Bashy Quraishy is the secretary general of EMISCO – European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion from Denmark and we had the opportunity to discuss with him the experiences, challenges and duties of Muslims in Europe.
I would like to start out by asking how Islam, and in particular, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is viewed in Denmark and in Europe?
In fact, demonization of Islam or the cartoons about the Prophet are not something new. If you go back in history, you will see that very negative terminology is associated with the Prophet. That's for the very simple reason that Islam came as a challenge to the ruling Christianity. In order to stop Islam, they couldn’t do it with armies, so they had to do it with demonizing the religion. In the time when Arabs came to Spain and later on when Ottoman Empire was in Europe, you can hear again and again the Islamophobic expressions. For example, in European theater, poetry, painting, you will see horrible images about the Prophet. And of course in modern days when the migrants came to Europe from Turkey, Bosnia, Pakistan, and other countries, then again the Prophet’s personality was used as a symbol to hate Muslims.
I think it’s very important that we don’t focus on the Prophet and what he taught, but mostly what Islam stands for and what the real message of Islam is. And the real message is not violence and extremism; it’s a message of peace, hope and love. One of the mistakes we Muslims mostly do is that we do not show the good character of a Muslim to our neighbors, to our friends, to our coworkers. We always talk about things which many Europeans do not understand. I remember I was giving a speech in the European Parliament on Islamophobia and one Pakistani TV channel came to me and they said, “Mr. Quraishy, don’t you think that Europeans should learn about the Prophet’s life and Islam?” I said, “No, that is not what they want. What is their need is that how a Muslim person is living with them today. How you treat them. How a good neighbor, a good husband, a good father you are. Once the Europeans find out how a good person you are, then they will be interested in your culture and in your religion. But when you start talking to them about the Qur’an and about the Prophet, then this is not their worry.”
Do you also mean that hatred for the Prophet is justified based on the lifestyles of Muslims in Europe?
Hatred against the Prophet is ideological and religious, but Islamophobia against normal Muslims in Europe is not so much about Islam but about what happened, like extremism, terrorism, a lot of other cases where Europeans feel that Muslims do not belong here. And then of course they use religion as an excuse. So it is both racism and Islamophobia play together.
For me, the Prophet was not only a Messenger but also a great statesman, a great political leader, a reformer. We should show that side of the Prophet to the Europeans because if we see him only as a Messenger, then they could say “We have Jesus, We have Moses. We don’t need Muhammad”. But if they understand the character of the Prophet, what he produced in such a short time, then they will understand Islam much better than they do today.
So we do need Muslims in politics, in social life…
Active Muslims! Active Muslims with good character! Good neighbor, good worker, good husband, good father, and at the same time, an example of a good Muslim. And that's only possible if you follow the teachings of Islam as a whole, not just symbols. I keep focusing on this, because people in daily life need somebody to associate with. They can only associate with you if you’re kind to another person. I have a neighbor who never say hello, but I always knocked on his door and offered some nice food and asked if he would like to taste, etc. For six months he didn’t want to talk, but now he comes everyday to my house!
Finally, you broke the ice.
Exactly, because I instisted in showing my kindness. And this kindness comes from my religion. These qualities unfortunately we Muslims in Europe have not shown. If we focus on those qualities, then I believe Islamophobia will be much less than today.
Now, Ramadan is about to start. How about some Ramadan preparations in Denmark? And do Islamophobic acts and attitudes ever shadow the air of Ramadan in Europe?
No, in Denmark and in many European countries, Islam is not prohibited. It is not prohibited to pray or to have Ramadan dinners, so I don’t see people opposing Ramadan. The only problem is if some organizations tell Danish people that they are kafir, and so on. This of course is a problem.
Then we have many organizations who invite Danish people for iftar and at the end of Ramadan they have big parties. I think opening up mosques and Islamic centers is important so that other people can come, enjoy and see how Muslims celebrate Ramadan. That is also an opportunity to explain them the practical benefits like health benefits of fasting.
Are there enough mosques and Islamic centers in Denmark to open their gates in Ramadan?
We have 134 places of prayer in Denmark. Only two were built as a mosque. But most of the places are small houses and old factories that people bought and converted into a mosque, so from outside they don’t look like a mosque. There has been a lot of ill-will towards building mosques, but now it’s opening slowly slowly. Because time goes by and Muslims have become a part of the Danish society. The Danish have realized that Muslims are not going back, they are going to live here. Now gradually it is being accepted, but it was quite difficult.
Hopefully, then, with the continous efforts of Muslims the number of mosques will increase.
I hope so too, but I would also like to emphasize that Muslims should not only build mosques but also build media centers, activity centers, because mosques are only used for prayer.
In fact, they shouldn’t be, because in the original sense of the mosque, it was a community center, where everybody met including non-Muslims…
Absolutely, I agree with you, but many Muslims who came to Europe from different countries are not educated, so they only use mosques to pray and to gossip. What to do is to use them as community centers, as media centers, as training centers, etc. so that the community utilize it fully. That is missing and I think is very important.
Thank you so much. We appreciate the insight you provided.