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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 April, 2004, 12:13 GMT 13:13 UK
European Muslims search for identity
By Magdi Abdelhadi
BBC Arab affairs analyst

Young women wear headbands in the colours of the French flag as hundreds of Muslims take to the streets in Paris on 17 January 2004
Many French Muslims want both integration and identity

As the European Union gets bigger and more diverse with the entry of 10 new members in less than a week, the question of European identity and minorities will once again spring to the fore - including that of Europe's largest religious minority, the Muslims.

Two contrasting images of Muslims living in Europe caught my attention over the past few months.

One is of Muslim girls in France demonstrating against the ban on ostentatious religious symbols in public schools.

They wore Muslim headscarves and at the same time had their bodies wrapped in the French flag, a clear expression of a desire to be integrated into French society, but without losing their distinct identity.

The second picture is of angry young British Muslims burning the Union Flag and shouting slogans in support of Osama Bin Laden outside a London mosque, a dramatic articulation of their radical rejection of Western values.

Between these two positions lies a vast majority of silent Muslims who have over the years gone about their lives without attracting much media attention for most of the time.

Rapid growth

Abu Hamza preaches outside the Finsbury Park mosque after being barred from it in 2003
London preacher Abu Hamza's followers include radicals
Muslims in Europe have grown from a few hundred thousands in the 1950s to an estimated 12 million across the continent, many of whom still suffer marginalisation, unemployment and poverty.

While the first generation of Muslims - mainly labourers from North Africa and Asia - suffered from problems of adjustment, their sons and daughters are now torn between belonging to the culture of their parents and that of Europe.

The rise of militant Islam and attacks related to it on European soil has presented the Muslim communities with a very serious problem.

Muslim leaders feel the need to distance themselves from violence committed in the name of Islam, without laying themselves open to charges of abandoning the faith.

This has led to calls to develop what has been described as EuroIslam: an Islam in tune with democratic values and less dependent on doctrines imported from the Middle East.

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