After the attacks of 2015 and 2016, jihadist radicalization once more catalysed the attention of the media, the political world and the security services. The Muslim presence in Europe is characterized by a multiplicity of currents and movements, however

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After the attacks of 2015–2016, jihadist radicalization has catalysed the attention of the media, the political circles and the security services. In reality, the Muslim presence in Europe is characterized by a multiplicity of currents and movements that are tied, to a greater or lesser extent, to the Muslim immigrants’ countries of origin. If we are to understand what forms it could take in the future, it could be helpful to look in the direction of the Balkans.


In the last few years Islam and Muslims have become a major feature in public discourse. This has been mixed in with discussions about immigration and the free movement of labour into and within the European Union, and further complicated by the refugee crisis. It has become a key feature in the growth of nationalist and populist movements that the distinctions between immigration, refugees and Muslims have been merged into a single issue. The various terrorist attacks, carried out in the name of the Islamic State, have obviously fed into these developments. However, public and media memory are short and have forgotten that in the 1970s and 1980s we experienced a period when terrorist attacks, with no identification with Islam, were significantly more numerous in Europe and North America than this latest flurry.[1] The purpose of this article is, however, not to offer yet another analysis of “Islamic terrorism” but to try and place it in the broader context of the current situation of Muslims in Europe. In the process we will see how this crisis which seems to be driving much of the politics of Europe and the United States is in fact multidimensional, displaying tensions between European society and Muslims, among Muslims themselves, and among Europeans.



European Muslims: Who and How Many They are


First of all, we need to get a clearer idea of what is meant by European Islam.[2] The Muslim presence in Europe is not a new phenomenon. In the western part of the European subcontinent we have tended to consider it as the result of the immigration that has primarily taken place since 1945, although we are aware of earlier arrivals, especially in Britain and France. This prospect ignores a Muslim presence in Eastern Europe, going back to the Mongol-Tatar invasions, which left substantial communities in Russia and the territories of the former Lithuanian-Polish Grand Duchy, today’s Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus. In South-Eastern Europe it was the expansion and centuries of Ottoman dominance which accounts for the Albanian, Bosniak, Pomak, ethnic Turkish and other Muslim communities of today. The expansion of the European Union since the 1990s has brought this history within the Union boundaries.

Secondly, it is necessary to learn to deal with population statistics on Muslim presence in Europe with a degree of scepticism. Most are estimates, even “guesstimates.” In some countries estimates issued by government bodies or academics vary significantly from those claimed by Islamic organisations. Thus, in Hungary estimates range from 25,000 to 50,000, in France between 2 and 4 million, in the Czech Republic between 4,000 and 10,000, and in Belarus from 20,000 to 50,000.[3] In other ccontinua a leggere

To cite this article

Printed version:
Jørgen S. Nielsen, “European Islam: Trends and Prospects”, Oasis, year XIV, n. 28, December 2018, pp. 18-35.

Online version:
Jørgen S. Nielsen, “European Islam: Trends and Prospects”, Oasis [online], published on 27th March 2019, URL: