New data on charitable involvement in refugee help shows German Muslims’ civil society activism

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 ))

Breakdown of the numbers

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.

Limited missionary zeal…

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 ))

… but also limited institutional capacities

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 ))

Strengthening religious institutions

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.

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.

Foundation for Islam in France officially launched

It’s official: the Foundation for Islam in France has been launched. The secular foundation, meant to serve as a “public utility,” is one of the pillars of the new Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve’s plan for the future of Islam in France.

The current Foundation replaces the Foundation for Islamic Works, launched by former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, which never truly functioned due to internal squabbles among the country’s Muslim federations. The new foundation received an initial donation of one million euros.

It serves to finance educational and cultural projects, including university diplomas for imams on French secularism (a project supported by 14 French universities), research in Islamic theology, and youth programs.

On December 12, during the first meeting organized by the Interior Ministry, workshops will be held during which those with relevant project ideas can present. If chosen, their project may be eligible for funding.

Anouar Kbibech, President of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, stated: “This foundation is important because it will permit financing for cultural activities backed by mosques.”

Valls considers ban on foreign funding for mosques

The French government is considering banning the foreign financing of mosques as it reshapes its counter-extremism strategy following a fresh wave of terror attacks.

Manuel Valls, the Prime Minister, told Le Monde the prohibition would be for an indefinite period but gave no further detail on the policy.

“There needs to be a thorough review to form a new relationship with French Islam,” he added. “We live in a changed era and we must change our behaviour. This is a revolution in our security culture…the fight against radicalisation will be the task of a generation.”

Following the murder of a priest by teenage ISIS supporters at a church in Normandy and the Nice attack, Valls said France was “at war” and predicted further atrocities.

“This war, which does not only concern France, will be long and we will see more attacks,” he added.

“But we will win, because France has a strategy to win this war. First we must crush the external enemy.”

The French government has come under increasing criticism for failing to prevent atrocities, including the latest attack in Normandy.

Security services were tipped off that Abdel Malik Petitjean, 19, was planning an attack but police were reportedly unable to identify him from photos and a video showing him declaring allegiance to the so-called Islamic State.

He was already on country’s “fiche S” terror watchlist for attempting to travel to Syria in June but slipped through the net to re-enter France after being stopped by Turkish authorities. Petitjean and 19-year-old Adel Kermiche took six people hostage at a church in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray and slit the throat of its priest, Father Jacques Hamel, before being shot dead by police.

Kermiche was also known to security services and was wearing an electronic surveillance tag while on bail as he awaited trial for membership of a terror organisation at the time.

It came less than a fortnight after the Nice attack, when a Tunisian man killed 84 people and injured 300 more when he ploughed a lorry into crowds celebrating Bastille Day.

Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was not among the 10,000 names on the “fiche S” but the inclusion of terrorists including several of the Paris attackers, the two Charlie Hebdo gunmen and their accomplice Amedy Coulibaly, as well as a lorry driver who beheaded his manager and attempted to blow up a chemical plant has shown the system to be ineffective.

Intelligence officials have admitted that they are under-resourced to deal with the potential threat from each individual, who would need up to 20 people monitoring them every day.

France’s continuing state of emergency has drastically expanded detention powers, sparking a wave of controversial house arrests since November.

Responding to criticism, Mr Valls said his government would not create a “French Guantanamo” or be swayed by populism.

Nathalie Goulet discusses foreign financing and recent Senate report (pdf)

Following the recent attacks on French soil several politicians have proposed measures to reform Islam’s structure and the financing of Islam in France. For Nathalie Goulet, UDI senator from Orne who recently published a report on foreign financing, the priority should be to end the practice of ‘supplied’ imams and to establish a foundation to centralize Islam’s financing in France.

Le Monde: Foreign countries are often criticized for their influence on Islam in France. Is it true?

Nathalie Goulet: The influence of certain countries came as a great surprise to many when our report was published. But it’s not always those that we think that have the greatest presence. The Gulf countries are much less influential than the ‘countries of origin,’ Algeria, Morocco, and Turkey. These three states exercise a real influence by financing the construction of buildings and schools, imam training, and supplying imams for France’s mosques—who are paid by their countries of origin—and through the governance of the French Council of the Muslim Faith.

Le Monde: Manuel Valls said he was in favor of a temporary suspension of financing from foreign countries. Do you agree?

Goulet: The Prime Minister speaks of suspending foreign financing, but who will be their replacements? While one could hope that there would be no more foreign financing, it would be a mistake to think that the problem could be solved just like that. The question of foreign financing is ancillary. The Louvre or the Arab World Institute also receive foreign funding, in a transparent manner. Before anything, we must work to end the practice of ‘supplied’ imams who are trained in Morocco.

Le Monde: According to the report there are 301 imams sent from other countries for around 2,500 places of worship. Where is the problem?

There are 301 opportunities, for French citizens of Muslim faith, to assist with sermons led by imams who are not French and from foreign countries. It’s more problematic than foreign funding of mosques. Imams sent from Turkey, for example, arrive under the title of “social workers” and not as imams. They barely speak French, have never seen an Armenian in their life, and don’t know that in France we recognize the Armenian Genocide. The majority of supplied imams have never received an education on the Holocaust, the death penalty, homophobia…they don’t know these important contextual references, but they play a role in communities.

Le Monde: Why is the question of financing critical?

Goulet: We consider Islam to be a religion like any other, but we don’t provide it with the means to be. Islam is a recent religion in our territory. There is a need for catch-up compared to other religions. The Muslim communities need structure, schools, mosques, and associations. Muslims need to be able to practice their religion decently.

Today, if a 14 year-old girl wants to wear the veil, she is going to find an Islamic school, but there are few. A Jewish child who wants to keep Kosher and wear a kippa will find a Jewish school. The tensions are more pronounced in Muslim communities because they don’t have all the tools to practice their religion.

Le Monde: What are the paths for financing Islam in France? What do you think about the idea of re-launching a ‘foundation of French Islam’ discussed by Manuel Valls?

Goulet: We must revive the Foundation for Islamic Works to monitor foreign funds. This foundation must have a joint government with a representative from the State Council and an accountant from the Treasury. We must also implement cost accounting so that Algerian money is used for Algerian places of worship, money from Morocco is used for Moroccan places of worship…it’s necessary if we want the communities to agree to this foundation. Algerians don’t want to pay for Turks, and vice versa, even if the idea of an Algerian place of worship makes no sense in France.

Le Monde: Julien Dray, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet and Francois Bayrou support instituting a “halal tax” to finance Islam in France.

Goulet: Legally, it’s impossible to institute a tax on a religious item…and technically, a ‘halal tax’ would also be impossible to institute in practice, because there is no consensus on the notion of halal.

What could be possible is that religious representatives themselves institute a private fee for services relating to slaughter, which would be set by the community, collected, and sent to the Foundation.

Le Monde: Aside from financing, is there a representation problem?

Goulet: Establishing the CFCM was necessary, there needs to be an interlocutor with the State. But throughout the years, this body has never succeeded in being representative. If I was president of the CFCM, I would open up a debate, I would establish constituent assembly to review the statutes, I would call on youths and members of associations, who may feel excluded, I would institute the principle of one man, one woman, one vote…But that must come from Muslims themselves. Maybe one day, young Muslims will launch an online petition and create a concurrent association.

 

 

 

 

Halal food tax proposed in France to fund mosques

Anouar Kbibech, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), outlined plans for a new foundation that would help reduce foreign benefactors amid concerns over extremism.

The idea has been supported by politicians on both the right and left, although there are doubts where such a tax could be implemented.

“The idea has existed since the CFCM was founded,” Kbibech said.

“We have reached the first step with the signing with of a religious framework in the CFCM’s halal charter, which defines the criteria of halal in France.

“In autumn we will discuss the second part, which is the financial contribution of halal organisations to worship.”

The money raised would go towards paying imams’ salaries and funding the construction and operation of mosques, which cannot receive state support under French law.

The proposal came after Manuel Valls called for a ban on foreign funding for Muslim places of worship amid concerns over extremism following a string of terror attacks.

“There needs to be a thorough review to form a new relationship with French Islam,” he said.

“We live in a changed era and we must change our behaviour. This is a revolution in our security culture…the fight against radicalisation will be the task of a generation.”

Nathalie Goulet, a French senator for Orne who conducted a report on the issue, said the creation of a central and transparent foundation was a priority but cast doubt on a halal tax.

“Legally, it is not possible to reduce a tax on a religious item,” she said.

“And technically, a ‘halal tax’ would be impossible to implement because there is no unity around the concept of halal.

“What would be possible is that representatives of the religion themselves introduce a private fee for service at the time of slaughter, to be set by the community, collected and sent to the foundation.”

There has been continued controversy over the sale of halal food in France, with a supermarket in Colombes ordered to sell pork and alcohol or face closure this week.

Senators critique an ‘Islam of France’ under foreign influence

The Senate report is concerned with France’s dependence on Algeria, Morocco, Turkey, and Tunisia for certain religious affairs. It lists the domains where their influence remains strong: financing mosques, providing and sending imams overseas to France, and determining the structure of the Islamic federations. However, according to the figures provided in the report, the funds from foreign countries are less than we might think: six  million each year from Morocco and no more than 4 million from Saudi Arabia.

The report argues that the resources exist in France, notably from donations from worshippers. “An imam confirmed…that zakat received during Ramadan increased more than 1 million,” said senator Nathalie Goulet. The report is not opposed to foreign funding but rather hopes to increase transparency. To do that the senators hope to relaunch the Foundation for Islam in France, created in the mid 2000s but never truly inaugurated. It would collect and redistribute funds.

July 6, 2016

Source: http://www.lefigaro.fr/actualite-france/2016/07/06/01016-201607-en-france-un-rapport-denonce-l-ambiguite-de-l-etat.php

 

 

Funding Islamophobia: $206m went to promoting ‘hatred’ of American Muslims

Council on American-Islamic Relations and University of California Berkeley report names 74 groups they say contributed to Islamophobia in the US
Inciting hate toward American Muslims and Islam has become a multimillion-dollar business, according to a report released on Monday.
Released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair) and University of California Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender, the report names 74 groups it says contribute in some way to Islamophobia in the US. Of those groups, it says, the primary purpose of 33 “is to promote prejudice against, or hatred of, Islam and Muslims”.
The core group, which includes the Abstraction FundClarion ProjectDavid Horowitz Freedom CenterMiddle East ForumAmerican Freedom Law Center, Center for Security PolicyInvestigative Project on TerrorismJihad Watch and Act! for America, had access to almost $206m of funding between 2008 and 2013, the report said.

Follow the Money: UK Gov’t to Investigate Foreign Funding of UK Jihadis

The British government’s new Extremism Analysis Unit [EAU] has been ordered by the Prime Minister to investigate the extent of foreign money used to fund extremist groups in the UK.

The call for the inquiry came from the Liberal Democrat party after the House of Commons voted in favor of extending airstrikes in Syria.

“We call on [the government] to conduct an investigation into foreign funding and support of extremist and terrorist groups in the UK,” said Tim Farron, leader of the Lib Dems.

The EAU was established in September 2015, making it a legal duty for universities and colleges in the UK to ban extremists from radicalizing students on campuses and support those at risk of radicalization.

The EAU must also examine overseas revenue streams subsidizing jihadi groups in the UK.

However, reports suggest that the government-led investigation could lead to a potential stand-off between the UK and Saudi Arabia — Britain’s biggest ally in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia is the UK’s largest single market for British arms and the UK government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review recently outlined Britain’s intentions to continue to work with close allies including “vital partners, such as Saud Arabia, in the Middle East.”

However, Saudi Arabia has been publicly accused by German vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel of funding extremist mosques and groups in the West.

“Wahhabi mosques all over the world are financed by Saudi Arabia. Many Islamists who are a threat to public safety come from these communities in Germany,” Sigmar Gabriel told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Wahhabism — a fundamental sect of Sunni Islam, practiced in Saudi Arabia — has inspired terrorist groups, including Daesh, also known as Islamic State, as well as al-Qaeda.

German vice-chancellor accuses Saudi Arabia of funding Islamic extremism in the West

The German vice-chancellor has publicly accused Saudi Arabia of financing Islamic extremism in the West and warned that it must stop. Sigmar Gabriel said that the Saudi regime is funding extremist mosques and communities that pose a danger to public security. “We have to make clear to the Saudis that the time of looking away is over,” Mr Gabriel told Bild am Sonntag newspaper in an interview.

“Wahhabi mosques all over the world are financed by Saudi Arabia. Many Islamists who are a threat to public safety come from these communities in Germany.” The allegation that Saudi Arabia has funded mosques with links to Islamist terrorism in the West is not new. But it is highly unusual for a Western leader to speak out so directly against the West’s key Arab ally.

But Mr Gabriel’s remarks make it clear there are serious misgivings about the Saudi regime within the government. Wahhabism, a fundamentalist sect of Sunni Islam that inspired both Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) and al-Qaeda is also the official form of the religion in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis have long funded the building of Wahhabi mosques around the world to spread the sect. King Salman has already been widely criticised in the German media for offering to build 200 mosques for Syrian refugees arriving in Germany, even as Saudi Arabia refuses to take in any refugees itself. Mr Gabriel’s linking of Saudi-funded mosques to Islamic extremism will heighten concerns over the offer. It is not the first time he has clashed with the Saudi royal family.

Isil has claimed responsibility for a number of terror attacks in Saudi Arabia.

But there have also been persistent allegations the Saudis supplied arms and funding to Isil and other jihadist groups in the Syrian civil war.