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A Muslim organisation in Manchester, the Ramandan Foundation, organised an interfaith vigil in St Ann’s Square for the victims of the Manchester terrorist attack. The ceremony included a message from Pope Francis, read by the regional head of the Catholic Church, the Bishop of Salford John Arnold. There were also speeches by other religious leaders from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim backgrounds.
Periodically, the German discourse on immigration is marked by the resurgence of a distinctly German notion – the idea of a ‘guiding culture’ (Leitkultur), supposed to connote an essence of Germanness that needs to be safeguarded amidst what appear to be accelerating migratory flows.
The term was first coined in 1996 by political scientist Bassam Tibi, who asserted that, in the face of Muslim immigration, Europeans needed to develop and uphold a “European guiding culture”. For Tibi, central elements included the dominance of reason over religious revelation, democracy and the separation of religion and politics, pluralism, and tolerance.
Tibi’s critique of what he saw as cultural relativism and as unlimited immigration was subsequently taken up in political circles – most notably by the CDU politician Friedrich Merz, at the time one of his party’s leading young faces. In the process, it assumed a more narrowly German meaning.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/leitkultur-merz-geht-in-die-offensive-a-99435.html ))
Ever since, calls for an official recognition and – in one way or another – an enforcement of a ‘guiding culture’ are regularly voiced on the conservative side of the political spectrum.
The latest – and particularly crude – attempt to do so was recently kick-started by the German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maizière. In an op-ed for the Sunday edition of the country’s best-selling tabloid, Bild, de Maizière wrote that “I like the term ‘guiding culture’ and want to stick with it.” The piece was titled: “We are not burka (Wir sind nicht Burka)”.(( http://www.bild.de/bild-plus/politik/inland/thomas-de-maiziere/leitkultur-fuer-deutschland-51509022,view=conversionToLogin.bild.html ))
The remainder of the relatively long text includes somewhat repetitive musings on the notion of a ‘guiding culture’, followed by a platitudinous as well as random ten-point checklist supposedly summarising its core elements. Essentials of Germanness mentioned range from giving a handshake by way of greeting to Germany’s embedding in the NATO security architecture.
To paper over the cracks of the rather flimsy content of the article, Bild underlaid the entire text with the black-red-gold of the German flag, further enhancing its nationalistic overtones.
As the title intimates, Muslim immigration lies at the heart of de Maizière’s intervention. The first of the ten theses starts by highlighting the need to shake hands and to show one’s face in order to participate in the democratic community.
The fourth section asserts that “religion is a glue rather than a wedge in our country”. This also means upholding the Christian heritage of Germany through Christian festivals and buildings. The seventh point then takes a swipe at notions of “honour” that many immigrants may – illegitimately – connect with “violence”.
Other elements of de Maizière’s declaration stray much further afield, making a good level of “general knowledge (Allgemeinbildung)” constitutive of Germanness (thesis 2), as well as defining Germany via its capitalist ‘social market economy’ (thesis 3). Particularly tortuous manoeuvring is reserved for the issue of patriotism, which – in view of 20th-century German history – de Maizière strives hard to separate from nationalism by asserting that “we are enlightened patriots” (thesis 8).
Reactions to de Maizière’s statements were mixed. While he drew considerable applause from the CDU party, others pointed out that his ’10 points on guiding culture’ were indicative above all of an attempt to fend off conservative challengers from within his own party.
Notably, the Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann is mooted as a replacement for de Maizière should Angela Merkel return to the chancellery after the upcoming German federal election.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/leitkultur-thomas-de-maiziere-und-seine-thesen-sorgen-fuer-aufregung-a-1145587.html ))
Politicians from the Social Democrats, Greens, and the Left remained critical of the discourse on Leitkultur, dismissing it as a political ploy.
As usual, however, the voices of those being ‘talked about’ in this debate were much less likely to be heard. Immigrants, and more particularly Muslim immigrants (as well as their descendants), were not party to the debate being led in the country’s main media outlets and on the political stage.
This state of affairs was criticised by Armina Omerika, Bosnian-born professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Frankfurt((https://www.zdf.de/kultur/forum-am-freitag/forum-am-freitag-vom-12-mai-2017-100.html )): she noted that the ostentatious targets of the Leitkultur debate were never reached by and included in these discussions; a fact which, since Friedrich Merz’s comments in 2000, had made all talk about a ‘guiding culture’ a rather sterile and inane exercise.
More broadly, Omerika questioned the attempt to legalise and commit to paper inherently changeable and shifting social conventions. Giving examples from the university context, Omerika noted that social life in Germany was totally different today when compared to even the recent past of only 50 years ago.
When interviewed about the Interior Minister’s ideas on Leitkultur, a group of Syrian refugees from the town of Rüsselsheim had very little to say about it.((https://www.zdf.de/kultur/forum-am-freitag/forum-am-freitag-vom-12-mai-2017-100.html )) The common consensus appeared to be that it did not really matter what de Maizière said but that it was important to interact with others respectfully in everyday life and respect the ‘ways of the German people’ (whatever that might mean), even if that did not necessitate giving up all one’s own cultural particularities.
A social worker underscored the point that most new arrivals would not even be able to read de Maizière’s article due to the language barrier, making his text a purely ‘domestic’ exercise catering mainly to the established population and to political rivals.
More self-consciously Muslim voices were dismayed by what they perceived to be de Maizière’s exclusivism: Malika Laabdallaoui, Moroccan-born psychologist and chairwoman of the Central Council of Muslims in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, stressed somewhat defiantly that not only church spires, handshakes, and carnival belonged to Germany, as insinuated by the Interior Minister.((https://www.zdf.de/kultur/forum-am-freitag/forum-am-freitag-vom-12-mai-2017-100.html ))
“Germany is my country, too”, she asserted. “I belong here with all my values, my religion, my mindset, my engagement for society, my German as well as my Christian and my Muslim friends, with my family.” Addressing de Maizière, she added: “How can it be that you just think me away out of this society?”
A new study by the Bertelsmann Foundation has taken a closer look at Germans’ charitable work for refugees. According to the survey, 44 per cent of German Muslims volunteered their time by helping in asylum shelters or elsewhere over the course of the year 2016.
The study’s coordinators emphasised that these numbers could refute the widespread assumption that Muslims were neither invested in refugee aid programmes nor willing to take on responsibilities in civil society more generally.
This reproach had surfaced more and more often in recent political debates. For instance, Germany’s Interior Minister, Thomas de Maizière, asserted that not enough German Muslims were involved in integrating the recently arrived refugees.((http://www.n-tv.de/politik/De-Maiziere-nimmt-Muslime-in-die-Pflicht-article18682541.html ))
The study revealed that Muslims are considerably more active in charitable causes linked with refugees and asylum-seekers than their Christian counter-parts: of the latter, only 21 per cent became involved in these causes, compared with 17 per cent of respondents unaffiliated with any religion.
Within the heterogeneous group of German Muslims, 53 per cent of all those with roots in the Middle East were active in refugee aid efforts, compared with 42 per cent of their ethnically Turkish counterparts. This reflects the ethnic and linguistic origins of the large number of Syrian and Iraqi arrivals.((https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article163148827/Muslime-in-Deutschland-helfen-besonders-haeufig-Fluechtlingen.html ))
The study also revealed that while initially in many neighbourhoods considerable scepticism had reigned vis-à-vis the opening of large housing units for asylum-seekers, only a small fraction of neighbours (8 per cent in West Germany and 15 per cent in East Germany, respectively) subsequently felt disturbed by these housing complexes and their inhabitants.
The authors of the study stressed that activists of Muslim faith did not seek to use their position in refugee aid efforts to proselytise. This had been another much-evoked fear in recent months. Yet three quarters of Muslim respondents asserted that they did not see themselves in a position to convince others of their religious convictions. This number mirrors the close to four fifths of Christian and atheist aid workers evincing the same missionary restraint.
This is not to deny the existence of smaller currents more actively engaged in missionary activity. Salafi preachers have sought to gain access to refugees’ housing projects, although the scope of the phenomenon remains unclear.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/krude-missionierung-salafisten-werben-nahe-fluechtlingsheimen-13793462.html ))
Similar—and, judging from the press echo, even more aggressive—proselytization activities have been conducted by Evangelical churches, as well as by the community of Jehovah’s Witnesses.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/bayern/fluechtlinge-wie-evangelikale-christen-fluechtlinge-bekehren-wollen-1.3022011 ))
All of this should not suggest, however, that there are no obstacles to German Muslims’ engagement for Iraqis, Syrians, and other Middle Eastern or Muslim refugees. To be sure, on a personal level they often work as the kind of invaluable “cultural mediators” the report of the Bertelsmann Foundation describes. With respect to their institutional capacities, however, German Muslims’ possibilities are more limited.
Perhaps most notably, mosques across the country are still confronted with severe spatial and monetary constraints. This is partly due to the fact that Islamic communities have so far not managed to obtain a legal status comparable to the Christian churches or a of Jewish congregations; a status that would bring not just legal recognition but also a host of financial perks.
While Turkey remains a – controversial – source of funding for the mosques affiliated to the German branch of its DİTİB organisation, other, mainly non-Turkish communities have at times turned to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia for funding.(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/30/muslime-in-deutschland-moschee-glauben-staat/komplettansicht ))
As a result, these mosques have often taken an increasingly conservative stance. These tendencies have, in turn, perturbed Syrian refugees who, when looking for Arab-speaking religious spaces, were often left with Wahhabi-tinged offers only.(( https://de.qantara.de/inhalt/syrische-fluechtlinge-und-arabische-moscheen-in-deutschland-allah-hoert-zu ))
Thus, considerable work remains to be done to ensure that German Muslims can effectively realise their willingness to aid their fellow Muslims in making Germany their home. Indeed, the Bertelsmann study has shown that this willingness is strong. Some charitable organisations have latched on to this, with for instance the Bosch Foundation offering special financial support for civil society projects carried out by young Muslims.(( http://www.bosch-stiftung.de/content/language1/html/49624.asp ))
The more enduring challenge is the strengthening of Muslims’ religious institutions in Germany. Studies have consistently highlighted the importance of well-functioning Islamic (religious) organisations as a springboard for broader societal participation. Involvement in the charitable work of local mosques does not, therefore, lead to increased segregation – contrary to the oft-voiced fear.(( http://www.migazin.de/2016/10/12/geheimnis-der-integrationsdebatte-muslime-engagieren-sich-mehr-als-viele-glauben-wollen/ ))
Against this backdrop, enabling German mosques to leave behind their drab backyard quarters without having to rely on funding from the Gulf that often comes with strings attached re-emerges as an all-important concern.
The French left-wing think tank Terra Nova recently published a report in which it urges a “less centralized Islam” in France, as well as additional days off for Muslim and Jewish holidays. The study, entitled “the Emancipation of French Islam,” notes the limits to the French Council of the Muslim Faith’s ability to represent the country’s Muslim population.
The study suggests two additional days off for Muslim and Jewish holidays instead of the usual the days allotted after Christian holidays. Researchers argue that this change would ensure “that all religions are treated equally.” Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha would replace the Mondays off following Easter and Pentecost Monday.
To view the full report click here.
French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen on Monday called Syrian President Bashar Assad “the most reassuring solution for France,” a major divergence with her nation’s official policy.
Le Pen, head of the National Front, spoke after meetings with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri. They were among numerous officials, including the Christian Maronite patriarch, that Le Pen was meeting on her two-day visit to Lebanon, a former French protectorate.
The trip represented the first major foray into foreign policy for Le Pen, a leading candidate in France’s April 23 and May 7 election.
She said she told Hariri that there is “no viable and workable solution” to the Syrian civil war beyond choosing between Assad and the Islamic State group.
“I clearly explained that in the political picture the least bad option is the politically realistic. It appears that Bashar al Assad is evidently today the most reassuring solution for France.”
Le Pen has made known her preference for Assad in the past — a position that runs counter to the French government’s strong anti-Assad approach — but it carries extra weight being stated while on a foreign visit with a Syrian neighbor, and during unusual meetings with the nation’s top officials. The trip is Le Pen’s first real public foray into foreign policy.
Before meeting with the prime minister, Le Pen had a visit with Aoun, the leader of a Christian party allied with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia fighting on the side of Assad.
Le Pen was also using her two-day visit to the former French protectorate — and her unusual encounter with a foreign president — to appeal to the thousands of French voters in Lebanon.
A Muslim and a Christian have made a new translation of the Quran to underline the similarities between their two religions.
The authors, who are also friends, said they hoped the text would provide “a tool of reconciliation” between Christians and Muslims.
Some 3,000 parallels between the Bible and Quran are demonstrated in the book, which has a split-page format.
Safi Kaskas, the Muslim co-author of the new book, said in a statement: “Most of the tension that exists in the West in the post-9/11 era is because Christians fear Muslims and their book, the Quran.
“This new translation was designed to be a tool of reconciliation between Muslims and the followers of other Abrahamic religions [Christianity and Judaism].
“In an environment of tension, working for reconciliation and peace is long overdue. If we are to prevent a much larger disaster from happening, we must work for a better understanding.”
He said some translations had wrongly given the impression Islam was intolerant of other faiths, saying this was not an accurate interpretation of the holy text.
Mr Kaskas started the project with Dr David Hungerford, a Christian, 10 years ago. The book is part of a project by Bridges to Common Ground, an organisation that aims to reduce Islamophobic attitudes among Christians.
Dr Hungerford said: “We hope this translation will lead people to understand that while there are differences between Islam and Christianity, there is also a tremendous bridge between Muslims and Christians.”
There are more than 100 mentions of Jesus in the text – who is known as Esa in the Quran.
“In today’s society, no one talks about this common ground among the Abrahamic faiths, much of which is centered around the person of Jesus of Nazareth,” Dr Hungerford added.
Twelve years ago, I converted to Islam to marry a Tunisian. It was a purely formal conversion. I remained fundamentally agnostic until 20 months ago, I experienced a spiritual revelation, started to believe in God and to practise my religion of adoption.
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year, I felt it was my duty as a concerned Muslim citizen to express my outrage at having my religion hijacked by mindless thugs.
With several French Muslim theologians and intellectuals, we launched the “Khlass le silence!” (“Enough with the silence!”) movement, which called on French Muslims to take the lead in the struggle against the monsters who make a sordid mockery of our religion.
Despite the emotion felt throughout France and the French Muslim community, our appeal fell largely on deaf ears.
Less than a month later I teamed up with Anwar Ibrahim, the charismatic leader of Malaysia’s opposition; the Palestinian-Austrian theologian Adnan Ibrahim; and a number of other authoritative Muslim figures from all around the world.
Together, we argued that while our natural instinct as Muslims to distance ourselves from the jihadists, saying that the latter have “nothing to do with Islam”, was understandable, it was dubious intellectually and altogether irresponsible to keep our reaction at that.
The last serious attempt at launching a movement of Islamic reform, led by the Egyptian Muhammad Abduh at the turn of the 20th century, ended up in failure and gave way to the creation of the Muslim brotherhood.
To overcome the state of denial described above and the moral decadence that is affecting many of us, nothing less than a new movement of Islamic reform is needed.
Despite some welcome marks of support, our calls continued to go unheeded. Our initiative was attacked or ridiculed by many in the French Muslim community and we were soon branded apostates by Islamic State (my picture appeared along with death threats in their French language propaganda magazine Dar al Islam).
Not a single Muslim leader came to our defence in France when that happened, and barely a thousand of our fellow Muslims manifested their support for our initiative.
On this ignominious day, the time has come for me to repeat with a greater sense of urgency still what my cosignatories and I said earlier this year:
“My dear Muslim brothers and sisters, it is time to make our voices heard: we must rise up massively and tell the barbarians who ordered, executed or condoned the acts of mass murder just committed in Paris that from now on we will take the lead in fighting and hunting them down, not just beside, but ahead of, our Christian, Jewish, or agnostic brothers and sisters.
“We must do so because Muslims are the extremists’ first victims and because we have mustered the courage to take our responsibilities and launch a massive, global movement for Islamic reform.
“If we do not, we must accept that these monsters represent Islam (and us) in the face of the entire world. With obvious consequences in many an forthcoming European election. The choice is ours.”
Zaki Zayed, the imam of the mosque, President of the Islamic communities in Valladolid expressed his opinion on the acts of violence perpetrated by the ISIS fighters:”Whoever does these atrocities does not belong to any religion. He is not Muslim, but neither is this person Christian or Jew.” Therefore the Imam regrets even the allusion to the name ‘Islamic State’: “Those who make others suffer are not part of Islam.”