Last year at a Passover Seder evening the US Ambassador to Germany looked around the dining table and asked some members of the Muslim community: When will there be one single phone number to reach Muslim representatives? It was a bit like Kissinger’s question: “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?”
A couple of weeks later I was asked to present a lecture at the University of Osnabrück – in a way on this phone number – titled: the Role of Muslim Elites in Germany & Europe. The lecture became a book chapter and the book “Islam & Diaspora” edited by Prof Dr Rauf Ceylan has now been published. Since the chapter is written in German, a few thoughts here in English:
// Muslim & Elite
Both terms, Muslim and elite, are highly contested. Who is a Muslim? Who is part of an elite? Who says so? Should we employ the notion of an elite at all? And why talk about a Muslim elite in particular? To read or hear the responses, I guess, dear reader, you would have to learn German or invite me for a coffee.
// Majority & Minority Elites
Muslims form the biggest non-Christian religious community in the European Union as well as on the European continent. They are nonetheless a minority. As such, their elites are co-determined by the majority elite and society as a whole. A minority elite is thus not necessarily as minority-representing as might be assumed.
There are only few Muslims who form fully part of the societal elite. This is partly because many Muslims come from a working class background and, as pointed out by Dahrendorf, we live very much in a society with unreal mobility, a cooptation in disguise.
// Participation & Plurality
The Muslim community needs context-specific qualifications, networks and resources as well as the aspiration to participate in their societies. In other words, they need both: the ability and desirability to partake in all societal structures and processes. They will have to increasingly institutionalize on a European level to participate in European-wide discourses and offer platforms for intra-European exchange between nationally, regionally and locally organized actors.
Muslims in Europe are at the beginning of a forming process. Yet this forming process does not need to result in a homogeneous group. On the contrary, the Islamic tradition is rich in encouraging co-existence and plurality of thought and practices. A single telephone number is neither likely nor desirable.