Islam is just as European as Christianity

(Note: this article was written in 2015. Sadly, many still remain ignorant of this history).

By Haroon Moghul

“Xenophobic and anti-Muslim” was how the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described Hungary’s treatment of Syrian and other refugees, desperate for safe harbor. Yet Hungary appears unmoved by the fierce international criticism. Prime minister Viktor Orbán has insisted his country doesn’t want Muslims, and a sentiment echoed by members of his party. “We want to decide ourselves how many Muslims we want to live with,” a parliamentarian for the nationalist-conservative Fidesz party declared.

Other Eastern European countries are making similar, if less obviously callous, arguments. Leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, and now Slovenia are hesitant to accept Muslim refugees. Slovakia offered to accept a token 200 refugees, on the condition that they be Christians. As Slovak interior-ministry spokesman Ivan Netik put it, his country lacks mosques, and therefore Muslims would not feel at home.

In all these pronouncements, Islam is represented as foreign to Europe. Even when politicians do talk positively about Islam in Europe, they tend to stick to the large Muslim populations in the United Kingdom, France, or Germany, most of whom arrived relatively recently. If Islam isn’t foreign to Europe, the narrative goes, then it’s new—something it’ll take Europeans (at least those who are practicing Christians) time to get used to.

Hungary would like you to believe Islam is foreign to Europe.

But this is false. Not just because Europe is an idea, and not a physical reality. Not just because nationalisms are imagined, constructed, and selectively edited. Not just because Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, is a Near Eastern religion.

The truth is that Muslims have lived in Europe for centuries. And while Germany and France have the largest Muslim populations of any nation in Europe (unless we’re counting Russia or Turkey), the European Union member with the highest percentage of Muslims is actually Bulgaria.

These are not immigrants.


Ukraine: Rising tensions put Crimean Tatar Muslims at risk again

Forced from their homes in 1944 and 2014, Crimean Tatars fear the effect of more Russia-Ukraine tensions.

Kyiv, Ukraine – Erfan Kudusov, 53, was in his twenties when the Crimean Tatars, a Turkic ethnic group to which he belongs, returned to their homeland after more than 45 years in forced exile.

He wipes away a tear as he recalls the overwhelming joy he felt when he arrived.

Older people, when they first stepped off the plane, they kissed the land. People were crying with happiness; they were back in their homeland,” he told Al Jazeera.

But in 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea, Kudusov, along with tens of thousands of Crimean Tatars, had to leave their homeland once again.

He has since started a popular Crimean Tatar restaurant in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, just off the famous, central, mile-long Khreshchatyk Street, home to shops and the philharmonic orchestra.

Now, with more than 100,000 Russian troops along the border with Ukraine and the looming threat of further war, Crimean Tatars in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities like Kherson face a renewed threat of occupation.

Forced exile

Crimean Tatars are a Muslim ethnic minority indigenous to the Crimean Peninsula, on the northern coast of the Black Sea. In 1944, all 180,000 Crimean Tatars living in Crimea were forced onto cattle trains and exiled to Uzbekistan under the orders of Joseph Stalin.

It is estimated that about half the Crimean Tatars died either during the journey to Uzbekistan or from subsequent disease and starvation during their first two years in exile.

Four countries, including Ukraine, have recognised this deportation as genocide.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the peninsula became part of Ukraine, and the Crimean Tatars were able to return to their homeland.

They faced challenges on their return, such as being blocked from buying or renting homes, including those that they had previously owned before the deportation.

Kyiv-based translator Zakhida Adylova, 34, remembered the moment her grandmother attempted to visit the house she was forced from in 1944.

“She knocked on the fence, but when the owners came out and realised what she wanted, they dismissed her in a very rough manner,” she told Al Jazeera.


My journey in Islam and learning more about religion

Growing up, I distinctly remember that I rarely saw a face in my neighborhood that looked like mine. When Christmas came around every year, I would see beautiful trees adorned with unique ornaments from our neighbors’ windows. Large presents lined their floors, and iridescent lights glowed from within their living rooms. 

Our house was always the only one on the block without an ounce of decoration during the holiday season. As the neighborhood celebrated, my parents and I sat mindlessly throughout the day. Sometimes when I was young, we played a CD of nasheeds, songs performed according to Islamic tradition, to pass the time. I sat on the floor; despite not understanding anything, I sang along. 

Homogeneity characterized my childhood. Among a sea of white and Christian students, there were only a handful of other students that looked like me in my classes. I made my first Muslim friend when I was six. She was one of four other Muslims in that school, and the only one remotely close to my age. Back then, neither one of us really knew what it meant to be Muslim, but just knowing that we shared something was enough for me. Two years later, I moved to a different school, and I didn’t make another Muslim friend until I was 14.

My parents wanted me to assimilate more than anything else. As immigrants, their priority was making sure that I didn’t experience the ostracism they did when they first arrived in the U.S. When it came down to enrolling me in a Sunday school, they decided that playing sports or learning an instrument, activities that other kids around me pursued, were probably more valuable ways to use my time. 

Aside from a very occasional trip to the masjid, place of worship for Muslims, or being forced to pray with my grandmother or a family member, I had no concept of what it meant to be a Muslim. According to my family’s beliefs, I ate zabiha meat, slaughtered in accordance with Islamic guidelines, but didn’t completely know how to pray and read the Quran. I didn’t know much about Islamic history or various traditions either, and I successfully got away with being a Muslim who didn’t actually know anything about Islam.

My extended family was always religious. While they pushed my parents to enroll me in Sunday school from an early age like their own children, my parents assured them that if I wanted, I could enroll myself in Islamic school much later in life and faithfully adhere to the Five Pillars of Islam. 


Outback mosques: The cameleers who brought Islam to Australia

A remote mining town is home to Australia’s oldest mosque and reveals a fascinating, if forgotten, Islamic history

“My proper name is Amminnullah,” says the 81-year-old caretaker of Australia’s longest-standing mosque. “I stuck ‘Robert’ on there when I worked in the mines and shearing sheds, where no one could get my name right.” 

Amminnullah “Bobby” Shamroze oversees the Mosque Museum of Broken Hill, a remote Australian mining city of 17,000 people with a rich, albeit little-known, Islamic history.

Built in 1887, Bobby’s mosque is the oldest-standing mosque in Australia. It was founded by the so-called “Afghan cameleers”, the catch-all-term used to describe 2,000-4,000 camel drivers who came to Australia from the early 1800s from modern-day Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, bringing Australia’s first major wave of Islam with them.

They arrived after the European settlers travelling to gold mines in Australia’s red, rugged centre realised they needed a new way to transport supplies.

Because of the soft sand and heat, horses wouldn’t get the job done, so the decision was made to import camels. But once the camels arrived in Australia, the settlers realised they didn’t have the experience to control them. They needed experts. 

Afghan camel drivers 

Enter the Afghan camel drivers, who soon began arriving by sea at bustling ports like Fremantle, Port Pirie and Port Augusta. Between 1860 and 1930, around 20,000 camels were shipped to Australia. Of the three camel drivers who were the first to arrive in 1860, two were Muslim (the other was Hindu).

The cameleers would carry supplies to settlers working the gold mines of central Australia, guiding expeditions between remote cattle and sheep stations, and identifying water sources for travellers. They would also set up supply depots along the way, sometimes erecting mosques next to small creeks or lagoons. 


Atallah Hanna: Muslim, Christian Palestinians are United against Israeli Occupation

Head of Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, Archbishop Atallah Hanna, said on Sunday that Muslim and Christian Palestinians are united against the Israeli occupation, Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported.

“All Palestinians – including Muslims and Christians – are one family now and forever,” Hanna said during a meeting with Christians from Jifna, a Palestinian village in Ramallah and Al-Bireh Governorate in the central occupied West Bank.

“Palestinians must be united in defense of their country and their just Palestinian cause,” he told the visitors while they were inside the Church of Holy Sepulchre.

He also said: “We are happy with your visit to the city of Jerusalem. We are sending our regards to our followers in the other Palestinian cities and villages, including the village of Jifna.”


In Burkina Faso, Muslims and Christians show how to live as one


Feb 7, 2022

by Janet E. Deinanaghan

Sr. Ojonoka Acheneje, a Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul, distributes food to internally displaced persons in the Diocese of Nouna, Burkina Faso. (Courtesy of Janet E. Deinanaghan)

Sr. Ojonoka Acheneje, a Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul, distributes food to internally displaced persons in the Diocese of Nouna, Burkina Faso. (Courtesy of Janet E. Deinanaghan)

Burkina Faso is a landlocked country bounded by Mali, Niger, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. The country obtained its independence in 1960 from France and was then known as Upper Volta. The name Burkina Faso — which means “Land of Incorruptible People” — was adopted in 1984. The capital, Ouagadougou, is in the center of the country.

Burkina Faso is a predominantly Muslim country (61%), with 19% Catholic, 15% following traditional religions, 4% Protestant and about 1% nonreligious. The seat of the Roman Catholic archbishopric is in Ouagadougou, and there are several bishoprics throughout the country.

I am a Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul, missioned to Burkina Faso in 2017 to work in the Nouna Diocese as an English language teacher. After three months of an intensive French language course in Togo — because I am from Nigeria and knew no French — I arrived on Nov. 28. I was sent to teach English language in our new inclusive school that had just opened in October that year.

I had a mixed feeling of fear and excitement, going to a different country and learning a new culture and way of life totally different from what I was used to in Nigeria. The good thing was that another of my sisters, Sr. Ojonoka Acheneje, was sent to the same school — I to teach and she as bursar — which made the experience more agreeable.

Students of the Daughters of Charity's inclusive school in the Diocese of Nouna, Burkina Faso, pose for a photo after the opening Mass for the new academic session. (Courtesy of Janet E. Deinanaghan)

Students of the Daughters of Charity’s inclusive school in the Diocese of Nouna, Burkina Faso, pose for a photo after the opening Mass for the new academic session. (Courtesy of Janet E. Deinanaghan)

My first surprise in arriving in Burkina Faso as a missionary was the free spirit and simplicity of the people there. Coming from a background in Nigeria where Christianity has become a “badge” people wear around like the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ days did, I was profoundly struck with the simplicity of faith practiced among the people here.


Amid debate, Women lift their voices with Muslim sacred text

CAIRO (AP) — The young woman could hear her heart pounding so hard that she worried the microphone placed in front of her would pick up its sound. Seated around her were officials from Islamic nations, including her country’s president. Cameras clicked.

She closed her eyes.

Al-Zahraa Layek Helmee’s voice filled the spacious, columned hall with a melodic recitation of the Quran, a role customarily held by men in her country, Egypt. For the 18-year-old, the high-profile recitation of Muslim holy text at a Cairo conference of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation was a personal milestone — one that she also hopes would send a message to women and girls: That can be you.

“I wanted to prove that women have a great role to play when it comes to Quran recitation,” she said.

Across cultures and Muslim communities, the boundaries of such a role can be subject to debate. Attitudes vary toward women publicly reciting the Quran within earshot of nonrelated men — in person, online or in other media. While the most skilled female reciters may attain celebrity-like status in some countries, others are largely confined to private spaces or all-women audiences.

Youtube video thumbnail

(AP Video)

Campaigns have been springing up online to amplify the voices, and widen the reach, of female Quran reciters across the world, with many posting their recitations and encouraging others to follow suit. It’s part of a larger effort by some Muslim women who say they want to build on the historical examples of other women in their faith to expand their spiritual leadership roles in Islamic spaces.


‘Now There Is No One’: The Lament of One of the Last Christians in a Syrian City

Michel Butros al-Jisri is among the few Christians left from a once-vibrant community in Idlib on the brink of disappearing. The city, in the only territory in Syria still controlled by rebels, is ruled by Islamists.

By Hwaida Saad, Asmaa al-Omar and Ben Hubbard
Jan. 23, 2022

On Christmas Day, Michel Butros al-Jisri, one of the last Christians in the Syrian city of Idlib, didn’t attend services, because the Islamist rebels who control the area had long since locked up the church. Nor did he gather with friends and relatives to celebrate around a tree because nearly all of his fellow Christians have either died or fled during Syria’s 10-year civil war.

Instead, Mr. al-Jisri said, he went to the city’s Christian cemetery, which no one uses anymore, to sit among the graves of his forebears and mark the day quietly, by himself.

“Who am I going to celebrate the holiday with? The walls?” he asked. “I don’t want to celebrate if I am alone.”

Mr. al-Jisri, who is 90, stooped and almost deaf but still fairly robust, is a living relic of one of the many formerly vibrant Christian communities in the Middle East that appear headed for extinction.


Their ‘Ask a Muslim’ project went viral. Now they have a travel show about Islam in the U.S.

Rapper-activist Mona Haydar and husband Sebastian Robins star in ‘The Great Muslim American Road Trip’ for PBS

Mona Haydar and Sebastian Robins felt they had a deep understanding of Islam. But filming “The Great Muslim American Road Trip,” a docuseries that will air on PBS this summer, made the married couple realize how much more they had to learn.

Haydar, a Syrian American rapper and activist whose music videos boast millions of views on YouTube, grew up Muslim. Robins, a writer and educator, converted to Islam after they met. The show follows the couple as they traveled from Chicago to Los Angeles via historic Route 66 in September. Along the way, they learned about Islam’s roots in America, explored nearby Muslim communities and took in the sights. In Chicago, they met with Muhammad Ali’s daughter Maryum Ali and toured the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) to learn about structural engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan, known for his work on the innovative tubular design for high-rises. On more than a dozen stops, Haydar and Robins visited with restaurateurs, doctors and authors.

“This is a deep passion of ours; it’s our faith and our practice,” Haydar said. “And it really felt like this epic quest of learning and finding the clues and piecing them together.”


The couple garnered widespread attention for their “Ask a Muslim” project, following terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., in 2015. Outside a Cambridge Mass., library, they set up signs that invited passersby to “talk to a Muslim” and ask them questions over free doughnuts and coffee. Haydar’s song “Hijabi (Wrap My Hijab)” was also named one of 2017’s best protest songs by Billboard.


Christians And Muslims: Agreements And Disagreements On God And Christ

When various Christians try to engage Islam, pointing out that despite the various (and significant) differences which exists between the two faiths, they still worship the same God, other Christians quickly speak up and say it is impossible because of those very differences. It is as if they believe God is created by one’s own thoughts about God, justifying Feuerbach and others like him in saying God is created in the image of humanity instead of humanity in the image of God. If mere opinion about the various characteristics of God establish belief in a different God, no two people will worship the same God, as no two people have identical notions about God. However, God is beyond us, and our opinions about God do not form or shape who God is but only reveal what we think about God. Those differences can be important as bad ideas about God can lead to all kinds of terrible actions by those who believe them, and for this reason arguments concerning which representation of God best exemplifies the divine nature can matter, but they do not matter in relation to the question of whether or not people are seeking after and believing in the same God. Christians and Muslims share God in common, and indeed, believe many of the same things about the divine nature, including elements which come from revelation (and so not reason alone):

The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God.[1]