Crisis within Islam
By Marc Fromager

Surveys show that many people in the West have an ambivalent attitude to Islam mixed with ignorance and fear.[1] Islam regularly features in media headlines, more often than not in a negative way with numerous reports of violence involving extremists. Coupled with this are concerns within some sections of society about the growing visibility of Muslims in the West. This relates both to the distinctive dress of Muslims and to the community’s expanding numbers – in marked contrast to the aging population of other sections of western society.

All this creates an impression of Islam’s growing numerical strength in the West, especially Europe. This comes amid predictions that Muslims are on course to become the majority population in certain cities and regions. Muslims make up 13 percent of the population in Rotterdam but 70 percent of the city’s youth have migrant origins, many of them in Muslim countries including Turkey and Morocco.[2]

Meanwhile demographic surveys predict that, within two generations, Muslims across Europe as a whole will have doubled to become more than 10 percent of the population.[3] Extremist groups have openly declared their aim, as one Australian jihadi put it, to “lead the armies of jihad that will conquer Europe and America”[4]. In September 2016, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, gave a homily in his cathedral, posing the question: “Will there now be [another] attempt at an Islamic conquest of Europe? Many Muslims think so and long for it and say: This Europe is at an end.”[5]

And yet, in spite of all this apparent confidence about expansion, there is – to some extent concealed from view – a growing crisis within Islam. First of all, there is the division, not to say open war, between the two main branches within Islam – the Sunnis and the Shia. The tensions in large part stem from the sectarian divides between Saudi Arabia, the proponent of Wahhabi Sunni Islam and the transformation of Iran into a Shia power in 1979, changes that “revived a centuries-old sectarian rivalry over the true interpretation of Islam”.[6] Even within these two major groups, there is conflict, notably concerning geographic areas of influence. Incidents of conflict between Al Nusra and Daesh (ISIS) – both Sunni groups – in Syria are well documented.[7] Events in the Middle East, Indonesia, Pakistan and other regions of Asia indicate a radicalisation within parts of the Muslim world. This would not be problematic in itself – after all, Muslims have the right to practise their faith as they deem appropriate – except that such radicalisation is often accompanied by intolerance towards others. In areas where radicalised Muslims are (for the moment) a minority, there is a rejection of integration [8] and in other areas, where they are more predominant, there is active discrimination towards minorities which is often threatening.[9]

That said, the origins of this radicalisation point to signs of weakness; on the one hand, there are the external factors – the dependence on money from the Gulf [10], which is accompanied by a Wahhabisation of a number of Sunni communities. Saudi Arabia, the main proponent of Wahhabism, came in for criticism when it responded to the European refugee crisis in 2015 “by offering to build 200 mosques in Germany… one mosque for every 100 refugees who entered Germany”.[11] On the other hand, there are the internal factors, the cultural and philosophical clash with modernity and the impact of globalisation where Western values and norms are being spread, especially through social media.

Finally, evidence points to some Muslims leaving Islam – either to embrace atheism [12] or towards Christianity, with reports indicating that the number of secret converts is on the rise,[13] including in countries such as Sweden.[14]


[1] Harry Farley, ‘Islam and the West: “Worrying” report reveals Britons’ attitudes to Muslims’, Christian Today, 30th August 2017, https://www.christiantoday.com/article/islam-and-the-west-worrying-report-reveals-britons-attitudes-to-muslims/112717.htm (accessed 31st July 2018).

[2] ‘Rotterdam, Netherlands – Intercultural City, Council of Europe, https://www.coe.int/en/web/interculturalcities/rotterdam

[3] ‘Muslim population in Europe to reach 10% by 2050, new forecast shows shows – Pew Research study…’, The Guardian, 2nd April 2015 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/02/muslim-population-growth-christians-religion-pew (accessed 31st July 2018).

[4] ‘“They are all enemies, their hearts are black”: Australian Islamic extremist delivers hate speech calling for ‘armies of jihad’ to conquer Europe and America so ‘the word of Allah will reign supreme’. Daily Mail, 14th April 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3538989/Australian-Muslim-extremist-Ismail-al-Wahwah-leads-Hizb-ut-Tahrir-calls-armies-jihad-conquer-Europe-America.html (accessed 31st July 2018)

[5] ‘Cardinal Schonborn warns of “Islamic conquest of Europe”’, Catholic News Agency, 14th September 2016, https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/cardinal-schnborn-warns-of-islamic-conquest-of-europe-59849 (accessed 31st July 2018)

[6] ‘The Sunni-Shia Divide’, Council on Foreign Relations, https://www.cfr.org/interactives/sunni-shia-divide#!/sunni-shia-divide (accessed 31st July 2018)

[7] ‘Daesh suicide bomber blows himself up in al-Nusra Front Command Center in Syria’, Sputnik International, 5th March 2017 https://sputniknews.com/middleeast/201703051051283235-daesh-nusra-fight-syria/ (accessed 31st July 2018)

[8] “According to Dr Ahmed Ibrahim Khadr, the first loyalty of radicals is to Islam while the first loyalty for moderates, regardless of their religion, is to the state. Radicals reject the idea of religious equality because Allah’s true religion is Islam; moderates accept it.” Raymond Ibrahim, ‘“Radical” vs. “Moderate” Islam: A Muslim view’, Gladstone Institute, 25th May 2016, https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/8101/radical-moderate-islam

[9] “A new and very sad phenomenon is the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries, which has greatly increased since the rise of the extremist groups.”Shaykh Umar Al-Qadri, ‘Tackling Islamist extremism’, Dialogue Islam, 2nd April 2016, https://dialogueireland.wordpress.com/2016/04/02/tackling-islamist-extremism-by-shaykh-umar-al-qadri-in-the-irish-catholic/ (accessed 31st July 2018)

[10] Taj Hargey, ‘First Person – Dr Taj Hargey: We must seize agenda back,’ The Oxford Times, 30th May 2013, http://www.oxfordtimes.co.uk/news/opinions/first_person/10453482.First_person___Dr_Taj_Hargey__We_must_seize_agenda_back/

[11] Adam Withnall, ‘Saudi Arabia offers Germany 200 mosques – one for every 100 refugees who arrived last weekend’, The Independent, 11th September 2015, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/saudi-arabia-offers-germany-200-mosques-one-for-every-100-refugees-who-arrived-last-weekend-10495082.html (accessed 31st July 2018)

[12] ‘Losing their religion: the hidden crisis of faith among Britain’s young Muslims’, The Guardian 15th May 2015 https://www.theguardian.com/global/2015/may/17/losing-their-religion-british-ex-muslims-non-believers-hidden-crisis-faith (accessed 31st July 2018)

[13] ‘Muslims turning to Christ – a global phenomenon’, Premier Christianity, June 2016 https://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2016/June-2016/Muslims-turning-to-Christ-a-global-phenomenon (accessed 31st July 2018)

[14] Hollie McKay, ‘Christian convert from Iran converting Muslims in Sweden, Fox News, 17th January 2018, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2018/01/17/christian-convert-from-iran-converting-muslims-in-sweden.html (accessed 31st July 2018)

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