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.
The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees is presenting the first nationwide representative study, “Muslim Life in Germany”, comprising people from 49 Islamic countries and thus offering an extensive view of Muslim life throughout Germany.
The research commissioned by the Deutsche Islam Konferenz (DIK; hereinafter referred to as the German Conference on Islam) gives unprecedented insight into the diversity of Muslim life in Germany as people from different contexts of origin were questioned about religion in everyday life and about aspects of structural and social integration.
A total of 6,004 people aged 16 and above were surveyed by telephone; together with the information provided about other household members the analyzes are based on data of almost 17,000 people.
The study is in English.
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.
Radical Islamic terrorism is becoming a more multifaceted and concrete threat to Germany.
“Islamist terrorism continues to be a real threat to Germans,” Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Tuesday in Berlin at the release of the 2008 report by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, an agency that monitors all forms of extremism in the country. Germany, Schaeuble said, is home to “a considerable Islamist personnel potential that also includes German Muslim converts.” An increasing number have been traveling to the border region shared by Afghanistan and Pakistan to receive training in al-Qaida-run terrorist camps, spy agencies have learned. Heinz Fromm, head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the government agency that compiled the 303-page report, spoke of a “new quality” of radical Islamic threats directed at Germany. “We are seeing more video threats that are addressing Germany and its military engagement in Afghanistan directly, and they are increasingly in German,” he said. Many videos are also aimed at recruiting Muslims in Germany for jihad, Fromm added. Berlin has some 4,000 troops stationed with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. In past years, authorities have foiled several attack plots in Germany that were aimed at protesting the country’s military involvement there.
But it’s not just radical Islamic terrorism that poses a security threat for Germany. The total number of right-wing extremist crimes in 2008 — a figure that also includes inciting racial hatred and spreading neo-Nazi propaganda material — shot up by 15.8 percent to 19,894, with 1,042 of the crimes violent. “The number of neo-Nazis, and this is alarming, has risen again,” Schaeuble said. The report says there are 4,800 neo-Nazis in Germany, up 400 from the previous year. The so-called Autonomous Nationalists, a group of black-clad right-wing extremists, have over the past year clashed repeatedly with left-wing extremists. “They are much more ready to use violence,” Fromm said. And it seems the neo-Nazis are not just clashing with their far-left counterparts. On May Day, a group of roughly 300 neo-Nazis attacked participants of a regular union demonstration with batons and stones — the first neo-Nazi attack on a peaceful demonstration. “That’s an escalation and a new phenomenon,” Fromm said.
The arrest of two Muslim extremists at the Cologne-Bonn airport last week shows that German converts continue to volunteer for the jihad. Investigators fear that some are on their way back now that they’ve received training. It was Friday morning, shortly before 7:00 a.m., and all passengers had boarded KLM flight 1804 at the Cologne-Bonn airport. The small Fokker 50 was ready for takeoff. This particular Friday was a special day for devout Muslims, being one of the last days of the holy month of Ramadan. According to the literature distributed by radical Islamists, anyone who completes his journey to Jihad during Ramadan will go straight to paradise. At least two of the passengers — Abdirazak B., 24, and Omar D., 23, both Germans with Somali backgrounds — were aware of this.
But they weren’t the only ones. Criminal investigators from the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia had been trailing the two men — and when officials found a letter from a relative of Omar D. in the physics student’s luggage indicating that he had decided to join the “holy war,” they decided to strike. The plane was prevented from taking off and the pair’s path to Jihad came to an end on the Cologne-Bonn runway. The arrest of the duo was the result of an ongoing covert operation run by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence agency. Investigators have long been keeping tabs on Islamists from Germany as they head for the Hindu Kush to train for the Jihad. For a number of weeks now, agents have maintained surveillance on a group of young fanatics in the Bonn region who are closely linked to the two detained German-Somalis. All these men are preparing to leave their lives in Germany behind them. Some have already given notice for their apartments, others have said farewell to friends. Abdirazak B. and Omar D. were more or less the vanguard of this group. At times the investigating agencies had even considered confiscating their passports. The suspects wanted to travel to Entebbe in Uganda, and investigators have reason to believe that they planned to continue from there to Pakistan. There was even talk of a possible attack against one of Uganda’s many well known Jewish institutions, a development that led German officials to alert the US government and the Israelis.
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Khaled Kashkush is not the first Hizbullah spy to be recruited and trained in Germany. In 1997 the Lebanese Shi’ite movement recruited Stefan Smyrek, a German who converted to Islam, to carry out a suicide attack in Tel Aviv or Haifa. Smyrek, whose father was a British soldier stationed in Germany, was arrested at Ben-Gurion Airport and released as part of a prisoner swap in 2004. Alexander Ritzmann, a Hizbullah expert and senior fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that mosques and Iranian cultural centers in such cities as Hamburg, Berlin and M_nster were hotbeds of Hizbullah activity. The terrorist organization has not been outlawed in Germany, and its approximately 900 supporters are permitted to raise funds and call for the destruction of Israel. The number of Hizbullah members in Germany has grown from 800 in 2006 to 900 in 2007, according to German intelligence reports. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution – Germany’s domestic intelligence agency – identified Hizbullah as a threat to the country’s democracy in its annual report for 2007. Jerusalem Post Benjamin Weinthal reports.
The German Muslim Council (Islamrat) has criticized the surveillance of the Muslim organization Milli Gurus by the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Ali Kizilkaya, chairman of the council, accuses the Federal Office to construct a concept of the Muslim enemy in order to maintain jobs.
Islamic preachers and other spiritual leaders from abroad could soon have to take courses to help them integrate better into Swiss society. The government proposal comes at a time of growing public debate about the role of Muslims in a multicultural society such as Switzerland’s. The justice ministry is planning to submit the plan to the cabinet within the next few weeks, according to the Federal Office of Immigration, Integration and Emigration (IMES).