Participants came from across Europe—from Norway and Sweden, the United Kingdom, Romania, Turkey, Czech Republic, Russia, and Italy. During their trip, the participants visit Islamic organizations in Florida, Ohio, New York, and California.
The program is intended to promote cultural understanding of relations between religion and government, the conditions of Muslims and their institutions in the U.S., and the American system of government and politics. The visit to IIIT was an important component of this education.
Dr. Jamal Barzinji, Vice President of IIIT, first posed a question to the audience: What makes an American Muslim different from a European Muslim? He noted that social isolation of Muslims is more common in Europe than in the U.S., due to a lesser degree of acceptance and assimilation of minorities. “Unless you ‘belong’ to the country where you live,” he said, “it is hard to contribute meaningfully to that society and community.” Our job as Muslims, he continued, is to participate in our local communities, rather than self-isolate.
In America, Muslims can and should influence change by voting and making their voices heard in media, schools, and in the political system. Indeed, they have proven a formidable political force. For example, American Muslims submitted formal suggestions to the new Obama administration as to how the American government can help to change negative perceptions of Muslims. In addition, Muslims turned out in record numbers during the last election. This development shows how Muslim populations can significantly impact national policy, and sets an example for Europe’s Muslim communities.
The visitors shared their views and questions on issues related to minority assimilation of Muslims in Europe versus America; the role of scholars in the reform of Islamic thought; and the participation needed from both governments and individual Muslims to ensure that Muslims are vital participants in their countries.
Finally, Dr. Barzinji presented IIIT’s mission, history, and direction, and the group discussed how diversity in research and views strengthens the dialogue regarding Muslim identity, be it local, national, or global. “One of our jobs is to encourage Muslims to think critically and, to provide for themselves socially, economically, and politically,” worldwide, he said.
IIIT presented the visitors with a selection of relevant books published by the Institute, and accompanied them to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, VA to meet with Imam Magid and to learn about the mosque’s programs.