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22nd Oct 2018

400 groups sign charter for European Muslims

Some 400 Muslim groups met in Brussels on Thursday (10 January) to sign a charter for the Muslims of Europe, describing the rights and responsibilities of Muslims within European society.

"The charter is a message to government and the rest of society, but also directed at Muslims within Europe," said Ibrahim Elzayat, a spokesperson for the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE), the co-ordinator of the process that resulted in the historic document.

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"It describes how we should act as positive citizens in the societies in which we live and not be a threat," he continued. The groups hope that the charter will help correct negative images of Islam and improve relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Europe.

The charter has been in development since 2000, when FIOE launched a debate on the establishment of such a document.

The attacks on New York and Washington of 11 September, 2001, gave the process added impetus, and FIOE formed a committee to draft a charter that would set out the general principles for a better understanding of Islam by non-Muslim Europeans and the bases for integration of Muslims in European society.

Leadership representatives from many of FIOE's member organisations discussed the charter, which was then presented to the groups at a seminar in Brussels in 2002. The project was then widely disseminated in order to incorporate the opinions of as many organisations and Muslim individuals as possible. The process took almost six years.

Representatives of the European Parliament welcomed the Charter.

"The charter amounts to a code of good conduct for Muslims in Europe which commits them to taking part in building a united society," said parliament vice-president Mario Mauro.

Mr Mauro, of the conservative Forza Italia party, is responsible for relations between the parliament and religious groups.

"It pledges Muslims to helping create harmony and well-being in our societies and to fully playing the role of citizens in upholding justice, equal rights and respect for difference."

The document contains 26 separate points, with a number of clauses that undoubtedly are aimed at dispelling myths about links between Islam and violence, as well as clarifying the meaning of terms such as 'jihad'.

"The term Jihad that occurs in Islamic texts means to exert all efforts towards good, starting from reforming oneself to spreading truth and justice between people," reads the document.

"Jihad in its understanding as warfare is regarded as one of the means available to any sovereign state when it needs to defend itself against aggression. The teachings of Islam, in this respect, are in line with international law."

"Based on such an understanding of Jihad, Islam rejects violence and terrorism, supports just causes and affirms the right of all people to defend themselves by legitimate means."

FIOE represents some 29 mostly Sunni Muslims organisations and more than 1000 local groups, including the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), the Union des organisations islamiques de France (UOIF) and the Islamische Gemeinschaft in Deutschland (IGD).

Moving up the EU's political agenda

The role of Muslims in Europe and European attitudes towards Islam has moved up the political agenda in the European Union, with the bloc officially celebrating the year of intercultural dialogue this year.

One of the first personalities to mark the year is Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria, who will talk to MEPs on Tuesday (15 January).

Meanwhile, centre-right euro-deputies discussed EU-Islam relations last week. Focusing on religious education in schools, EU culture commissioner Jan Figel said that in most European schools, students are separated according to faith and are taught separately and only about their own religion.

He said Brussels would try and encourage member states to review school curricula, as well as mobility in their educational systems.

Swedish Conservative MEP and vice chairman of the EPP-ED group, Gunnar Hökmark, told EUobserver that even in countries that are not very religious, such as his native Sweden, people should know more about religion, if for no other reason than to be able to distinguish what is not religion.

"People wrongly link violence and terrorism to Islam," the MEP said.

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