Lubos Kropacek on the small but important Muslim community in the Czech Republic
The popular French Institute in Prague has been running a special series of lectures open to the public titled "Understanding Today's World". Topics that have been covered weekly have included New Threats after 9-11, The City in Crisis, and Islam in Western European cities. Radio Prague was able to attend some of these events last month, including a lecture on the changing face of Islam in Europe.
"As regards to Europe as a whole, the main change has been called by some authors as the greatest demographic/religious shift since the Reformation. Europe has become a pluralistic society. It is generally recognised that multiculturalism is a strong point in Europe because pluralism also means a possibility of enrichment. The enrichment which is offered by Muslims is for instance a certain trend towards spiritualisation of life. Stress on the fact that there are certain moral values which should not be abandoned."
What about specifically the Czech Republic? Has the impact been as large?
"Well, in the Czech Republic the Muslim community is very tiny. It's really a small community. When asked this question our leaders of the Muslim community say that there are between 15 and 20,000 people coming from Muslim countries, living in the Czech Republic. But out of them only some 3,000 really attend Friday Prayers at the mosque, and consider their Muslim identities to be their own priority and uppermost identity. So then, the influence of Islam in the Czech Republic is really very weak."
There was a very interesting point that was brought up by both yourself and Professor Roy, that European Muslims are faced with a choice: that having lost the social framework of practising everyday, whether true believers or not, confronts them with their Muslim "self" all the time - that they have to reinvent their identity...
"I would think so, I would really think so. Because, when the Muslims who live in their countries of origin, they are more or less bound to practice their way of life according to the dominant patterns of their own country. Whereas those who have come to Europe have come to quite a different social environment. To another cultural environment. And hence, a great field for personal choice, individual choice has been opened in front of them. Some of them have chosen the secular path, some of them assimilated voluntarily into the broader Czech culture... But, still others have found a more important identity in their being Muslims. It was visible last Ramadan, in the last week of Ramadan: the mosque in Prague was full of people spending even whole nights there, practising according to the ideal, which is preached by Muslim leaders."