BRUSSELS - Religion is seen as a main reason behind opposition to Turkey's admission into the European Union as many believe that the continent is trying to preserve its position as a Christian club that does not accept other civilizations.
"What we hear and what they are telling us is that they are not a Christian club," Metin Balci, muezzin and imam at Istanbul famous Blue Mosque, told EUobserver.
But if you look at their approach to us, then we see and we feel that it is such a club.
Turkey, a predominantly-Muslim but a secular country which straddles Europe and Asia, applied for EU's membership in 1959 and became an EU candidate in 1999.
But Ankara's half-century quest to join Europe's 27-country club has been dogged by problems since it was made an official candidate in October 2005.
Seeing religion as a main reason, Balci believes that the European opposition to Turkish membership is based on Islamophobia.
Even Christians believe that religion is a main reason behind blocking Turkey's accession into the European club.
"With all due respect to the strong presence of Muslims in Europe, I think every single person in Europe thinks that Europe is a Christian continent, not Muslim," bishop Hovakim Manukyan, an ecumenical officer at the Armenian Apostolic Church, told EUobserver.
"We are also Christian and we have much more in common [with EU member states]. I would say the same about our Christian neighbor Georgia."
The EU is already home to 13 million Muslims, over 1 million Jews and 370 million people who tell polsters they are Christian.
Apart from Turkey, two other majority Muslim places - Albania and Kosovo - are in line to join.
Despite Vatican lobbying, the EU Treaty does not mention the word "Christian" on any of its 403 pages.
It begins by saying the Union "[draws] inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe." Later on, it says that any "European state" can join.
When asked by this EUobserver what "European" means, the European Commission said it means respect for "universal" values, such as "democracy, equality and the rule of law."
Clash of civilizations
For Rabbi David Rosen, a leading Jewish thinker, opposition to Turkey's admission into the EU is a clash between antiquity and modernity.
"It is ... between the enlightened (who embrace the good things of modernity - science, individual autonomy, human rights) and the reactionary (who feel threatened by those things). The enlightened are those who do not claim a monopoly on truth and the reactionary are those that do," rabbi Rosen said.
"Muslims from 'Europeanized' (e.g. Balkan) societies, which can even include some Arab societies (e.g. the educated elite in Morocco), are able to be part of European society as well as anyone else."
But the rabbi's ideas are rejected by the Turkish imam, who sees EU-Turkish relations as of two competing civilizations trying to come together.
"I trust the EU will make decisions about Turkey according to its democratic rules, Balci said.
We would like to join the Union not because we want its money or its technology, but because we would like to have the same democratic system.
The imam noted that Muslim societies in medieval times led Europe in terms of science, women's rights and even "personal hygiene."
"The West has the power now. But the history of the world is not 100 years. It is a longer span. Things change ... I believe that Islam in the future can take the lead once again," he said.
Balci said Muslim societies have their own form of enlightenment, encouraging integration between different cultures.
"We have things to take from Europe and things to give to Europe. Europe needs more humanity, the imam said.Western technology has put a man on the moon. But nobody goes upstairs to the top floor to visit their sick neighbor, to ask if they're OK."
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net