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The Globalization of Islam >
The Development of Umbrella Organizations

The formation of Islamic umbrella organizations that are independent of the state is a recent phenomenon in the experience of Muslim immigrants. Such organizations are the norm in the West, as governments and civic institutions expect to deal with a recognized national leadership, a religious hierarchy; simply put, it is the Western way of organizing religion, and Muslims are pressed to reformulate themselves accordingly. Another factor has been the interest of foreign-based organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and the Jamaat-i Islami of Pakistan. The students who adhere to the teachings of these organizations formed the Muslim Student Association, which helped to establish several hundred mosques on U.S. and Canadian campuses. They later reformulated themselves into the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). A more conservative group split from ISNA and formed the Islamic Circle of North America.

Also involved in the process are foreign governments who seek control of the mosques to manage their affairs and to keep their ideologies in conformity to those advocated overseas. Saudi Arabia established a European office of the Muslim World League in Belgium and two offices in North America (in New York and Toronto) in an attempt to supervise the mosque's leadership and its message by recruiting mosques to register as members of the Council of Masajid in Europe or North America. Both Morocco and Turkey have also been involved in staffing mosques that are being established for their expatriates in Europe. Muslims who have experienced minority status in other countries appear to be at the forefront initiating organizations. The Surinamese, for example, were the pioneers in forming Islamic associations in the Netherlands. They had the experience of the Dutch methods in Surinam. They knew the language and could negotiate their way in the state bureaucracy as well as in the society. They emphasized cultural identity and obtained subsidies from public funds and from the Ministry of Welfare, Health, and Culture. Other groups that were successful in creating effective organizations were the Ahmadiyya and the Ithna Ashris of Indian background, who had the earlier experience of being a minority group in East Africa.

Efforts to organize umbrella organizations that transcend ideological commitment, theological particularities, ethnic allegiances, and personal rivalries have not been too successful. This is not for lack of trying. For example, the Federation of Muslim organizations in the Netherlands functioned between 1975 and 1981. When it began to sink, its staff founded the Muslim Information Center in the Hague. In 1979 the Federation of Turkish and Cultural Associations was formed; it included eight local Turkish organizations and cooperated with the Directorate of Religious Affairs in Ankara. Another Turkish organization, the Islamic Center Foundation (representing seventeen local groups), was inspired by the Suleymanci movement in Turkey and had no government connection. The Union of Moroccan Muslim Organizations, representing forty groups in the Netherlands, was founded in 1978. The Netherlands Islamic Society functioned between 1973 and 1982, serving the Surinamese community; it was then taken over by the Foundation for the Welfare of Muslims in the Netherlands. National Muslim umbrella organizations that were representative of more than one group included the Muslim Organizations in the Netherlands Foundation, which was established by Turks and Moroccans in 1981. A Surinamese initiative that sought the inclusion of other nationalities was the Netherlands Islamic Parliament, established in 1982. Most of these organizations failed because of lack of funds and the proper staff necessary to create coalitions.

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