The Library and Research Sector attended a conference under the heading "Europe's strength lies in its diversity", organised by the Group of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D). The event was held at the European Parliament and presented a positive case for integration through hard work and dedication.
In his opening remarks, MEP Afzal Khan (S&D) underlined the importance of showcasing success stories of Muslims born and/or raised in Europe, so as to counterbalance the often misleading media coverage of issues such as integration. The following three parts of the conference gave Muslims from Europe and Syria an opportunity to explain how they had overcome the challenges they were faced with early on in their lives.
The first part, chaired by MEP Khan, was dedicated to personal stories. Two of the panellists were Belgian Muslims with Moroccan heritage who had had to face discrimination from an early age. Despite living in difficult conditions as a child, Abdel En Vrai became a successful stand-up artist and was named 'Bruxellois de l'année' in 2013. Taoufik Ben Addi became a urologist and in 2014 won a Diwan Award for inspiring young generations, despite not having been given an equal chance to learn and progress in school. Faten El-Dabbas and Malika Hamidi demonstrated the role of female Muslim identity. Faten, a poet and activist from Germany, presented the JUMA (young, Muslim, active) project, which gives Muslims a rare chance to express their own thoughts and desires regarding Muslim political participation.
- Read more about the JUMA project
While Faten is helping young Muslims in Germany become more visible, Malika Hamidi, the director of the Brussels-based think tank European Muslim Network (EMN), works on issues relating to women in Islam. Because of her fight to make Muslim women politically and intellectually independent, she was shortlisted for the Women Inspiring Europe Award in 2012.
The second session, chaired by MEP Josef Weidenholzer (S&D), offered insights into the life of Syrian refugees in Sweden. Mohammed Al-Saud, an activist and political refugee, has managed to create his own NGO: "The Young Republic". Having overcome the difficulties of the asylum process, he now promotes civic engagement and helps refugees integrate into the host community. Ola Saleh, a highly educated and skilled program developer, is also active in the NGO sector as a project leader for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. In the beginning, however, she was treated just like every other Syrian asylum seeker, despite all her qualifications. According to Yasmine Nahlawi, an active member of RAPAR, a Manchester-based organisation that aims to empower Syrian refugees through education, refugees need all the help that they can get in their host societies.
- Read more about the RAPAR initiative
In addition to education and empowerment, therapy is a crucial part of preventing violence from recurring in future generations of Syrians. This is especially true for children who have experienced serious trauma. For this reason, Lelyla Akca has created Project Lift Turkey, which assists the rehabilitation of Syrian children through workshops.
- Read more about Project Lift Turkey
The third session, chaired by MEP Tanja Fajon (S&D), focused on fighting extremism from within the Muslim community by offering young Muslims better opportunities for their own future. As Farida Tahar, Molenbeek's councillor, put it, the diversity in Islam needs to be used to deconstruct prejudices against Muslims. Since socio-economic factors play a key role in the political instrumentalisation of Islam, Farida called for urgent policy solutions to the integration problem. By giving examples from her own commune, she demonstrated the power of engaging the young population in educational and creative activities. Ibrahim Ouassari and Julie Foulon, the co-founders of 'Molengeek', reiterated the importance of supporting education and entrepreneurship amongst Muslim youth.
- Read more about Molengeek