April 13/ May 8
This spring, Salafi activism and reactions to it have been at the centre of public attention in Germany.
At the end of April, the “Read the Koran” initiative took place: Salafi activists distributed free copies of the Koran to passers-by in several German cities. The event has triggered a discussion among German authorities on how to deal with the recent activities of the radical Islamist branch. Politicians and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution have expressed great concern about the Koran distribution initiative, interpreting it as propaganda and a destabilizing factor for religious peace. Journalists who were reporting about the Salafist activities were threatened by some Salafi adherents. The latter have also released intimidating videos on the internet platform You Tube.
Days later, as the date of elections of the German Federal State North Rhine–Westphalia was drawing close, the far right-wing movement (Pro NRW) has initiated a German wide “Muhammad cartoon contest”, displaying provoking Muhammad cartoons in front of mosques. On May 1st, Pro NRW gathered a group of its adherents in the German city of Solingen, and about thirty Salafi activists used this opportunity to protest against the anti-Islamic cartoons. The Salafi protest turned to violent confrontation, when some radical Islamists begun to attack German police by throwing stones and wielding poles from protest banners.
Confrontation escalated dramatically in Bonn on May 6th. Approximately 200 Salafists attacked about 30 far right-wing extremists, belonging to Pro NRW, who were showing posters of the Muhammad cartoons. More than 29 police men were injured through stone and knife attacks by violent Salafi. Rather than spontaneous, the Salafi counter protesters are said to have been mobilized in advance. The North Rhine–Westphalian Minister of Interior Ralf Jäger (SPD) called for strict legal consequences against the violent extremists and condemned the provocation of Pro NRW as an attempt of sedition against the four millions of peaceful Muslims in Germany.
The context: Salafi leaders and associations
There are about 4000 Salafi adherents in Germany, living all over the country but mostly in its Western regions, like North Rhine-Westphalia (Cologne, Moenchen-Gladbach, Iserlohn), as well as in Berlin.
Among leading figures for the movement there is Ibrahim Abou Nagie, a preacher and project initiator from Cologne. He is said to be a Palestinian from Gaza who migrated to Germany as student of electric engineering. He claims then to have made a multimillionaire fortune as a businessman but that he had changed his mind when he found the internet platform “The True Religion”. While he was one of the leaders of the campaign “Read the Koran”, he does not seem to be involved in the anti-cartoons demonstrations. German authorities regard his platform as one of the political strands of Salafism but suspect him to be close to violent Jihadi circles, radicalizing Muslims with hate speeches. Some of these hate speeches have called to execute homosexuals and called to persecute Jews. Organization-wise, since 2005, Abou Nagie used the online platform “The True Religion” to preach and address young Muslims. He and other Salafi members invite young Muslims to become conscious about their religion. Skype conferences are also offered, to invite conversions and offer advice about religious jurisprudence.
Pierre Vogel is another central figure among the Salafi. He belongs to the political arm of Salafism refusing the Jihad approach in his official speeches. A former boxer, the German man converted to Islam and started preaching on You Tube, mainly addressing young Muslims with messages about the Sharia and whether the fundamental values of 7th Century Islam would be conform with today’s cultural and societal forms of life. He uses examples related to leisure time, disco, music, alcohol and unveiled women to attract the interest of young Muslims. Despite, or probably because of his popularity among younger Muslims, he has denied any active involvement in the recent Salafi actions. He has actually condemned the violence, while still supporting the spirit of the anti-cartoons protest.
A third important Salafist, the Austrian Islamist Muhammad Mahmud, has been deported at the end of April by the German State of Hessen. Mahmud, also known as Abu Usama al-Gharib (Name in Jihadi milieu), was convicted and found guilty of creating the German speaking branch of the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), an organization supporting and advertising the actions of Al Qaida in the media. He perceives himself as a neo-fundamentalist who would convert Germans to Salafi Islam.
Last, Sheikh Hassan Dabbagh who is an Imam and preacher of the Al-Rahman mosque in the German city of Leipzig. He uses the internet platform www.Salaf.de to speak about Islamic practice, family issues and the prophet Muhammad. He belongs to the political strand of Salafism and has criticized the Salafi protests appealing them to reject violence. Preaching the Islamic missionary approach of Dawa, he eschewed the recent escalation that would only serve German authorities and media to condemn the Salafi and isolate Islam from Germany.
The association “Invitation to Paradise” was a center for mobilization and organization of Salafi activities. Social and cultural activities such as collective prayers, pilgrimages and protests against the ban of Burqa were organized in Cologne and Moenchen-Gladbach. Parts of its activities were webinars, which offered courses on Islamic studies. Together with other Salafi organizations, “Invitation to Paradise” became the object of a police investigation in the aftermaths of a terrorist attack in March 2011: two American soldiers had been shot by a self-radicalized young Islamist. Before the State authorities took any action to ban the association, “Invitation to Paradise” dissolved itself.
(Die Zeit Online PDF Version)
(Spiegel Online International – English Version)
(Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution –Report Salafism)
(Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution –Report 2010)
(Replaced webpage of “Invitation to Islam”)
(Political Missionary Salafism)
(SWP Study 2012)