The heated topic and discussion of integration is never one I choose to enter. I see no use in it. Why? It’s simple.
The third generation of Muslims are an integral part of what makes Western society – they are fully Muslim and fully Western, one is not independent of the other. This is echoed in Shaykh Babikr’s analogy; “the river is crystal clear. Its water remains pure, sweet and unpolluted. It reflects the colour of the riverbed. Thus, it is that Islam in China is Chinese, just as in Africa it is African, and in Britain is British.” While this becomes the theoretical basis for my point, I have recently found FEMYSO – the Forum for European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations - to demonstrate this understanding in the most practical way. It epitomises how dynamically active Muslims are within the Western society.
I was fortunate to have taken part in the first ever European Muslim Youth Conference (EMYC) in Brussels last month, organised by FEMYSO. This umbrella body is multifaceted in its attributes. Its mission is to be a platform for youth organisations to congregate, exchange information, gain experience and benefit from each other, to work for a better Europe.
Essentially, FEMYSO aims to showcase how Muslim youth organisations and individuals are vibrant leaders, progressive thinkers and an important part of Western society. It gathers leaders from Muslim organisations across Europe, who speak in several different European and Eastern languages. The venue enables the sharing of ideas and promotes co-operative working to find creative solutions to the many pressing issues in Europe and the world at large – such as poverty, conflict and resolution, human rights violations, environmental concerns amongst many other pertinent issues. The workshops, seminars, lectures and debates were focused on letting the youth leaders take the lead, voice their concerns, present ideas and compete to set up new organisations, which are to be funded and supported by FEMYSO and the European Council.
The Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations was established on the 1st September 1996. FEMYSO has developed into a wide network of 39 member organisations, bringing together youth from over 22 countries. Over the last 10 years it has become the de facto voice of Muslim Youth in Europe and is regularly consulted on issues pertaining to Muslims in Europe. FEMYSO has developed close links with the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the United Nations and a host of other relevant organisations at the European and international level. Furthermore, it is currently a member of the Advisory Council for Youth of the Council of Europe, helping to shape youth policy across 47 countries.
Yet, what makes FEMYSO stand out? Well, to cite one example, more than a hundred Muslims, male and female, congregated behind an Imam for the Khutba (sermons) in English and Arabic for the Friday Jumu’a (congregational) prayer in the European Parliament after a debate on the role of religion. While this was special and perhaps an exception, what this shows is how far Muslims have come. These youth leaders praying in the European Parliament had come from different parts of the world, from the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland, Sweden, Macedonia, Bosnia, Albania, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and even Palestine. The number of different languages and ethnic roots of the young people present would cover most regions of the world. This rich cultural diversity was celebrated throughout the conference, particularly in the intercultural evening, when each country was able to present its culture, food, language and history. The traditional rivalry between the British and the French continued even in this, showcasing their best contributions on the eve. On this occasion, the French were outdone…!
The debate on the role of religion, held at the European Parliament gave the young activists the opportunity to interact with European and local policymakers, governmental institutions and NGO representatives. FEMYSO aims to unite Muslims, connect them to important institutions, different faith-groups and key professionals in their society in order to fully participate as citizens of Europe. It has brought peaceful words, intellectual drive and passion for God into the heart of Europe. This is, in many ways, the best way to empower Muslim youth in Europe, giving religion a refreshing recognition in the current climate and reminding the youth how important they are in forming policies and creating change, whether local, national or international.
FEMYSO aims to raise discussion around new and challenging issues with policy makers, politicians and academics; it also facilitates tomorrow’s leaders of Europe to create their own vision today. Their strategy involves round-table discussions with youth and innovative thinkers, psychologists, leadership trainers and entrepreneurs to discuss issues affecting young Muslims in Europe. In groups, the youth worked together and sought solutions and presented their innovative ideas for new projects that they would like to take forward or see implemented. The winning teams won Youth Awards which includes funding support. The different activities encouraged active ethical participation and critical thought within European society in order to build the capacity of European Muslim youth and their organisations, and recognise their efforts. The motive was to inspire thinkers, evident in the motto – “Wise up, Rise up – Get Active!” The emphasis remains on knowledge as the core basis, to build on confidence, and to become a force for positive change.
One might wonder how rest of the society benefit? Is there a need for such an organisation? With nearly 50 million Muslims present in East and West Europe, it is essential that millions of young European Muslims have a strong European Muslim Identity, know Europe as their home land, and feel comfortable with being both Muslim and European at the same time. Young Muslims across Europe must be in touch and know each other in order to feel that real Islamic brotherhood has no borders; each individual must engage as a responsible and constructive member of European society. A leading female Muslim speaker, Myriam Francois Cerrah, echoed these ideas in her opening speech at the conference, saying that “the central priority in my view ought to be overcoming the victim mentality and enabling confident, educated young people to articulate the contribution Muslims can make to improve the world around them”. She emphasized that we must capitalise on new media to reach people with the ease of film, TV, art – “books are great, but they don’t reach anything like the audience of a blockbuster – we need more young people, solidly grounded in their faith, entering the media, so that we might start producing cultural output reflecting the beauty and richness of our faith – but without necessarily shoving it down people’s throats”
Inspiration also came from Mohammad Adil, the president of FEMYSO, who modestly concluded the four day conference by saying that “he did nothing but smile and remind the youth that they can do it”. For him, instilling that faith and trust is the pinnacle of success. For the benefit of those who did not take part in the conference, Intissar Kherigi, the vice-president of FEMYSO, conveyed that their projects remain the perfect vehicle to apply one of the ayahs (signs/verses) of the Holy Qur’an: “And We have made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another“. In simple terms, while Islam teaches us communication across borders, FEMYSO is an organization that facilitates it. Integration, what? It is for these aims of FEMYSO that makes this debate seem shallow, at least for the leaders it has. May it continue to bring young Muslims together to learn and act, deepen our faith and our commitment, and fulfil our responsibilities as Muslims and as citizens.
FEMYSO has focused its programmes of activities around particular themes which reflect the priorities and vision of the organisation. Amongst those, the main areas have been citizenship, inter-religious and intercultural dialogue, Human Rights and Islamophobia, education and training, media and communication and public relations. If you are interested in getting involved in any way, you can e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org