Muslims now make up one-quarter of the population of Brussels, according to a new book published by the Catholic University of Leuven, the top Dutch-language university in Belgium.
In real terms, the number of Muslims in Brussels -- where half of the number of Muslims in Belgium currently live --- has reached 300,000, which means that the self-styled "Capital of Europe" is now the most Islamic city in Europe.
In practical terms, Islam mobilizes more people in Brussels than do the Roman Catholic Church, political parties or even trade unions, according to "The Iris and the Crescent," a book that is the product of more than one year of field research and was released to the public on November 18.
The book's author, the sociologist Felice Dassetto, predicts that Muslims will comprise the majority of the population of Brussels by 2030.
In Belgium as a whole, Muslims comprise roughly 6% of the total population, one of the highest rates in Europe. This number is expected to rise to more than 10% by 2020.
According to Dassetto, Islam is becoming increasingly visible in Brussels: there are more and more mosques and minarets, more veiled women and more Muslim organizations.
The book also warns that ultraconservative elements within Islam are increasingly gaining ground in Brussels.
Of the many strands of Islam represented in Brussels, Salafism is apparently far and away the most popular. Salafism, the highly conservative pan-Islamic movement, seeks, among other objectives, to unite the Muslim world under the leadership of a single Caliph, or ruler, who would govern based on Islamic Sharia law.
The book also reveals that most Muslims in Brussels have an "us" versus "them" mindset, which hinders their integration into Belgian society.
Most of the Muslims in Brussels are from Morocco (70%) and Turkey (20%), with the other 10% from Albania, Egypt, Pakistan and North Africa. They began arriving in Belgium in the 1960s as guest workers. Although the guest-worker program was cancelled in 1974, many immigrants stayed and, using family-reunification laws, brought over their families.
Today the Muslim community continues to grow through both high birth rates and marriage migration. More than 60% of Moroccan and Turkish youths marry partners from their home countries.
As in the other European countries, the Muslim population in Belgium is young. Nearly 35% of the Moroccans and Turks in the country are below 18 years old, compared to 18% of the native Belgians.
Since 2008, the most popular name in Brussels for baby boys has been Mohammed. It is also the most popular name for baby boys in Belgium's second-largest city, Antwerp, where an estimated 40% of elementary school children are Muslim.
Antwerp is also home to Belgium's first Islamic Sharia law court, which began operating in September 2011.
The Sharia court is the initiative of a radical Muslim group, Sharia4Belgium. Leaders of the group openly say the purpose of the court is to create a parallel Islamic legal system in Belgium to challenge the state's authority as enforcer of the civil law protections guaranteed by the Belgian constitution.
The Sharia court, located in Antwerp's Borgerhout district, is "mediating" family law disputes for Muslim immigrants in Belgium.
The self-appointed Muslim judges running the court are applying Islamic law, rather than the secular Belgian Family Law system, to resolve disputes involving questions of marriage and divorce, child custody and child support, as well as all inheritance-related matters.
Unlike Belgian civil law, Islamic Sharia law does not guarantee equal rights for men and women; critics of the Sharia court say it will undermine the rights of Muslim women, specifically in the areas of inheritance, marriage, divorce, polygamy, child custody, freedom of movement and most of all physical violence and a woman's virtually total inability to extricate herself from it.
Sharia4Belgium says the court in Antwerp will eventually expand its remit and handle criminal cases as well.
The Sharia4Belgium group consists of Islamists who are openly committed to bringing everyone living in Belgium -- including all non-Muslims -- under the submission of Islamic Sharia law.
Although Sharia4Belgium's website was recently shut down by the Belgian authorities, a partial archive of the site can be found at the WayBack Machine. There, Sharia4Belgium issues a threat -- in the guise of an invitation -- calling for all Belgians to convert to Islam and to submit to Sharia law or face the consequences. As the text, in parts, states:
"It is now 86 years since the fall of the Islamic Caliphate. The tyranny and corruption in this country [Belgium] has prevailed; we go from one scandal to another: Economic crises, paedophilia, crime, growing Islamophobia, etc."
"As in the past we [Muslims] have saved Europe from the dark ages, we now plan to do the same. Now we have the right solution for all crises and this is the observance of the divine law, namely Sharia. We call to implement Sharia in Belgium."
"Sharia is the perfect system for humanity. In 1,300 years of the Islamic state we knew only order, welfare and the protection of all human rights. We know that Spain, France and Switzerland knew their best times under Sharia. In these 1,300 years, 120 women were raped, which is equal to 120 women a day in Europe. There were barely 60 robberies recorded in 1,300 years."
"As a result, we invite the royal family, parliament, all the aristocracy and every Belgian resident to submit to the light of Islam. Save yourself and your children of the painful punishment of the hereafter and grant yourself eternal life in paradise."
A cache of the background image for the Sharia4Belgium website has the black flag of jihad flying above the Belgian Parliament. Up until recently, the Sharia4Belgium Youtube page (also shut down) was used to incite Muslims to Jihad, or Holy War. The group had posted videos with titles such as, "Jihad Is Obligatory," "Encouraging Jihad," "Duelling & Guerrilla Warfare," and "The Virtues of Martyrdom."
Sharia4Belgium is linked to Anjem Choudary, a Sharia court judge based in London. Choudary, who was the leader of a group called Islam4UK before it was banned by British anti-terrorism authorities, believes in the primacy of Islam over all other faiths and has long campaigned for Islamic law to be implemented in all of Britain.
In an interview with the Belgian newspaper De Standaard (in English here), Choudary said he would help launch Sharia4Belgium to prevent Muslim immigrants from integrating into Belgian society: "Belgium has an extensive Muslim population, especially in the cities. I therefore plan to come to Belgium myself in the coming weeks, or send a delegation to establish a branch of the organization."
When asked if he wanted to convince Belgians to convert to Islam and to implement Sharia law, Choudary replied: "The implementation of Sharia will happen in one of the following four ways: either the majority of the population converts to Islam; or a foreign Islamic power conquers the country; or there will be a rebellion against the oppression of the Muslim people; or the Muslims will overthrow the ruling regime. Society will be united by Islam."
Back in Brussels, fully one-half of the Muslim students in the city are anti-Semitic, according to a 426-page study titled "Jong in Brussel" (Young in Brussels) produced by the Youth Research Platform.
In an interview with the Belgian newspaper De Morgan, Mark Elchardus, one of the authors of the report, said: "What is alarming is that you can describe half of the Muslim students as anti-Semitic, which is very high. What is worse is that those anti-Jewish feelings have nothing to do with a low educational level or social disadvantage, which is the case with racist Belgians. The anti-Semitism is theologically inspired and there is a direct link between being Muslim and having anti-Semitic feelings."
Elchardus' observation, linking Islam and anti-Semitism, earned him a lawsuit filed by Vigilance Musulmane (Muslim Vigilance), a Muslim activist group. Vigilance Musulmane said Elchardus' comments violated Belgium's anti-discrimination law of 2007, which forbids discrimination on the basis of "religious convictions." They also said his statements violated Article 444 of the Belgian penal code because they appeared in a newspaper and therefore were repeated extensively in print.
"The Iris and the Crescent" sums it all up matter-of-factly: "Islam is definitely part of the reality of Brussels."