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European Iman conference spells it out: No to 'Euro Islam' - yes to Islam in Europe

April 12, 2006

INTERVIEW-Vienna imam says yes to Europe, no to "Euro-Islam"

12 Apr 2006

Source: Reuters

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor VIENNA, April 12 (Reuters) - Sheikh Adnan Ibrahim sounds every bit the type of moderate Muslim who Western governments hope will develop a "European Islam" to help integrate immigrants and form a bulwark against radical ideologies. From the minbar (pulpit) in his Vienna mosque or a podium on the conference circuit, the 40-year-old Palestinian-born preacher urges Muslims to be loyal citizens in their new European homes and to adapt their traditions to modern life. But he bristles at recurring suggestions from Westerners that Europe's Muslims need to develop a "Euro-Islam", a British, Dutch or Italian Islam or even go through their own kind of French Revolution or Protestant Reformation. "There will certainly be an Islam with a European imprint someday," he told Reuters in his spacious apartment full of Oriental carpets and ceiling-high shelves of books in Arabic. "It won't be a Euro-Islam, but an Islam in Europe," insisted Sheikh Adnan, a soft-spoken man who is one of the most popular Islamic preachers in the Austrian capital, whose population is 10 percent Muslim.

"There is a big difference." Muslim leaders attending a conference of European imams in Vienna at the weekend struck a similar chord. "What is Euro-Islam -- an Islam of the euro?" Amir Zaidan, head of Vienna's Islamic Academy, asked sarcastically. "Any adaptation, updating or development of Islamic norms in Europe must be clearly anchored in the sources of Islam ... without being extreme, watered down, Europeanised or Americanised," he said to assenting nods from his audience. France has repeatedly urged its 5-million-strong Muslim minority, the largest in Europe, to develop a "French Islam" that fits into its highly secular society. Officials in other European countries have voiced similar ideas. But when Paris banned headscarves in state schools, the Muslims heard a subliminal message that they should be less Islamic and more like the secularised Catholic majority that skips church, ignores priests and forgets its traditions. "WESTERN DEAFNESS" Many West European leaders seem unable to hear the message Western Muslims like Sheikh Adnan are sending them, according to John Voll, associate director of the Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington. "There is an incredible deafness," he said, adding that the secular outlook of many politicians and journalists made a religious outlook "seriously incomprehensible" to them.

Sheikh Adnan, who grew up in a refugee camp in Gaza and studied medicine in Yugoslavia before moving to Vienna in 1991, could hardly be clearer when he says Islam cannot be updated simply by mixing in a few Western secular views. "It's not enough to just have ideas," he said as he reeled off names of Muslim intellectuals in Europe whose reform proposals he said were not solidly based on Islam. "If you cannot read the Koran correctly, don't know which sayings of the Prophet Mohammad are authentic or don't know Islamic history, you can easily end up on thin ice and no Muslim will accept you," he explained. "I know the traditional teachings and can justify my views on the basis of Islamic teaching and tradition." Sheikh Adnan's views often go against what traditional imams say is Islamic teaching. Citing a recent case in Afghanistan, he rejected the idea that anyone converting from Islam to another religion deserved the death sentence, or any punishment at all. "In the Prophet's day, there were people who left the faith and nothing happened to them," he said. "This death sentence was meant for people who fought with arms against Islam." In his sermons, Sheikh Adnan urges worshippers to reach out to their non-Muslim neighbours.

After the London bombings last year, he issued a fatwa saying Muslims who hear of plans for a terrorist attack must report them to the police immediately. One sermon condemning female circumcision, a custom still practiced among some Muslims in Africa, sparked off a lively debate, he said, but he ended up convincing the congregation that it was against classical Islamic jurisprudence. "One man came up to me afterwards and said, 'thank God, you have saved my three younger daughters'," he recalled. "But for the oldest one, it was already too late."

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