Middle East Resources

Euro-Islam, or Islamized Europe?

Bassam Michael Madany

January 2018

The presence of millions of Muslims in Western Europe, is a relatively new phenomenon. Prior to the Second World War, Muslims lived almost exclusively, in Daru’l Islam (the Household of Islam.) The now decades-long Muslim presence in Europe and elsewhere in the West has shown that their move from the Household of Islam to the secular, democratic West has proven more problematic for their assimilation than it has for other immigrants in the same position. Their Islamic belief system keeps them from wanting to be a part of the total personal freedom that the democratic spirit of the West fosters. And who could blame them when we witness daily how our free societies have deteriorated morally and spiritually. The secular democratic nations have fostered the personal autonomy that is wreaking havoc. Drugs, addictions, sexual immorality, political corruption run rampant because the West has for the most part rejected the Christian faith, whose principles formerly held sway over Western cultures. One can understand why the Muslims believe their own religion and faith are superior to what they see around them and not want to assimilate to it.

Yet, they are captive to a religion that is authoritarian and espouses beliefs that have wrought terror and mayhem all over the world. But there is dissent among the “believers.”

Works on Islam in Western languages, are mostly authored by non-Muslim scholars. Lately however, certain Arab writers, writing from within Islamic culture, have dealt with some of its underlying concepts and issues arising from them. Two such authors, Dr. Bassam Tibi[i] and Hamed Abdel-Samad[ii], have much to contribute to Westerner’s understanding of Muslims and their culture. Their works are available in Arabic, German, English, and French.

Tibi and Abdel-Samad met recently at the Berlin Museum of Modern Culture, and shared their views on European Islam. A few months later, they spoke at a conference in Germany on the same subject. Their dialogue in Berlin, and their presentations at the conference, are archived on YouTube. Here is a summary of their views, followed by my analysis and comments.

At the Berlin Museum

While Dr. Tibi and author Abdel-Samad knew each other through their writings, in Berlin they met face-to-face. The meeting was arranged by Nazan Gökdemir, a reporter for a French - German Television Station. Since the reporter was not conversant in Arabic, the conversation took place in German. On the archived YouTube edition, Abdel-Samad, provided an Arabic translation of their dialogue.

At the outset, Abdel-Samad expressed his doubts about the possibility of reforming European Islam, by relating the following anecdote:

A “Westernized” Muslim lady of Turkish background, organized a “reformed” mosque in Berlin. Sunnis, Shi’ites, Sufis, Alawis, Ahmadis, men, and women; all could worship at this venue! She also acted as the Imam of the mosque!

World-wide reactions were predictable. The Egyptian House of Fatwa[iii], declared the mosque illegal, and un-Islamic; the Turkish Government’s Department of Religious Affairs, didn’t merely disapprove of the project, but hurled its maledictions on the person who dared to organize such a mosque! The Islamic Associations of Germany denounced it, charging that the mosque had “disfigured” Islam!

Following Abdel-Samad’s introduction of this inauspicious event in Berlin, Dr. Tibi spoke of his opposition to Radical Islam, calling it “Islamism.” Years ago, he had warned the Europeans about the coming of an “Islamic Deluge” that would engulf Europe, due to the impact of Salafist mosques, financed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the Gulf Arab States. He denounced the Turkish Government’s involvement in the mosques of the large Turkish community in Germany.

Dr. Tibi referred to the Islamist ideology of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who while mayor of Istanbul, had said: “Democracy is our train to get us to power, the mosques are our fortresses, and the minarets are our spears!

Unfortunately, the Left in Germany had been very critical of anyone who spoke about the dangers of Islamism, added Dr. Tibi. They considered such talk “racism;” thus blunting the warnings about the great dangers resulting from the spread of Salafist movements.

Following the Islamists’ September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, they targeted Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, and Spain. These events changed the minds of the Leftist German detractors of Dr. Tibi. At last, they were ready to listen to his warnings, and consider the merits of his reformist project, “Euro-Islam.” Dr. Tibi declared that there should be no place for Islamists in Europe, as their views are contrary to Western Constitutions; adding that Salafist imams should not be admitted into Europe!

At the Berlin Conference on Euro-Islam

Author Hamed Abdel-Samad and Dr. Bassam Tibi participated in the Berlin Conference on Euro-Islam. The discussion turned around the subject of “who would change whom;” would a Euro-Islam emerge as a democratic, and pluralist faith (Tibi’s view); or, would Europe be Islamized (Abdel-Samad’s view)?

Hamed pointed to the great mistake, even to the stupidity of European Governments, in their dealing with Muslims. He reminded the audience that European constitutions and laws, had been drafted for their citizens, who accept and live by them. However, they did not consider the possibility that people from other civilizations, having settled in the West, might not be willing to abide by Western principles! He shared this anecdote to illustrate how Western societies’ lifestyles, are deeply-ingrained from childhood.

“I was at a supermarket in Copenhagen, Denmark. I noticed a mother shopping with her young son. The boy stopped at an ice cream counter, opened its cover, and took time to make up his mind about what to choose. Right away, his mother reminded him that he should have first made his choice, before opening the cover; otherwise, the entire stock would start melting!

“The boy got a lesson in the proper way of shopping, and the importance of conserving energy. Such an outlook doesn’t exist among the Muslim migrants in Europe. In fact, added Abdel-Samad, “they have come over here, with an alternative project for Europe. Muslims have superior laws derived from Allah’s revelation; valid for all time and for all places!”

“The Islamization of Europe is happening through the multiplicity of Islamic institutions: Islamic pre-schools and secondary schools, Islamic homes for the aged, Islamic banks; Islamists actually control Muslim communities from the cradle to the grave!”

Dr. Tibi defended his “Euro-Islam Project.” Addressing author Abdel-Samad and the audience, he countered:

“I offer a different outlook and system. Yes, we can work for the emergence of a European Islam that accepts the fruits of the European Enlightenment: personal freedoms, equality between men and women, religious tolerance, and pluralism.

Abdel-Samad asked, “Are any of these principles derived from Islam?” speaking this time in English, “How much Islam, and how much European Democracy is in Euro-Islam?” Reforming a faith implies retaining at least, a few of its teachings. Would any principles in ‘Euro-Islam’ claim an Islamic origin?!”


Two experts on Islam and Islamism, both of Middle Eastern background, who had studied in Germany, arrived at divergent views, about the future of Islam in Europe.

Hamed Abdel-Samad, an Egyptian Muslim, concluded that Islam could not be reformed, if it is tied to its sacred texts: the Qur’an, Hadith, and the Sunna. His books and archived programs on YouTube, set forth his thesis, clearly and forcefully.

Bassam Tibi, a Syrian who grew up in Damascus, came to Germany where he studied at prestigious universities, entertains the hope for the rise of a democratic and tolerant Islam, in Western Europe.


Abdel-Samad approaches Islam, as a “Higher Critic.” He doesn’t follow the traditional Muslim’s presupposition, that the Qur’an is a divinely-inspired text. His analysis of the normative teachings of Islam, convinced him that it is not reformable. When he is reminded of the Reformation in the Western Church, and the suggestion that a similar Reformation could take place in Islam, he explains that the situation in Islam is utterly different from the state of the Church in sixteenth century Europe. Martin Luther had the backing of the Bible, in his attempt to reform the Church. To spread the teachings of Holy Scripture, he translated the New Testament into German, allowing the laity to see for themselves, the rightness of his stand against the Pope.

Abdel-Samad argues that going back to the authoritative texts of Islam, would confirm the position of the Islamists, whose goal is none other than the application of the Shariah (which is derived from the Qur’an and Hadith) into every area of life.

“Islam and Islamism”

My acquaintance with Hamed Abdel-Samad is based on his weekly Monday evening 30-minute shows, and his debates archived on YouTube. My knowledge of Dr. Bassam Tibi’s thought, is derived primarily, from his book, “Islamism and Islam.”

Chapter One of “Islamism and Islam” bears the title: “Islamism is not Islam” He asks, “What is the difference between Islamism and Islam? The essential answer is that Islamism is not mere politics, but religionized politics.

A study of the history of Islam, from its earliest days, does not support Bassam Tibi’s thesis. In 610, at the age of forty, Muhammad proclaimed his message in Mecca, without gaining many adherents. Those who accepted his mission were persecuted; some sought refuge in Ethiopia. In 622, he moved to Medina, where he assumed the role of “Prophet and Statesman.” The Qur’anic revelations underwent radical change, as they dealt with more than mere religious themes. They included legislation relating to family life, war and peace, etc. Military campaigns against his Meccan foes, became numerous. Finally, Muhammad entered Mecca as a triumphant hero, in 630 A.D.

Christians and Jews were banished forever from living in Arabia. Muhammad conceived his mission as applying universally. Letters were sent to nearby rulers inviting them to Islamize, or face the conquests of their homelands! One hundred years after Muhammad’s passing in 632, Islam had spread to western India, the Middle East, North Africa, and the Iberian Peninsula. Islamic expansion was arrested by Charles Martel, at the Battle of Tours, near Poitiers, in southern France, in 732.

After the conversion of the Turks, they expanded the territory of Islam by defeating the Byzantine Empire, conquering the Balkans, and parts of central Europe. Twice they laid siege to Vienna: first in 1529, and 150 years later. Their defeat in 1683, marked the end of Islamic expansion into Europe.

It’s hard to understand Bassam Tibi’s thesis that “Islamism is not mere politics, but religionized politics.” But what has Islam been, for the last 1400 years, if not “religionized politics?” Islamic wars were conducted “Fi Sabeel Allah!” (In the Pathway of Allah.) Among the major religions of the world, Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shinto; Islam has distinguished itself by the fact that it spread primarily by force! Dr. Tibi glosses over Islam’s basic imperialist motif. In Chapter Five, “Islamism and Violence - New World Disorder” he writes:

Some in the West have an image of Islam as a ‘religion of the sword.’ This distorted view ---supported by such examples as the Saudi Arabian flag and the name of Muammar Gadhafi’s son, Saif-ul-Islam, which means ‘Sword of Islam’ --- represents a misperception of Islam that affects any inquiry into jihadism. The idea that religiously inspired violence is historically central to Islam, encourages the conflation of modern jihadism with traditional jihad.” P. 137

In the same chapter, he differentiates between “Jihadism” and “Classical Jihad.”

The history of jihad begins not in Mecca, with the commencement of Islamic revelation in 610, but rather with the establishment of the new Islamic polity in Medina in 622 --- the polity that modern Islamists, in an invention of tradition, have upgraded to an ‘Islamic state.’ In the Islamic calendar following the hijra, the migration of the Prophet, this is the Year One. After 622, and in particular after 632 --- in the aftermath of the death of the Prophet --- the new religion was spread by a combination of peaceful proselytization, trade, and jihad wars.” P. 141

Traditional Arab sources on early Islam give a different narrative. When Muhammad entered Mecca in 630, Meccans had no choice but to “embrace” Islam. Following the Prophet’s death in 632, some Arab tribes attempted to turn back from Islam, the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, waged “Huroob al-Radda” (Wars Against Apostasy), forcing their return to the fold.

I find the statement that “the new religion was spread by a combination of peaceful proselytization, trade, and jihad wars,” contrary to well-established historical facts. Islamic “Futuhat” (Conquests) were accomplished by military campaigns, not by the so-called “peaceful proselytization.” Jews and Christians had the option to Islamize, or pay the exorbitant Jizya tax, and accepting the status of “Dhimmis,” with their freedoms greatly proscribed.[iv]

A different view of Islam is offered in Ephraim Karsh’s book, “Islamic Imperialism: A History.”[v] Professor Karsh writes in the Introduction:

The worlds of Christianity and Islam, however, have developed differently in one fundamental respect. The Christian faith won over an existing empire in an extremely slow and painful process and its universalism was originally conceived in spiritual terms that made a clear distinction between God and Caesar. By the time it was embraced by the Byzantine emperors as a tool for buttressing their imperial claims, three centuries after its foundation, Christianity had in place a countervailing ecclesiastical institution with an abiding authority over the wills and actions of all believers. The birth of Islam, by contrast, was inextricably linked with the creation of a world empire and its universalism was inherently imperialist. It did not distinguish between temporal and religious powers, which were combined in the person of Muhammad, who derived his authority directly from Allah and acted at one and the same time as head of the state and head of the church. This allowed the prophet to cloak his political ambitions with a religious aura and to channel Islam’s energies into ‘its instruments of aggressive expansion, there [being] no internal organism of equal force to counterbalance it.’” (P. 5)

Having reflected on the two opposition views about the future of Islam in Europe, we may ask: Would a “Euro-Islam,” a gentler and tolerant genre, rise among the millions of Muslims, or, would Western Europe be Islamized?

Author Hamed Abdel-Samad’s forecast casts doubt on the possibility of reform among European Muslims. Professor Bassam Tibi is hopeful; provided European governments stop the flow of Islamist Imams, whose Friday sermons stoke up the fires of exclusivism and intolerance of others and their faiths among the faithful!

At the end of 2017, several Islamic homelands, from Afghanistan to Iran, Yemen, Syria, the Palestinian territory, and the Sinai, were experiencing the struggles and conflicts that have afflicted Islam, since the days of “The Rightly Guided” Caliphs. The consequences of the schism between Sunnis and Shi’ites that began in 661, are still with us today, adding fuel, to the inter-Islamic conflicts.

However, one hopeful factor must not be left out; namely, the impact of the Internet on millions of Muslims world-wide. While the news media keep us informed about the political situation in the Arab/Muslim world, there is very little reporting on the cultural ferments going on among the young generation. But changes are coming.

Abdel-Samad’s choice of “Box of Islam” as the name of his weekly Arabic program, is to remind us that Muslims can no longer be kept inside “The Box.” Islam’s hold on the young generation is loosening. Many declare publicly their turn to Ilhad (Unbelief). Some are opting for the Christian faith, as we learn from Brother Rachid’s Thursday evening shows![vi] The Muslim World will never be the same! So, notwithstanding the tragedies caused by Islamists in 2017, let’s hope for a better, and relatively peaceful A.D. 2018, throughout the Arab/Muslim world!


On a related subject, read “Time is Not on Europe’s Side,” by William Kilpatrick.


[i] Bassam Tibi is a Syrian scholar who settled in Germany in 1962, taking German citizenship in 1976. He studied at Goethe University in Frankfurt, and at the University of Hamburg. He taught at German and American universities. In 2012, he authored “Islamism and Islam,” published by Yale University Press, New Haven and London. Dr. Tibi looks forward to the rise of “Euro-Islam,” a genre of Islam that can coexist with Western democratic values.

[ii] Hamed Abdel-Samad is a German-Egyptian political scientist and author. He was born the third of five children, the son of a Muslim Sunni Imam. He came to Germany in 1995 at the age of 23. Abdel-Samad studied Japanese, English and French in Cairo, as well as political science in Augsburg. He worked as a scholar in Erfurt and Braunschweig. He taught and conducted research until the end of 2009, at the Institute for Jewish History and Culture at the University of Munich; his dissertation topic was: “Bild der Juden in ägyptischen Schulbüchern.” “Depiction of Jews in Egyptian textbooks.” Subsequently he decided to become a full-time professional writer. His works have been printed in German, Arabic, English, and in French. His lectures are archived on YouTube. Abdel-Samad does not believe in the possibility of reforming Islam!

“Box of Islam” is the Official YouTube Channel of Abdel-Samad. As of December 2017, there were 118 shows that can be accessed at: https://plus.google.com/115940793490537236777

[iii] Fatwa is an Islamic legal pronouncement, based on Shari’ah, that decides whether an action or a statement, is in conformity with Islam. Every Islamic country has a “Dar al-Fatwa” (House of Fatwa,) and an appointed scholar, known as Mufti.

[iv] The Onerous Rules & Regulations Imposed on the People of the Book http://www.answering-islam.org/authors/thomas/pact_of_umar.html

[v] “Islamic Imperialism: A History,” Ephraim Karsh, Professor and Head of the Mediterranean Studies Programme, King’s College, University of London, published by Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2006.

[vi]Accounts of conversions to the Christian faith through the ministry of Brother Rachid

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