In the European imagination, both Muslim and non-Muslim, there is a stubbornly rooted idea that the Muslim presence on European soil is a late import, dating from the waves of immigration of the second half of the twentieth century. This results in another preconceived notion: that these two civilisations, Europe and Islam, are fundamentally foreign to one another, and condemned by the vicissitudes of history to coexist uneasily with one another.
The exhibition Islam, its also our History shows that this is completely wrong. Far from being a recent presence, Islam has never been absent from Europe and European civilisation since it first burst onto the stage of history.
Just African Islam, an Indo-Pakistani Islam, an Arabic Islam and an Indonesian Islam, so too there was – and still is today – a specifically European Islam.
Europe and Islam come from a common spiritual and intellectual core, tracing the same scriptural origins and claiming the same philosophical heritage. The twelve-century story of their involvement with one another has been violent at times, peaceful at other times, but always rich in mutual influences. Without their encounter, neither Europe nor Islam would be what they are today.
Amid the ow and ebb of territorial advances and retreats over the centuries, this exhibition revisits this history, which, for better or for worse, is our common heritage and in which we all play a part.
Islam, its also our History is a civilisation exhibition.
The civilisation exhibition is nonetheless a powerful cultural tool.
A well-designed civilisation exhibition breaks down barriers between different elds of cultural activity and in so doing broadens the horizons of those who habitually consume them. It throws light on contemporary political questions through history, science, art, or even, as we have uniquely experienced, through theatre. It integrates different kinds of knowledge contributed by different disciplines, blending them into a harmonious whole. While such a dialogue may not generate scienti c knowledge – an exhibition will never replace a book or a scienti c article – it is a powerful producer of understanding and curiosity.
In a world disoriented by the globalisation of commerce and the explosion of communication technologies, the civilisation exhibition conveys a humanist message. It restores humans to their rightful place at the heart of human concerns.
This exhibition is not a work of circumstance. It has been included in the programme of the Museum of Europe since its origin, seventeen years ago, and has continued to haunt the minds of members of our association.
It also addresses a fundamental concern – the study of European relations, taken as a whole, both inter- nally and externally, and takes its place in a series bearing the statement “It’s our history”: “Europe, it’s
our history”, “America, it’s our history”, and now Islam. “Islam”, with a capital letter since this term not only denotes a religion but also a civilisation.
It turns out that our exhibition comes at a very relevant time in history when the meeting between Europe and Islam is witnessed by citizens from the continent in all its tragic manifestations – massive and chaotic waves of immigration, senseless terrorist violence, feelings of alienation, incomprehension and hostility.
Should we cancel it or at least postpone it until happier circumstances? De nitely not, we believe. It is precisely because the timing is tragic that it is important to show our contemporaries the extraordinary richness of this history, which has helped to make us what we are. We should not hide what is wrong any more than relativize it, but place it a centu- ries-old history, which has much more to it than just this.
After all, do we imagine a history of Europe reduced to wars between its nations?