This article titled ‘Accommodating Muslims in Europe: From Adopting Sharia Law to Religiously Based Opt-Outs from Generally Applicable Laws.’ is written by Aryan and discusses the core issues related to the accommodation of Muslims in Europe. Accommodating Muslims in Europe I. European Muslim communities Despite the fact that Muslims have resided in the Baltic and Balkan regions for centuries,… Read More »

This article titled ‘Accommodating Muslims in Europe: From Adopting Sharia Law to Religiously Based Opt-Outs from Generally Applicable Laws.’ is written by Aryan and discusses the core issues related to the accommodation of Muslims in Europe.

Accommodating Muslims in Europe

I. European Muslim communities

Despite the fact that Muslims have resided in the Baltic and Balkan regions for centuries, as well as on the Iberian Peninsula, Cyprus, and Sicily, the majority of Muslims in the European Union entered as migrant labourers in the 1960s and a smaller number as asylum seekers in the 1990s. Although there is a Shiite minority, as well as various strains such as Alevis and Sufis, the majority of Muslims are Sunnis. [1]

Ethnic and sectarian differences can be significant because they influence views toward integration and relationships with non-Muslims, for example. Muslims are underrepresented in demographic statistics: the most conservative estimate, based on official and, where none are available, unofficial data, suggests a Muslim population of around thirteen million people, or about 3.5 percent of the EU’s total population, but with wide variations between the Member States.

According to reports, the Muslim population is younger than the general population, implying that policies directed at young people should have a significant impact. Considering, for example, non-Muslim assimilation and relationships.

II. The legal status of Islam

The legal position of Islam varies depending on the legal relationship between state and religion in each Member State. The operation of mosques, preaching and proselytising methods, halal slaughter, and the public usage of religious symbols are all regulated by legislative instruments in the several Member States. Although there is no institutional acknowledgement of Islam in some nations, this does not necessarily have a negative influence on Muslims’ rights.

In all Member States, there are a number of Muslim organisations, but many Muslims, particularly those with a more secular view, are not members of them. [2]For societal cohesiveness, Muslim organisations’ participation in social and political life is critical.

The non-hierarchical nature of Islam, along with the ethnic, cultural, and theological variety of Europe’s Muslim populations, makes the development of umbrella organisations particularly problematic. There is evidence that community representation is gradually shifting, with younger generations seeing themselves as Muslims collectively and so generating increased engagement among ethnically [3]diverse Muslim communities, with knock-on repercussions for established Muslim organisations.

It’s vital to recall that the EU’s anti-discrimination legislation on the basis of religion and belief is insufficient. Only in the sphere of employment, the EU law (Framework Directive) expressly forbids discriminatory treatment based on religion (including vocational training). Other well-known fields covered by the EU regulation forbidding racial and ethnic discrimination (education, healthcare, and the provision of goods and services) are not included.[4]

The proposed Horizontal Directive should have previously filled this void. The legislative process, on the other hand, has been stuck since 2008, and it appears that reaching a consensus among the EU Member States is proving tough. However, the majority of Member States enacted complicated national anti-discrimination legislation that went beyond the EU’s basic criteria.[5]

The European Court of Human Rights (ECTHR) concluded in Kokkinakis v. Greece that “[a]s enshrined in Article 9, freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is one of the cornerstones of a “democratic society” within the meaning of the Convention.” It is a valuable asset for atheists, agnostics, sceptics, and the unconcerned in its religious dimension, but it is also a valuable asset for atheists, agnostics, sceptics, and the unconcerned in its secular dimension. It is dependent on the plurality that is inextricably linked to a democratic society that has been fought for over ages.’[6]

The freedom to choose or practise a religion or belief is typically regarded as an absolute right that cannot be curtailed by the government. Individuals do, however, have a right to possess religious and other beliefs, as well as qualified freedom to exhibit religion or belief, according to Article 9 (2) of the Convention. The right to worship, to teach people about a religion or belief, and to practise and observe it by wearing symbols or specific clothing, or by eating certain foods, are all examples of manifestation.[7]

Article 9 (2) allows for restrictions on the freedom to express one’s religion or belief if they are imposed by law and can be justified as necessary in a democratic society for public safety, public order, health, or morals, or the preservation of others’ rights and freedoms.

Furthermore, not all beliefs or opinions are necessarily included by the provision, and the term “practise” as used in Article 9 (1) does not include every act prompted or affected by a religion or belief. Furthermore, while determining whether and to what extent a restriction on the right to express one’s religion or views is ‘essential,’ the States are frequently given a broad range of appreciation.

In this regard, the Court may, if appropriate, take into account any consensus or shared values that emerge from the activities of the Convention’s States Parties. Given the importance of freedom of religion in a democratic society, the Court has decided that “rather than holding that the possibility of changing jobs would negate any interference with the right, the better approach would be to weigh that possibility in the overall balance when considering whether or not the restriction was proportionate,” as it did in Eweida v. UK.

The Convention does not define the terms “religion” and “belief.” If a personal or collective conviction reaches a particular level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion, and importance, it will benefit from the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.[8]

The Court has taken a broad and subjective view of what constitutes religion, including all kinds of ideas and philosophical convictions, as well as a person’s religious beliefs and their own way of understanding their personal and social lives. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, for example, held that “by wearing the headscarf, the applicant was observing a religious precept and therefore showing her intention to strictly comply with the duties required by the Islamic faith.”[9]

As a result, her decision to wear the headscarf may be seen as motivated or inspired by a religion or belief, without considering whether such decisions are made to fulfil a religious responsibility in every case.

Because there is no “no necessity on the petitioner to prove that he or she did in fulfilment of a duty specified by the religion in question,” such as displaying a cross, no question about the interpretation of the sacred writings arises. As a result, determining the simple existence of a sufficiently close and direct link between the act and the underlying belief must be done on the facts of each case.

Thanks to this broad approach, religious practices which might not be generally recognized or considered as required by the religion may also be protected.[10]

III. Marginalisation and alienation

A major concern in the European setting is whether Muslims feel fully integrated into European societies, or whether some feel marginalised and alienated. Discriminatory practises that stem from intolerance and prejudice toward diverse cultures exacerbate social exclusion and estrangement.[11]

There hasn’t been much research done in this area: While Muslim migrants appear to be more vulnerable to discrimination than non-Muslims in some countries, such as Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Portugal, pilot studies on migrants’ experiences of racism and xenophobia in different areas of economic and social life conducted by the EUMC in several European countries between 2002 and 2005 revealed that religious faith alone cannot explain discrimination in other countries, such as Austria, Belgium, Germany, Greece, France, and Ireland.

It is also necessary to analyse the unique history of Muslim communities in Europe, as well as the various tactics used by the Member States in dealing with religious minorities. Nonetheless, based on the available information, individuals of Muslim communities may be subjected to discriminatory practises, which may lead to estrangement from the larger society in which they live.[12]

National and international opinion polls consistently portray a poor view of Muslims among the general population, but there are significant differences amongst the Member States. According to a 2004 GfK Custom Research poll, more than half of Western Europeans believe Muslims residing in Europe now are viewed with distrust. According to the 2005 Pew Survey, “Muslims desire to remain different” and “they have an increasing sense of Islamic identity,” with the majority of respondents agreeing that “Muslims want to remain distinct.” [13]

In France and the United Kingdom, however, the majority of respondents had a favourable opinion of Muslims. The conclusions of the most recent Pew Survey, which covered Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, and France in 2006, were “more mixed than unremittingly negative.” [14]

One of the study’s significant findings was that Muslims are less likely to envision a clash of civilizations in a number of ways and often link positive traits with Westerners, such as tolerance, compassion, and respect for women. According to the survey, the majority of people in France and the United Kingdom have favourable views of Muslims in general. However, positive opinions of Muslims have declined sharply in Spain over the past year (from 46 to 29 per cent), and more modestly in Great Britain (from 72 to 63 per cent), while respondents in Germany and Spain expressed much more negative views of Muslims than in France and Great Britain.[15]

Muslim women’s social position differs depending on their socioeconomic class and educational background, as well as whether they were born in rural or urban parts of their home country. Muslim women are frequently singled out as victims of tyranny attributed to Islam and are at the centre of heated public disputes over the role of religion, tradition and modernity, secularism and emancipation.

The wearing of a headscarf, which is often seen as a sign of oppression and subjugation by non-Muslims, has been a topic of public controversy in the numerous Member States in recent years.

The headscarf issue is complicated and diverse.[16] Many Muslim women wear headscarves involuntarily, as a result of social pressure from their families or even harassment from their peers, but others do so for religious grounds, as an assertion of Muslim identity, or as a culturally defined display of modesty.

Forced marriages and honour killings are two more concerns that threaten the lives of many Muslim women, notably in various European nations such as Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, and the United Kingdom. Such deplorable practises have been publicly condemned, and the Austrian Presidency of the European Council in 2006 took the lead in establishing the ‘Network Against Harmful Traditions,’ which includes legal measures, victim protection, and public awareness campaigns.[17]

IV. Relevance drawn to the United Kingdom

The government’s community cohesion strategy attempts to confront and minimise Islamophobia on the street, in neighbourhoods, and in communities, while also involving local governments and the volunteer sector in a variety of valuable collaborative activities and programmes.

The following are some of the most recent government-sponsored programmes and efforts aimed at integrating Muslim communities:[18]

  1. Review of the Government’s Interface with the Faith Communities, 29 March 2004: this was launched on 29 March by the Prime Minister, Home Secretary and Home Office Minister Fiona Mactaggart.
  2. Foreign and Commonwealth Office: The FCO engages with the UK Muslim community on foreign policy affecting the Muslim world. Local Government Association (LGA): The LGA has undertaken several initiatives to actively engage and consult with the Muslim community.

The Commission for Racial Equality is a non-governmental organisation established under the Race Relations Act of 1976 to combat racial discrimination and promote racial equality. On concerns of Islamophobia and prejudice against Muslims in the UK, the CRE collaborates closely with non-governmental organisations such as FAIR (Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism) and the Muslim Council of Britain.[19]

V. Conclusion

At several levels, the regionalization of politics, or the impact of religion on politics, can be witnessed. When religion is placed at the heart of a political argument, institutions and actors speaking in the name of Islam become participants in the discussion. Because religion is intertwined with culture and ethnicity, religious arguments find their way into discussions that are no longer strictly religious, but rather social, economic, or political in nature.

Arguments on a wide range of topics are given or perceived as being in the name of religion by participating in discussions about topics that are not necessarily under their jurisdiction, such as the objectives and means of (religious) education, labour market participation, family structure, and gender roles, to name a few (IVANESCU, 2010).[20]

On the other hand, the values and norms given in these arguments are likely to be different from the norms and values espoused by Western liberal democracies, which are at the heart of the construction of the European nation-state. These alternative reference systems question the accepted relativization of liberal norms and ideals, as well as provide a critical perspective on their application in reality. Religious arguments and concepts are prevalent in the political realm and have the potential to influence political decisions.[21]

Education, morals, and Islam in Europe as a social curriculum The barrier between the private and the public, as well as that between politics and religion, is becoming increasingly blurred, whether in the private domain or in the social curriculum, such as the family, children and education, beliefs and loyalties.

Because the distinction between the spheres is not as clear-cut as the doctrine of laicism would like, this ad hoc effect politicises all religions while regionalizing politics. Religion is re-entering the public arena as a result of the opportunities provided by changes in immigration law and the integration process, as well as the remaking of citizenship models. The parts are influenced by one another as a result of the public interaction between religion and politics. Politics is regionalized, and religion is politicised.

Religion is defending its rights and, as a result, reshaping the debate over state hegemony, contesting the universality of the liberal West’s democratic values.


[1] Central Statistical Office (2002) Usually resident persons aged 15 years and over classified by religion, sex and ILO economic status, CSO Census 2002, Available Here. (12.03.2006)

[2] ZfT Multi-Topic Survey: Goldberg, A.; Sauer M. (2004) Die Lebenssituation von Frauen und Männern türkischer Herkunft in Nordrhein-Westfalen. Ergebnisse der 6. Mehrthemenbefragung, Duisburg-Essen: Stiftung ZfT

[3] AMAL Project: Migration and the Labour Market 2001-2005, Available Here. (14.06.2005).

[4] CEOOR (2005). Bevraging: Actieve publieke uiting van religieuze en levensbeschouwelijke overtuigingen: Voorstellingen en analyse / Consultation: Expressions actives de convictions religieuses ou philosophiques dans la sphère publique, p.20-58.

[5] Intercultural mediators are people that focus on the accessibility and the quality of health care. In 2004, eighty-five intercultural mediators accounting for 60,000 interventions in 19 different languages, were subsidised by the Federal Ministry of Health.

[6] DGB Bildungswerk/Migration und Qualifikation (2004), Islam und Arbeitswelt. Muslimische Arbeitnehmende in der Arbeitswelt – islamische Organisationen, p. 42

[7] Brouard, S. and Tiberj, V. (June 2005) Rapport au politique des Français issus de l’immigration, CEVIPOF Point, S. et Singh, V. (2005) Defining and Dimensionalising Diversity: Evidence from Corporate Websites across Europe, European Management Journal, Vol.21, No 6, pp. 750-761, p. 759

[8] Brouard, S. and Tiberj, V. (June 2005) Rapport au politique des Français issus de l’immigration, CEVIPOF – Point, S. et Singh, V. (2005) Defining and Dimensionalising Diversity : Evidence from Corporate Websites across Europe, European Management Journal, Vol.21, No 6, pp. 750-761, p.759

[9] ACAS (2004) Religion or belief and the workplace: A guide for employers and employees. Available Here. (14.1.2005)

[10] For background material – see 2004 EUMC report ‘Migrants, Minorities and Education: Exclusion, Discrimination and Anti-Discrimination’, and 2005 EUMC report ‘National Strategies for Minority Schooling: A Comparative Analysis’, Available Here.

[11] France / Circulaire du 18 mai 2004 relative à la mise en oeuvre de la loi n° 2004-228 du 15 mars 2004 encadrant, en application du principe de laïcité, le port de signes ou de tenues manifestant une appartenance religieuse dans les écoles, collèges et lycées publics (published in JORF n°118 du 22

[12] Libération (03.09.2004) Un lendemain de rentrée calme sur le front du voile

[13] See Press release by the International Federation of Journalists; Available Here. (10.04.2006)

[14] The Research Centre on Organisation and Social Relations Management (CERGORS) initiated this new monitoring centre to develop studies and research in all kinds of discrimination

[15] “Islam: Danskere frygter muslim-dominans”, Jyllands-Posten 23.05.04

[16] EUMC (2001) Situation of Islamic Communities in five European Cities, p. 32

[17] Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations (Appendix A, Article 2), Lausanne January 30, 1923 between the Government of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and the Greek Government

[18] Edwige Rude-Antoine (2005), Marriages in Council of Europe member states: A comparative study of legislation and political initiatives, Council of Europe, Strasbourg, Available Here.

[19] Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, 19 September 1981 Available Here. (12.06.2006)

[20] Pew Global Attitudes Project: Islamic Extremism – Common Concern for Muslim and Western Publics

[21] France / Loi n° 2004-228 du 15 mars 2004 encadrant, en application du principe de laïcité, le port de signes ou de tenues manifestant une appartenance religieuse dans les écoles, collèges et lycées publics (17.03.2004) (published in JORF n° 65 du 17 mars 2004, p. 5,190)

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