Contextualising Islam in Europe and North America: Challenges and Opportunities

Peter Mandaville, Dilwar Hussain

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned reportpeer-review


This Working Group paper explains the
nature and significance of a key problem
facing Muslim communities in Europe
and North America: the challenge of achieving a
contextualized understanding of their religion that
is suited to the unique circumstances, challenges,
and opportunities that face religious minorities in
contemporary Western societies. The first section
of the paper provides a brief comparative overview
of Muslim communities on both sides of the Atlantic,
identifying both points of similarity and
difference with respect to demographics as well
as socioeconomic issues (employment, education)
and political questions surrounding civic engagement,
identity, and discrimination. The next part
of the paper explains the impetus behind recent
efforts to develop responses to these practical issues
that are based on the Islamic tradition but
specific to context, and identifies some of the key figures and major ideas that constitute this
debate. An analysis is then offered of the major
obstacles that have prevented such efforts from
advancing—drawing, where appropriate, on the
experiences of other faith communities, including
Christians and Jews, that have met similar challenges.
The issues covered here include questions
of representation and legitimacy, the challenge of
creating spaces for intra-Muslim discussion and
understanding, intergenerational differences with
respect to religious life and understanding, and the
role of institutions and leaders. The final section
of the paper outlines priority issues for moving
the discussion forward; discusses the potential for
building new partnerships and networks around
this shared endeavor; and identifies appropriate
contributions from governments and civil society
to advancing the project of contextualizing Islam
in Europe and North America.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherBrookings Institution Press
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Islam
  • contextual theology

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