Media Reaction to “Belgian-U.S. Dialogue”
(in chronological order)
This was a first-ever, people-to-people exchange with American and Belgian Muslims
and representatives from both societies, focusing on Muslim identity, civic life, economic
opportunity, media portrayal, youth development, and women’s issues.
11/18 - Excerpts from VRT Radio: Belgian Dutch-speaking Radio News Program
― This conference is only the beginning. There is still so much to be said. In many Western
countries the Muslim communities still have to learn so much from each other. Therefore,
several exchange programs between Belgians and Americans will be launched immediately. The
group that discussed 'Muslim women' launched a first concrete initiative. They intend to start an
international campaign against violence at home - not because there is more violence in Muslim
families, but because feeling good at home is feeling good in society. That is where American
Muslims have made much more progress than Belgian Muslims.
Participant Ayse Öz: American Muslims have a much stronger image of themselves. They don't
always have to justify and defend themselves. They consider themselves American citizens.
Muslims in Belgium are often confronted with their 'being immigrant.' I am proud of my roots,
but I was born here and I want to be part of society here.
Participant Usman: As we have seen in Europe and in France more recently, most people who are
'ghetto-ized' are treated as second-class citizens, rather than as first-class citizens. That means
that people in despair use violence to be heard.
― While Usman does not approve of that he says he understands. For that reason he thinks that it
is important for Muslims to have Muslim schools in the West with Western and democratic Islam
teachers. Islam schools and Muslim organizations can give the Muslim community a voice. The
U.S. Ambassador - who is of Greek origin - says that, too. However, are separate Muslim
organizations the proper means to integrate and to belong to society? Whether the Muslim
organizations fulfill the integration or not does not matter, Tom Korologos says, because
integration cannot be imposed on anyone. It is one's own opportunity. That is real freedom.
About these things - and many more things - the participants debated the last two days. But there
is still a lot of work to be done.
Participant Ayse Öz: We all know that we still have much to discuss and that Muslims must
develop a Western Islam to make ourselves known and to get rid of the stereotypes."
11/18 - Associated Press
―Muslims in Belgium and U.S. say they face stereotyping, job discrimination”
Muslims in the U.S. feel that "'in Europe I'm hated because I'm American and in America I'm
hated because I'm Muslim,' so that kind of stereotyping, that prototyping needs to be stopped,"
said Ambassador Tom Korologos, the U.S. envoy to Belgium.
Muslims in Belgium expressed concerns about jobs and how they are perceived in Europe, he
"We found they are worried about identity, youth employment and the media's portrayal of them,"
North Carolina state Senator Larry Shaw, who is Muslim, praised the ambassador for organizing
"This has never been done before. It's bold and it could either make you a hero, or you'll have a
very short career," he joked. "I know the seeds you're planting will take hold and can be a model
for all of Europe."
American comic Azhar Usman said many poor and African-American Muslims still face
discrimination and feel left out of society in the U.S.
"American Muslims are very optimistic and empowered to face those challenges," he said. "But
we need to be sensitive to not paint an overly rosy picture."
11/18 - U.S. Newswire
“CAIR Participates in Dialogue With European Muslims; U.S.-Sponsored Gathering
Focused on Muslims in the West”
"We were honored to be a part of such a ground-breaking dialogue and hope this conference can
serve as a prototype for similar gatherings in Europe and North America," said CAIR's Iftikhar.
11/19 - De Standaard (Leading Dutch-language daily)
“America Sponsors Belgian Muslims”
"'I wanted a meeting of Muslims with Muslims about work, youth, living, women. The conference
showed that Western Muslims must have a voice and that they should not let themselves be
influenced by things that 'happen elsewhere,' the U.S. Ambassador said in a Brussels hotel where
American Muslims also said that they pronounced a 'fatwa' at home against terrorism and
"The U.S. Ambassador says that the exchange of Muslim ideas in Brussels is a first in Europe.”
11/21 - La Libre Belgique (Leading French-language daily)
“Belgian and American Muslims Meet in Brussels”
"Representatives from Muslim communities in the United States and in Belgium met Wednesday
and Thursday in Brussels to discuss various issues, such as media portrayal, youth, women, civic
life, and economic opportunity. Several decisions have been made and initiatives have been
"A sister city relationship has been decided between the cities of Genk and of Dearborn, as a
result of mayors Jef Gabriëls and Michael Guido's mutual commitment to minority and ethnic
integration. Besides, the U.S. Karamah organization, which is dedicated to improving Muslim
women's role in society, will invite Belgian Muslim women to participate in seminars in the
"Exchanges will also be organized, with Belgian Muslims being invited as interns at the
headquarters of the Islamic Society of North America - ISNA, which is the largest Muslim
organization in the U.S.
"In Belgium, a major study will be conducted within the Muslim community, in order to help
people better understand the similarities and differences across Muslim communities in Europe.
Lastly, it was decided that a seminar would be organized in Belgium, i.e. a media and journalism
'Good Practices" seminar related to covering Muslims and Islam in the media.
11/21 – Article posted on the ISNA Website
The US Embassy in Brussels and the Belgian Royal Institute cosponsored a two day conference
in Brussels on Nov 16-17. ISNA played a major part in facilitating the planning of the conference
from the US side and was represented by the Secretary General, Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed. Dr. Ingrid
Mattson, the vice president of ISNA was also invited to attend but for personal reasons was
unable to attend.
The American Muslim community was also represented by prominent Muslim leaders from
institutions like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Muslim Public Affairs
Council (MPAC), Muslim Students Association of the US and Canada (MSA). The Muslim
Belgians also were represented by their leaders, activists, professionals, both men and women
from all the major ethnic groups.
The Mayors of Dearborn Michigan and of Genk, Belgium, representing two cities with sizable
Muslim population announced a sisterly relationship between the two cities.
The conference provided a congenial environment to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the
Muslim communities in the two countries. Even though Muslims in Belgium are relatively better
off than those in some other European countries, discrimination and marginalization are a serious
challenge everywhere. Some of our experiments in America at helping integration and alliance
building will be very critical for the Muslim Belgians too. ISNA has offered to continue with this
bridge-building between the two communities by offering more communication and involvement
of Muslim Belgians in the Muslim American experiences.
Accordingly, five Muslim Belgian leaders will attend the 2006 ISNA annual convention and five
Muslim Belgian teachers will attend The Annual Islamic Education Forum being hosted by ISNA
in Chicago. Similarly, we will have five Muslim youth will attend the Annual MYNA and MSA
conferences. These initiatives were very much appreciated and hope they will go a long way in
carrying on the spirit of cooperation and hope build by this conference.
The immense effort, resources and vision invested in this conference by Ambassador Tom
Korologos and his staff is commendable. Ambassador Korologos was very eloquent in expressing
his personal experiences as a second generation Greek American, whose father was a bartender in
Utah and identified himself with the struggle of the minority in fighting against stereotyping and
discrimination. He advised that we should take pride in asserting our identity and continue with
our journey to building bridges of understanding and hope.
For more information, please contact
Director Communications and Community Development
Islamic Society of North America
6555 S. County Road 750 E., PO Box 38, Plainfield, IN 46168
11/22 – De Standaard (leading Dutch-language daily)
Domestic affairs writer Guy Fransen reports: ―The Association of Mosques of West Flanders
believes that U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Tom Korologos took an extremely good initiative by
inviting (Belgian) Muslims to visit the United States. In a conference Korologos confronted
thirty American Muslims with seventy Belgian counterparts. Coordinator Ahalli Taoufik says
that he has received similar signals from other Mosque associations in Antwerp, East Flanders
and Limburg. ‗The migration of Muslims to Europe has been going on for forty years. In the
United States it has been going on since the 19th century. Sending imams and Islam teachers to
the U.S. may not yield anything in the short term, but in the long term, it may bear fruit,‘ Taoufik
―The association admits that Islam education in Belgium, just like in France, is still too much a
matter of ‗garage schools‘ where Arabic – but also fundamentalism – are taught. At the same time
the association is pleased that, at the initiative of the Ambassador, information was provided that
shows that certain Belgian politicians copycat the Vlaams Belang for electoral gains.‖
11/25 - The Providence (RI) Journal
Joint article by a Belgian and a US Conference Participant
Michael Privot is vice president of the Forum of European Muslim Youth
and Student Organizations, in Brussels. Salam Al-Marayati is executive
director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, in Washington.
AS TWO MUSLIMS of European and American background, we have just
attended a conference on U.S.-Belgian Muslim dialogue as a means of
raising the level of civic engagement among our respective Muslim
communities. The conference was engineered by the U.S. ambassador to
Belgium, Tom Korologos, and sponsored by non-governmental organizations
The discussions, which took place among people who were not diplomats or
state officials, were centered on the fortification of the Western
Muslim identity. By understanding our different experiences, we gained
appreciation of the commonality of purpose of our two communities. It is
time to establish and strengthen the Western roots of Muslim
communities, as opposed to living off the respiration of transplanted
roots from "back home."
This -- Brussels, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, London -- is home. We
shed our cultural baggage while maintaining our Islamic values. We
embrace our European and American cultures, while committing ourselves
to serving our national and global Muslim communities. And we aim to
examine our respective roles in order to raise the status of Muslims in
the West -- as a way to answer perennial questions about isolation,
extremism, women's rights, human rights, democracy and attitudes toward
As Muslims have integrated into Western societies, it is time to shift
from speaking from the margins to speaking from the mainstream. We know
that there are groups and political forces whose aim is to keep us
excluded from the Western mainstream, but we also know that there are
more people of goodwill, who want to see our acceptance in society.
We reject the labels of "alien" or "foreigner" in our Western nations.
Some of us were born in the West and became Muslim, and some of us were
born Muslim and came to the West. Whatever our origin, we have arrived
at our destination. We reject those who want to eject Islam from the
United States or Europe; and we aim for our rightful place in society,
through education and example.
It is a matter of raising the consciousness of our fellow Muslims to
accept our new beginning in the West, and it is a matter of raising the
consciousness of others that our acceptance in Western societies is in
the West's best interests.
Our goal is to gain not religious converts but political converts to the
"party" of the human family. We do not presume to have the answers, nor
do we believe we are the answer or the only answer. But we are the
opportunity for America and Europe to begin looking toward a brighter
future. Without the civic participation of our Muslim communities, there
are no solutions -- just a dark chapter following the dark pages of the
Our ability to shed light on the aspirations and frustrations of Muslim
communities is a tool to be utilized by our governments, even if it is
While there is much talk of public diplomacy to the Muslim world, there
is a growing realization that positive image building -- of the United
States in particular and the West in general -- cannot take place
without the involvement of the Muslim communities. There must be a
parallel track of grassroots diplomacy (Muslims in Western countries in
dialogue with Muslims of other countries) and government diplomacy
(Western governments in dialogue with Muslim governments).
It was decided during the two-day conference to follow up with concrete
steps, including an exchange of best practices in the areas of youth
empowerment, combating domestic violence, and developing Islamic
literacy among the Muslim masses.
This event was a moment for fostering the theology of inclusion and
opposing the theology of exclusion. The multifaceted approach will help
in a number of ways: It will end the notion that Muslims are persecuted
in the West and take a point of exploitation away from extremists. It
will give a legitimate voice to the mainstream Muslim community. And it
will counter extremism fomented by alienation resulting from economic
deprivation, social isolation and political exclusion.
We feel that we completed a historic journey on this short trip -- one
that is as yet only leaving the dock in a global search for
reconciliation among faiths, among peoples and among cultures.
11/29 - Op-Ed by Ambassador Korologos published in Dutch-language daily
“Gazet van Antwerpen”
“U.S.-Belgian Muslim Conference: The Beginning of an On-going Dialogue”
Two kindred groups, one spanning the Atlantic from the United States and the other from
Belgium have just concluded a remarkable but little noticed two-day conference in Brussels.
Building on the President‘s Europe-wide initiative to reach out to Muslim communities, the
United States Embassy with the co-sponsorship of the Royal Institute for International Relations,
the DaimlerChrysler Corporation Fund, the United States Institute of Peace and others jointly
sponsored the conference, entitled: ―Muslim Communities Participating in Society: A Belgian-
U.S. Dialogue.‖ The meetings were attended by 32 Muslims from all walks of life in the U.S.
and 70 Muslims from all walks of life in Belgium.
The social unrest in France during the past few weeks made the timing of the meetings propitious.
Our goal was to bring these Muslim leaders together in Brussels to share experiences, successes,
ideas and frustrations—not to mention e-mail addresses--on how to assure participation, dignity,
acceptance and respect in a just society. We brought them in to discuss these issues and then got
out of their way.
What resulted was an amazing success story.
Participants, included the Mayor of Dearborn, Michigan, Michael Guido and the Mayor of Genk
in Belgium, Jef Gabriels. They spoke of how large Muslim and ethnic communities in their
respective cities succeeded in participating in society.
The two mayors then announced they would apply to Sister Cities International for a Sister Cities
relationship pledging to share successes and identifying good practices in business and education.
Other initiatives developed exemplified the commitment of the participants to acting on and
perpetuating the spirit of bilateral cooperation that animated the conference discussions.
The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the largest Muslim organization in the
US, announced: A one-year Belgian fellowship at the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana
University; sponsorship for educators from Islamic schools in Belgium to attend the
ISNA Islamic Education Forum; sponsorship of Belgian imams to attend a summer imam
training program; sponsorship of six Belgian youth (three Turkish and three Moroccan)
as summer interns at ISNA headquarters; and sponsorship of Belgian community leaders
and youth, to attend ISNA‘s annual convention in Chicago.
In addition KARAMAH, a U.S. based Muslim women‘s legal group invited Belgian
Muslim women to the U.S. for training seminars; and also announced development with
Belgian organizations indigenous women‘s leadership programs.
Muslims in the American Public Square, a cooperative research study group, and
Intermedia, another research group, will join a Belgian partner to produce a study which
will provide a template to better understand Muslim communities in the West.
And also the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern
California announced, pending funding, a seminar with Belgian media and academic
centers to engage Belgian and American reporters, editors, anchors, presenters and
producers on the challenges and good practices related to covering Muslims and Islam in
In translating the Administration‘s broader initiative to support freedom and democracy, this
conference, a success by every measure, proved that ideas do matter, that individuals do make a
difference and that justice and progress begin in the human heart.
12/07 - International Herald Tribune
Article by U.S. Conference Participant Geneive Abdo
Geneive Abdo, a fellow at the Joan B. Kroc Institute at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana,
is completing a book on Muslims in America.
Western Muslims: Can we talk?
BRUSSELS - U.S. Ambassador to Belgium hosted an extraordinary event here recently, one that
exposes the shortcomings of the Bush administration's militarized "war on terrorism." He
organized a conference with Muslims to hear about their lives in the West.
Ambassador Tom Korologos and other U.S. officials intervened at times, but mostly they were
more like flies on the wall as Muslims from the United States and Europe - activists, journalists
and lawyers - discussed their concerns among themselves, talking about Islam and their
experiences practicing their religion in Western societies. There were no self-declared "experts"
and no interpreters speaking about Islam on behalf of Muslims with whom they have little real
That was the foremost reason that this conference was more effective than most sponsored by
branches of the U.S. government, or even by Washington-based research institutes, and why its
approach should be used as a model for understanding how Western governments can begin to
address the increasing isolation of Muslims living in the West.
But there were others: For one, the conference addressed the underlying reasons for the
increasing alienation of Muslims in the United States and in Europe. It asked Muslims to identity
why they feel they are targets of discrimination. Is it the media, generally biased against them? Is
it their lack of participation in their respective societies?
For another, Muslims from the United States were asked to compare their lives with those of their
Belgian co-religionists. Who suffers more from bigotry in the media? Who is targeted more by
law enforcement? Is it one's socio-economic background that determines the degree of
Perhaps surprisingly, young American Muslims learned from their Belgian peers that
economically the Americans might be better off. Their parents struggled as immigrants, but
managed to climb the social ladder, and the immigrants' children are now doctors and lawyers.
Some of the Belgians, however, were born to parents who emigrated from Morocco or other
Muslim countries for low-paying jobs. One young Moroccan woman explained that her mother,
even after years of living in Belgium, is still illiterate. And unlike many Muslim-American
participants who grew up in America's suburbs, the Belgians were reared in urban ghettos.
"European Muslims came from more trying backgrounds," said one American Muslim, who is a
representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a 10-year-old advocacy group
based in Washington. "Our parents came from affluent backgrounds. Over 60 percent of
American Muslims have an average annual salary of $62,000," he said.
But some said they felt Muslims in America, after the attacks of September 11, 2001, are being
ghettoized by mainstream society, despite their lives of relative riches. Why then, they asked, are
Muslim Americans treated by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies like terrorist suspects
if they are part of middle-class society? "The notion of Islam is better developed and more
understood in Europe than in America," said one American Muslim. "The way we are treated is
based on ignorance."
Both groups agreed that the media were the key to changing perceptions of them in their
respective countries. If the media shape public opinion, and public opinion becomes more
favorable toward Islam and Muslims, everything else will follow, they said.
"It is important for us to form Muslim media," said one Muslim American. But he cautioned
against preaching to the choir. "But it is more important for us to get involved in the general
In order for that to happen, they said, Muslim Americans must encourage their children to
become journalists, rather than higher paid doctors and lawyers.
Both groups agreed that living as Muslims in the West requires the formation of a unique Western
Islamic identity. What that means is crafting a life that allows for religious expression while fully
participating in mainstream society.
How to go about creating this identity is yet to be determined. But in the end, it could be the key
to solving the integration problem.
12/07 – De Standaard (leading Dutch-language daily)
In the wake of the Muslim Outreach Conference organized by the Embassy and IRRI (Nov. 16-
17) foreign editor Evita Neefs in Christian-Democrat De Standaard (12/7)(circ.80,000) in an
article titled ―America‘s Black Are Europe‘s Muslims‖ reports: ―In the coming months Belgian
Muslims will visit the United States at the initiative of George Bush. Can they learn something
there? Aren‘t the differences too great? Four to six million Muslims live in the United States.
Even if there are six million Muslims that is only two percent of the 294 million Americans. In
Belgium there are some 400,000 Muslims, i.e. four percent of the population. In Belgium, the
Muslims generally belong to two major groups: Moroccans and Turks. On its side, the American
Muslim community reflects a major ethnic diversity.
―Islamic Society of North America Secretary General Sayyid Syeed (a US conference
participant) admits that those differences make it difficult to compare. But, he says from
Plainfield, Indiana, that ethnic diversity also has advantages. ‗In certain mosques 110 (sic)
languages are spoken. Therefore, one single common language is necessary: English. The imam,
too, preaches in English. That accelerates our integration. In Belgium, the old languages survive
longer and, consequently, the integration takes place more slowly. In Belgium, the Muslims
prefer to stay in their own community and there is less interaction between the ethnic groups.‘
―Yet, he believes that Belgian Muslims can learn something in the United States. ‗We have forty
years of experience with the creation of our own institutions – like the training of imams and the
education of our youngsters. Muslims are used to living in countries with Muslim majorities. In
the U.S. and in Europe, however, they are minorities and, what is more, they live in democratic
environments. Our institutions are adapted to that.‘
―There is another difference between both countries: history. ‗Here, the struggle for equality and
recognition was finished before we immigrated. Catholics, Jews and African Americans had
already fought for their rights. In Europe that struggle is still going on. That is a big difference,‘
Syeed realizes. Many African Americans will not agree with him that the struggle is over.
Poverty and unemployment remain substantial among the African Americans and many complain
about discrimination. Aren‘t Europe‘s Muslims America‘s Black? ‗That is a good comparison,‘
―The 9/11 attacks changed a lot for the Muslims in the U.S. ‗The pressure to take a ‗moderate‘
position is very strong. That pressure mainly comes from the Bush administration,‘ says Jane
Smith, Islamic Studies professor at the Hartford Seminary, Connecticut. She believes that the
Muslims reacted in two different ways to the growing intolerance against Islam after 9/11. ‗Some
try to conceal their Muslim identity. Others emphasize it – for instance, by wearing traditional
clothes.‘ The U.S. Constitution guarantees that right.
―Muslim organizations are always busy explaining – e.g. through media campaigns – who the
Muslims are and what Islam is. Nevertheless, polls show that almost one-third of the Americans
has negative ideas about that religion. Just like Europe, the U.S. is confronted with extremism.
‗Extremism is not widely spread, but is exists. In a few mosques extremist ideas are spread,
mainly among youngsters. They react to feelings of anger over the war in Iraq, American
imperialism and support to Israel. The authorities do their utmost to identify those extremist
preachers, often with means that the Muslims consider oppressive – like the Patriot Act or the ban
to finance Muslim charity organizations. Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has proposed to
tap mosques, but as far as I know, that is not done anywhere. Imams have been deported and
many Muslims believe that the real reason is not that they preached violence, but that they
criticized America‘s Israel policy,‘ Smith says.
―Egyptian Abeer Etefa, professor at the Portland State University, Oregon, does not like the word
‗extremist.‘ ‗What is an extremist? A person who calls for terror? A person who criticizes the
government? A person who takes his religion literally?‖ In her view, criticism on the
government‘s policy has diminished considerably. ‗The Patriot Act and the intimidation of some
religious leaders by the FBI have certainly yielded results.‘
―In the U.S. Muslim community a lively debate is also going on about their children‘s education.
‗Some prefer Muslim schools. Others, like myself, prefer youngsters to go to American schools –
and to receive Islam education and language tuition during the weekend.‘ Etefa says. There are
approximately 250 recognized Muslim schools in the U.S. Most of them offer education until the
age of fourteen – after which the students go to ordinary high schools.
―American Muslims, too, must try to find their place in society and the pressure to assimilate is
strong. ‗The first generation was opposed to assimilation and viewed the United States as a
temporary place to stay. The second generation, however, manages quite well to fit their religion
and traditions into America‘s pop-culture, Etefa says. She refers to Muslim rap and Muslim
fashion, like T-shirts with slogans like ‗It is good to be in the hood‘ – referring to the ‗hijab.‘
―In other words, the struggle of the Muslims in America also is not over yet.‖
12/07 – Heritage Newspapers, Michigan
Guido at Muslim Relations Conference
DEARBORN - Mayor Michael A. Guido was one of only two speakers at a ground-breaking
conference on Muslim relations, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and held in Brussels,
Belgium on Nov. 16-18. The U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, Tom Korologos, invited Mayor
Guido to give a presentation on how Muslim residents can successfully participate in all aspects
of a community.
Guido spoke of Dearborn's successes in maintaining a unified community while welcoming
residents from more than 80 nationalities and ethnic backgrounds, including Muslims from the
Arab World. Guido shared insights into the benefits and challenges that such diversity can bring
to any city.
In addition, Guido highlighted Muslim residents' achievements in education, business, political
involvement and neighborhood life in Dearborn. About 30 percent of Dearborn's residents are
Muslims, with a heritage from the Arab World.
"It was a privilege to share Dearborn's story," said Guido. "Our city is a good example that your
background is not as important as your willingness to work toward the common good of your
community. It also illustrates the benefit in making sure all residents have the same opportunities
to contribute to their community."
Guido spoke on Nov. 16, followed by Mayor Jef Gabriels of Genk, Belgium, who talked on Nov.
17. Like Dearborn, Genk also has a Muslim population and a practice of welcoming immigrants.
At the end of the conference, Mayors Guido and Gabriels agreed to pursue a relationship through
Sister Cities International because of similarities in business and industry, educational
opportunities, tourism and government.
The conference, called, "Muslim Communities Participating in Society: A Belgian-U.S.
Dialogue" involved 32 Muslim leaders from the United States and about 70 from Belgium.
It was designed to encourage frank dialogue between the Americans and the Belgians, and so
focused on smaller group discussions rather than lectures.
Several initiatives came out of the conference, including promised ex-changes between the
American and Belgian groups. The exchanges will focus on empowerment for Muslim women,
and special seminars for imams, principals and educators from Muslim schools, and members of
12/14 & 12/11 – Article posted on http://www.delawareonline.com
and on http://www.altmuslim.com/ (resp.)
by US Participant Muqtedar Khan
Islam in Belgium And America: Between Integration And Discrimination
While discrimination against Muslims in America has certainly risen after 9/11, it looked
insignificant compared to what Muslims in Belgium face routinely.
I recently participated in a dialogue between American and Belgium Muslims in Belgium
(Nov. 16-18), co-hosted by US Ambassador to Belgium Tom Korologos and Ambassador
Claude Misson, the Director General of the Royal Institute for International Relations. An
interesting group of 32 American Muslim scholars and intellectuals, community leaders,
journalists and activists joined 70 of their counterparts from the Belgium Muslim community to
discuss their mutual condition and explore possibilities for further dialogue and civic cooperation.
Belgium has a population of ten million and 5% of them – over 500,000 – are Muslims. Muslims
also constitute about 20% of the population of Brussels, the capital of the European Union. Over
300,000 Belgium Muslims are of Moroccan ancestry and over 160,000 are Turkish. The rest
include Balkan Muslims, South Asians and some non-Moroccan Arabs.
Like in France, Muslims in Belgium have enough presence to now become the ―other‖ against
whom Belgian indigenous identity is constructed. Repeatedly one heard Muslim and Non-Muslim
Belgians refer to even second generation Turkish and Moroccan Muslims as "foreigners" or
immigrants even though they were Belgium born, Dutch and French speaking legal citizens.
Unlike American Muslims, Belgium Muslims enjoy a strong representation in the government.
They boast of two National Senators and five members in the lower house of Parliament. But
unlike American Muslims they have very few civil society institutions. There are no Muslim
organizations that fight for Civil rights and oppose discrimination. Even though there are over
350 mosques in tiny Belgium, Belgium Muslims remain underrepresented in most institutions of
the civil society as well as the Belgium state.
A peculiar aspect of the Belgium Muslim community is the presence of government paid Imams
and teachers. The Belgium government employs over 800 Imams and teachers who teach Islam
and Arabic in schools and lead prayers in mosques recognized by the government. It is clear that
the Belgium government has tried to co-opt Islam by hiring the Islamic teachers, financing and
supporting mosques and by now creating an Executive that will govern Islamic affairs in
The common themes discussed were issues of rising Islamophobia and the meaning of
acceptance, multiculturalism and pluralism. Both communities found the challenge of
constructing identities, which incorporated both the Islamic dimension and citizenship in the
West fascinating. Americans found that the presence of a large indigenous Muslim population in
the US, nearly 35% of American Muslims are Black, White and Hispanic, made the collective
identity formation of American Muslims more complicated than that of Belgium Muslims whose
fault lines were primarily ethnic.
While American Muslims lamented their inability to have a role in policy making in the US,
Belgium Muslims' primary concern was systematic discrimination in the market place. Muslims
with law degrees could not find jobs for years. People's application for jobs and for renting
apartments was simply rejected based on their Muslim names. American Muslims were shocked
to hear some of the stories of discrimination and humiliation that Belgium Muslims faced on a
As I sat listening to the stories of Muslim life in Belgium, I caught myself repeatedly touching the
tiny US flag on my lapel. Uncle Sam sure looked mighty friendly and hospitable from cross the
pond. While discrimination against Muslims in America has certainly risen after 9/11, it looked
insignificant compared to what Muslims in Belgium faced routinely.
Belgium's Muslims have a dearth of scholars and intellectuals as a result they are far behind
American Muslims on the subject of adapting their faith to the local context.
American Muslims are streets ahead of other Western communities. Not only are there a large
number of scholars pushing for this in the US, but also national organizations and many
prominent Islamic centers recognize the need to adapt Islam to American conditions. An excellent
example of this is the adoption of the guidelines for women friendly mosques, developed last year
by Muslim organizations, by many Islamic centers. We can see American Islam in the
progressive role that women play in American Muslim community, and in Islamic scholarship.
Another important indicator is the absence of embedded radicalism in American Islam.
Muslims in Europe are connected to the state but marginalized from the mainstream society.
American Muslims are alienated from the state but are quite integrated in the society. European
Muslims benefit from state largesse, while American Muslims have enjoyed the fruits of
American multiculturalism, religious tolerance, and economic and educational opportunities.
Muslims in Europe cause a sense of uneasiness among the host population that is racist,
xenophobic and fearful. American Muslims on the other hand are more accepted. As it becomes
more and more evident that American Muslims had nothing to do with 9/11, the barriers to their
reentry into the mainstream are slowly melting away.
I came home from Belgium wishing that like Belgium Muslims we too had a senator or two and a
few congressman to represent us in the highest corridors of power. But I also came home with
greater appreciation for the enormous opportunities we enjoy in the US and also grateful for the
incredibly low levels of discrimination and exclusion that we experience in the US. Most
importantly, I am proud of the vibrant, intellectually alive and traditionally rich Islam that we
practice in the US with no financial favors from the government.
Similar article by U.S. Participant Muqtedar Khan entitled “Belgium’s Muslim
Beggars” was posted at http://www.theglobalist.com/