A Dutch government report published in June showed that Muslims in the Netherlands are becoming more religious. The report, based on information from 2006-2015, is a study of more than 7,249 Dutch nationals with Moroccan and Turkish roots. Two thirds of the Muslims in the Netherlands are from Turkey or Morocco.
According to the report, 78% of Moroccan Muslims pray five times a day, as do 33% of Turkish Muslims. Approximately 40% of both groups visit a mosque at least once a week. More young Moroccan women wear a headscarf (up from 64% in 2006 to 78% in 2015) and large majorities of both groups eat halal (93% of Moroccan Muslims and 80% of Turkish Muslims). 96% of Moroccan Muslims say that faith is a very important part of their lives, whereas the number is 89% for Turkish Muslims. The number of Dutch Moroccan Muslims who can be described as strictly adhering to Islam has increased from 77% in 2006, to 84% in 2015. For Turkish Muslims, the numbers have increased from 37% to 45%. There are few secular Muslims -- 7% among Turkish Muslims, 2% among Moroccan Muslims.
In Denmark, the trend of Muslims becoming more religious was apparent as early as 2004, when a poll showed that Muslims were becoming more religious than their parents, especially "young, well-educated and well-integrated women". At the time, Professor Viggo Mortensen said, "The growing religiousness is not an expression of marginalization. We are talking about people who are well-integrated, but who want to be religious".
A more detailed Danish poll from 2015 showed that Muslims had become more religious since a similar poll taken in 2006: In 2006, 37% prayed five times a day, whereas the number had gone up to 50% in 2015. In 2006, 63% believed that the Koran should be followed to the letter; in 2015, it was 77%. Brian Arly Jacobsen, a sociologist of religion from the University of Copenhagen, was surprised by the results. "With time we would expect [that Muslims] would become more like the rest of the Danes, who are not particularly active in the religious sphere," he said. Jacobsen thought that a possible explanation might have been the 20-30 new mosques that were built in the decade preceding 2015.
The trends expressed by these polls are corroborated by studies and polls showing that many Muslims in Europe want to live under sharia law. According to a 2014 study of Moroccan and Turkish Muslims in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Sweden, an average of almost 60% of the Muslims polled agreed that Muslims should return to the roots of Islam. 75% thought there is only one interpretation of the Koran possible, and 65% said that Sharia is more important to them than the laws of the country in which they live. A 2016 UK poll showed that 43% of British Muslims "believed that parts of the Islamic legal system should replace British law while only 22 per cent opposed the idea". In a 2017 study, which included a poll of 400 Belgian Muslims, 29% said they believe the laws of Islam to be superior to Belgian law, and 34% said they "would definitely prefer a political system inspired by the Quran".
According to a 2014 study of Moroccan and Turkish Muslims in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Sweden, an average of almost 60% of the Muslims polled agreed that Muslims should return to the roots of Islam, and 65% said that Sharia is more important to them than the laws of the country in which they live. Pictured: Friday prayers at the IZW Mosque in Vienna, Austria. (Photo by Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images)
The more than two million predominantly Muslim migrants that have arrived in Europe in recent years are only reinforcing the trend of growing Muslim religiosity on the continent. A 2017 study of predominantly Afghan asylum seekers in the Austrian city of Graz showed that the asylum seekers, mostly men under the age of 30, were all in favor of preserving their traditional Islamic values with 70% going to the mosque every Friday for prayers. The women were even more religious, with 62.6% praying five times a day, notably more than the men (39.7%). In addition, 66.3% of the women wore a headscarf in public. Half of the migrants said that religion now plays a larger role in their daily lives in Europe than it did in their native country, and 51.6% of the interviewees said that the supremacy of Islam over other religions was undisputed.
The tendency of many Muslims to become more religious once they arrived in Europe was also on display in a new documentary series, "False Identity," by Arabic-speaking journalist Zvi Yehezkeli, who went undercover to report on the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe and the US. In Germany, he encountered two young Muslims from Syria, who came to Germany via Kosovo, where they received help from a "British Islamic organization". They had left Syria as secular Muslims, but on the way to Germany they lived for a year in Pristina, Kosovo, where, according to Yehezkeli, "Muslim Brotherhood organizations are active in helping refugees while turning them into devout Muslims. Ahmed and Yusuf arrived [in Germany] already praying five times a day".
According to Ahmed:
"When I left Syria, mentally I felt more relaxed. The Islamic charity organization played an important role in this. Look, the first time you meet them they start helping you. You sit, you stare at them, they pray in front of you and here I am a Muslim, studied the Quran, yet don't pray. Suddenly I find myself alone asking, Why shouldn't I pray like all others?"
Yehezkeli asked them what their dream is. "The vision is an Islamic state -- Islamic society," said Yusuf, "Muslims will prefer sharia rule. But the vision for twenty years from now is for sharia law to be part of Germany, that sharia will be institutionalized in the state itself".
In contrast to the growing religiousness of Muslims in Europe, Christians are becoming less religious. In a study of young Europeans, aged 16-29, published in March and based on 2014-2016 data, the author, Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary's University in London, concluded:
"With some notable exceptions, young adults increasingly are not identifying with or practicing religion... Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good -- or at least for the next 100 years".
According to the study, between 70% and 80% of young adults in Estonia, Sweden and the Netherlands categorize themselves as non-religious. Between 64% and 70% of young adults consider themselves non-religious in France, Belgium, Hungary and the UK. The most religious youths were to be found in Poland, where only 17% of young adults defined themselves as non-religious, followed by Lithuania with 25%.
Young Muslims like Yusuf and Ahmed from Syria say they want to spread Islam by converting Europeans, also known as dawa. They are themselves perfect examples of having been at the receiving end of dawa -- becoming devout Muslims through the Islamic organization in Kosovo and now engaging in dawa themselves. "I will pick them one by one -- I will start with people around me. They will listen. If every Muslim would do the same in his surroundings, it can happen with no problem," said Yusuf. Asked if the Germans might resist dawa, he said:
"You don't confront him [the German] with force, you do it slowly... There will be clashes, but slowly the clashes will subside, as people will accept reality. There is no escape; every change involves clashes".
Given young Europeans' lack of a religious identity and the vacuum left by the departure of Christianity from the lives of the majority, one has to wonder how sturdy their ability will be to withstand such attempts at proselytizing. Europe will still exist but, as with the great Christian Byzantine Empire that is now Turkey, will it still embody Judeo-Christian civilization?
John Richardson is a researcher based in the United States.