Comparison of Jewish and Muslim Experiences


There are a number of similarities relating to the experiences of the Jewish communities in Europe in the past, and those of the Muslim communities in the present. The similarities can be traced back to history and they relate to culture as well as religion. The medieval experience presented the existence of opposition between the ‘Christian self’ and the ‘Muslim other.’ Later due to the sharp differences came the distrust towards Islamic society.

The Jews who are well known as the Jewish people comprise of a nation and ethno religious group of people with a common origin in Israel or Hebrew. The Jewish religion is a life style because most followers are of the Jewish ethnicity and nationality. The converts who join Judaism are equal to those born into it; they are therefore absorbed into the faith without any problem (Goldstein 121).

The Muslim religion is also understood as a life style converts of the religion have a common view of things and a similar way of life. The Jews experienced persecution in the early times while in Diaspora that is especially after the destruction of the first temple. Emerson, Amghar & Boubekeur (45-52) argue that due to the persecution their numbers and distribution have fluctuated over time making them a minority at a given point in time. Islam as a religion has also greatly contributed to the shaping of Europe’s identity. It has influenced the development of European knowledge in the sciences as well as arts and that includes philosophy, architecture and natural sciences.

Despite that there was an expulsion of Arabs affiliated to the Muslim religion from Spain and Europe at large did not embrace Islamic values or laws into its social and juridical system a clear sign that Europe was opposed to the Islamic religion and way of life (Dassetto 12).

Similarities between the experiences of Europe’s Jewish communities in the past, and of Muslim communities in the present day Europe

The weak links that exist between Europe and the Islamic religion are attributed to specific characteristics of the religion, its history as well as the way it is structured. The Jews in Diaspora during the early times were not accepted in the European communities because it was widely believed that their belief was a cult. They were segregated and lived in isolated neighborhoods. (Paul 51) agrees that this influenced the reaction of EU member states when Turkey presented its candidature for membership, the country apart from becoming a constitutionally secular republic in 1923 is believed to be culturally Muslim and a die hard defender of the Muslim practices. It is a member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference an intergovernmental body which was established in 1969 to represent the interests and speak on behalf of the world’s Muslim Ummah.

The EU member states were skeptical in accepting the candidature for fear of infiltration of Islamism in the operation of the organization. Islamism is interpreted as the use of religion for political purposes so European countries fear a scenario where the Islamist country will use its membership to influence decisions that may hurt the organization’s interests. The EU attests that it is not partner with Islam because there are cases where Islamist thinkers and militants have justified violence.

The bottom line is that the EU aims to foster peace and understanding such violent ideologies are bent to hurt the core purpose of the organization therefore the EU will do anything within their means to avert such vices. It is also well noted that in the twentieth and twenty – first centuries Europe was faced with a violence believed to originate from political Islam and this was registered as a great challenge to Europe (Silvestri 14-18).

This kind of challenges have led to discrimination and segregation of Muslims in the European countries, they are viewed as security threats and war agents both at individual and state levels. According to Silvestri 2007 most European countries are Christian Christianity is regarded as crucial because it is and has been a central factor of political and cultural unification. Christianity has shaped Europe as a force for internal unity and at times as a factor of conflict and opposition, on the other hand it has preserved classical culture through the establishment of educational institutions such as Cambridge and Oxford Universities which are the centers of civilization as well as integration. This is antagonistic to the popular belief by Islam in radical war and supremacy rift.

The belief in war by Muslims originates from the fact that the prophet Muhammad fought against the pagan and Jewish tribes who did not accept his rule up to date the Islam religion is associated with political wars and the desire to control certain empires. Muslims experience prejudice and certain unfavorable conditions just like it happened to Jews in the medieval Western Europe. The Jews were persecuted in the name of Christianity especially during crusades, actually Jews all over Germany were massacred while those who lived in England, France, Portugal and Spain were expelled during the Catholic Recon quest of the Iberian Peninsula (Paul 62-64).

Muslim Moors in the ruling class and Jews were expected to live in specified neighborhoods known as ghettos. In the 19th century before the end of the World War II the hatred between Roman Catholics and Jews intensified as the Jews were alleged of conspiring to control the media, banks and other important institutions. Goldstein (112) poses that over time many rulers, empires and nations have oppressed their Jewish populations and sought to eliminate them through expulsion, massacre and genocide, for instance the persecution heightened during Adolf Hitler’s final solution which resulted in the dreaded holocaust as well as the slaughter of 6million Jews between 1939-1945.

The persecution of the Jews in Europe during earlier times was done in stages, the very first one entailed detailing legislation to remove the Jews from civil society which was enacted before the outbreak of World War II. In another approach concentration camps were set up where inmates were exposed to tough slave labor until they died of exhaustion or disease. The third method involved conquering a territory in Eastern Europe and using a specialized unit to murder Jews and political opponents in mass shootings this was done by the Third Reich. In other instances Jews and Roma were exposed to torture and later killed, they were crammed into ghettos before being transported by the army using train to extermination camps where the survivors were killed in gas chambers (Paul 84).

The experience may not the same as that of Muslims in Europe but it is very clear that there is similar discrimination and segregation as European nations endeavor to fight terrorism which is believed to be largely perpetrated by Islamist terrorism.

Goldstein attests that there are travel bans and sanctions imposed on Islamist nations by European nations because Europeans believe that Islam equals immigration the bans are supposed to act as a shield against any immigrants with ill intentions like terrorism (92). In the past four decades the greatest number of immigrants has been from Islam countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Morocco, Algeria and Turkey. The European countries are keen on forming defensive attitudes towards the immigrant population including placing security and immigration policies. It is quite a challenge to incorporate a multi faceted religion into a metropolitan and multi dimensional society that is first westernizing (Silvestri 19-23).

Europe is far from establishing a concrete relationship with the Muslim religion because even within the continent there is a competing force to unravel the degree of separation that should exist between religion and politics. The Muslim religion is doctrinally fragmented and has a unique a transnational character that raises suspicion in Europe one such a doctrine is the fact that Muslims all over the world identify with a global community of Islam believers known as the ummah. Dassetto argues that the Muslims claim that their religion is a holistic life experience and not just a faith like the other religions.

The ties of the religion can therefore not be divorced from the social, economic and political circles. Europe is skeptical in embracing a religion that will re-organize the social, economic and political live of the countries besides there is a new wave of secularization which renders religion an independent and personal matter and not that of the state (33-39). There is a similar behavior in the migration patterns of the early Jews to Europe and that of Muslims in the current time. The immigration in both cases can be attributed to the lack of stability in the home countries of the two religions (Paul 105).

Notably, most Muslim countries have enduring conflicts some related to religion while others can be attributed to the battle for supremacy within the regions of the countries involved. According to Golstein the Jewish immigration to Europe was because of the desire to take their religion to the continent as well as seek a better life. The population growth of the Muslims in Europe has been growing since the 90s however the trend has suffered a number of set backs. One major set back is the fact that since the September 2004 attack in Madrid which was linked to Islamist terrorists the anti-terrorist police have intensified operations especially in Muslim neighborhoods (112-115).

European Islam being well linked to the rest of the Islam world more specifically those countries said to be antagonists to Europe like Iraq and Afghanistan poses a danger to all Muslims in European countries since they are viewed as trouble some and likely to be used by their allies to execute terrorism activities (Silvestri 24). The Muslims in Europe has however been noted to be aggressive take their faith to Europeans especially the youth, their efforts have not been fruitless since this group of people is faced with challenges in a fast changing world therefore they crave for new things and quick solutions to their problems. The Islamic religion teaches doctrines that support fighting for one’s desire. The youths who have been converted from a section of non-conservative and radical Muslims.

Dassetto argues that despite the challenges the Muslims face, they are making progress towards popularizing their belief and demystifying the myths that have over time surrounded the existence and practice of the same religion actually according to the Qur’an the Muslims claim that they better die taking the message of Muhammad to the world than die doing nothing (49-52). The other thing that shook the relationship between the Muslims and Europe is the issue of the cartoons that surfaced in the year 2005 it revealed the slow pace of evolution of Islam in Europe (Silvestri 27).

The cartoon images of Mohammed elicited a sharp reaction by Muslims not only in Europe but all over the world. The controversy can be interpreted to mean that there are increasing disparities between the west and the thriving of the Muslim population in the continent; it indicates that there is every effort to construct the image of the enemy through generalization, stereotyping and mobilization towards a certain belief. All the reactions leveled by both parties tend to create a conflict in the co-existence of the two sides. The other theory put forward to explain the protests surrounding the cartoon issue is that they represented a moment of tension which is inevitable in any society that is warming to the existence of a new phenomenon that the society is yet to adjust to and devise methods of control (Paul 112).

In another view the conflict may have caused a positive impact because it initiated a dialogue which will serve to clarify the point of view held by each side. The kind of situation presented was viewed as likely to cause mutual incomprehension and further be taken over by social groupings where sympathizers will use it to advance their agenda to the public through riots and attacks. The conflict also elevated the fact that the world is now global simple matters of a magazine can be used as a tool to disorder the whole world. According to Silvestri, Muslims have learnt to come face to face with persons and groups that have difference perspectives both in Europe and the world at large (28).

The Muslims for that matter could be establishing a stage to project their religious beliefs to the whole world without fear of being silenced. They are pluralizing the religion among all nations and they stand unopposed, the fact is that they are likely to succeed because they have many compromisers who may not necessarily be religious partners but people with diverse interests and intentions such as control as well as supremacy.

The challenge arising here again is the fact that Muslim leaders, preachers and intellectuals give a rather fragile argument based on the cartoon issue especially in view of the technological capacity of the means of communication they seem to ignore the existence of their religion in a global context. The intellectual fraternities of the Muslim faith are adamant to contemporary realities which should serve to shape the peaceful co-existence of humanity (Emerson, Amghar & Boubekeur 112-115).

The transformation in the recent past of the relationship between Europe and the Muslim world has revealed the power of imagination especially in religious and cultural terms, this can be used to mobilize as well as galvanize sections of the population to do certain things. The role and power of the written and spoken word has also been slowly translated to video image and multi – media communication in the 21st century, these two tools can be used to change the reaction towards a certain phenomena. The world is seen to be more interested in creating a mutual relationship between religious groups and people of the world through mutual inclusion therefore both the religious groups need to change their hard line positions to accommodate other groups (Goldstein 125).

It is however clear that the tensions and rifts encapsulating the ethnic as well as religious wrangles are not about to stop, it is therefore supposed that there be a deep reaching action in Europe’s thriving multi-religious and multi-ethnic societies. Europe is quickly reshaping into a fairly globalised and international continent unlike in the ancient times when the Jews experienced horrendous scenes of rejection based on religion.

The experiences of the Muslims in the face of a changing Europe could be termed as manageable since they can mobilize support from other nations which advocate for freedom of worship and that of expression. The Jews in the past were faced with a tougher situation since most European countries were conservative and therefore adamant to accommodating any new religion or culture. Most countries were autonomous such that any treatment given to foreigners was not questionable by other countries. No organization advocated for the protection of rights (Paul 136).

Muslims who are believed to have moved from their countries of origin to go and work in Europe temporarily during the 60s gave up on going back to their dream to go back home in the 80s the Muslims have since fought for their rights since they had settled in Europe by sending their children to schools there and establishing mosques to worship. During this period there were struggles against all forms of religious discrimination that existed for instance in the year 1983 Muslims organized a march in Paris against racism and they advocated for inclusion in the political, economic and social life of the host country. They wanted to be given voting rights, to co-exist equally with the natives and to participate in the economic activities like business without discrimination (Silvestri 28).

After the struggle the demands based on a European and Islamic citizenship compelled the European policy makers to consider Islam as an integral part of the political, social and economic landscape in Europe. This milestone suffered a major set back in the face of what was termed as ‘Islam in crisis’ which was fueled by the rise in radical Islam, the headscarf controversy and the terrorist attacks witnessed in New York, Washington as well as Madrid.

This scenario has led to a change in the immigration regulations from Muslim countries due to security issues. Since the problems were started by the Muslims it will be upon them to solve the problems as they endeavor to restore confidence from the European countries in which they reside. The policy makers in the attempt to restore relative calm foster the practice of moderate and controllable Islam to avert jihadism, fail because the solution is viewed as actually artificial since it underestimates the strength of political and social that are the root cause of riots and jihadist violence which are undertaken in the name of Islam (Emerson, Amghar & Boubekeur 119-121).

Europe is slowly becoming the forum of choice in regard to devising norms and principles related to Islam religion, this can be revealed by the exchanges between European Islamic actors as well as policy makers. The kind of complexity that faces most European countries with regard to the Muslim issue has changed how policy makers handle any volatile matters relating to Islam. In the recent past European countries have dwelled on the issue of establishing good relationships with Muslim countries for fear of attacks. The quest by governments of some European countries to resolve the controversies encompassing the recognition of Muslims has been complex since there is no policy outlined by the European Union on matters relating to religion (Paul 165).


It is however clear that some European countries are moving towards an active policy of a kind of recognition of the Islamic religion as well as providing a more inclusive citizenship as a measure to the dangers of racism and Islam phobia. Goldstein 2007 proposes that Islam being a religion means that it is not a state affair to solve any problems relating to its existence and practice but it is very difficult to dismiss Islam as just one of the cultures or traditions because its presence elicits an enduring bother to the smooth life of individuals and states.

In conclusion the Jews in the ancient times were predisposed to suffering, persecution in Europe and all that was not based on any concrete or plausible issue rather the persecution was based on religious prejudice, stereotyping and lack of protection from any particular group. In the same manner that the Muslim fraternity has since the fifteenth century suffered due to their religious stand; it is clear that they have faced discrimination in terms of security policies set up by the European countries.

They have had to stage protests to defend their religion when it is under attack. Muslims have also faced persecution due to generalization, stereotyping and prejudice. The only relieve is that the fight is becoming gradually fruitful since the world is coming to terms with the existence of multi ethnic and multi religious countries. The fact that the world is globalizing and co-existence have to be embraced at all levels across the universe (Dassetto 158).

Works cited

Dassetto F. The Jolt Evolution of European Islam. Center for Interdisciplinary research on Islam in the Contemporary World, Universit’e catholique de louvain, 2006.

Emerson, M., Amghar, S.& Boubekeur A. European Islam: Challenges for Society and Public Policy. Centre For European Policy Studies. Brussels, 2007.

Goldstein J. Jewish History in Modern Times. Sussex: Sussex Academic Press, 2007.

Paul, J. A History of the Jews. New York: Harper Collins, 1987.

Silvestri S. Does Islam Challenge European Identity? Religious Roots of Contemporary European Identity. Standards Ltd. France, 2007.

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