Muslims of Europe : An Italian Perspective
Public Affairs Committee for Shi’a Muslims
The presence of Muslims in Western societies represents a big challenge to those liberal and democratic values that today are considered synonymous with the West: pluralism, tolerance, acceptance of difference. The “today” is important, and it deserves a brief comment: indeed, one should never forget that the above description of what constitutes “the West” is the product of a long, difficult, contrasted and often bloody process, one that is still far from being unchallenged by different Western trends and ideologies and far from being irreversible. This should give us pause and make us more modest when extolling the virtues of our own culture as well as more patient when judging other cultures and traditions.
There are perhaps two different ways of defining the subject matter: “Muslims in Europe” and “Muslims of Europe”. When we say “Muslims in the West” we refer to a Muslim presence in Europe which can be defined in terms of immigrant communities, or in any case implies that Muslims are “guests” of Europe. If this is true in most cases (and it is especially so in the case of Italy, where most Muslims are rather recent immigrants), we should aim at moving beyond this description since reality (and here I refer to the situation in the UK) is also moving toward a situation in which it will be more correct to speak of “European Muslims” just as we speak of “American Catholics”, also a “different” community, if compared to the dominant Protestant culture of the US, and also one that took shape relatively recently through immigration. In comparison to the US, Europe is a relatively recent newcomer to the test of diversity – and Italy, given to a long history of cultural and religious homogeneity, is the most recent of all. And yet Europe is well equipped to cope with that challenge.