Speech Tarafa Baghajati 11th Doha Interfaith Conference 2014

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11th Doha Interfaith Conference
March 25th – 27th, 2014


“Role of Youth in Enhancing the Value of Dialogue”

Muslim Youth in Europe and the challenge of identity

Dear friends, Assalamu Alaikum,

My heartfelt thanks to the organizer for giving us and me the opportunity to talk about Opportunities and Challenges facing the youth today / Youth cultures of dialogue and cultural exchange

One of the main challenges facing the youth - especially the migrant youth of the second and third generation in the European Union - is the question of identity. And here I would like to concentrate on Muslim youth. Nevertheless it is important to see that Europe as a continent and the EU as a union are also facing a serious challenge in the very same point of identity: in the sense of a certain lack of feeling to belong and to be a part of society. This may be a reason why Muslim youth are viewed somehow as “under watch”. In a common crisis of identity they often serve as a kind of projection screen to put the blame on them.

I would like to emphasize, that this is not primarily my idea, several Muslims and thinkers in Europe have already discussed that before, but there is still the needs to be put it into praxis and it deserve to be promoted and deposited with best practice from the daily life.

Muslim youth in Europe is often confronted with the question: Do you feel as a Muslim or as an Austrian (European)? As if these categories were contradictory! Or:  Are the religious laws and rules of Islam more important for you than the laws of the country? And the most aggressive and tricky form of this question: How important is the Islamic Sharia for you?

These are complex questions. Put under trial it doesn’t come to mind how silly they are. Would anybody ask a Christian if the Bible or the Rule of State were dearer to him? Instead of refusing the question as an attempt to build up a kind of incoherency between a Muslim identity and loyalty towards the state, many Muslims would answer with knee-jerk reaction: “Of course my religion is the most important issue for me ... what else?” Next day we read in the newspapers: "Muslim Youth do not accept the laws of the country" or "Muslim youth is primarily for Sharia" or “Muslims exclude themselves from society”

I would like to promote the concept of “multiple identity”.  A feeling of belonging can cover out for various areas of life. There is absolutely no contradiction between being Muslim by religion, European by citizenship and Arab, Pakistani, Turkish etc. by origin – all simultaneously! In this pluralistic world multiple identities get more and more common – and they may foster a commitment to mutual respect and togetherness. All these factors play their role in building cultural identity. Americans speak about “hyphenated identity”, a term they have developed through scientific discourse and implemented for a long time.

Dear friends, it is not a secret, that the concept of integration in Europe has arrived its limits. There is no clear definition between the “majority society” and the “new comers”. The question is not: Who is going to integrate whom? The question is: How can we achieve social cohesion in our society facing upcoming challenges together. Answering this challenge is essential for the self-definition of Europe and also for the Muslims who claim to be an integral part of Europe.

What can we do for the youth in order to promote this idea? Being “United in Diversity”

1) Debates on “values”:

Many Muslims are more than confused when they daily hear: Freedom, human rights, equality, right of self-determination, especially for women and girls, non-discrimination, freedom of mobility, but also the right of visibility of religious symbols and manifestation of religion are European values. I would definitely prefer to call them Universal Values in order not to put a contradiction between them. From an Islamic perspective these values are enshrined in religious teachings – and not a lesson of the West to be taught to the world. We can create a common basic for a mutual understanding by this approach of accepting different approaches to values who nevertheless aim at the same goal.

2) Education

Muslim youth in Europe needs to be educated to step out of the negative social destiny of the less trained. Equal chances can only be gained with equal access to promotion prospects.

3) Participation

Youth should be engaged and committed to the common well being. The system must provide them with ways to participate in all sectors of life: politically, economically, socially and also as an integral part in interfaith cooperation.

4) Equal chances especially for Muslim girls

It is an on-going problem in Europe that Muslim girls with headscarf have fewer chances to get an adequate job.  Emancipation of young Muslim girls cannot be achieved through dress code and limitations, but through inclusion and equal opportunity. We have to support them being well educated and financially independent, irrespective of them covering their hair or not.

5) Interfaith cooperation

Let me please appreciate again that this conference was entitled to deal with youth issues. With interfaith dialogue we see that this is a program for people mostly 50+ - with some good, but rare exceptions. I would encourage all of us to have the bravery to put more trust in our youth and to give them opportunities of taking responsibility. At the same time we should stay behind them with all our experiences and efforts whenever these are needed.

This concept reflects a benefit, not only for the Muslim society in Europe, but also for all and also for the indigenous European population.

Best Salam,

Tarafa Baghajati, Doha 25-26. March .2014

خالص تحيات المودة ولكم الشكر والتقدير والاحترام


Dipl.- Ing. Tarafa Baghajati طرفة بغجاتي

Chair of AMI „Austrian Muslim Initiative /
IMÖ Initiative muslimischer ÖsterreicherInnen http://www.islaminitiative.at
Adviser of the Board Member of “Platform for Intercultural Europe PIE http://www.intercultural-europe.org/
Member of ENAR's Advisory Council of Eminent Experts,
ENAR - European Network against Racism www.enar-eu.org
Board member of EMISCO European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion http://www.emisco.com
Cultural Officer of the Islamic Community in Vienna www.derislam.at
Vice Chair of WIIEB Islamic Institute for Adults Education-Vienna www.wiieb.at

baghajati [at] aon.at