Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Face of Islam in Europe

Kahina Zed: The terrifying face of Islam
A friend of ours here in Paris, Kahina Zed, was recently in Canada with her partner and she met a bunch of Americans. After getting to know her for a couple of days, they were shocked to discover the horrifying truth: she's Muslim. They were incredulous, first assuming she was pulling their leg. With a drink in one hand and a cigarette in another, Kahina, who speaks French, English, Spanish and Arabic, is very proud of being a Muslim and, more importantly, she's practically the poster child for Islam in Europe, but you'd never know it from the news reports.

I suppose that there are a number of people who will disagree with this assertion, or be upset with my use of the term "poster child", particularly since she drinks and smokes, but like Christianity, Judaism, and other major religions, there's a core belief coupled with a wide spectrum of day-to-day practice. Just as there are many devout Christians and Jews who drink and smoke, there are many devout Muslims who drink and smoke. She enjoys a good party, works in television journalism, and enjoys singing. Here's her group's latest music video:


No, definitely not the face of Islam that many Americans seem to expect.

Kahina is as happy discussing the Qur'an as the latest political or music trends. I asked her why she doesn't eat pork, but smokes and drinks. She gave an interesting answer (which I'm not sharing because this is not a religious debate) which reflects the diversity of the Muslim community. I can also imagine that some Muslims would vehemently deny that she's "devout" because her expression of Islam is different from their own, but then, alcohol is a contentious issue for Christians, too.

Many Americans seem to assume that all Muslim women are running around wearing the niqab and that Islam is a dour religion. Nothing is further from the truth. Yes, you will see that fundamentalism here in Europe, but that's largely a matter of a greater Muslim population showing a greater diversity. With the Muslim population in the US being less than 1% (versus 6% in Europe) and Islam being excoriated in the press, it's understandable that many Americans are surprised when they find out that Muslims are, well, people. At the end of the day, though, I think this well-known tweet really sums it up:
This is why I love being an expat: you come face-to-face with the world rather than the carefully curated information being presented in the news. That's not to say that Islam is universally understood or tolerated here in Europe — it's a source of contention for many who want to preserve their national cultures — but we at least have the opportunity to meet and speak with Muslims. The discrimination and violence against Muslims in the US is a shame and largely due to ignorance.