A few weeks ago, a conference took place in Istanbul which was organized by the Turkish religious authority Diyanet and the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR). Although it was ostensibly only about prayer times, the meeting raises concerns about converging Islamist strategies in Europe.
There has been a noticeable overlap in positions by the two groups, which even used the same letterhead in their respective final communiqués. These common interests have been articulated more and more frequently in the past several years.
Muslims from North Africa, the Middle East and Turkey make up the majority of the faithful in mainland Europe. The Diyanet often presents itself as an organic, self-organized group for Muslims of Turkish origin but, in fact, it is a direct product of the Turkish government. Diyanet imams are often sent to Turkish communities living abroad and try to win over the community through a display of piety. However, once the community is won over, they begin implementing a calculated agenda, which exaggerates the role of Turkish nationalism in the Turkish-Islamic relationship. In this ideology, Turks are only thought of as Muslims with a special task of spreading and enforcing Islam.
Turkish-origin communities in Europe have been treated differently by various governments but, in general, they have been viewed as partners and examples of successful integration of Muslims in European society. The ECFR—which was founded and chaired for a very long time by Muslim Brotherhood mastermind Yusuf al-Qaradawi—has stepped in to work with all Muslims, regardless of their country of origin. The ECFR pursues a more transnational approach and there are scholars of various nationalities on the board, including representatives of the Diyanet.
The current symbiotic relationship between the two groups is a result of a process of standardization and the promotion of common interests that has been implemented in the past five years. During this period, many prominent ideologists of the Muslim Brotherhood visited key mosques in different European countries.
Well-known Muslim Brotherhood operatives were also present at the recent conference in Istanbul, such as ECFR functionary Ali al-Qaradaghi, who already held many key roles in the organization. Khaled Hanafy—the chairman of the German offshoot of the ECFR and dean of the Frankfurt-based European Institute for Human Sciences (EIHW), which the Hessian Office for the Protection of the Constitution sees as the cadre of the Muslim Brotherhood—was also present. The EIHW is part of a network of educational institutions close to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Associates of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood were also notably present. This group has particularly good and strong relations with the German government and organized a similar conference at their headquarters in Germany in 2018, although these activities went largely unnoticed.
The conference should put European governments on alert that such groups are a threat and can create discord in European society by promoting an Islamist agenda and identity. While some governments have considered these groups to be examples of successful Muslim integration into society, they should not be fooled.
France has taken up the fight against political Islam and social separatism and has made it increasingly difficult for the Muslim Brotherhood to operate there. The government went so far as to freeze the bank accounts of the French Diyanet offshoot in 2020.
Europe must not turn a blind eye to the increasing cooperation between Muslim Brotherhood-oriented groups who have solidified a common and transnational identity and converged their interests and agenda.
The hope is that other European countries will catch on to what France has discovered and stop viewing these groups as moderate forces and examples of successful Muslim integration, before it’s too late.
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