Europe and Islam

Europe and Islam

At the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Istanbul, it was proposed that a “European Muslims group” should be formed. There is an Asia group, an Arab group and an Africa group in the OIC, so why should there not be a Europe group? 

Of course, when one says “Islam” and “Europe,” colossal issues and hopes come to mind. 

The suggestion was made by Bosnia and Herzegovina President Bakir Izetbegovic, and it was supported by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. It was indeed suitable for Turkey to support it, and the suggestion was unanimously approved at the general assembly. 

We will see further developments on this. But before anything else, Bosnia and Herzegovina should be accepted into the OIC as a full member, rather than just an “observer.”  

Two names come to my mind when European Muslims are mentioned. One of them is our Cevdet Pasha and the other is the late Bosnian Muslim leader, Aliya Izetbegovic. 

I see these two great names as symbols of how the concept of religion is affected by geography and social environments. They also show how much need there is for a “renewal” or a “renaissance” in Islamic thought.

Cevdet Pasha was born in the European territories of the Ottoman Empire. He was one of the architects of Ottoman modernization in the 1860s. At the time when political reforms started being made in the Ottoman state in 1839 – such as the banning of slavery - there were revolts in Arabia claiming that “Turks have become infidels.”

These words of the wise leader of the Bosnians, Aliya Izetbegovic, summarize almost all the problems of today’s Muslims: “If it were up to me, I would assign a ‘critical thinking’ course to all schools in the Muslim East. Unlike the West, the East has not been trained in this bitter school, which is the source of many of its weaknesses.”

Yes, it is this mentality problem that lies at the heart of the downfall experienced in the Muslim world for at least four centuries. 

Here is a short quote from the speech that the late Izetbegovic delivered on Dec. 11, 1997, in Tehran, at the OIC meeting: “Women are half of humanity. With women left uneducated, how can we reach the 21st century with generations raised by them?”

Let us ponder how far the Islamic world has come since that speech. 

Izetbegovic went on in her speech to say the following: “The West is neither corrupt nor degenerate. It is strong, well-educated, and organized. Its schools are better than ours. Its cities are cleaner than ours. The level of respect for human rights in the West is higher, and its care for the poor and less capable is better organized. Westerners are usually responsible and accurate in their words. Instead of hating the West, let us proclaim cooperation.”  

Muslims do not need fighting or extreme polarization. They need to focus on these issues. Before it went through the truly painstaking process of “critical thinking,” Europe was also in the darkness of the medieval times. 

So critical thinking is not a “European product,” it is universal, just like science and technology. Without critical thinking there would have been no modern science and technology, no modern law, and no modern democracy. 

In the Islamic world, on the other hand, bigotry, the culture of obedience and extreme polarization do not allow critical thinking to develop. 

I hope that during the recent OIC summit such issues were discussed in more depth. I hope that within the scope of the OIC, European Muslims can bring these issues forward.