Islam in Belgium

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Islam in Belgium is a minority religion and the second largest religion in the country after Christianity. The exact number of Muslims in Belgium is unknown but various sources estimate that 4.0% to 6.5% of the country's population adheres to Islam. The first registered presence of Islam in Belgium was in 1829, but most Belgian Muslims are first-, second-, or third-generation immigrants that arrived after the 1960s.

History[edit]

The first registered presence of Islam in Belgium was in 1829, a year prior to the country’s independence in 1830.[1]:223 A report by the Turkish consul in Antwerp estimated roughly 6,000 Muslims in Belgium at the time, during WWII, French Muslim soldiers from French West Africa were stationed in the southeast. In 1964, bilateral labour immigration agreement were signed between Belgium, Turkey, and countries in the Maghreb, over 10,000 workers from these countries moved to Belgium and mostly worked in low-skilled jobs such as coal mining, steelmaking, the automobile industry, etc. This stopped in 1974 when all foreign manual labour was banned from entry into the country and, in the same year, Islam was officially recognised as a religion in Belgium.[1]:224

Demographics[edit]

The Belgian government does not collect or publish statistics on religious affiliation, so the exact number of Muslims in Belgium is unknown;[2] in 2014, various sources estimated Muslims to be 4.0% to 6.5% of the country's population.[3] The Centre de Relations Européennes estimated in 2000 that there were 6,000 to 30,000 converts to Islam in Belgium.[4]

Muslims are unevenly distributed around Belgium with the majority concentrated in the working class districts of major cities around the country. Almost 40% of Belgian Muslims live in the capital, Brussels. Approximately 39% live in Flanders and 21% live in Wallonia.[5]

Religious and ethnic censuses are forbidden in Belgium, so no accurate numbers about the ethnicity of Belgian Muslims can be given. Nationality cannot be used as an indicator of religion, since most people with roots in Islamic countries have taken on Belgian citizenship, their children are born Belgian citizens and hence cannot be distinguished from non-Muslims in the statistics.

Branches[edit]

The overwhelming majority of Muslims in Belgium are Sunni.[6] Isabelle Praille, vice-president of the Executive of the Muslims of Belgium, estimated in 2010 that roughly 10% of the Belgian Muslim were Shia.[7] There is also a small Ahmadi presence.[8]

Identity[edit]

A 2011 Open Society Foundation report titled Muslim in Antwerp found that Muslims felt a "strong sense of belonging" to the neighborhood they lived in and the city of Antwerp but less to the country of Belgium in general.[1]:230

Religiosity[edit]

Surveys conducted 1994 and 1996 observed a decrease in religiosity based on lowering mosque participation, less frequent prayer, dropping importance attached to a religious education, etc,[1]:242 this decrease in religiosity was more visible in younger Muslims; however, other more recent studies show that while participation in religious activities among young Muslims is reducing, they are more likely to identify with Islam culturally.[1]:243

A 2005 Université Libre de Bruxelles study estimated that about 10% of the Muslim population are "practicing Muslims"[9] A 2009 survey found that the majority of Muslims in Belgium supported "separation between religion and state." A 2010 study found that while Muslims put great emphasis on religious freedom and the overwhelming majority stated people should be free to leave Islam if they wanted, they were less comfortable with the idea of Muslims marrying non-Muslims.[1]:244

Culture[edit]

The three most popular music styles among Muslims in Belgium in 2011 were Nasheed, Al-Andalus (a Moroccan musical genre), and hip hop.[1]:247 Natacha Atlas is a popular Belgian Muslim singer.[10]

Education and income[edit]

Various studies have concluded that the economic status of Muslims in Belgium is lower than that of non-Muslims, for instance, a 2007 study found unemployment among Turkish Belgians and Moroccan Belgians as 29–38%. A similar study in 1997 observed an under representation of these populations in higher earning jobs (3–17% compared to 25–31% for ethnically White Belgians) and an over representation in lower paying jobs (59–60% compared to 38% for White Belgians). Muslims also have less access to higher education with only 6–13% having a university degree.[1]:230 A 2009 analysis of the European 2006 PISA survey concluded inequality between minorities (including Muslims) and White students was one of the highest in all of Europe, the same analysis observed a “high degree of segregation in Belgian cities,” which they stated was the main cause for the difference in school performance. Several studies have also concluded that high levels of discrimination in the work market is one of the leading causes of economic inequality among minorities in Belgium,[1]:231 some politicians and commentators have implied economic differences between Muslims and non-Muslims were primarily the result of cultural failing or religion but a 2011 study by Agirdag et al. found no correlation between "religiosity" and "school performance."[1]:232

Politics[edit]

Two members of governments formed after the 2014 Belgian federal election have a Muslim background but neither are practicing Muslims: Fadila Laanan and Rachid Madrane. Both are members of the Socialist Party;[11] in 2009, Muslims occupied 19 out of the 89 seats in Brussels Regional Parliament.[12]

In, 2008 Le Centre d'Etude de la Vie Politique (CEVIPOL) published a study using exit polling data following the 2007 Belgian federal election,[13] the study found that among Muslims in Brussels, 42.3% voted for the Socialist Party, 16.7% for the Humanist Democratic Centre, 14.7% for the Reformist Movement and 12.2% for Ecolo. The study also concluded that religiosity among Muslims did not have "a strong impact on their voting behaviour." In addition, the variable related to religious belonging or practice was not enough to explain the vote of the Muslim electorate. Other determining factors related to an often relatively low socioprofessional status, age (more than half of the Muslims interviewed were under age 34) and level of education (lower than the average of the other groups) were more integral to the firm attachment to the political left.[14]

A 2009 study published the journal, Brussels Studies, concluded secondary school students in Brussels of Moroccan and Turkish origin showed a tendency to vote for the Socialist Party.[15]

A September 2016 iVOX survey asked Belgian Muslims in Brussels and Flanders how they would vote in a hypothetical 2016 Belgian federal election; in Flanders, 26.8% of Muslims would vote for the Socialist Party Differently, 16.4% for Groen, 7.3% for the Workers' Party of Belgium, 6.9% for Christian Democratic and Flemish, and 6.9% for the New Flemish Alliance.[16] In Brussels, 14.2% of Muslims would vote for Ecolo, 13.3% for the Socialist Party, 5.0% for the Reformist Movement, 4.2% for the People's Party, and 3.3% for the Humanist Democratic Centre.[17]

A September 2016 iVOX survey of Belgian Muslims found that 53% agreed with the statement: "I have no issues with homosexuality." Approximately 30% disagreed with the statement while the rest refused to answer or were unsure.[18]

Religious infrastructure[edit]

In 1974, Islam was recognized as one of the subsidized religions in Belgium and the Muslim Executive of Belgium was founded in 1996; in 2006, the government gave €6.1 million (US$7.7 million) to Islamic groups.[9] There are an estimated 328[9]–380[19] mosques in the country.

In 2017, the Belgian department of justice commenced an investigation into the finances of mosques in Belgium and stated this was a priority.[20]

Controversies[edit]

According to a 2006 opinion poll, 61% of the Belgian population thought tensions between Muslims and other communities would increase in the future.[21]

Headscarf[edit]

Brussels in 2013

In December 2004, the Belgian government said it was considering a ban on the wearing of any conspicuous religious symbols for civil servants.[19]

In June 2005, the Antwerp Court of Appeal ruled that it was outside the jurisdiction of the state to determine whether Islam requires women to wear a headscarf and that girls in public schools have the right to do so. However, the school board also has the authority to restrict that right for organizational reasons, or for the good functioning of the school, though it must justify any such restrictions.[citation needed]

At the end of 2005, approximately twenty municipalities had issued a ban on walking the streets completely veiled; in a few cases women were fined €150 (US$190) for ignoring the ban.[citation needed] Under a 1993 executive order, persons in the streets must be identifiable. A veil which does not completely cover the body is however allowed.[citation needed]

Two Belgian Muslim women, Samia Belcacemi and Yamina Oussar, challenged a 2011 veil ban, asserting the law infringed on their freedom of religion. Both women said they voluntarily wore the niqab; in 2017, the European Court of Human Rights found that Belgium’s ban on clothes that partially or fully cover the face in public was legal under the European Convention on Human Rights, "necessary in a democratic society," and that the law tried to protect "the rights and freedoms of others." In response to the upholding of the law, Belcacemi told the court that she continued to wear the niqab after it was banned but had eventually stopped because she could not afford fines or jail time. Ousser told the court that she had decided to stay at home and not go out in public anymore following the ban.[22]

Terrorism[edit]

On 30 September 2003, a Belgian court convicted 18 men for involvement in a terror cell. Nizar Trabelsi was sentenced to 10 years for plotting a suicide attack against the NATO air base at Kleine Brogel. Tarek Maaroufi, of the Tunisian Combat Group, was sentenced to six years in prison for his role in a Brussels-based fake passport ring that supplied fake Belgian passports to the men who assassinated former Afghan Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud two days before the September 11 attacks.[citation needed]

In October 2004, a Belgian court sentenced eight Sunni Islamic militants to prison terms of up to 5 years for plotting attacks and for links to Al Qaeda. According to prosecutors, Saber Mohammed received three phone calls from senior Al Qaeda figure Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, which he was believed to be forwarding for colleagues.[23] Also convicted was Tarek Maaroufi.

On November 9, 2005, Muriel Degauque, a Belgian convert to Sunni Islam, committed a suicide car bomb attack against a U.S. military convoy south of Baghdad.[24]

On May 24, 2014, the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels was attacked in an act linked to terrorism, with four casualties.[25]

On November 14, 2015 Belgian police arrested 'several people' after searches linked to the attacks in Paris,[26][27] more arrests expected as links to terrorists Investigation continues.

2016 Brussels bombings[edit]

On the morning of Tuesday, 22 March 2016, three coordinated nail bombings occurred in Belgium: two at Brussels Airport in Zaventem, and one at Maalbeek metro station in Brussels. In these attacks, 35 victims and three suicide bombers were killed, and 316 people were injured.[28] Another bomb was found during a search of the airport.[29] Two suspects are on the run, the organisation Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attacks.[30] The bombings were the deadliest act of terrorism in Belgium's history, the Belgian government declared three days of national mourning.[31]

Discrimination[edit]

A 2011 survey by the Open Society found that 74% of Muslims were subject to “large to relatively large amounts of prejudice.”[1]:251 In February 2008, two young women of Maghreb origin were attacked in Liège after being verbally assaulted with ethnic slurs. One of the perpetrators had right-wing extremist affiliations;[32] in the month following the 2016 Brussels bombing, the Belgian Counter-Islamophobia Collective (CCIB) recorded 36 hate crimes against Muslims.[33]:67 Belgian Muslim women are more subject to discrimination in areas of employment and education than men.[33]:67–69

Opposition[edit]

The Brussels-based group, Bruxelloise et Voilée was founded in March 2015 and is led by young Belgian Muslim women, it lists its goal as "promot[ing] a multicultural society by fighting against discrimination and stereotypes, in particular against Muslim veiled women."[33]:71 The CCIB is at the forefront in recording and reporting rates of Islamophobia, and campaigning against anti-Muslim bigotry in Belgium.[33]:72

The "Open Schools 4 Women" campaign led by the CCIB was launched in September 2016, represented via the hashtag #OpenSchools4Women, and aims to encourage the inclusion of Muslim women who wear the headscarf in schools. Similarly, the "Open Job Testing" project, backed by Brussels MP Didier Gosuin, was launched by CCIB in October 2016 with aims to address the obstacles to employment faced by individuals when accessing the job market and compile statistical evidence pertaining to discrimination in the labour market,[33]:72 the European Network Against Racism presented its work to combat growing anti-Muslim prejudice.[33]:73

Following the passage of Executive Order 13769 by U.S. President Donald Trump, a student protest took place in Brussels at the Brussels Stock Exchange in solidarity with Muslim refugees and Muslim Belgians.[34]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Cesari, Jocelyne (2014). The Oxford Handbook of European Islam. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199607976. 
  2. ^ "International Religious Freedom Report for 2015: Belgium" (PDF). Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. United States Department of State. 2015. Retrieved 1 October 2017. 
  3. ^ Husson 2015, p. 107
  4. ^ Husson 2015, p. 107
  5. ^ Husson 2015, p. 108
  6. ^ Castle, Stephen (13 March 2012). "Deadly Mosque Arson in Belgium Attributed to Sunni-Shiite Friction". The New York Times. London, United Kingdom. Retrieved 1 October 2017. 
  7. ^ Koksal, Mehmet (14 June 2010). "Bienvenue chez les chiites... au Royaume de Belgique". Minorités. Retrieved 1 October 2017. 
  8. ^ Khalid Saifullah. "Social and Economic Influence of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Flanders-Belgium" (PDF). Retrieved April 30, 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c "US State Department, International Religious Freedom Report 2006, Belgium". State.gov. 2005-10-02. Retrieved 2012-06-08. 
  10. ^ Meadley, Phil (21 April 2006). "Natacha Atlas: Uncharted territory". The Independent. London. Retrieved 29 July 2008. 
  11. ^ Husson 2015, p. 89
  12. ^ Zibouh 2011, p. 5
  13. ^ Zibouh 2011, p. 3
  14. ^ Zibouh 2011, p. 4
  15. ^ Zibouh 2011, p. 4
  16. ^ HUMO 2016, p. 10.
  17. ^ HUMO 2016, p. 11.
  18. ^ HUMO 2016, p. 25.
  19. ^ a b "Frontline". Pbs.org. Retrieved 2016-03-26. 
  20. ^ Libre.be, La. "Theo Francken retire la carte de séjour de l'imam de la Grande Mosquée de Bruxelles" (in French). Retrieved 2017-10-04. 
  21. ^ "Vooral jongere Vlaming ziet islam niet zitten", Het Laatste Nieuws, 26 October 2006
  22. ^ Crisp, James (11 July 2017). "Belgian ban on Muslim full-face veil is legal, European Court of Human Rights rules". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 14 July 2017. 
  23. ^ Arab News, Suspect admits being al-Qaeda link in Belgium, September 15, 2004
  24. ^ "Belgian 'suicide bomber' is named". BBC. December 2, 2005. Retrieved 2007-04-09. 
  25. ^ "Brussels Jewish Museum killings: Fourth victim dies". BBC News. 2014-06-06. Retrieved 2017-05-21. 
  26. ^ Castillo, Mariano (2015-11-16). "Paris suicide bomber identified". CNN.com. Retrieved 2016-03-26. 
  27. ^ Reuters Editorial (2015-11-14). "Belgian police arrest 'several people' after searches linked to Paris attacks". Reuters. Retrieved 2016-03-26. 
  28. ^ AFP, rédaction en ligne avec Belga et. "Attentats de Bruxelles: nouveau bilan provisoire de 300 blessés, dont 61 en soins intensifs et 4 non-identifiés (LIVE)". lalibre.be. Retrieved 23 March 2016. 
  29. ^ J. V. et A. P. (23 March 2016). "Le troisième kamikaze identifié, un testament retrouvé à Schaerbeek". RTBF Info. 
  30. ^ "Another bomb found in Brussels after attacks kill at least 34; Islamic State claims responsibility". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 22 March 2016. 
  31. ^ "Belgium to Begin 3 Days of National Mourning". The New York Times. 22 March 2016. Retrieved 22 March 2016. 
  32. ^ Stahnke, Tad; LeGendre, Paul; Grekov, Innokenty; McClintock, Michael (2008), "Violence Against Muslims: 2008 Hate Crime Survey" (PDF), Human Rights First, New York City, United States, p. 7, retrieved 23 March 2017 
  33. ^ a b c d e f Easat-Daas, Amina (2017). "Islamophobia in Belgium National Report 2016" (PDF). European Islamophobia Report. Istanbul, Turkey: Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research. Retrieved 20 April 2017. 
  34. ^ Welser, AnnMarie; Matthews, Janie (30 January 2017). "Muslim ban protest in Brussels". EurActiv. Retrieved 30 January 2017. 

Sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]