European Muslims should integrate more - scholars

 
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SARAJEVO, May 22 (Reuters) European Muslims should do more to integrate in their new countries and reconcile their Islamic and civic identities, leading Muslim scholars said.

Scholars from the European Council on Fatwa and Research (ECFR), meeting in the Bosnian capital, said pious Muslims were increasingly asking them practical questions about how to interact with non-Muslims in their new home countries.

The ECFR, chaired by influential Qatar-based Islamic scholar Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, was set up in 1997 to help Muslims in Europe - many of them immigrants - by providing religious rulings, or fatwas, on how to act in harmony with Islamic law.

''Muslims shouldn't live on their own but they should positively integrate into the society,'' said ECFR General Secretary Hussein Mohammed Halawa, summing up the conclusions of the ECFR's five-day annual meeting that ended on Sunday.

''They should not lose their (Islamic) identity,'' he added.

Bosnia's Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric said European Muslims were sometimes sceptical about integrating, because they feared losing their Islamic identity, but times had changed. ''The fear of isolation has led the majority to agree on this,'' he said.

ECFR member Mohamed Almansoori said European Muslims were sometimes confused about Islam's values because they saw some satellite television and Internet sites from the Middle East that preach hate rather than peace and respect for others.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, he said, they have been asking the Dublin-based Council questions such as whether Islam really saw non-Muslims as enemies.

''These are questions we did not receive before,'' said Almansoori, from the United Arab Emirates. The ECFR view is that Muslims must accept and respect anyone who does not harm them.

The ECFR, which is close to the Muslim Brotherhood, posts its fatwas in Arabic on its website www.e-cfr.org.

The scholars said that, after the September 11 attacks and the bombings in Madrid and London, Muslims in Europe felt more isolated and sought help to reconcile faith and everyday life.

For example, one important ECFR fatwa ruled that Western women who convert to Islam should not leave their non-Muslim husbands and children even though Islamic custom calls for this.

The scholars contrasted what they called the ''positive integration'' policies in Britain and Ireland, where religious and cultural differences were respected, with stricter French policies they said aimed to erase Muslim identity.

France, whose five-million-strong Muslim minority is Europe's largest, banned headscarves in its state high schools in 2004 as a violation of its official secularist policies. An estimated 15 million Muslims live in Europe.

Reuters NY VV0915

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