Belgium merupakan ibu kota Eropah. Di situlah ditempatkan Parlimen Eropah yang melambangkan negara-negara Eropah bersatu di bawah satu blok politik dan ekonomi yang amat kuat. Walaupun dulu, mereka merupakan gugusan negara-negara yang sering bertelingkah dan berperang sesama sendiri, namun mereka berjaya membuktikan bahawa mereka boleh bersatu di bawah satu payung yang dinamakan Kesatuan Eropah atau EU (http://www.eurunion.org/).
Ogos 2007, saya tidak melepaskan peluang melawat dan bergambar di sekitar Parlimen Eropah di Brussel, Belgium. Saya ke sana atas urusan rasmi bertemu dan bersilaturrahmi dengan dengan FEMYSO atau nama panjangnya Forum of European Muslim Youth and Students Organizations (http://www.femyso.net/). Di bawah ini diturunkan berkenaan dengan artikel Islam in Belgium yang saya perolehi dari Sister Malika Hamidi iaitu sahabat saya yang juga merupakan aktivis wanita muslimah FEMYSO.
The emergence of the Muslim population in Belgium has similar roots as in the Netherlands and Germany. The main waves of immigrants from Muslim countries began in the early 1960s when migration agreements were signed with Morocco and Turkey and then at the end of the 1960s with Algeria and Tunisia. In contrast with the Netherlands, Belgium had no relations with the Muslim world during the colonial period. In 1974 Belgium imposed strict conditions on the entry of foreign labor but remained one of the most liberal countries in Europe for family reunion policy.
The number of Muslims in Belgium is estimated at around 400,000, which is about 4 percent of the total population of the country. As in the other countries of the EU the Muslim population in Belgium is very young. Almost 35 percent of the Turks and Moroccans, the largest Muslim groups in the country, are below 18 years old, compared with 18 percent of the native Belgians. As a result of the age and spatial distribution, very high proportions of the youth in certain areas are Muslim. One quarter of Brusselians under 20 years are of ’Muslim origin’, and in 2002 in the region of Brussels the most popular names given to babies were Mohammed and Sarah (Bousetta 2003:8).
In the country’s multicultural Muslim community the largest groups are made up of Moroccans (125,000) and Turks (70,000) with smaller numbers from Algeria (8,500), Tunisia (4,000) Bosnia-Herzegovina, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Syria and Egypt. According to Marechal, 113,842 people from the ’Muslim countries’ had acquired Belgium citizenship between 1985 and 1997.
The spatial distribution of Muslims across Belgium reflects the nature of the process of their immigration. The greatest concentration is in Brussels with many of the rest in the industrial areas of the French-speaking south. The Brussels conurbation is home for more than 50 percent of the Moroccans. They can be also found in Antwerp, Liege, Hainaut, in the region of Charleroi and in Limburg. Half of the Turks have settled in Flanders, especially Antwerp, Ghent and Limburg. They live also in certain districts of Brussels (ex. Schaerbeek, Saint-Josse) and in the Walloon area of Belgium in the region of Hainaut and Liege (Bousetta 2003:8).
Although there are no statistics for Muslim employment levels, according to the OECD, the foreign-born have unemployment rates more than twice that of indigenous Belgians.
ALARM (Action pour Le logement accessible aux réfugiés à Molenbeek) ran a survey on housing showing substantial bias against asylum seekers in searching for housing. 40% of North Africans reported being victims of housing discrimination (ECRI Report on Belgium, 2003).
The OECD collects data on education from various statistical agencies within the country, the majority of which comes from census data from the year 2000. The OECD classifies educational achievement using the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED): ISCED 0/1/2: Less than upper secondary; ISCED 3/4: Upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary; ISCED 5A: "Academic" tertiary; ISCED 5B: "Vocational" tertiary; ISCED 6: Advanced research programs. 0-2 are considered low, 3-4 as medium, and 5 and above are considered high. This data is not reported by religion, but does have country of origin as reported by the respondent. It is thus possible to construct an approximate picture of the educational achievement of the population in the country with ancestry from predominately Muslim countries. One significant problem is that some countries, such as India and Nigeria, have large Muslim populations but the immigrant population cannot be readily classified as predominately Muslim or non-Muslim. As such, the educational data is split by predominately Muslim origin, predominately non-Muslim origin, and a separate category for those whom classification would not seem justified. Proportions are for all reported data, individuals with no reported ancestry or education are excluded.
High Medium Low
Muslim 12% 23% 65%
Non-Muslim 23% 30% 47%
Indeterminate 43% 31% 26%
State and Church
Although there is religious freedom in Belgium, the state formally recognizes seven religions; Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Anglicanism, Islam, and Orthodox Christianity. Secular humanist groups serve as a seventh recognized "religion" and their organizing body, the Central Council of Non-Religious Philosophical Communities of Belgium, receives funds and benefits similar to those of the six other recognized religions.
Recognized religions provide teachers at government expense for religious instruction in schools. The state pays the salaries, retirement, for clergy and subsidizes the construction and renovation of church buildings. Positions of clerics are allocated by royal decree, but there are no training requirements. Although there are exceptions, in general the state has tried to ensure that new imams come from the Belgian population. In Flanders, foreign clergy are required to take part in the Inburgeringstrajet, a state integration curriculum.
Subsidies are received at the federal, regional and municipal levels. The ecclesiastical administrations of recognized religions have legal rights and obligations, and the municipality in which they are located must pay any debts that they incur. According to an independent academic review, government at all levels spent $523 million (23 billion Belgian francs) on subsidies for recognized religions in 2000 (3.5 percent of this funds went to Muslims). For many years Muslims did not receive their share of these funds because there was no representative institution to negotiate with the state. In part due to this problem, Belgium facilitated the creation of an Islamic organization intended to represent the needs and interests of the Muslim population in Belgium. In 2001, the Muslim Executive Council applied for the first time for subsidies and in 2002, the government recognized 75 mosques and began paying salaries to imams assigned to these mosques (Religious Freedom Report 2002). However, conflicts between the Muslim Executive and the state have led to problems distributing the money for mosques and imams (US State Dept., 2004).
In January 2005, the administration of the Flemish region mandated that mosques will be required to meet certain conditions for public funding. Outside of Arabic rituals, Dutch should be used, there must be tolerance for women and homosexuals and no preaching of extremist ideas. This applies only to Islam. The Wallonian regional administration announced that mosques will be subject to the same rules as other religions, and the matter is still under consideration by the government of Brussels. (IHF)
Muslims in Legislatures
After the elections of 2003, six Muslims served in the national parliament; Fauzaya Talhaoui, Dalila Douifi, Nahima Lanjri, Fatma Pehlivan, Meryem Kacar and Talbia Belhouari. Said El Khadraoui serves in the European Parliament.
Although Islam has been recognized since 1974, until recently there was no overarching representative organization, due to a lack of agreement between various ethnic and sectarian groups in the society on a common leadership. The state’s desire to avoid having any ’fundamentalists’ in the assembly made the situation even more complicated. The Islamic Center of Brussels, financed by Saudi Arabia, used to play the role of interlocutor to the state. However this has changed with the establishment of a Muslim Executive modeled after the French government’s approach. This committee was to be selected in a mostly democratic fashion to represent the ethnic and religious breakdown of Muslims in Belgium. However, the state screened candidates for ideological extremism, thereby seriously eroding the legitimacy of the council (Cesari, 2004). Candidates were also required to speak fluently the language of the region they were representing. Although there were protests from the existing executive body and almost all of the Muslim organizations, the Minister of Justice decided to organize new elections for the general assembly on March 13, 2005. Despite the fact that the majority of Muslims in Belgium are of Moroccan heritage, Turkish leaders won most of the seats.
The EMB - l’Executif des Musulmans de Belgique - is responsible for administrative managing of the Muslim worship in Belgium and is intended to play the role of a mediator between the state and Muslim communities. Its responsibilities range from providing religious education at schools and educational training for imams to appointment of Muslims chaplaincies in hospitals and prisons. The EMB has been receiving state subsidies since 2001. In 2002 the State supported the organisation with 420 000 Euros, while the Catholic Church was given 350 million Euros.
With the formation of the EMB, The Islamic Cultural Center of Belgium, which had been de facto representative of Muslims in Belgium, lost its formerly central role. Its board of trustees is chaired by the ambassador of Saudi Arabia. The land for the Center was handed over to King Faisal in 1967 as a gift in exchange for donations he has made. The center was build with the financial support of the Muslim World League.
The Arab European League aims to defend the civil rights of Arabs in Europe and has attracted a following of thousands of jobless, frustrated young immigrants. The leader Abou Jahjah, a charismatic debater with MA in international politics and fluency in 4 languages, is often portrayed by the media as Belgium’s Malcolm X. Along with a leftist party, the organization established the party ’Resist’ to run in the elections in 2003, but was relatively unsuccessful. However, Abou Jahjah has already announced the creation of a new political party, Muslim Democratic Party. The AEL now has growing branches in France and the Netherlands.
Similar to the AEL is the MJM (Mouvement des Jeunes Musulmans) which also established a political party. The Parti de la Citoyennete et de la Prosperite did surprisingly well in the local elections in Brussels in May 2003, winning more than 8,000 votes and making it a potential contender for seats.
Public school students under 17 must choose between religious instruction in recognized religions and non-denominational ethics classes. For older students, these classes are voluntary. The Muslim community has the right to provide teachers at government expense for religious instruction. Since at least 1975, some students have been able to receive instruction in Islam. Presently, teachers are appointed by the state after recommendation of the Muslim Executive. The curriculum is developed by officials proposed by the Executive and then subject to approval by the state. Religious communities have the right to establish private schools that can receive state funding. There is currently one private Muslim school that is supported by the state. (IHF)
There is currently a plan underway for training of imams which would establish an Institute of Islamic Studies with the assistance of faculties from various educational institutions. As well, the League of Imams put forward a plan for continuing in-service training which would incorporate learning in the local language.
Security, Immigration and Anti-Terrorism Issues
In Belgium, the 1981 Law on the Suppression of Racist Acts, plus anti-Discrimination Law 2003 criminalizes the public or witnessed incitement to discrimination, hate or violence against a person, a group of people (community) or its members, incitement to segregation on the basis of race, making one’s intent to discriminate on the basis of race or to segregate or to commit violence on the basis of race, color of skin, ethnicity or nationality (ECRI Report on Belgium, 2003).
In 2000 a new nationality law came into force which further liberalizes the right to Belgium citizenship. Under this law, all those born in Belgium, having at least one Belgian parent, or residing in the country for at least seven years, may become citizens. This can be done by registering in the community. Those in the country for over three years must fulfill language and cultural requirements to qualify for citizenship.
Belgium’s new law on anti-terrorism took effect in December 2003 to immediate concern from lawyers and civil rights groups. The primary concern was the vague definition of terrorism, which was also commented on by the UN Human Rights Committee (Human Rights Without Frontiers, 2004).
Bias and Discrimination
In Belgium, various anti-Muslim incidents have continued over the past few years. In 2002 the apparently racist murder of a Moroccan man led to several days of rioting in Antwerp. Controversially, the leader of an Arabic group was blamed for the incident by the government.1 The number of complaints about racism has increased over the last years, many having to do with employment problems (Center for Equal Opportunity and Opposition to Racism, 2003). In recent years and especially after the September 11th terrorist attacks, there were several cases reported of women and girls wearing traditional dress or headscarves being publicly insulted.
Those of foreign origin in Belgium are reportedly subjected to discrimination in employment, in housing, in access to public services and in contacts with police. The Center for Equal Opportunity and Opposition to Racism, an independent government body, received about 2,500 complaints about racist discrimination in 2003. The majority of cases were seen as stemming from racial and ethnic rather than religious motivation. Continuing reports suggest police misconduct, including offensive language, arbitrary identity checks, and violence may be relatively common. (IHF)
In January 2001, the Court of Cassation, the nation’s highest court, ruled that municipal authorities could not deny an identification card to a woman wearing a headscarf. (Religious Freedom Report 2002) However, headscarves and other traditional Muslim dress have been banned at the local level in most of the schools in Belgium (IHF,2005). In the political arena, two senators introduced a law against headscarves but were unable to garner enough support in parliament for passage (Human Rights Without Frontiers, 2004). In an important symbolic move, the King of Belgium lent his support to an employer who had received death threats for defending a Muslim woman wearing the hijab.
According to a 2003 study commissioned by the King Baudouin Foundation there are 328 mosques in Belgium. 162 are in the Flemish region, 89 in Wallonia and 77 in Brussels. Most are organized by ethnicity. Only a few are classical mosques with domes and minarets, but an increasing have adequate facilities. (IHF) Most Turkish imams are from the Diyanet, while the North African imams tend to be from more rural backgrounds and not to have formal training. Imams can be punished for making statements attacking the state.
Halal slaughter is not subject to legislative restriction in Belgium.
Public Perception of Islam
According to the 2000 Eurobarometer survey, 25% of Belgians show intolerant attitudes, above the EU average of 14% (ECRI Report on Belgium, 2003).
Media Coverage and Intellectual Discourse
The Muslim Executive suggests that the mainstream media have generally had a balanced approach when reporting on violence committed in the name of Islam, and that care has been taken to distinguish between extremist and moderate Muslims. However, a certain sensationalism in the media tends to emphasize violence and extremism, at the potential cost of misrepresenting the more general trend of Muslim integration into Belgian society. (IHF)
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has expressed concern about the racism becoming more common in Belgian politics. The Flemish separatist party Vlaams Blok (“Flemish Bloc”) has depicted immigration as a threat to “the Flemish people and culture”. While speaking of the danger of religious fundamentalism, it has also protested the growing number of mosques and state funding for Muslim organizations. With the slogan, “our people first,” Vlaams Blok won 12% of the votes in the 2003 elections to the federal parliament, and received 24% of the votes in the 2004 elections to the parliament of the Flemish region. Vlaams Blok controls between a quarter and a third of the municipal council seats in a number of major cities in the Flemish region, including Antwerp. Although other political parties have not cooperated with Vlaams Blok, its popularity has forced other parties to adopt tougher positions on immigration and related issues. In 2004, the Court of Cassation upheld a lower court ruling that found Vlaams Blok guilty of violating anti-racist legislation by regularly depicting foreigners as “criminals” and by “permanently inciting” racism. Because of this Vlaams Blok lost state funding and members could not continue to work for the party. However, only a few days later, the leadership established a new party called Vlaams Belang (“Flemish Interest”). (IHF) This party seems to be gaining popularity rapidly, and is the strongest party in the Flemish region.
Recent Legislation on Islam
Several Belgian municipalities have used municipal by-laws on face-covering clothing to ban public wearing of the niqab and burqa. The town of Maaseik was the first to implement a ban. In late 2004, Marino Keulen, Flemish-Liberal interior minister in the Flemish government, created a standard prohibition for burqas, and sent it to all 308 municipalities in Flanders. The regulation states that people on the public street and in public buildings must be identifiable at all times, "to protect the social order, which allows a harmonious process of human activities". It prohibits covering the forehead, the cheeks, the eyes, the ears, the nose and the chin. Carnival masks, Sinterklaas, and Father Christmas are exempt from this prohibition.