2009 | 24 | 41-69
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The topic of this article is the structure and dynamics of the Muslim immigration in Europe and a configuration, expressions and a typology of the Muslim immigrant identity in this context. Islam is currently the second religion in the European Union, with over 15,5 million worshippers. This unprecedented religious transformation is a result of the slow but progressive immigration in the second half of the 20th century. Today, European Islam is no longer like the erstwhile religion of Islamic invaders but it has become the religion of European citizens who are mostly born in Europe. They feel European and at the same time Muslims. Initially, the majority of them were labour immigrants comprised of male, solitary individuals. Their habitual behaviour was little marked by their Muslim culture. It was then a sort of invisible Islam. However, with the arrival of relatives the community life has been gradually rebuilt, and as a result there has been the return to Islamic practices and precepts. In this way solitary Muslim immigrants regained their social identity. We could state that an Islamic revival of this immigration took place then; this was mainly the effect of the intrinsic community character, as a consequence of the rhythm of family life with its symbolic, ritual and normative references. In this context, an evident and a significant identity difference emerged which distinguishes the followers of the fundamentalist orientation from those of the moderate one in the Islamic terminology itself. What remains obscure is the process by which the fundamentalist identity, even in its marginal part, is associated with violence, why the terrorism became an extreme expression of the Islamic fundamentalism. Anyway, for all the Muslim immigrants, ethnic belonging is identified as Islamic belonging. In other words, being Moroccan, Pakistani, Algerian, or Tunisian means being a Muslim in a different way. So for them, cultural differences coincide with ethnic and cultural differences. Islam assumes a central role in the identity of people born and bred in Europe and is removed from its ethnic meaning. Surprising as it may seem, the second and third generations feel the need to express their Islamic identity. It is a new Islamization of the immigrant population called Muslim in a generic way. This phenomenon is more surprising as it happens in the heart of the most secularized continent, Europe. It seems that in this perspective, one of the reasons must be sought in the universality of the religious identity when faced with the identity that is ethnically built, because it provides for a belonging to a community that not only goes beyond their ethnic group but also the host society. In other words, we can state that Islam as an identity reference in a new, heterogeneous, environment has acquired or perhaps regained its identity value because it has turned out to be a distinctive feature of the new citizens as compared with the autochthonous population. There is no doubt, however, that the intrinsic diversity of Muslims, reinforced and accented in the public space, removes them from a context that would encourage integration.
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  • Grzegorz J. Kaczynski, Department of Educational Processes, University of Catania, Via Biblioteca 4, 95124 Catania, Italia
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