The Problems and Perspectives of the Muslim Minorities

 
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Introduction

The overwhelming majority of people in the world have religious beliefs. In fact, religion plays such a crucial role in people’s lives that the right for the freedom of religion is considered to be one of the most important ones. At the same time, global trends, regional distinctions and local preferences can often lead to the overlap between the religious affiliation and ethnicity, or nation. Unfortunately, the right for the religious freedom can be violated in many different ways, i.e. explicit and implicit ways. The question of Muslim minorities is of great concern in the modern society. In fact, the number of Muslims living in non-Muslim environment as a minority is sufficiently large, i.e. it is estimated more than 450 million people, which is about one-third of all Muslims population in the world. There is no doubt that there are numerous differences in the problems of the Muslims living on different continents. However, the following paper is aimed to analyze the problems and difficulties the Muslim minorities face in the non-Muslim countries, as well as discuss how governments in these countries address them. The precise analysis will help to define where the countries succeed and where they failed.

The Muslims’ Immigration & Integration Overview

Over the second half of the twentieth century, the level of the Muslims’ immigration to Europe and the US has increased. This process has created a completely new geopolitical situation. Nowadays, the large Muslim communities not only live in the framework and conditions of non-Muslim political and legal systems of the western societies, but also they are influenced by the different cultures. As the result, the Muslims get more religious and political freedom. In fact, the Muslim minorities are experiencing the most painful forms of socio-political transformation struggling to maintain their own identity. The modern Muslims living in non-Muslim environments face a variety of the unresolved problems as, in contrast to their home country, they cannot fully practice all the requirements of their religion in social, economic, political and legal spheres. On the other hand, their religion dictates them the steps, actions and behaviors that may contradict the legislation of the countries, in which they live

It should be mentioned that a non-Muslim society usually perceives the Muslim minorities as a problem since the Muslim community is quite difficult to adapt. The issue of Salman Rushdie, the murder of Theo van Gogh, the riots in the suburbs of Paris, scandals with the claims of Muslims to subordinate certain areas of their lives to sharia, the French ban on the face covering and other anti-hijab activities, as well as the scandal with the ban on the construction of minarets in Switzerland, among others, imply the unsuccessful attempts of the European countries to integrate the Muslims into the surrounding society.

The majority of the European Muslims have a low socio-economic status as well as lower educational and professional qualifications as compared to the similar criteria of the non-Muslims. In addition, the unemployment rate is much higher than the average. For example, in France, the unemployment rate among the Muslims is about 33% compared with 10.2% on average in the country. In the UK, the unemployment rate of 16 to 24 years old Muslims is approximately two times higher comparing to the same age group of non-Muslims. Many European Muslims consider self-employment as the most preferred method of earnings due to their limited chances in the labor market. In Germany, the growing number of the Muslim entrepreneurs in restaurants, retail trade and services can be observed.

In fact, discrimination against the Muslims is common in all European countries, especially in the labor market, education and services. In 2014, more than 80% of the Muslims stated that they were the subjects of the religious discrimination. The empirical studies in Sweden, France and Great Britain have shown that the Muslim candidates have significantly lower chances of getting a job in the interview than applicants with similar qualifications among the non-Muslims. This refusal corresponds to the general public mood towards the Muslims. For example, in Germany, 62% of the society believe that Islam is a religion that leads to the past, 71% of the society supported the statement the Muslims are intolerant, and 58% of the respondents expect future conflicts with the Muslim population in Germany.

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The abovementioned facts prove that the European Muslim community is characterized by low-income groups and low-skilled workers. Many of them are the descendants of those who could not survive in the difficult economic situation in the home country and searched for a better life in Europe. Due to the fact that the living conditions of the Muslims in the new countries have become different from the expected conditions, the European Muslims accumulated the feelings of alienation. Thus, a great number of them live in quite closed quarters and groups. 

Nowadays, the Muslims are considered to be the largest religious minority in Europe. Despite the fact that the European governments try to decrease the influx of the cheap labor force from third world countries and close the borders to the new batch of immigrants, the Muslim population continues to increase.

The practice of family reunification as well as high birth rate among the Muslims led to the new waves of political refugees, with the subsequent growth of the Muslim population. At the same time, it should be noted that the Muslim population of Europe is younger and has more children compared to the average rate among the Europeans. The largest Muslim communities live in France, Germany and the UK. However, it should be noted that the European Muslims are not the same ethnically. The Muslim community usually includes the Arabs, Turks and Pakistanis.

The French Muslims Overview

The Muslim community in France is considered to be one of the most widespread. In France, Islam is supposed to be the second most popular religious group after Catholic Christians. According to the official data, 5 out of 59 million of citizens are Muslims. However, it should be noted that about two-thirds of the Muslim population consists of the representatives of 123 countries. The most numerous are the Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians.

Since the 1980th, the increase in the level of the religious manifestations among the Muslim immigrants and their children in France can be observed. It was particularly clearly manifested in the schools where Muslim girls came with the traditional Muslim headscarf, i.e. hijab. In fact, since 1989, after two 14-year-old girl refused to change the hijab on secular clothing, thousands of followers appeared many of whom refused to receive the secular education for the sake of their religious beliefs (Amghar et al. 65).

In July 2003, the governmental commission was set with the aim to find the balance between the religion and the state authorities. The main claim of the commission implied that hijab was a visual symbol of women’s suppression. This made the Muslim women face a difficult choice, i.e. to refuse from the religious requirements or to stop education.

In December 2003, it was acknowledged that secularism, i.e. the process of reducing of the role of religion in public life and the transition from a society governed mainly by religious tradition to the secular model of social organization based on rational (non-religious) norms, was considered to be one of the main achievements of the French Republic. It meant the equity of the people’s rights, and refusing any kind of discrimination by gender, origin, color or religion. It is a key element of social interaction and unity of the nation. It was stated that the Republic opposes everything that divides the society.

In January 2004, the massive anti-government demonstrations of the Muslims took place in France. The people protested against the planned adoption of the law on the secular character of the society, which prohibited students to wear clothes and elements that symbolize their religious affiliation. Numerous similar protests were held in a number of other countries of the world. However, demonstrations and protests were not able to prevent the adoption of the law on the secular character of the society in February 2004. The law was supported by two-thirds of the French population (Angenendt et al. 43).

Nevertheless, the Muslim activists continued to struggle against the policy of the French government and parliament. Islamic activists brought the discussion onto the European level. In July 2004, they held an international conference with the participation of 250 delegates from 14 countries in London. Based on the conference results, it was decided to start a political campaign to lobby for the interests of the Muslims in the European Parliament.

In September 2010, the French Parliament banned appearance in public with a fully covered face. In October, the law was approved by the Constitutional Council. Nowadays, a woman wearing hijab can be fined or even confined for up to one year (Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life).

It should be mentioned that the similar law was passed in the Belgian parliament. The special resolution called to ban the wearing in public of clothing or accessories, which completely hide the face, referring to the fact that the majority of the society considers burqa as a discriminatory and harmful element to the dignity of women. In fact, it is planned to include such a ban into the new edition of the law on freedom of the religion. In addition, similar intentions are indicated in the Netherlands. Similar measures at the national level are offered in a number of other countries including Italy, the UK and Denmark, etc.

Based on the abovementioned, a number of difficult questions about the relationship between different groups of the fundamental rights and freedoms arise. The questions mainly refer to the relations of the state, religion and traditions including how, when and where the state has the right to restrict wearing of the religious clothing and demonstration of the religious symbols.

The Ban of Face Covering and the Women’s Rights

One of the main arguments of the supporters of the restrictions or prohibitions of the face covering and hijabs imply that such restrictions or prohibitions contribute to the emancipation of women who are forced to cover their faces. Some people consider that the closed face is a symbol of the oppression of the Muslim women. Every State has the duty to eradicate the violence and discrimination against women in public and private life.

However, the abovementioned desire to protect women against discrimination can lead to the negative consequences for one of the fundamental principles of gender equality, which states that every person has the right to determine their own destiny and private life, as well as take personal decisions, without interference from the government or other entities.

Definitely, some women are forced to cover the face by other individuals or under the pressure of the powerful social stereotypes. Nevertheless, a great number of European Muslim women claim that the face coverage is their own conscious choice. Thus, striving to express their faith and emphasize their identity, they want to cover the face in public places. It is important to admit that the covered face may be a personal choice of a woman in the same way as other manifestations of personal identity in the form of belief or behavior formed under the influence of society, family and religion.

The right for personal autonomy and privacy is guaranteed by international human rights law. It includes the right of free decision-making based on the values, beliefs, personal circumstances and needs of a person. This right implies freedom from coercion and illegal restrictions. The right for personal freedom implies the right to choose a lifestyle that society may find inappropriate.

Therefore, the abovementioned fact means that the ban for face coverage cannot serve the equality. In contrast, it can lead to the quite opposite effect. The ban for face coverage can lead to the woman’s refuse to go out with an open face making her the prisoner of the house. The bans and restrictions will lead to the situation when women who cover the head and the face by their own desire will inevitably face a choice between full participation in society and the practice of their religion. The simplest things, such as shopping or hospital visit will inevitably lead to the contradictions with the religious beliefs.

The Islamic Organizations of France argue against the ban on face covering in public places stating that the ban advocates for the strengthening of the secularism principle based on isolation but not integration. They believe that forcing the Muslim women to remove the hijab, i.e. the symbol of their deliberate religious affiliation, is one of the worst types of discrimination. According to the Islamic Organizations of France, this does not correspond to the French values, i.e. the promotion of respect for a woman’s dignity, her personal life and religious freedoms. The activists claim the society to reconsider the ban. Hijab has become a conscious choice of the Muslim women so that they should not be forced to take it off in order to be able to get an education or use the services of the state institutions.

Conclusions

The international human rights laws guarantee everyone the right to freedom of religion including the freedom to publicly or privately manifest their religious beliefs through religious worships, rites, prescriptions and teaching. It means the authorities are obliged to ensure the inviolability of private life including the right to personal autonomy, i.e. the ability to determine how to dress at home and in public places. The state is also obliged to ensure the right to equality and freedom from discrimination regardless religion or gender. It means that there is the obligation to protect the rights of religious minorities.

According to the UN Committee on Human Rights, the worship includes the demonstration of the symbols, and implementation of the religious prescriptions and rituals, which may include wearing certain clothes or head cover. However, the right for the religious freedom and the right to personal autonomy can be restricted if there is a need to protect the public safety, public order, morals, health or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. In addition, international law requires that any restrictions on freedom of religion should be non-discriminatory and proportionate. Although the discussed and existing bans are formally neutral, it can be admitted that they are directed against the burqa so that they can affect the Muslim women. In other words, in practice, the abovementioned ban on the face covering is discriminatory.

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In comparison to other groups in Europe, the Muslims tend to experience a serious shortage of the integration. In fact, it is clear that the lack of integration among European Muslims should be considered as one of the major problems of the modern society. The main task of the modern authorities is the establishment of the efficient integration policy that would address the abovementioned issues and deal with the increasing cultural diversity through the creation of the equal opportunities in the labor market, education and politics.

In recent decades, there have been attempts to adopt several models of integration in the countries of Western Europe. Germany used ethno-cultural approach, France used assimilation approach, and the UK used multicultural approach. However, none of them proved to be efficient as the political and socio-cultural integration of the Muslims has not been achieved. The modern society is characterized by the alienation of the indigenous people and immigrants increasing mutual suspicion and even aggression. The search for an optimal model of integration of the Muslims remains one of the most challenging and complex problems, which the society currently faces. It means that the Muslims’ integration depends on whether they will be able to choose a form of Islam that would include the values of Western European countries, such as the separation of church and state, democratic civil society. However, it should be mentioned that the Muslims in any way affect the socio-political foundations of the European countries. This influence pushes the society to the changes while the immigrants contribute to the prosperity and cultural diversity of the Western Europe.