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Understanding the Muslim’s struggle for identity

January 2016

Throughout Western Europe, Muslim communities are facing their greatest challenge for decades. It is relevant to Europe as a whole.

The issue causing turmoil within Muslim communities is, ‘What is our true identity within the European social, political, religious and cultural context?’

It has, for many, become a ‘jihad’ (struggle) experience and a personal journey of pain and suffering. Within families, and across generations, concern over what the future holds and over their ‘ummah’ (community identity) is a burning topic.

The Christian community needs to engage with the reality of this and be able to be ‘salt and light’ to Muslims. The struggle is not just inward; its implications reach across non-Muslim communities in Europe.

In recent months, we have seen how conflicts in Syria and Iraq have drawn in those European Muslims who have travelled in significant numbers to the war zones, to fight for fundamental Islamic ideals.

This has come as a shock to many, who have struggled to understand how it could happen. Concern over this ‘radicalisation’ is also at the heart of concern for European safety, with the possibility of threats to our own society becoming ever closer.

Challenges

We must understand that Muslims in Europe are searching for an identity that enables them to feel part of a bigger whole.

Their sense of ummah has been the strong pull that has led some to abandon their European home to travel to Syria or Iraq. Especially for those of the younger generations, it has become a multifaceted and complex jihad.

Among the thousands of migrants fleeing Middle Eastern war zones for Europe, many are from a Muslim background. They represent a wave of migrants who will now need to engage with a post-modern, culturally diverse Europe and face an adjustment to their culture, religious identity, core values and worldview.

In the past, Muslim communities have faced this adaptation patiently. Yet today it seems there is growing discontent, especially among younger Muslims, who are asking, ‘Where do I fit in? Am I a European Muslim or a Muslim living in Europe? What is my place and who is my “tribe”?’

Different nations in Europe have their own identities, core values and social landmarks. For example, German unification was a time of great social change that impacted strongly on Germany’s social conscience. Yet these national differences are still bounded by a common European value system.

Many Muslims find interaction with this western system a big challenge, especially when they feel the strong allure of Islamic groups around the world (Islamic State being the latest). The computer has become a window into such ideologies and experiences, giving rise to a sense of belonging not achieved through other inter-actions.

Needs

So the need for a real, engaging and practical relationship with young European Muslims in their community is crucial, in order to stem this tide of social separation. As a Christian community we must respond to this need.

We should try to understand the inward struggles of Muslims and have a voice relevant to their ummah. As we relate to Muslims, with sensitivity to this particular jihad, we can be a more ready influence of salt and light for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

By ECM’s coordinator of Muslim and migrant ministry.