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.

Turkish citizens’ applications for asylum in Germany on the rise, aggravating diplomatic strain

 

Growing numbers of Turkish requests for asylum

During the first nine months of the year 2016, German authorities have registered a considerable rise in demands for asylum made by Turkish nationals. Between January and September, 3,973 Turkish citizens filed their requests with the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). This compares with an overall number of 1,767 demands for asylum filed in all of 2015.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/asylantraege-tuerkischer-staatsbuerger-101.html, http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/tuerkei-zahl-der-asylbewerber-steigt-laut-medienbericht-a-1106227.html ))

A spokesman of the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) asserted that authorities had not observed any increase in Turkish asylum applications since the failed coup attempt in July. ((http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/asylantraege-tuerkischer-staatsbuerger-101.html )) Yet it is questionable whether this assertion stands up to empirical scrutiny: by the end of June 2016, the number of applicants had stood at 1,719; only to skyrocket to the abovementioned number of 3,972 by the end of September. This implies that in the third quarter of 2016 alone, the number of Turkish asylum seekers more than doubled.

Kurds dominant among applicants

During the first six months of the year, 1,510 applicants were of Kurdish origin. Kurds had already constituted a large majority of Turkish asylum-seekers in 2015. Whilst this reflects the continued and indeed escalating violence in Turkey’s Kurdish regions, the acceptance rate of Kurds has actually fallen: only 5.2 per cent of Turkish Kurds received a positive decision from the BAMF. This compares to an almost equally low acceptance rate of 6.7 per cent for Turkish applicants in general.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-08/bamf-asyl-tuerken ))

Over the course of recent months, German Kurds have increasingly mobilised, staging street protests against developments in Turkey. They have also sought to pressure the German government to relinquish what they deem to be a stance of appeasement towards Erdoğan.(( https://kurdische-gemeinde.de/bundesregierung-hat-keinen-plan-b-fuer-das-eu-tuerkei-fluechtlingsabkommen/ )) Following the arrests of Kurdish HDP leaders Selahattin Demirtaş und Figen Yüksekdağ, Kurdish associations organised a large demonstration with up to 15,000 participants in Cologne.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/kurden-demonstration-in-koeln-erdoan-laesst-einem-keine-luft-zum-atmen-1.3236375 ))

Weak position of the German government

Chancellor Merkel seemed to step up her criticism of the Erdoğan administration after the latest spate of arrests. Yet while she referred to the situation in the country as “alarming” and intimated that there would be detrimental consequences for Turkey’s attempts to accede to the EU, Merkel stopped short of any more thoroughgoing redefinition of Germany’s relations with the country.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/angela-merkel-verschaerft-kritik-an-verhaftungen-in-tuerkei-14509228.html))

In his column for the Die Zeit weekly, Can Dündar, editor-in-chief of the recently raided Cumhuriyet newspaper had repeatedly criticised Merkel for her stance. The journalist, now living in German exile after his conviction for treason in Turkey, accused her of doing too little too late to penalise the human rights violations committed by the Turkish government.((http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2016-07/can-duendar-eu-tuerkei-angela-merkel-kritik))

However, Germany continues to be in a weak position vis-à-vis Erdoğan’s policies: Merkel has staked her political survival on the ‘refugee pact’ with the AKP administration. This agreement is the cornerstone of Merkel’s steps to stem the influx of refugees into Germany and therefore a crucial aspect in Merkel’s widely expected attempt to seek a fourth term in office at the federal elections in September 2017. After a string of electoral defeats attributed to Merkel’s initial ‘open door policy’, lower immigration figures are a key ingredient for calming the political climate to Merkel’s benefit.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/regional-elections-germany-deliver-gains-afd-weakening-merkel/))

Mutual recriminations and ‘terrorism’ charges

However, the ability of Merkel and her government to keep the boat steady and retain the status quo in its relations with Turkey seems to grow more limited by the day. Verbal mudslinging between the two administrations has returned to fever pitch after a German court refused to consider the defamation lawsuit Erdoğan had sought to bring against a German comedian, a case that had caused international uproar and profound embarrassment to the German government. ((http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/gesellschaft/jan-boehmermann-erdogan-scheitert-mit-beschwerde-a-1116635.html))

Subsequently, in early November the Turkish President accused Germany of harbouring and supporting the terrorists of the Kurdish PKK, the left-wing DHKP-C and of the Islamist Gülen movement. At a public speech, he asserted that German support for terrorism would be eternally remembered. Erdoğan claimed that he had requested the extradition of 4,000 suspects linked to the July coup attempt without receiving an answer from the German government.((http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2016-11/recep-tayyip-erdogan-deutschland-terrorismus))

These allegations come after the publication of a German government memo in August in which Turkey had been accused of supporting terrorism. The memo asserted that Turkey had become a central actor in the networks of Islamist parties and radical movements across the Middle East. The memo thus made public the at least implicit accusation of the German government that President Erdogan actively supports the armed jihadist forces in Syria.((http://www.zeit.de/2016/36/terrorismus-tuerkei-islamisten-unterstutzung-vorwuerfe))

Demands for asylum of high-ranking anti-government figures

Moreover, antagonism will not cease any time soon: as German news sources revealed, following the July 15 coup attempt, a growing number of high-ranking Turkish diplomats have asked for asylum in Germany. By late October, there were 35 ongoing requests for asylum of Turks holding a diplomatic passport. Asylum-seekers appear to include the former military attaché at Turkey’s Berlin embassy.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/asylantraege-tuerkischer-diplomaten-101.html, https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/diplomaten-tuerkei-schutz-101.html))

Reportedly, the Turkish embassy itself had been the site of significant confrontations during and after the failed putsch: allegedly, pro-military forces had planned to seize control of the embassy on the night of the coup, leading pro-government staff members to barricade themselves in one of the building’s floors. Subsequent days seem to have witnessed significant altercations taking place in the embassy’s interior, as well as the recall of a number of staff members to Turkey.((https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/diplomaten-tuerkei-schutz-101.html))

Unsurprisingly, Turkish authorities have already begun to pressure their German counterparts to extradite the 35 diplomats.((https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/diplomaten-tuerkei-schutz-101.html)) Some German politicians demanded that their requests for asylum be approved quickly, given the prevailing climate of persecution in Turkey.((https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/diplomaten-tuerkei-schutz-101.html)) So far, however, the BAMF has not taken any decisions. Such limbo is, in fact, the most desirable state of affairs for German authorities, since there is no appetite for an unpalatable choice between upholding legal principles and further antagonising a vital political partner.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/asylantraege-tuerkischer-diplomaten-101.html)) For how long this balancing act is sustainable remains to be seen.

New program aims to integrate Germany’s foreign-trained imams

Imams are sometimes stereotyped as agents of division or radicalization. But a new Germany-wide training program aims to exploit their potential to be forces for integration. Fifteen imams started coursework in mid-December as part of “Imams for Integration,” a four-month program designed to make them fluent in German culture as well as language.

Most of Germany’s imams grew up and received their religious training outside of Germany, often in Turkey. Turkey’s religious affairs office regularly sends theologians to over 800 German mosques, but few come with German language skills.

“Imams for Integration” is a joint initiative organized by the Goethe Institute, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), and the German association of Turkish Muslim congregations, DITIB. The program consists of 500 hours of German language instruction and 12 days of lessons about intercultural and German topics, such as the powers of the state, life in a pluralistic society, religious diversity, the educational system, migration, and community work.

Germany has misread Islam

When Wolfgang Schäuble convoked a multi-year “Islam Conference” in 2006 to ease relations between German society and its Muslim minority, the interior minister made a statement – “Islam is a part of Germany” – that was viewed as a groundbreaking and generous concession. Today it looks more like a statement of the obvious. At the final session of the conference on Thursday, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) released a study on “Muslim Life in Germany”. It found that there are vastly more Muslims in Germany than most specialists and pundits had assumed. Where most estimates held the Muslim population at around 3m, the more comprehensive BAMF study places it around 4m, and possibly as high as 4.3m. That means Muslims make up not 4 per cent of the population, but 6 per cent. Does this matter? Of course it does. The new numbers are grist to the mill of those who say the authorities have not been straight with them about the scope of immigration. More important, the size of a community affects a country’s options for integrating it. The bigger it is, the harder it is. Against this, the BAMF study offers one basic reason for optimism: diversity. We should think not of a monolith of millions of like-minded newcomers but of a mosaic of communities, 10,000 here, 10,000 there. If Germany’s Muslims cannot agree among themselves, then how, in the end, can they develop a loyalty or allegiance to anything other than the German state? The multi-facetedness of German Muslim life is an implicit rebuttal of the sense that Muslims are “taking over”. Christopher Caldwell reports.

Germany Has 1 Million More Muslims than Previously Thought

A new Interior Ministry study has revealed that Muslims in Germany are much more integrated than previously thought: Around half are German citizens and 70 percent of women never wear a headscarf. There are also many more Muslims in the country than was previously estimated.

Poor, uneducated and living in a “parallel society” of headscarf-wearing women and criminal youth: The common stereotype of Muslims in Germany is not an all-too-positive one. But a new study reveals a surprisingly different picture of the reality — including the fact that many more Muslims live in Germany than was previously believed. The study, which was commissioned by the Interior Ministry together with Germany’s Islam Conference, is the first country-wide study that gives a representative overview of Muslim life in Germany. Researchers from the Nuremberg-based Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) interviewed around 6,000 Muslims from 49 different countries about the role of religion in their everyday life and various aspects of integration. A summary of the study was published Tuesday and the full study will be presented Thursday at the last meeting of the Islam Conference, which Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble initiated in 2006 in a bid to launch a dialogue between the German state and the Muslim community.