Islam is the the fastest growing religion in Europe. Many people think of Europe as predominantly a white, Christian continent, but in fact it is more multicultural than one might think with over 50 million Muslims living there excluding Turkey. And it’s not just Albania and Kosovo (which are 80 and 90 percent Islam respectively) that has such a strong Muslim showing either – 5% of people living in the UK for instance, 5-10% of those in France, Germany and Switzerland and 20-40% of those in Cyprus are all Muslims. And the number of Muslim people is constantly rising – not only in Europe but also across the world (while the population of most other religions dwindles). The U.N. estimates in fact that by 2040, Europe will be 55% Muslim – predominantly Muslim with Islam outnumbering Christians and Atheists.
Islam historically found its way into Europe in many ways – through conquest but partially but also through expansion of some small Muslim communities that played a large role in the histories of Poland and Lithuania. Today the increase in numbers is due in part to immigration, but also due to high rates of conversion. A survey called ‘A Minority Within a Minority’ conducted by a group called ‘Faith Matters’ for instance fund that the number of British converts has doubled over the last ten years. Some commentators have described the UK as going through a process called ‘Islamification’. There are around 5,000 new converts to Islam in the UK alone every year with the average demographic being female and around the age of 27.
This increase in numbers has caused some controversy and unrest with Muslims being one of the biggest targets of racism in many countries. In an Amnesty International report it was found that Muslims face discrimination in employment, education and freedom and are regularly ‘dogged by bias’. Some political parties in fact have attempted to pander to these views in order to win votes – with far right parties gaining popularity partly as a result. The reasons for this discrimination are not only general racism, but fear relating to recent terror attacks by Muslim extremists and negative views toward immigration. This phenomenon, that some call ‘Islamophobia’, has even led to violence in some cases, such as the tragic Norway killings.
As numbers of Muslims continue to rise in Europe it could be that Europeans become more tolerant and understanding of their culture as exposure increases; but of course there’s also a chance that it could go the other way and that we could see a backlash before Islam becomes the majority. Either way it is a delicate situation and one that can teach us a lot about peaceful coexistence and tolerance.