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European Imams Stress Social Integration

DW staff (sms)April 10, 2006

A conference of European imams ended in Vienna on Sunday with participants urging Europe's Muslims and their religious leaders across the continent to take part in all aspects of society.

The imams said learning the host country's language and culture is essentialImage: AP

Integration, education, politics and women's rights featured on the agenda of the three-day conference, which brought together more than 130 imams and Muslim ministers from about 40 European countries and a further 100 from Austria.

"(We need to) foster integration by participation and participation especially by imams for they have a particular role... (to) encourage people to be and feel part of society," said Amina Baghajati, spokesman for the Austrian Muslim association (IGGIOe).

The group's final declaration addressed a number of issues Western politicians have been calling on European imams to tackle in the face of radical ideologies coming out of the Middle East.

"We have shown how to protect ourselves from fatwas from other countries," said the IGGIOe's Mouddar Khouja said of the religious edicts pronounced by Europe's imams. "We have fatwas from imams living in Europe and they speak for themselves.

Kinder im Alter zwischen sieben und 15 Jahren der Ahmadiyya-Muslim-Gemeinde nehmen in der Moschee in Berlin-Reinickendorf am Islam-Unterricht teil.
Early language skills ease integrationImage: dpa

Language essential to integration

The imams emphasized the need for dialogue, cooperation and efforts to be made on all sides to achieve better understanding between cultures and religions. In particular, they said it was essential for European Muslims of all ages to learn the language and culture of the country where they live.

The imams also stressed that integration is facilitated by participation in political, economical, cultural, social and academic areas.

"It is the principle of Islam that the Muslim in Europe be active and participate in all aspects of life," said Ahmed Al-Rawi, president of the British-based Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe.

Imams have positive role to play

The imams called upon themselves to play stronger roles in helping their communities integrate into society.

"Imams, as teachers and preachers, have a duty to emphasize to their congregations that they can play a positive role ... in addressing the plagues of Europe -- hate, bigotry, racism, extremism and terrorism," said Imam Abduljalil Sajid, president of Britain's Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony.

Muslimische Proteste in London gegen die Mohammed Karrikaturen
Muslims in London took to the street over the Mohammed cartoonsImage: AP

While Muslims have a responsibility to adapt to their host country, Europe too must give them the opportunity to become part of that society by "talking with and not about Muslims," the declaration concluded.

"Integration is no one-way street, but should be seen as a mutual process," the declaration said.

In light of the recent the Mohammed cartoon controversy, the imams underlined the importance of freedom of speech, while denouncing the violent protests as well as the media's focus on violence in Islam.

"Muslims are under pressure to justify themselves, as... in the coverage of crises, images of aggression and violence, often outside Europe, stand in the foreground," the imams said.

Cemetery graffiti casts shadow over conference

An attack on an Islamic cemetery under construction in Vienna reminded the imams of the hostility Muslims meet throughout Europe. "Will be blown up," was sprayed on the prayer room's outer walls.

"The graffiti shows this was an anti-Islamic attack," said Omar al-Rawi, head of integration affairs at the Austrian Islamic Community. A similar attack on a mosque happened after another Islam conference last November.