NCSR 2008 - Urban Diversity and Religious Traditions
13-15 August 2008, Åbo Akademi University

The visibility of mosques in Europe

Deniz Altinbas

Today, we see not only cathedrals, but also mosques in the Western cities. This new fact can be interpreted as “the establishment of Islam in Europe". Europeans in general perceive the Muslims in the Western world as a threat towards their collective identities, traditional values and public policies. This wide perception stems from the existence of headscarves, halal food shops, mosques and Islam classes at schools. What makes the Muslims to be viewed as a “problem” is not because of the increase in their population alone; but more importantly, because Islam is becoming more and more “visible”, which paves the way for institutionalisation of this “alien” religion.
In this context, one of the most considerable discussion points is perhaps the visibility of mosques. Not only the building of mosques, but also the far right’s objection to new constructions and the architecture styles are among important controversies. For instance, the French far right National Front’s election campaign in 1989 included a slogan which was “no to mosques”; or Liveable Rotterdam of the Netherlands asked the regional administration to modernize a “too much Arabic looking” mosque by making it in line with European architecture.
For the European general perception, the “unassimalable other” poses threat. The mutual misunderstanding between the Christian majority and the Muslim minority brings on a vicious cycle, in which Muslims perceive all European policies as “assimilationist” and resist integration policies with the aim of “staying Muslim”. Contemporary European societies are not homogenous anymore, with citizens from different ethnicities, religions and culture. There is a need for a cultural change for Europeans to accept the visibility of cultural differences in the cities; while Muslims should be more ambitious to cooperate for integration.