Wednesday 31 October 2018

Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: Belgium

In the series of our posts on Muslims living in the Non Muslim countries, today we will talk about life and aspirations of Muslims living in Belgium. The reason for choosing Belgium is the same: Some of my readers are from Belgium and I thought I must talk on their behalf through this post today. 

Although Islam in Belgium is a minority religion, yet it is the second largest religion after Christianity in the country. No official records are available about the exact number of Muslims in Belgium, but as per estimates from various sources, Muslims are estimated to be 4.0% to 6.5% of the country's population. The first registered presence of Islam in Belgium was in 1829, but it was the immigrant labourers from Morocco and Turks in the 1960s that account for the present day Muslim population. 

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. Over 10,000 workers from these countries moved to Belgium and mostly worked in low-skilled jobs. This stopped in 1974 when all foreign manual labour was banned from entry into the country and, in the same year, Islam was officially recognized as a religion in Belgium.

The number of Muslims in Belgium is estimated to be between 320,000 to 450,000. The majority of Muslims in Belgium are Sunni. Muslim population in Belgium is very young. Almost 35 percent of the Turks and Moroccans, the largest Muslim groups in the country, are below 18 years old, compared with 18 percent of the native Belgians. As a result of the age and spatial distribution, very high proportions of the youth in certain areas are Muslim. The Muslim population is most concentrated in Brussels (20% of the total population) 6) with most other Muslims living in the industrial areas of the French-speaking south.

Other than the Turks and Moroccans, Muslims from Iraq, Lebanon, Bosnia Herzegovina, Pakistan, Somalia, Iran and Afghanistan also make up the Muslim population.

How is the life of Muslims living in Belgium? Well this a hard question to answer, for I went through dozens of sites and blogs to know how Muslims lived there but was disappointed to note that most sites attributed terrorism to Muslims and undermined the Muslim population of the country. Some even suggested that soon Muslims would rule Belgium. I found this assertion interesting as sine 1960s till date, that is more than five decades of time bracket, Muslims account for only 4-5% of the Belgium's population. Going by these figures I wonder who suggested this idea of Muslims taking over the country as Muslims becoming a majority may takes centuries. Is this a reality or mere disinformation to keep Muslims under check?

Perhaps it is this scare that Belgian authorities instituted a ban on face-covering attire in public in 2011, which meant the wearing of the Niqāb and burqa were considered incompatible with Belgian society.The ban was challenged by two Muslim women in first the Constitutional Court and then the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), but was upheld

And consequent to this, an Open Society found that 74% of Muslims were subject to “large to relatively large amounts of prejudice. Belgian Muslim women are more subject to discrimination in areas of employment and education than men. Thus young Belgian Muslim women founded Brussels-based group, Bruxelloise et Voilée in March 2015,  with a view to promoting a multicultural society by fighting against discrimination and stereotypes, in particular against Muslim veiled women."

As for the religious freedom, the state machinery keeps a strict check on how mosques in Belgium are being run. recently the Flemish interior minister withdrew certification from one mosque and rejected 20 federally backed requests for certification. The minister accused Turkey’s religious and political authorities of meddling inappropriately in the affairs of the Turkish community in Belgium.  In order to keep a check on what is taught in the mosques, the Belgian government employs over 800 Imams and teachers who teach Islam and Arabic in schools and lead prayers in mosques recognized by the government. 

One of the oldest mosque, the Great Mosque of Brussels, (photo above).The building of the mosque was initially built in Arabic architecture to house the Oriental Pavilion of the National Exhibition in Brussels in 1880. Later, in 1967, King Baudouin lent the building to King Faisal ibn Abd al-Aziz of Saudi Arabia with a 99-year rent-free lease and since been the most prestigious place of Islamic worship and instruction. However recently, the government of Belgium has its lease canceled and taken over its control on the pretext that the Imam was preaching hate stuff and Arabic-language teaching materials had been discovered at the premises which could encourage anti-Semitism, homophobia and violent extremism. 

The life within the Muslim community is distinctive and segregative. There is rivalry between the two main elements, Moroccans and Turks. It is not uncommon, for example, for Belgo-Moroccans to marry Belgians of Christian background, but very rare for Moroccans to marry Turks. 

Halal slaughter is not subject to extensive legislative restriction, but it is only allowed in recognized slaughter house.

You may like to watch a video based on interviews of Muslims living in Belgium:

Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |
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