Islam in Belgium

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Islam in Belgium is the second largest religion in the country, accounting for 5 to 7% of the total population as of 2015.[1] Muslims are concentrated in certain regions of the country, constituting 23.6% of the population in Brussels, but just 4.9% in Wallonia and 5.1% in Flanders.[1]

98% of the Belgian Muslims belong to the Sunni denomination,[2][not in citation given] while the rest are Shia, Alevi, and Ahmadiyya.[3]


The first registered presencs of Islam in Belgium was in 1829, a year prior to the country’s independence in 1830.[4]:223 A report by the Turkish consul in Antwerp estimated roughly 6,000 Muslims in Belgium at the time. During WWII, French Muslim soldiers from French West Africa were stationed in the southeast. In 1964, bilateral labor immigration agreement were signed between Belgium, Turkey, and countries in the Maghreb. Over 10,000 workers from these moved to Belgium and mostly worked in low-skilled jobs such as coalmining, steelmaking, the automobile industry, etc. This stopped in 1974 when all foreign manual labor were banned from entry into the country and, in the same year, Islam was officially recognized as a religion in Belgium.[4]:224


Muslim population in Belgium by the year:
Year Pop. ±%
2008 628,751 —    
2011 685,684 +9.1%
2016 781,887 +14.0%
2008 data[2], 2011 data,[5] 2016 data[6]

A 2011 estimation by Belgian academic Jan Hertogen shows that more than 900,000[7] people have a foreign background from Islamic countries.

A 2008 estimation shows[2] that 6% of the Belgian population, about 628,751, is Muslim, either Sunni, Shia, Alevi, and a small population of Ahmadi. Muslims cover 25.5% of the population of Brussels, 4.0% of Wallonia and 3.9% of Flanders. The majority of Belgian Muslims live in the major cities, such as Antwerp, Brussels and Charleroi.

According to estimates released in 2007 by sociologist Jan Hertogen, the largest group of immigrants in Belgium, numbering 264,974, are Moroccans. The Turks are the third-largest group, and the second-largest Muslim ethnic group, numbering 159,336. These estimates are criticized by the General Direction of Statistics and Economical Information (former National Institute for Statistics) because he simply added the global number of naturalized people without taking into account those who died or remigrated afterwards.[8] Other nationalities represented are mostly Arabs, Pakistanis and West Africans. No accurate numbers can be given as religious or ethnic censuses are forbidden in Belgium, and most people with roots in Islamic countries (including Christian Assyrian refugees from Turkey) took the Belgian nationality, their children born in Belgium are more and more born as Belgian citizens and thence do not appear in any statistics.

Moroccan and Turkish immigrants began coming in large numbers to Belgium starting in the 1960s as guest workers. Though the guest-worker program was abolished in 1974, many immigrants stayed and brought their families using family reunification laws. Today the Muslim community continues to grow through marriage migration. More than 60% of Moroccan and Turkish youth marry partners from their home countries.[9]

Since 2009, Mohamed is the most popular given name in Brussels and Antwerp, Belgium's two largest cities.[10]


Rally for refugees in Brussels, 2015

A 2011 Open Society Foundation report titled Muslim in Antwerp found that Muslims felt a "strong sense of belonging" to the neighborhood they lived in and the city of Antwerp but less to the country of Belgium in general.[4]:230


Surveys conducted 1994 and 1996 observed a decrease in religiosity based on lowering mosque participation, less frequent prayer, dropping importance attached to a religious education, etc.[4]:242 This decrease in religiosity was more visible in younger Muslims; however, other more recent studies show that while participation in religious activities among young Muslims is reducing, they are more likely to identify with Islam culturally.[4]:243

A 2005 Université Libre de Bruxelles study estimated that about 10% of the Muslim population are "practicing Muslims"[11] A 2009 survey found that the majority of Muslims in Belgium supported "separation between religion and state." A 2010 study found that while Muslims put great emphasis on religious freedom and the overwhelming majority stated people should be free to leave Islam if they wanted, they were less comfortable with the idea of Muslims marrying non-Muslims.[4]:244


The three most popular music styles among Muslims in Belgium in 2011 were Nasheed, Al-Andalus (a Moroccan musical genre), and hip hop.[4]:247 Natacha Atlas is a popular Belgian Muslim singer.[12]

Education and income[edit]

Various studies have concluded that the economic status of Muslims in Belgium is lower than that of non-Muslims. For instance, a 2007 study found unemployment among Turkish Belgians and Moroccan Belgians as 29–38%. A similar study in 1997 observed an underrepresentation of these populations in higher earning jobs (3–17% compared to 25–31% for ethnically White Belgians) and an overrepresentation in lower paying jobs (59–60% compared to 38% for White Belgians). Muslims also have less access to higher education with only 6–13% having a university degree.[4]:230 A 2009 analysis of the European 2006 PISA survey concluded inequality between minorities (including Muslims) and White students was one of the highest in all of Europe. The same analysis observed a “high degree of segregation in Belgian cities,” which they stated was the main cause for the difference in school performance. Several studies have also concluded that high levels of discrimination in the work market is one of the leading causes of economic inequality among minorities in Belgium.[4]:231 Some politicians and commentators have implied economic differences between Muslims and non-Muslims were primarily the result of cultural failing or religion but a 2011 study by Agirdag et al. found no correlation between "religiosity" and "school performance."[4]:232

Religious infrastructure[edit]

In 1974, Islam was recognized as one of the subsidized religions in Belgium and the Muslim Executive of Belgium was founded in 1996. In 2006, the government gave €6.1 million (US$7.7 million) to Islamic groups.[11] There are an estimated 328[11]–380[13] mosques in the country.


According to a 2006 opinion poll, 61% of the Belgian population thought tensions between Muslims and other communities would increase in the future.[14]


Brussels in 2013

In December 2004, the Belgian government said it was considering a ban on the wearing of any conspicuous religious symbols for civil servants.[13]

In June 2005, the Antwerp Court of Appeal ruled that it was outside the jurisdiction of the state to determine whether Islam requires women to wear a headscarf and that girls in public schools have the right to do so. However, the school board also has the authority to restrict that right for organizational reasons, or for the good functioning of the school, though it must justify any such restrictions.[citation needed]

At the end of 2005, approximately twenty municipalities had issued a ban on walking the streets completely veiled. In a few cases women were fined €150 (US$190) for ignoring the ban.[citation needed] Under a 1993 executive order, persons in the streets must be identifiable. A veil which does not completely cover the body is however allowed.[citation needed]

Two Belgian Muslim women, Samia Belcacemi and Yamina Oussar, challenged a 2011 veil ban, asserting the law infringed on their freedom of religion. Both women said they voluntarily wore the niqab. In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights found that Belgium’s ban on clothes that partially or fully cover the face in public was legal under the European Convention on Human Rights, "necessary in a democratic society," and that the law tried to protect "the rights and freedoms of others." In response to the upholding of the law, Belcacemi told the court that she continued to wear the niqab after it was banned but had eventually stopped because she could not afford fines or jail time. Ousser told the court that she had decided to stay at home and not go out in public anymore following the ban.[15]


On 30 September 2003, a Belgian court convicted 18 men for involvement in a terror cell. Nizar Trabelsi was sentenced to 10 years for plotting a suicide attack against the NATO air base at Kleine Brogel. Tarek Maaroufi, of the Tunisian Combat Group, was sentenced to six years in prison for his role in a Brussels-based fake passport ring that supplied fake Belgian passports to the men who assassinated former Afghan Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud two days before the September 11 attacks.[citation needed]

In October 2004, a Belgian court sentenced eight Sunni Islamic militants to prison terms of up to 5 years for plotting attacks and for links to Al Qaeda. According to prosecutors, Saber Mohammed received three phone calls from senior Al Qaeda figure Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, which he was believed to be forwarding for colleagues.[16] Also convicted was Tarek Maaroufi.

On November 9, 2005, Muriel Degauque, a Belgian convert to Sunni Islam, committed a suicide car bomb attack against a U.S. military convoy south of Baghdad.[17]

On May 24, 2014, the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels was attacked in an act linked to terrorism, with four casualties. [18]

On November 14, 2015 Belgian police arrest 'several people' after searches linked to the attacks in Paris,[19][20] more arrests expected as links to terrorists Investigation continues.

2016 Brussels bombings[edit]

On the morning of Tuesday, 22 March 2016, three coordinated nail bombings occurred in Belgium: two at Brussels Airport in Zaventem, and one at Maalbeek metro station in Brussels. In these attacks, 35 victims and three suicide bombers were killed, and 316 people were injured.[21] Another bomb was found during a search of the airport.[22] Two suspects are on the run. The organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attacks.[23] The bombings were the deadliest act of terrorism in Belgium's history. The Belgian government declared three days of national mourning.[24]


A 2011 survey by the Open Society found that 74% of Muslims were subject to “large to relatively large amounts of prejudice.”[4]:251 In February 2008, two young women of Maghreb origin were attacked in Liège after being verbally assaulted with ethnic slurs. One of the perpetrators had right-wing extremist affiliations.[25] In the month following the 2016 Brussels bombing, the Belgian Counter-Islamophobia Collective (CCIB) recorded 36 hate crimes against Muslims.[26]:67 Belgian Muslim women are more subject to discrimination in areas of employment and education than men.[26]:67–69


The Brussels-based group, Bruxelloise et Voilée was founded in March 2015 and is led by young Belgian Muslim women. It lists its goal as "promot[ing] a multicultural society by fighting against disrimination and stereotypes, in particular against Muslim veiled women."[26]:71 The CCIB is at the forefront in recording and reporting rates of Islamophobia, and campaigning against anti-Muslim bigotry in Belgium.[26]:72

The "Open Schools 4 Women" campaign led by the CCIB was launched in September 2016, represented via the hashtag #OpenSchools4Women, and aims to encourage the inclusion of Muslim women who wear the headscarf in schools. Similarly, the "Open Job Testing" project, backed by Brussels MP Didier Gosuin, was launched by CCIB in October 2016 with aims to address the obstacles to employment faced by individuals when accessing the job market and compile statistical evidence pertaining to discrimination in the labour market.[26]:72 The European Network Against Racism presented its work to combat growing anti-Muslim prejudice.[26]:73

Following the passage of Executive Order 13769 by U.S. President Donald Trump, a student protest took place in Brussels at the Brussels Stock Exchange in solidarity with Muslim refugees and Muslim Belgians.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Moslims in België per gewest, provincie en gemeente". 18 September 2015. Retrieved 3 March 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c Dutch: ' Jan Hertogen, In België wonen 628.751 moslims, Indymedia, September 12, 2008
  3. ^ Khalid Saifullah. "Social and Economic Influence of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Flanders-Belgium" (PDF). Retrieved April 30, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Cesari, Jocelyne (2014). The Oxford Handbook of European Islam. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199607976. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Guiterrez, Riccardo (25 May 2016). "781.887 musulmans vivent en Belgique: découvrez la carte, commune par commune" [781.887 Muslims live in Belgium: discover the map, common by commune]. sudinfo (in French). p. 7. 
  7. ^ "Vreemde afkomst 01/01/2012". Retrieved 2012-06-08. 
  8. ^ 'Voor het eerst meer Marokkaanse dan Italiaanse migranten' (For the first time more Moroccan than Italian migrants), Het Belang van Limburg, May 21, 2007
  9. ^ "Aspecten van Marokkaanse huwelijksmigratie en Marokkaans familierecht". Retrieved 2012-06-08. 
  10. ^ "Emma en Noah zijn de populairste voornamen van 2008" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on November 14, 2010. Retrieved January 12, 2011. 
  11. ^ a b c "US State Department, International Religious Freedom Report 2006, Belgium". 2005-10-02. Retrieved 2012-06-08. 
  12. ^ Meadley, Phil (21 April 2006). "Natacha Atlas: Uncharted territory". The Independent. London. Retrieved 29 July 2008. 
  13. ^ a b "Frontline". Retrieved 2016-03-26. 
  14. ^ "Vooral jongere Vlaming ziet islam niet zitten", Het Laatste Nieuws, 26 October 2006
  15. ^ Crisp, James (11 July 2017). "Belgian ban on Muslim full-face veil is legal, European Court of Human Rights rules". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 14 July 2017. 
  16. ^ Arab News, Suspect admits being al-Qaeda link in Belgium, September 15, 2004
  17. ^ "Belgian 'suicide bomber' is named". BBC. December 2, 2005. Retrieved 2007-04-09. 
  18. ^ "Brussels Jewish Museum killings: Fourth victim dies". BBC News. 2014-06-06. Retrieved 2017-05-21. 
  19. ^ Castillo, Mariano (2015-11-16). "Paris suicide bomber identified". Retrieved 2016-03-26. 
  20. ^ Reuters Editorial (2015-11-14). "Belgian police arrest 'several people' after searches linked to Paris attacks". Reuters. Retrieved 2016-03-26. 
  21. ^ AFP, rédaction en ligne avec Belga et. "Attentats de Bruxelles: nouveau bilan provisoire de 300 blessés, dont 61 en soins intensifs et 4 non-identifiés (LIVE)". Retrieved 23 March 2016. 
  22. ^ J. V. et A. P. (23 March 2016). "Le troisième kamikaze identifié, un testament retrouvé à Schaerbeek". RTBF Info. 
  23. ^ "Another bomb found in Brussels after attacks kill at least 34; Islamic State claims responsibility". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 22 March 2016. 
  24. ^ "Belgium to Begin 3 Days of National Mourning". The New York Times. 22 March 2016. Retrieved 22 March 2016. 
  25. ^ Stahnke, Tad; LeGendre, Paul; Grekov, Innokenty; McClintock, Michael (2008), "Violence Against Muslims: 2008 Hate Crime Survey" (PDF), Human Rights First, New York City, United States, p. 7, retrieved 23 March 2017 
  26. ^ a b c d e f Easat-Daas, Amina (2017). "Islamophobia in Belgium National Report 2016" (PDF). European Islamophobia Report. Istanbul, Turkey: Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research. Retrieved 20 April 2017. 
  27. ^ Welser, AnnMarie; Matthews, Janie (30 January 2017). "Muslim ban protest in Brussels". EurActiv. Retrieved 30 January 2017. 

Further reading[edit]