70 years.

A very important aspect is the position of Islam in the attempts of building a national identity, mainly around religion and in opposition toward Russia and its own Soviet past, as well as in opposition toward religiously and nationally distinct neighboring states.

Our research is supposed to concentrate on activities of mosques, cultural centres (also the ones sponsored by Muslim countries), publishing houses etc. The aim is: getting acquainted with the structure of religious life of Caucasus Muslims and spotting points (institutions or persons) around which all kinds of activities are centered.

Presently the opening part of the research is by its nature based on publications (books, articles) already existing in libraries and archives and mostly accessible via Internet. Invaluable are homepages of numerous Western and Russian institutions (academic, governmental and non-governmental) - an important aspect is attempting to do a real-time follow up of events taking place in this region as reported by Russian press (both analog and digital).

The database about Islam in Europe is still in the state of creation. Its scope is limited by the lack of financial and human resources, moreover, the Department was created only a few years ago, but we are sure that the demand for such information will increase. In the prospect of the European integration process, after reduction of the distinction between countries by their borders, the role of other, internal partition/divisions of population, among them the role of the religious divisions, surely will grow. Therefore the collection of all possible information about Muslim minorities, autochthonous and groups of immigrants, must be carried out in time, also for Poland that very soon will become a member of the European Union.

© Agata Skowron-Nalborczyk (Warsaw)

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(1)Marek M. Dziekan, Zaklad Islamu Europejskiego Instytutu Orientalistycznego Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, Sprawy Narodowosciowe – Seria nowa, t. IV (1995), z. 1 (6), p. 240.

(2) See above

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