Friday, March 02, 2007

Islam Could Become Europe's Dominant Religion, Experts Say

By Kevin McCandless Correspondent
March 02, 2007

London ( - As the Anglican Communion continues to fight over homosexuality and as church attendance plummets, experts say that Islam is well on its way to becoming the most dominant religion in Europe.

Meeting in London this week in their General Synod, the leaders of the Church of England continued to feverishly debate the role of gay and lesbian priests, an issue that increasingly threatens to cause a schism in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

This follows another meeting in Tanzania last week in which Anglican bishops issued an official warning over the matter to the Episcopal Church, the American wing of the Communion. Under threat of being relegated to a lesser role in the Communion, the Episcopal Church must promise by the end of September not to consecrate another homosexual bishop or introduce prayers for gay couples.

Currently, research studies show that church attendance in Britain is dropping precipitously, as well as across the whole of Western Europe.

According to Christian Research, a British think tank, only 6.3 percent of the British population in 2005 attended Christian services on a weekly basis.

The group also projects that around 4,000 churches will close over the next 15 years, being sold off or rehabilitated for other uses.

Reflecting a trend around Europe, British churches in the past decade have been transformed into restaurants, cafes, art galleries, mosques, and in one notable instance, a training school for circus acrobats in Bristol.

But while church attendance on the continent reportedly shows a similar decline, the level of Muslim religious participation and the Muslim population itself has exploded.

In recent years, experts say that young European Muslims are returning to the faith which their parents observed only sporadically, becoming much more devout.

Though Muslims only comprise around 3 percent of the British population, Christian Research says that in 35 years there will be twice as many Muslims in mosques on Friday as there are Christians in churches on Sunday.

In a 2004 ICM poll of 500 British Muslims, 51 percent said that they prayed every day.

In November, a study by the Spanish magazine Alba said that more mosques and prayer centers have been built in France than churches over the last century, with over 4,000 mosques currently serving the largest Muslim population in Europe.

Europe has seen a wave of Muslim immigration during the last century, in large part from the countries of North Africa, and some experts predict that they will become the dominant population by the end of this century.

In January, the Islam-Archive Central Institute, a government-sponsored think tank, projected that Muslims will be the majority population of Germany by 2046, based on their higher fertility rates.

Brent Nelson, an expert on European Islam at Furman University in South Carolina, told Cybercast News Service Thursday it was hard to guess what a Europe with a large Muslim minority would look like.

However, he said that unless Christians and Muslims as a whole learn to compromise and live together, there was a danger of a clash between the two cultures.

From introducing daily prayers into the workplace to building mosques and minarets in cities, there would be endless grounds for conflict in the future, he said.

"The danger is that Europe will not come to terms with what it means to absorb a large Muslim population," he said. "And in turn that Muslims won't come to terms with what it means to live in the West, the need to compromise with Western values. If that doesn't occur, you'll have a culture war which will dwarf anything we've seen in the United States."

David Masci, a senior research fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, said Thursday it was difficult for many Muslim immigrants to accept the secular nature of countries like Holland.

"Look," he said. "Holland is a society which is very, very liberal in terms of attitudes towards gender and towards sexuality. These people are clearly pushing against that."

However, he added that the Pentecostal and Evangelical strains of Christianity were showing a revival in Europe, spurred on by an influx of immigrants from Africa and Asia.

Though he didn't believe that Muslims would become the majority in Europe, he said he did see Muslims and Evangelical Christians eventually working together to achieve common goals, in areas such as curbing abortion laws and same-sex marriages.

Sara Silvestri, an expert on European Islam at Chatham House, a London-based think tank, that many Muslims also had a tendency to exaggerate their religious beliefs when asked.

In times of crisis, she told Cybercast News Service , events over the last five years and the media spotlight on Islamic issues pushed previously nominal Muslims to be more active in their faith.

"I know Muslims who don't wear a veil, who don't grow a beard, but who still identify themselves as a Muslim in the social sphere," she said.

On Wednesday, Nicole Bourque, a professor of religious studies at Glasgow University, said that she thought increasing numbers of Christians would convert to Islam in the coming years.

She said that she knew of around 200 converts in Glasgow alone, mostly lapsed Christians who had grown up without a strong religious background.

While many were women who had married Muslim men, she said many had been attracted to learn more about Islam by its increased profile since 2001.

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