Muslims have come a long way towards integration into Western Europe, particularly in terms of language, education and work, but remain on the margins of everyday social acceptance, a study by the Bertelsmann Stiftung revealed on Thursday (24 August).
The survey was conducted among 10,000 people in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Austria, Switzerland and Turkey. Refugees who arrived after 2010 were not included in the survey of the five European countries, which are home to almost 14 million Muslims.
The study said that progress in Muslim assimilation was “not accompanied by an equal level of cultural and religious assimilation and social acceptance”.
The Muslims’ strong religious commitment – the study said at least 41% of Muslims can be described as highly religious – and cultural differences “continue to cause uneasiness among the local population and have a negative effect on their social participation”.
“Overall, Muslims, including refugees from recent years, are among the most rejected social groups,” the study concluded but Stephan Vopel, a Bertelsmann Stiftung expert on social cohesion, said in an accompanying press release that it should not be so:
“Islam is not an obstacle to integration. Muslims, even the highly religious, learn the new language and strive for higher education levels just as much as other immigrants… When integration stalls, the state framework conditions are usually the reason,” Vopel explained.
Noting many positive aspects of assimilation in recent years, the study said that three-quarters of Muslims born in Germany have grown up with German as their first language. In the UK, about 60 percent of Muslim immigrants have grown up speaking English.
Most Muslims, around 90% on average, also feel closely connected to the country they live in, the study showed.
Contradicting another common prejudice, it found that the majority of Muslims – around 75% of those surveyed – have frequent social contact and spend their free time with non-Muslims. Such interaction is particularly common in Switzerland, Germany and France, and a little less in the UK and Austria.
However, 20% of the non-Muslims surveyed said they do not want to have Muslims as neighbours.
The situation is improving in education, particularly in France, where only one in ten Muslims leaves school before they turn 17. The rate is much higher in Germany and Austria, with 36% and 39%, respectively.
But Germany leads in labour market opportunities, as the employment rate among Muslims no longer differs from that of the total population. The situation is the same in Switzerland, while the jobless rate for Muslims in France is 14% compared to 8% for non-Muslims.
However, the study said that “relatively large income disparities between Muslims and non-Muslims continue to be observed in all the countries studied”.
Furthermore, it said devout Muslims, even if well-educated, earn less and are less likely to be employed. The study said this could be “an indicator of discrimination”, but added that strict observance of religious duties can make it difficult to get or hold down a job, “for example it may not be possible to pray five times a day or wear religious symbols”.
“So far, no country in Western Europe has found a convincing balance of equal opportunity and respect for religious diversity,” said Yasemin El-Menouar, an Islam expert at the Bertelsmann Stiftung.