Politicians of Muslim background slowly begin to play a role in European mainstream politics. Most of them do not publicly state their religious affiliation, possibly due to a secular conviction of separating religion and politics (either of the politician him- or herself or of the country) or because they do not practice their religion. Only a minority presents themselves as Muslims in public. It is much more common to refer to the ethnic background and also to be active in integration, migration and minority issues. Regarding gender, the involvement of men and women is rather balanced.
Regardless of how diverse their background may be in terms of ethnicity, culture, age, citizenship, migration experience and social situation, one would expect European Muslims to play a large role in European politics. Despite the differences, Muslims in Europe are a significant population that has become the focus of many political debates especially in the past decade, ranging from headscarf verdicts, terrorism, Turkey’s EU membership, multicultural society and immigration to Europe’s relationship with religion in general. Muslims slowly become members of political parties and of local, national and the European parliament while also engaging in Islamic associations.
As a general rule, the available information seems to indicate: the lower the political level, the higher the share of Muslims in politics. There are only few in the European parliament, but some bigger proportion on the national level, at least in those countries that have a significant Muslim population: France, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Bulgaria. The strongest participation is found on the local level, with several city and regional parliaments having Muslim delegates.
Islamic parties hardly exist. However, there is a much-practiced way of Muslims to have a say in national politics and that is through numerous associations.
In many European countries there are three or four large organizations that represent the Islamic faith and get involved into religious issues in politics such as education, headscarf bans, halal butching or Islamic holidays. Non-Muslim politicians often criticize that Islam is not organized in bodies such as the Protestant or Catholic Church and that there is consequently lack of dialogue partners. Therefore, the governments of countries with the largest Muslim minorities have recently created umbrella organizations that should speak for all of the nation’s Muslims – not entirely successful due to the wide range of religiosity, convictions and practices within this population.
In any case, associations (whether as umbrella organizations or individual) are the actors who gather politically engaged, religious Muslims and who introduce and challenge Islam related questions in society.