A leading Muslim has defended the “positive influence” of Islam in Europe in the wake of comments by outgoing Prague Cardinal Miloslav Vlk in which he warned about the “Islamization” of Europe.
Vlk said European countries are on the way to having a Muslim majority and called on Christians to “wake up” to the threat of “an impending collapse of Europe” in a statement posted on his Web site.
Islam, the cardinal added, invoking images of past conflicts, possesses the “spiritual weapons” Europe does not now have. This is leading to an impending collapse of Europe, he said.
“At the end of the Middle Ages and in the early modern age, Islam failed to conquer Europe with arms. The Christians beat them then. Today, the fighting is done with spiritual weapons, which Europe lacks while Muslims are perfectly armed. The fall of Europe is looming. If Europe doesn’t change its relation to its own roots, it will be Islamized.”
There are about 16 million Muslims in the European Union, out of a population of just under 500 million in the 27 member states.
Vlk, 77, said immigration and a high birthrate have helped Muslims “easily fill the vacant space created as Europeans systematically empty the Christian content from their lives.”
But the specter the cardinal raised was challenged by Vladimír Sáňka, the director of the Islamic Center in Prague.
“Today, Muslims come to Europe not to conquer it but to study, and for better salaries and jobs,” Sáňka told The Prague Post. “Europe has strict immigration policies that prevent what some people warn against: that Muslim immigrants might outnumber original Europeans.”
Islam and Europe are compatible, Sáňka said, recalling that Europe has benefited from Muslim culture.
“I would particularly like to recall the positive influence Islam had on the development of Europe. At a time when Europe was undeveloped, in Muslim-controlled countries education and progress flourished, universities were formed. Islam cultivated Europe by its knowledge. In Muslim Spain, centers of education were established in Cordoba, Granada and Seville,” he said.
Muslims in the Czech Republic want to contribute and be fully integrated into society, Sáňka added.
“Concerning Muslims in the Czech Republic, we want to be integrated into society and have good relations with Christians. We think we have much in common that we can pass onto the atheistic majority.”
However, Sáňka expressed concern at the language often used when discussing Islam in Europe.
“It bothers us when Christians still speak of a conflict with the Muslim world. In Muslim countries, Christians and Jews have lived together for more than 1,000 years, and according to Islam they [Christians] should not be prevented from practicing their faith,” he said. “I hope Christians and Jews will not take offense when I say practicing Muslims follow the original message of Jesus and Moses more consistently than Christians do.”
It is wrong, Sáňka said, to blame Muslims if Christians are suffering a crisis of faith.
“The words of Cardinal Vlk are particularly critical of Christians themselves. It is not the fault of the Muslims that Europe has no, as he puts it, spiritual weapons.”
Vlk was named archbishop of Prague in 1991 by Pope John Paul II.
He offered his resignation two years ago at the age of 75, as required by church law, but Pope Benedict XVI asked him to continue serving. His successor is due to be announced shortly.
A spokesperson said the cardinal would not give any interviews until Rome appoints a new cardinal.
– Klára Jiřičná contributed to this report.