Islam in Europe: the current state and prospects

In the course of several decades, the problem of European Muslims has been examined in details in the West; however, there is no accord among the scholars on the current condition of the believers and on their prospects in the region. There is even more controversy on Muslims’ prospects in the region. So, does Islam have any future in Europe and what is this future?


For the present, no consensus has been reached on the number of Muslims on the continent. The numbers offered by research groups vary greatly.

The number of Muslims in certain European states, their proportion with regard to the total number of population for the year 2010, the data for the year 1990 and the projection for 2030 are offered in Diagram 1 and Table 1. As we see, Muslim population of Europe has grown in the course of twenty years from 29.6 million (4.1 per cent) to 44.1 million (6 per cent). Predictably, this number will reach approximately 58 million by the year 2030 (8 per cent). Despite quite an intense growth, by 2030 Muslim population will only reach 3 per cent of the world’s population, which is comparable to today’s numbers (2.7 per cent). By 2030, the proportion of Muslim population in ten European countries will exceed 10 per cent: Kosovo (93.5 per cent), Albania (83.2 per cent), Bosnia and Herzegovina (42.7 per cent), Macedonia (40.3 per cent), Montenegro (21.5 per cent), Bulgaria (15.7 per cent), Russia (14.4), Georgia (11.5 per cent), France (10.3 per cent), Belgium (10.2 per cent). At the moment, the largest number of Muslims [among European countries] lives in Russia – about 16.379 million; by 2030 Russia will retain the status of the most Islamized European country (18.556 million).

The increase of Muslim population has been slowing down in recent years. By 2030, it will reach 1.2 per cent, which is nevertheless much higher than non-Muslim population’s increase characterized by negatives rates. Decline of Muslim population’s growth is associated with the decline of the fertility rate and stabilization of immigration.

One of the factors of the increase of Muslim population is a high cumulative birth rate. It is 2.2 children per a Muslim woman and 1.5 children per a non-Muslim. Supposedly, the gap will narrow down slightly by 2030 (2.0 vs 1.6). In all the countries, except Bosnia and Herzegovina, the fertility rate among Muslims is higher that among non-Muslims. It is especially prevailing in Norway, Austria, Finland, Ireland, Kosovo, Serbia and the UK.

Another reason of the increase of Muslim population is the inflow of migrants from South Asia, North Africa, Turkey and developing countries. The following countries demonstrate the highest rates: Spain (70 thousands), France (66 thousands), the United Kingdom (64 thousands) and Italy (60 thousands). Presumably, by 2030 Europe will still be an attractive region from the perspective of immigration, however, the rates will drop considerably in some of the countries: Spain, France, Germany and the UK.

An important factor while assessing the prospective Muslim community in Europe is the age composition of the population. At large, Muslim population is the youngest.

Thus, the growth of Muslim population can be said to be moderate; no surges are predicted, the model of Eurabia or an all-Europen caliphate does not appear realistic and it is impossible from the demographic perspective – which is confirmed by the analysts of  Pew.  Apparently, a gradual growth of Muslim population will be accompanied by their more active involvement in social reality, which cannot but entail transformation of the reality itself. The next paragraph shall be dedicated to the official strategy.

Political context of the integration

Since European politicians have understood that immigrants have no intention to repatriate, that they will only grow in numbers and that their involvement in social life will not occur ‘naturally’, the problem of integration of ethnic minorities moved on the agenda. This issue has been grasped more or less thoroughly only in the course of the last 15-20 years, while the general strategy has been worked out ten years ago.

The basic values of the EU consolidated in the Treaty of Lisbon imply, among other things, ‘acknowledgement of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law and respect to human rights’. At the same time, it is accentuated that human rights include ‘the right of minorities’, while the activities of the EU should be based upon pluralism, absence of discrimination and tolerance. There are certain mechanisms introduced in order to implement these general and abstract principles. In case of ethnic and religious minorities, these mechanisms shall provide integration in such areas as education, labor market, housing etc. The main task of the EU’s political institutions is elaboration of an adequate strategy, support of all the initiatives aimed at the realization of the strategy at local level, as well as encouragement of political activity in all directions.

An official act ‘Common Basic Principles of Immigrant Integration’ was adopted during the first ministerial conference on integration in 2004. It pays heed to the integration of immigrants, i.e. expatriates from the EU non-member states. However, as was noted by the authors of the document, the strategy of integration shall also touch upon ethnic and religious minorities irrespectively of their citizenship. Approximately one third of Muslims residing in the EU are non-citizens, thus the integrational initiatives affect them directly. At the same time, most of the rest of Muslims are not well-integrated in social life despite their European citizenship. That is why the initiatives affect them only indirectly.

Interestingly, despite such an abrupt leap in the interpretation of integration, the ‘Common Basic Principles of Immigrant Integration’ have been subjected to substantial criticism as not enough liberal and too demanding with regards to immigrants. The criticism furthered the elaboration of a more definite interpretation which has been settled in the further documents.


A study on the life of Muslims in eleven large European cities undertaken by Soros Fund in 2008-2009 is at the center of our work. The following cities were examined by the contributors: Antwerp, Amsterdam, Berlin, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Lester, London, Marseilles, Paris, Rotterdam and Stockholm. By now, detailed and freely accessible reports for all the cities except Amsterdam have been prepared.  A summarizing report ‘Muslims in Europe’ (hereinafter referred to as Soros Foundation’s Report) was prepared by Tufyal Choudhuri in 2010.

The following conclusions can be drawn proceeding from the results of the study. Educational achievements of ethnic minorities are ambiguous. In general, their educational attainment is lower comparing to a dominant ethnic group. The reasons behind this are numerous, but socio-economic factors are apparently crucial. There is evidence that religion for Muslims creates incentives in educational process. In all the cities, understanding of the role of preschool education in further educational and of integration process is increasing. Certain measures have been taken for a broader support of preschool education. Measures have also been taken against direct and indirect segregation of immigrants’ children. Muslim and non-Muslim parents alike express their demands for ethnically mixed schools, which would allow overcoming oppression and segregation.

Despite the implementation of a number of initiatives, the overall situation remains complicated. Members of ethnic minorities are still suffering from racism and discrimination in various forms (selectivity, low expectations, non-recognition of their identity, lack of necessary conditions for religious practices, etc.). More extensive measures are required in teacher education and, perhaps, the unification of political standards on this issue.

The labor market

According to the study of Soros’ Foundation, the activity level among Muslim minorities in the labor market is below average. Unemployment among them is several times as high as the national average. In addition, there is evidence that minorities are more susceptible to economic crises.

Another problem is low wages for immigrants, namely low wages is the main cause of poverty of ethnic and religious minorities. Low qualification is what usually distinguishes Muslims in general, which leads to their employment in unskilled sector. They face multiple forms of discrimination in the labor market: first of all, discrimination on ethnic grounds, their Islamic identity by itself reduces their chances for employment. Muslim women suffer from commonly accepted dress codes; this negatively affects their economic activity, which low by itself.

Despite the complicated situation, there are multilevel initiatives to encourage ethnic and religious minorities in the labor market and to combat discrimination. Comparing today’s state of affairs to that ten years ago, it can be said that these initiatives have already bore its first fruits.

Housing conditions and public safety

Specific resettlement of Muslims in European cities is the result of a complex process. Initially, Muslims used to arrive in Western Europe as migrant workers to be employed as unskilled laborers.

One of the important housing problems is a relatively high level of segregation of ethnic and religious minorities. Muslims are three times more likely to live in areas significantly dominated by ethnic or religious minorities; they are 4.5 times are more likely to live side by side with representatives of the same religious group, however the majority (56.4 per cent) still resides in areas with mixed ethnic background. Another problem is the poverty of Muslim neighborhoods. It has a negative impact on the integration of minorities.

Despite this, the vast majority of Muslim respondents (90 per cent) are satisfied with their areas of ​​residence. At the same time, Muslims are positive about ethnically mixed districts and oppose segregation; they perceive it as a guarantee of preserving their own identity and successful integration. The ongoing municipal activities to combat segregation are ambiguous and require improvement. It should also be noted that Muslims 6.5 times are more likely to experience various forms of discrimination considering housing opportunities.

At the moment, European authorities manage to provide security for ethnic and religious minorities. However, improvements in the methods of hate-crime detection are needed. Members of minority groups show a high degree of trust in the police; in some cities, this figure turns out to be significantly higher among Muslims than among non-Muslims. Also, Muslims are generally satisfied with the police’s actions.

Political Activity

Muslims are still under-represented in governmental and political bodies, however, the level of their representation has increased significantly in recent years and, apparently, it will continue to grow in the future. In 2005, four candidates of Muslim background entered the British Parliament, while in 2010 there were already eight people – six members of the Labor party and two Conservatives. In addition, from 2010 to 2012 a Muslim lady Saeed Warsi was acting as a co-chairman of the Conservative Party. In 2009, twenty candidates of Muslim background passed into the German Bundestag, while in the last election in North Rhine-Westphalia a Muslim party succeeded for the first time: the Alliance for Peace and Justice (Bündnis für Frieden und Fairness) received two mandate in the municipal assembly.

But this case is exceptional. The general trend is that Muslim candidates across Europe are nominated for election within the main political parties and often hide their identity. They seek to demonstrate that they represent their constituents rather than a specific ethnic or religious group.

A French senator and a member of the Socialist Party Samia Ghali says about it, ‘I do not want to be perceived through the prism of my background... We’d better talk about education, healthcare, and housing’.

Mass media

It is clear from various studies, surveys, etc. that the European media tends to present Islam in an ultimately negative form, associating it with aggression, terrorism, oppression of women and unwillingness to integrate.

It has been revealed in Soros Foundation’s study that the respondents tend to accentuate the difference between local and national media coverage of Islam and Muslims. The local media is more often focused on local community, including ethnic minorities; it is undisposed to homogenize Muslims. Specifically, this peculiarity is highlighted by London’s, Leicester’s and Copenhagen’s focus groups. A respondent from London expresses the following thought,

Apart from a favorable treatment of the local media, there are positive shifts in other directions. The authorities have begun to express more concern with regard to the representation of ethnic and religious minorities in the media. Responding to a lop-sided portraying of Islam by the mainstream media, local initiatives spring up to create a more favorable image of Islam (newspapers, radio, blogs, etc.). The growth of ethnical diversity among the workers of the mainstream media should be considered as well. Finally, according to the materials of ‘Minoritimedia’ research group, the number of Muslim media has increased significantly in recent years.

Muslim organizations

Islamic organizations are the driving force in the slow transformation of European society, they realize the potential existing in those citizens of European states who profess Islam, as well as in numerous immigrants. Understanding of modern European Islam, as well as its ideological, sociological and political perspectives, is impossible without understanding the condition of  Islamic organizations. A detailed analysis of this issue can be found in the article. Here we shall dot down the main points.

Firstly, European Muslims appear to be utterly disintegrated; There are no pan-European Islamic organization that could have enjoyed some support at the very least. Disintegration also reveals itself in the absence of the common understanding of the place of religion in modern life, particularly, in European society. In other words, it is not possible to present European Muslim organizations as a united front advocating common values and principles​​.

Secondly, in some countries we often deal with numerous and unrelated – and sometimes competing – Muslim organizations. Apparently, the main reason for that is a close connection of contemporary Islam with ethnicity – which is, generally speaking, a worldwide trend. Ethnical fault lines are so obvious that they overshadow the universalism of Islam and lead to sectarianism; Noteworthy is a close interaction of some ethnic groups with organizations controlled from overseas (this is especially true for Turks and Bosnians).

Thirdly, contrary to a popular belief, radical movements do not play a significant role in European Islam. The point is not that they are outlawed (here we deal with both official and non-official organizations), but that their share is really low.

Finally, the real activity of Muslim organizations has to do with education, upbringing, training, worship and representation; strictly speaking, it is aimed at providing Muslims with a worthy life and at finding them a place in European society. Adequate Islamic organizations lay no claims to the establishment of a pan-European caliphate or a partial introduction of Sharia legal system in some countries. Their position is generally moderate and focused on integration. At the same time, however, they do not support currently fashionable radical liberalism of European politics (gender issues, erosion of traditional family, same-sex marriages, the problem of morality, etc.).

The future of Islam in Europe

Contrary to a popular belief, Muslims in Europe do not live ‘parallel lives’ and do not form a ‘parallel society’. In some areas, they are really involved in public life in a less degree, but there are positive trends, indicating perspective growth of Muslims’ involvement. A serious barrier for this is discrimination on religious and ethnic grounds. However, the level of discrimination is not dramatically high, and serious efforts are made to minimize this factor.

Our main conclusion is that the state of European Muslims is not as critical as usually presented in Russian literature and our media. Apparently, bellwether European countries are currently overstepping the stage of the segregation of ethnoreligious minorities and are entering the age, when the minorities will be actively seeking to integrate into social reality and facilitate modification of this reality – which is follows from the logic of ‘integration’ as it is understood by the EU’s ideologists. The result of this process shall be the establishment of a specific ‘European Muslimhood’ resting upon the concept of citizenship and characterized by weakening of the ties with non-European ethno-cultural traditions.

Damir Mukhetdinov, Executive Secretary of the Muslim International Forum, First Deputy Chairman of the Religious Board of Muslims of the Russian Federation