The call to prayer reverberates off the walls in the Islamic Cultural Center in Madrid, Spain's largest mosque. The sun sparkles on the white marble. On the roof a minaret sticks out into the blue sky like a needle.
Inside, about twenty men are bowing, thinly spread on the red carpet, praying. Behind a partition in the back of the large room, are several women with a hijab. In the front the imam leads the prayer. There are no young people.
This article was prepared by the Islam in Europe blog - islamineurope.blogspot.com
"Unfortunately there are too few youth who come here to pray," says Mehmet Tarhan (59) before going out into the sunshine.
A few blocks away in the Ventas district, there's a row of halal shops. Several signs are in Arabic. There we meet Ahmed El Madi (27) who works as a baker. He moved here from Morocco three years ago. In Morocco he went to the mosque regularly; in Spain he almost never goes.
"The most important thing is not how many times you go to the mosque or how many times you pray. The most important thing is that you be a human being," he says.
He says many young people stopped going to the mosque after moving to Europe.
"The young aren't as religious as the parent generation. I think however that some of the young people continue to believe, but they don't practice their faith. The religion is also becoming more private," he says.
The number of church-goers has dropped steadily for decades, but now there also a lot of space in mosques around Europe. Recent data from the extensive European Social Survey (ESS) show that the number of Muslim immigrants who regularly go to the mosque drops significantly after they've lived in their new homeland for some time.
The ESS figures, which are being published for the first time in Europe in Aftenposten, show that 60.5% of Muslims immigrants who have lived less than a year in Europe regularly go to the mosque. But after they've lived more than a year in their new homeland, the figure drops to 48.8%. More than half rarely or never go to the mosque to pray.
"In all European countries we see that Muslim immigrants are integrated and adapt to their new society. Part of that is that they become less religious and that they reject the traditional religious practice which their parents had in their homeland. They become more secular, says the famous Finnish religion-sociologist Heikki Ervasti from the University of Turku.
Ervasti, who analyzed the ESS figures, emphasizes that this development doesn't happen quickly.
"This secularization process will take generations, and for the individual the changes aren't as dramatic. Even it it doesn't happen fast, it's a clear trend," says Ervasti, who says that this same development also occurs among immigrants of other faiths.
Lavapiés, one of Madrid's most vibrant and trendy neighborhoods, is not far from the Islamic Cultural Center. Muslim Moors lived here until they were forced into exile or to convert in 1492, when the Moors were defeated by the Catholic Isabelle and Fredinand.
Then it was an industrial area for several hundred years. The neighborhood became very dilapidated, but a decade ago artists and immigrants began to move into the empty buildings.
There are people of all colors here: Africans, Turks, Chinese, Pakistanis, South-Americans, Indians and Spaniards. Restaurants serve food from all over the world, and there's a cacophony of different musical styles. Halal butchers next door to Chinese dry-cleaners.
We meet the Dutch-Moroccan Sihan (28), who's visiting her cousin Sihan (30) and her daughter Abier (3). They're here to buy a hijab in an Egyptian shop which supposedly has the best veils in Madrid.
The 28 year old believes in Allah, but she doesn't practice and doesn't cover her hair.
"I believe in Allah and the Prophet, but I believe in my own way. I don't pray five times a day, and I don't go to the mosque," she says.
Her cousin wears the hijab and she prays several times a day.
"I pray at home because it's more practical. Unfortunately I rarely have the opportunity to go to the mosque," says the 30 year old.
Religion researcher Heikki Ervasti points out that the secularization process among Muslim immigrants starts soon after they come to Europe, which he thinks is surprising.
"Already after a year in the new homeland, they're clearly less religious. They become integrate into the way we live; they get more education and become more individualistic," he explains.
He points out that the immigrants - like all others - look for more personal solutions to deal with everything that happens in life, and that this also applies to religion. In the countries they came from, religion is much more collective and unites people, but in Europe religion becomes very personal and private.
At the same time, there's a trend that some Muslims become more religious.
"It slows the pace of the secularization process, and it occurs as a reaction to it. Some immigrants, and in particular those who don't integrate, get irritated by the secularization. They're more interested in emphasizing their culture and their religion."
After immigrants have bee in Europe for five years, the drop in the number of mosque visits flattens out. Ervasti describes it as an aging effect.
"The immigrant who have a longer history in Europe are older on average. when people become older, they also become more religious. It's well documented."
A research report from Utrecht University shows that young Dutch Muslims are far less religious than their parents. They go less often to the mosque and they pray less, which the researchers think is because they grow up in a secular society. At the same time, a large majority in all age groups say they believe, but an increasing number among the youth say they don't believe in any god at all.
Another large study by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) shows that more and more Dutch Muslims drop the mosque. The number of Muslims who go to the mosque at least once a month has dropped by 12% in the past decade - from 47% ten year ago to 35% today.
Last year, more than half of Dutch Muslims rarely or never went to the mosque to pray, while just a quarter went regularly. 34% of the men go every week, while just 14% of the women do so.
According to Jan Latten, population statistician for CBS and professor of demographics at the University of Amsterdam, the believers need institutions - like mosques - less than in the past.
"Religion is becoming more of a private issue. This is a general trend who is now also affecting the Muslim community," he tells Aftenposten. Muslim Karima Kaouch (26) lived her whole life in the Netherlands. Her parents moved here from Morocco when she was little. She thinks the mosques are a 'man thing'.
"Far more men than women go to the mosque. The mosques are a social gathering place for many men, and especially for elderly men," she says and adjusts her hijab.
Kaouch says she feels completely Muslims, even though she doesn't go as often to the mosque.
"You don't need to go to the mosque to believe in Allah. I pray at home. That doesn't make me any less Muslim."
In Lavapiés in Madrid we meet Aish Aicha (34) and her son Bekir (4), hurrying down the street. Aicha just bought food and is going to prepare dinner. She says the same as the Dutch Kaouch.
"I pray, but I do it at home. I don't practice my religion to exhibit myself. It's a relationship between me and Allah," the 34 year old says.
Source: Aftenposten (Norwegian)