- The Washington Times - Friday, April 7, 2006

VIENNA, Austria — European Muslims are not content to remain “separate and isolated,” and moderate Islamic leaders must make greater social and political integration their goal, the head of Austria’s Islamic community urged yesterday.

Anas Schakfeh, president of the Islamic Authority in Austria, opened a conference of imams and religious advisers from across the Continent with the theme of developing a clear identity for European Muslims that can preserve traditions but embrace Western values. The conference also seeks to forge new alliances to confront issues of cultural isolation, youth anger and worries about growing radical movements among Europe’s estimated 33 million Muslims.

“The Muslims of Europe want to be an active and central part of the societies they live in,” Mr. Schakfeh told the gathering. “They don’t want to build a separate and isolated society.”

Muslim communities in Europe have been under intense pressure to work with anti-terrorism investigations after the 2004 Madrid train bombings and the blasts last year on London’s transit system. European views toward Muslims also hardened after last year’s riots in France and the worldwide fallout from caricatures of the prophet Muhammad first published in a Danish newspaper.

The challenge for moderate Muslim leaders is to encourage a brand of Islam that rests comfortably in the West and no longer defines itself solely as extensions of homelands in the Arab world and South Asia, organizers said.

“Muslims can integrate and participate, which is our goal, or remain on the fringes. This is where the danger lies,” said Mouddar Khouja, one of the organizers. “We remain Muslim, but our point of reference must be Europe. This is our home.”

Some steps have been taken. Centers have been established in France and the Netherlands to train new imams with a European perspective.

But the conference may also look at difficulties in some European nations for Muslim immigrants — and even their native-born children — to obtain citizenship. Polls across the European Union, meanwhile, continue to show widespread reservations about potential membership by mostly Muslim Turkey.

Resistance to Turkey’s EU bid is among the highest in Austria, which currently holds the presidency of the 25-nation bloc.

“Modern life comes to us without any instructions,” Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said. “We must not give in to fundamentalism, radicalism and fatalism. We must promote the voices of moderation.”

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