As Islam’s public visibility is increasing so are the disputes

This article was published in Oasis 28. Read the table of contents

Last update: 2022-04-22 09:58:41

Musulmans au quotidien.jpgReview of Nilüfer Göle, Musulmans au quotidien, La Découverte, Paris, 2015.


Musulmans au quotidien gathers together the results of the research project “EuroPublicIslam,” offering an overview of it for a non-specialist public. Directed by the Turkish sociologist Nilüfer Göle, the study investigates the genealogy of the Islam-related controversies arising in Europe between 2009 and 2013. More specifically, the researchers identified a series of cases arising in twenty-one European cities as a result of local Muslims requesting to be able to follow the Islamic precepts in their everyday life. The major themes generating conflictual situations include exhibition of religious signs and symbols in the public space, the possibility of building new mosques and minarets, the production and sale of halāl foods and the very notion of the sacred.


In France, a controversy linked to prayer in public places was dubbed with the name of a street blocked every Friday by dozens of faithful gathered in prayer (Rue Myrtha). A similar case flared up in Germany around a Berlin student who claimed the right to pray in the corridors of his school. In both countries—even though they have followed different historical and political trajectories­­—Islamic religious practices were banned in the name of the public space’s neutrality. In 2009, at the end of a demonstration in Italy in support of the people living in Gaza, a group of Muslims gathered in prayer in front of the Basilica of Saint Petronius in Bologna, provoking the opposition of the city’s bishop.


In the same year, Swiss citizens were called to the polling stations in a referendum proposing to ban the building of new places of Islamic worship (which was won, with more than 57% of the votes in favour). The case arose out of an application to build a minaret presented some years earlier by a Turkish immigrants’ association. After a long battle, the federal court granted permission to erect the building on condition that the muezzin did not use it to call the faithful to prayer.


In 2005, it was Denmark’s turn with the “cartoons case:” Jyllands Posten, one of the country’s biggest dailies, published a series of twelve satirical depictions of the prophet Muhammad, sparking a debate on the (unstable) boundary-line between freedom of expression and blasphemy. It was not the first time that art became the occasion of controversy about the way Islam was depicted, however: in 1989, Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses earned him the famous fatwa issued by Khomeini and, in 2004, the Dutch director Theo Van Gogh was assassinated over the contents of his short film Submission.


Musulmans au quotidien highlights how, in many European countries, the controversies relating to Islam have ended up producing cultures founded on the primacy of the majority culture, at the expense of the “foreign” ones. In Germany, for example, the concept of Leitkultur has been revolutionised: used in 1998 by the Syrian political scientist Bassam Tibi to refer to the rules and values underpinning European societies (to which Muslim immigrants, too, should have been subscribing), the expression ended up exalting German culture to pluralism’s detriment. In the early 2000s, the debate on multiculturalism’s crisis was re-launched also in the Netherlands by Paul Scheffer, a leftist journalist and author of an article that accused this phenomenon of threatening social peace. The conflict between Western and Islamic cultures was then brought into focus in France, where Nicolas Sarkozy created a Ministry of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Co-Development in 2007, thereby putting the immigration issue on a cultural footing. Michel Houellebecq, author of the novels Plateforme (2001) and Soumission (2015), also highlighted the cultural conflict. These and the other cases cited in the book show how Islam’s visibility in European social life marks a new phase in the Muslim integration process, contributing to a significant change in the continent’s public sphere.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Oasis International Foundation

To cite this article

Printed version:
Chiara Pellegrino, “The Controversies that Are Changing Europe”, Oasis, year XIV, n. 28, December 2018, pp. 130-131..

Online version:
Chiara Pellegrino, “The Controversies that Are Changing Europe”, Oasis [online], published on 27th March 2019, URL: