PRAGUE, April 9, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- A conference of Muslim prayer leaders from across Europe ended in Vienna on April 9 with a final declaration calling for European Muslims to become more deeply integrated while preserving their identities.
Carla Amina Baghajati, a spokeswoman for the Islamic Community of Austria, one of the organizers of the conference, said the statement highlights the role of imams as an interface between Muslim communities and mainstream European societies.
"The final declaration states clearly that participation as a way toward integration is something that can be declared and fostered, especially by imams, as they are in a position to bring forward such ideas into Muslim communities," she said.
The three-day meeting focused on how to integrate Muslim communities into the European mainstream while maintaining European Muslims' cultural and religious distinctiveness.
It also sought to confront issues of cultural isolation, anger among the young, and concerns about growing radical movements among Europe's estimated 33 million Muslims.
Baghajati said the conference also confronted the thorny issue of women's rights in Europe's Muslim communities.
The final statement "does not close its eyes to problems, problems such as FGM [female genital mutilation], problems such as honor crimes [in which women deemed to have dishonored their family or community are punished, and sometimes killed], or problems such as cruelty towards women in general."
Organizers say the challenge for moderate Muslim leaders is to forge a new type of Islam that rests comfortably in the West, and no longer considers itself an extension of homelands in the Arab world or South Asia.
Baghajati believes imams could play an important role in achieving these goals and in building bridges between civilizations.
Imams can encourage Muslims "to be active members of society, to be visible, and, through their visibility, to help overcome cliches, help overcome fears and unease about Islam."
The conference brought together some 130 imams from more than 40 countries. Among those attending were the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-WaldnermM. Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel, whose Foreign Ministry was one of the organizers, also took part in the conference.
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