Helsinki Grand Mosque’s rocky road

When it comes to building mosques, Finland is not any different from other European countries in terms of opposition that such projects receive either from the side of the officials or the public. The Helsinki Grand Mosque project has been on-going since 2015 and now once again, debates over funding have put a spanner in the works.

The mosque project has been previously endorsed by the deputy mayor of Helsinki and it is led jointly by the Forum for Culture and Religion “FOCUS”, local Muslim associations and the recently established “Oasis” foundation. Trying to fill a desideratum in facilities and services that would bring the Muslims together and away from the undersized prayer rooms, the objective of the central mosque project is to construct a building complex of 20.000 m2 in size, including prayer halls and a community center that would organize activities and events for Muslims and non-Muslims alike and thus contribute and promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue and social cohesion.

The concerns over funding have been directed especially at the involvement of Kingdom of Bahrain as the financial coordinator. In December, an event with international guests were organized in Helsinki to celebrate the Independence Day of Bahrain. In connection to the festivities, one of the nation-wide daily newspapers Helsingin Sanomat reported in January about the current concerns of the city representatives over possible extremist background of Bahrain and those instances that have shown interest to provide support in collecting the needed funds. Security officials insist now on an investigation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs based on fears of extremist readings of Islam spreading to the country through the cooperation with Bahrain. This despite continuous assurances from one of the project coordinators Pia Jardi that the help from Bahrain has no strings attached in any every-day matters of the mosque/community center and the fact that the board members in the Oasis-foundation which was established for the administrative purposes of the project are all based in Finland.

Concerns about the mosque’s ability to welcome Muslim worshipers from different backgrounds were also expressed in a radio show Horisontti broadcasted by YLE. The youth civil activist Anter Yasa, argued that the imams for the mosque should be educated in Finland, receiving an academic degree and thus following the example of the country’s practice in educating priests. With his statement, he was opposing the possibility of the future imams receiving their qualifications from Bahrain which would in his understanding cause segregation instead of integration. Moreover, he maintained that the Muslim communities should rather turn to bank loans in financial matters than help from abroad. However, any ability of the small Finnish Muslim community comprising of somewhat 60 000 individuals to meet such financial obligations for a project of over 100 million euros was not addressed.

The chairwoman of the Young Muslims’ Union Helsinki chapter (Nuoret Muslimit ry), Nahla Hewidy was in turn pinpointing in the discussion the aspect of such mosque and especially its services as a community center being a necessity that would put Muslims and the youth in particular to equal footing with other major religious communities who already have such facilities. She maintained, that the project would enhance the welfare and spiritual development of those generations that struggle with identities between cultures and offer a them safe space where they would find recognition and acceptance.

Campaign Launches to Get More Muslims Active in Politics

BOSTON — A nationwide campaign to get more Muslim Americans involved in local politics is being launched by a Massachusetts nonprofit.

Jetpac Inc. is focused on training Muslim Americans how to leverage social media, data analysis and other critical political tools to build winning campaigns for city council, school committee and other down ballot races.

The goal is to build stronger, more sophisticated grassroots political organizations with an eye toward the 2018 elections, according to Shaun Kennedy, Jetpac Inc.’s executive director.

“The community as a whole is about 50 years behind in terms of organizing,” said Kennedy, who is not Muslim. “The younger generation is trying to step up. The older generation just tried to fly under the radar. They didn’t want to be part of the political conversation. Unfortunately they are now, whether they like it or not.”

“Any Muslim candidate doesn’t need to draw attention to the fact that they’re Muslim. Someone else is going to do that for them,” he said. “At the end of the day, they are running as Americans. They’re not Muslim American candidates but American candidates who just so happen to be Muslim.”

Department of Homeland Security halts enforcement of controversial travel ban

The Department of Homeland Security said Saturday, February 4, 2017, that it had suspended “any and all actions” related to President Trump’s travel ban on immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries, as well as its temporary halt on refugee resettlements.

The move came after a federal judge in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order against the major parts of Trump’s executive order, effective nationwide, in response to a lawsuit filed by the states of Washington and Minnesota.

The State Department, which “provisionally revoked” 60,000 visas since the president signed his executive order on Jan. 27, said Saturday it had started re-accepting those visas from people in the countries affected.

Trump’s White House has said it will ask for an emergency stay of the judge’s order, arguing the president’s actions were lawful.

Virginia’s Eloquent Lawsuit Brilliantly Connects the Muslim Ban to Segregation

On Friday, a federal judge allowed Virginia to intervene in ongoing litigation over Donald Trump’s Muslim ban in order to protect Virginians who might be detained, deported, or denied re-entry under the executive order.  The state’s complaint eloquently explains why the ban infringes upon immigrants’ due process and equal protection rights while violating The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. However, the most striking section arrives at the end when the state invokes Justice John Marshall Harlan’s famous dissent from the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson:

This is a monumental case involving a monumental abuse of Executive Power. So it is worth remembering another monumental case, Plessy v. Ferguson, that enshrined in American law—for more than a half century—the approval of government-mandated racial segregation. The majority in Plessy reasoned that government-mandated segregation “does not discriminate against either race, but prescribes a rule applicable alike to white and colored citizens.” We admire the first Justice Harlan for putting the lie to that claim: “Every one knows” what was being justified, he said. The same is true here.

World’s Muslim population more widespread than you might think

President Donald Trump’s recent executive order temporarily freezing immigration from seven predominantly Islamic countries would affect only about 12% of the world’s Muslims, according to estimates from a 2015 Pew Research Center Report on the current and projected size of religious groups. In fact, of the seven countries named in the new immigration ban – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – only one, Iran, is among the ten countries with the largest Muslim populations.

As of 2010, there were an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, making Islam the world’s second-largest religious tradition after Christianity. And although many people, especially in the United States, may associate Islam with countries in the Middle East or North Africa, nearly two-thirds (62%) of Muslims live in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the Pew Research Center analysis. In fact, more Muslims live in India and Pakistan (344 million combined) than in the entire Middle East-North Africa region (317 million).

Travel Ban Drives Wedge Between Iraqi Soldiers and Americans

President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order has driven a wedge between many Iraqi soldiers and their American allies. Officers and enlisted men interviewed on the front lines in Mosul said they interpreted the order as an affront — not only to them but also to fellow soldiers who have died in the battle for Mosul.

“An insult to their dignity,” said Capt. Abdul Saami al-Azzi, an officer with the counterterrorism force in Mosul. He said he was hurt and disappointed by a nation he had considered a respectful partner. “It is really embarrassing.”

“If America doesn’t want Iraqis because we are all terrorists, then America should send its sons back to Iraq to fight the terrorists themselves,” Capt. Ahmed Adnan al-Musawe told a New York Times reporter who was with him this week at his barricaded position inside Mosul.

Col. John L. Dorrian, the spokesman in Baghdad for the American-led operation against the Islamic State, emphasized that the president’s order was temporary, calling it “a pause.”

Confusion and caution: German Muslims and politicians react to Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’

 

The widespread confusion that has reigned since Donald Trump signed the executive order temporarily barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries on January 27 has not left German Muslims untouched.

Not only were a number of Muslim travellers from these countries left stranded at German airports as they were unable to board their connecting flights to the US after the order had been signed.(( http://hessenschau.de/gesellschaft/nach-trumps-einreiseverbot-stranden-muslime-in-frankfurt,transit-100.html )) The ban also impacts Muslims residing in Germany who have retained the nationality of their ancestors, as well as dual nationals holding a passport from the countries targeted besides their German citizenship.

Impact on dual citizens

Especially the issue of dual citizens has received heightened media coverage, since it meant that around 130,000 German passport holders were initially barred from entering the United States.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/trumps-praesidentschaft/einreiseverbot-von-donald-trump-betrifft-deutsche-doppelstaatler-14797893.html ))

Among this group were a number of high-ranking public figures, including German-Iranian Green Party politician Omid Nouripour. Ironically enough, Nouripour is a fiercely atlanticist politician and the vice chairman of the German-American parliamentary cooperation committee.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/donald-trump-omid-nouripour-darf-nicht-mehr-in-die-usa-reisen-a-1131900.html ))

Other individuals affected include Hesse’s economy minister and German-Yemeni Tarek Al-Wazir, German-Iranian Navid Kermani – a public intellectual and long-considered candidate for the post of President of the Federal Republic – or Aiman Mazyek, German-Syrian chairman of the Central Council of Muslims (ZMD).

Unresolved situation of Muslim residents

As the Trump administration appeared to walk back on some of the elements of its ‘Muslim ban’, dual citizens were exempted from the entry restrictions: US authorities confirmed that holders of German passports would be eligible to travel to the United States, irrespective of their second citizenship.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/usa-unter-praesident-trump-deutsche-doppelstaatler-duerfen-wohl-doch-in-usa-einreisen-1.3358859 ))

No solution, however, appeared to be in sight for the Muslim residents of Germany, who – in spite of their often long-standing presence in the country – have not acquired German nationality. To them, the ban still applies to its fullest extent.

German Muslims’ opinion on Trump

Against this backdrop, it is all the more surprising that in a poll conducted between 27 and 30 January 2017 – and thus in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s executive decree – only 44.7 per cent of Muslim German respondents had a negative opinion of the Trump presidency. Among the overall German population, 68.4 per cent expressed such a negative view.(( http://cicero.de/berliner-republik/ciceroumfrage-klare-mehrheit-der-deutschen-gegen-trump ))

More than a third of German Muslims asserted that it was “a good thing that Donald Trump is President of the United States”. Beyond questions of statistical accuracy – with a sample size of 2,088, the share of Muslim respondents must have been small – political calculations detached from the ‘Muslim ban’ might also play a role in this assessment: many Muslim Middle Easterners were glad to see Trump triumph over Hillary Clinton, believing that the Republican would pursue a less interventionist policy vis-à-vis the region.(( https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/10/middle-east-donald-trump-president ))

Political reaction to the ‘Muslim ban’

The overall political reaction in Berlin to President Trump’s executive order has been more muted than might have been expected. Chancellor Merkel had her spokesman state that she “regretted” the ‘Muslim ban’ for its divisive implications. Yet when prodded by journalists the spokesman explicitly refrained from formally “condemning” the incoming administration’s move. Instead, the spokesman emphasised the need to analyse the situation and its implications. (( http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/DE/_ElementeStart/Sprecher_node.html ))

Merkel subsequently went on to take a more openly critical stance in front of the press, asserting that the fight against terrorism did not justify a general suspicion against people of a certain belief. She was nevertheless careful to guard her words, stopping short of openly antagonising the Trump administration.(( http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/angela-merkel-donald-trump-muslim-ban_uk_588f8483e4b0ce6c8c2cc69b ))

While the opposition was quick to castigate the ban, another leading conservative politician, Bavarian Minister President Horst Seehofer, strove to hit a more conciliatory line towards the Trump administration.

Breaking ranks?

Seehofer, a long-standing inner-party critic of Merkel’s immigration policy, lauded the new American President for “quickly and determinedly implementing his campaign pledges step by step.” While he asserted that he did not agree with all of Trump’s policies, he invited the President to visit Bavaria and demanded that Trump’s status as the freely elected representative of the United States be respected.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/horst-seehofer-lobt-donald-trump-a-1132190.html ))

Seehofer has a long history of challenging Merkel on foreign and immigration matters through well-calculated contacts with foreign decision-makers. In October 2016, he welcomed Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán in Munich with great fanfare; a move that was widely seen as a bid to undermine Merkel’s immigration policy.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/europaeische-union/viktor-orban-besucht-horst-seehofer-im-bayerischen-landtag-14485223.html )) In 2016, he also flew to Moscow twice for talks with Vladimir Putin in what appeared to be open defiance against Merkel’s position on the Ukraine crisis and her support for sanctions against Russia.(( http://www.br.de/nachrichten/seehofer-russland-putin-100.html ))

This highlights that while in the days after the promulgation of the ‘Muslim ban’ the Anglo-Saxon media rushed to celebrate the Merkel government as the bulwark against Trumpism,(( http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/angela-merkel-donald-trump-democracy-freedom-of-press-a7556986.html )) the actual position of the Chancellor and her administration is much more complex. Rather than assume the mantle of the ‘Chancellor of the Free World’ in a determined – yet, from her point of view, ultimately suicidal – stance against Trump, Merkel may well opt for a more cautious course of action.

A political figure: The number of Muslims in Germany

The Federal Ministry for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) has published a new study on the number of Muslims living in Germany for the first time since 2009.

After the admission of hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers by the Merkel government in summer and autumn of 2015, these numbers are eminently political: populist movements’ campaign platforms focus on the (perceived) ‘Islamisation of the West’, and 40 per cent of Germans believe that the country is being ‘infiltrated’ by Islam.

Providing a corrective to populists

These fears are also reflected in the tendency—observable in all Western countries—to overestimate the Muslim population. An Ipsos Mori poll, conducted in late 2016, revealed that German respondents estimated more than 20 per cent of the German population to be Muslim.(( https://www.theguardian.com/society/datablog/2016/dec/13/europeans-massively-overestimate-muslim-population-poll-shows ))

Against this backdrop, the numbers of the BAMF study are a welcome reality check. According to the study, by December 31, 2015, Germany was home to between 4.4 and 4.7 million men and women of Muslim faith. This translates into a Muslim share in the overall population of about 5.4 to 5.7 per cent.

Growing diversity of the Muslim population

Moreover, the study contains interesting insights about the composition of the Muslim population in the country. While in 2011 67.5 per cent of Muslims were of Turkish background, their share has dropped to about 50.6 per cent. Muslims of Middle Eastern origin now constitute the second largest group among German Muslims.

This is linked to the fact that around 27 per cent of Muslims in Germany—or 1.2 million men and women—have only recently, i.e. over the past 5 years, immigrated to the country. Consequently, the diversity of Muslim life has grown significantly in Germany over the past few years.

An inadequate religious structure

The participation of these new arrivals in the existing religious institutions and frameworks is not straightforward, however. In a large number of the country’s mosques, Turkish language, culture, and Islamicality predominate, meaning that they struggle to attract Arab Muslims.

At the same time, many Syrians have felt uneasy to visit Arabic-speaking mosques, due to their conservative nature. Syrians reported that they were often criticised for their clothing style and their (lack of) religious devotion. Most of these mosques are financed by the Gulf monarchies.(( https://de.qantara.de/inhalt/syrische-fluechtlinge-und-arabische-moscheen-in-deutschland-allah-hoert-zu ))

Some hope that the arrival of Syrians can help to break the hold of Wahhabi-Salafi orthodoxy in Arabic-speaking mosques. Yet this is not a foregone conclusion: Syrian refugee Jaber al-Bakr, who planned a bomb attack on one of Berlin’s airports, was reportedly radicalised by conservative Imams after his arrival in Germany.

Shortcomings on ample display

Yet in spite of its contribution to factualising the debate, the BAMF’s study also contains a number of distinctive shortcomings.

At the most general level, the fact that the study was conducted by the federal office responsible for migration and refugees is telling. It highlights that Islam and the presence of Muslims is still seen predominantly as a migrant phenomenon—rather than as a phenomenon that is part and parcel of ordinary German life and citizenship.

More particularly, the reliance on the databases of the BAMF means that German converts to Islam are not included in the study’s figures. The number of these converts is difficult to gauge due to lack of data. According to leading researcher Esra Özyürek, whose anthropological fieldwork has focused on German converts to Islam, estimates range from 20,000 to 100,000.(( http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/gesellschaft/muslime-in-deutschland-konvertiten-erfahren-besonders-viel-abneigung-a-1111636.html ))

Foreigner = Muslim

At the same time, the BAMF often counts every immigrant from a Muslim-majority country as Muslim—irrespective of whether the person in question identifies with the Islamic faith. Nor, of course, is the BAMF interested in the level and the particularities of individual religious observance.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/zahl-der-muslime-in-deutschland-wie-viel-millionen-sind-es.886.de.html?dram:article_id=375505 ))

The study is thus an important contribution to a debate that all too often appears completely disconnected from factual analysis. Yet on its own, the obsession with numbers does very little to address any of the questions and problems that Germany and its Muslim community face.