To understand the concerns and issues related to Muslims and Islam in Europe, this article makes use of a framework that qualifies ‘Islam’ as two manifestations of ‘physical’ and ‘virtual’ Islam and ‘Europe’ as two discourses defined as the political-legal and cultural-religious discourse. The resulting matrix of these four dimensions will be applied to several of the main issues of the interaction between Islam and Europe: the numerical presence of Muslims, their visibility, the legacy of centuries of European-Islamic interaction, and the (in)compatibility of Islamic and European values. Based on these examples, the author observes that the European concerns regarding ‘Islam’ mostly relate to virtual Islam and are dominated by cultural-religious discourse. The author therefore questions the often-heard two-choice question between ‘Europanization of Islam’ or ‘Islamization of Europe’, arguing that the real choice to be made in Europe is whether it will adhere to its political-legal values, such as liberalism, equalit and human rights, or will prefer its cultural-religious values.
The main challenge of understanding Sharia in the West is its undefined nature. This contradicts the ease with which the term is used in public and political discourse, but also in the legal domain, which prides itself on its precision in terminology. This article addresses the question: What is the Sharia that Muslims in the West practice? To this end, a model is presented that provides tools to describe the complex interaction between Sharia, as practiced by Western Muslims, and their Western environment, and elucidates the ongoing dialectic of this interaction. The model further shows how Western Muslims adopt and adapt Sharia by manoeuvring between their specific needs in the Western context and the conditions set by that context. From a Western perspective, the model shows that issues of Sharia are usually discussed in legal terms, while most controversies are not legal but cultural in nature.