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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Paris' Grand Mosque is at center of effort to build a moderate French Islam (2)

By Daniel Strieff
'House of invitation'
The broad concept of "Euro-Islam" does not constitute a "liberal" strain of the religion, Dr. Sara Silvestri said, but rather is influenced by Muslims' countries of origin, each European state's own history and the differences within each individual.

"There is not a monolithic type of Islam in Europe," said Silvestri, a fellow at Cambridge University's Center of International Studies who is writing a book on the challenges Islam and Europe present to each other. "As Muslims engage in European society, they go through a process of adaptation and confrontation to new ideas. They then reevaluate their own vision and the practices of Islam."

Silvestri said some Muslims jurists have begun rethinking the archaic Islamic concept of the world being split into two regions, “dar al-Islam” (“house of Islam”) and “dar al-harb” (“house of war”), to include a third option, “dar al-dawa” (“house of invitation”), denoting that Europe, while not an Islamic land, has become a welcoming environment that allows Muslims to practice their faith freely.
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Cesari, the Harvard professor, currently is working on a comparative analysis of Muslims in Europe and the United States. American Muslims display a more robust self-confidence, Cesari said, one that is not afraid to question traditional practices and take charge in their spiritual communities.

"I don't think we have in Europe yet a very strong generation. This generation is here in America. Here, we're seeing women leading Friday prayers,” she said, referring to Amina Wadud, who first led prayers at a service in New York City last year.

“I have never seen this kind of activity in Europe," said Cesari, who is also the coordinator of

Staunchly secular republic
The primary classroom at the Paris Grand Mosque’s theological institute is accessed through a side door near the building’s main entrance. During a recent lecture, young men and women sat on separate sides of the long, narrow classroom. The men were neatly dressed, many of them in sports apparel, none in traditional Islamic dress. All of the women were veiled.

Paris institute
Students participate in a class at the Paris Grand Mosque's theological institute.
They sat quietly taking notes and submitting questions about Islamic practice ("Can a man help a woman during childbirth?" "Yes! Of course," Tougui answered with a broad smile.) during Tougui’s class.

"This is something difficult to get from books or something," said one student, Peter Habermehl, a German computer scientist who converted to Islam after moving to France nine years ago to pursue a Ph.D. "The key thing is that really you get an overall good education in Islam and this is what the course is providing."

All of the Muslim students, regardless of sex or age or background, are confronted with the challenge of adapting their practice of Islam in this staunchly secular republic. The teaching helps Muslims adapt to reconciling their faith with life in France but grounding them in the basics of Islam.

"We are here in a non-Muslim country so … it's really a challenge to find times to pray, and to do the practices like that," said another student, Zina, a physician who only wanted her first name used. She came to the institute upon the recommendation of her husband, a French convert.

“(But) our religion is easy to practice. We can find solutions — like our prayers — with some difficulties, but we can find solutions," she said.

That's all part of the goal, Tougui said.

"I regret really that (any) Muslim doesn't know their religion. This is my very big regret," he said.

Exploiting rifts
Daniel Fried, assistant U.S. secretary of state for European affairs, warned this spring of the potential for a "miniscule minority" of Muslims to exploit rifts between Islam and the West to further violent ends.

"A reliable way to counter European Muslims' spiritual alienation may be to anchor them in their own traditions of honor, respect, diversity and tolerance," Fried told a Senate subcommittee.

In Tougui’s course, he tries to impart to his students the value in appreciating Islamic traditions by reconciling them with French values.

"Cultures are like mothers. Your mother is the most beautiful women in the world. Mine as well. And everybody's. So … all cultures around the world are beautiful," Tougui said.

And through his instruction, he aims to protect his students “from the spiritual pollution because this is the best way to make a good, nice, normal Muslim — and human — because a Muslim is not an extraterrestrial. He's just a human."

Source : msnbc

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