German Islamic organisations publish an “electoral compass” for Muslim voters

In preparation for the upcoming federal elections on September 24th, three German Muslim institutions have joined hands in order to provide an electoral guidance on topics of particularly high relevance to the country’s Muslim population.

The Islamische Zeitung newspaper (IZ), the German Muslim League (DML), and the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) have published the “German-Muslim Electoral Compass”. The Compass is based on a questionnaire sent to Germany’s major parties. All of them – bar the openly Islamophobic AfD – replied, allowing a broad comparison of different parties’ approaches.

An alliance bypassing the Turkish associations

IZ, DML, and ZMD had already published the Electoral Compass ahead of the last two federal elections. Yet the fact that these particular three players have joined hands again reflects not only their established patterns of cooperation. It is also indicative of ongoing schisms within Germany’s Muslim community.

In fact, both the IZ and the DML have their roots among German converts to Islam. Traditionally, they are politically and ideologically sceptical of the large traditionalist Turkish-dominated Islamic umbrella organisations (such as DİTİB, VIKZ, and IRD/IGMG).((For an academic study of the difficult relationship between ethnically German converts to Islam and the majority of Germany’s ethnically Turkish and Kurdish Muslims, see Esra Özyürek (2015), Being German, Becoming Muslim: Race, Religion and Conversion in the New Europe, Princeton: Princeton University Press. ))

Vying for political influence

This makes IZ and DML excellent allies of the ZMD, a predominantly non-Turkish Islamic association whose ambitious chairman Aiman Mazyek has striven for a long time to dethrone the Turkish organisations as the leading representatives of Islam in Germany.

With President Erdoğan having called upon German Turks to boycott the established parties,((https://dtj-online.de/erdogan-zu-deutsch-tuerken-waehlt-nicht-die-tuerkeifeindliche-cdu-spd-oder-die-gruenen-872222 )) Islamic associations with strong ties to the Turkish state are in no position to engage in a political dialogue ahead of the election. The ZMD with Aiman Mazyek has gladly used the opportunity and mounted a flashy advert campaign calling upon Muslims to vote on September 24th.(( http://islam.de/29128 ))

Broad-ranging questionnaire

Topics covered in the “Electoral Compass” include general questions on Islam and religious freedom, racism and Islamophobia, hijab bans, dual citizenship, as well as foreign policy issues (notably arms exports, relations with Turkey, and the German army’s deployment in Afghanistan).(( The questionnaire and parties’ responses are available at http://deutsch-muslimischer-wahlkompass.de/. ))

Overall, the differences between the parties’ responses are gradual yet noteworthy, if not too surprising in their content. Commenting on the results of the “Compass”, Stefan Sulaiman Wilms, editor in chief of the IZ, noted that parties had shown different positions on Islam and Muslim life, ranging from “liberal” to “conservative”.

Yet Wilms was contented to observe that no party had “shown a fundamental resentment against our way of living” and that all had declared their wish to “protect and respect our civic rights.”(( https://www.islamische-zeitung.de/irgendwo-zwischen-konkretem-und-allgemeinem/ ))

Does Islam belong to Germany?

Particularly striking about Chancellor Merkel’s CDU/CSU was its continuous stress on the need for an Islamic practice in line with “our fundamental liberal-democratic order”. The CDU/CSU also implicitly refused to endorse the statement that ‘Islam belongs to Germany’, although Muslims do.

This touches upon a long-standing debate, in which Conservatives have regularly emphasised the notion that while Muslims may belong to German society, ‘Islam’ cannot be part of a country that is exclusively defined by its ‘Judeo-Christian’ traditions.

State “neutrality” and the headscarf

Other potential conflicts revolve around the notion of ‘state neutrality’ emphasised by the economically liberal FDP: ‘neutrality’ clauses have often been interpreted as necessitating a ban on hijabs in public functions or at the workplace.

The CDU/CSU, as well as the Greens stressed their commitment to anti-discrimination but also greeted the ECHR’s recent ruling that allows employers to prohibit employees from wearing hijabs at work. By contrast, The Left – perhaps surprisingly for a staunchly socialist and hence atheist party – was most clear-cut in its rejection of hijab bans.

Disagreements on dual citizenship

Another dividing line opened up on the issue of dual citizenship. The Social Democrats renewed their commitment to the status quo of the nationality law enacted under the red-green coalition in 2000. This reform had eased the acquisition of German citizenship and had also created some possibilities to hold two passports.

In the “Electoral Compass”, the Greens and The Left advocated a more far-reaching liberalisation of citizenship provisions, further facilitating the acquisition of a second nationality. By contrast, CDU/CSU and FDP restated their willingness to introduce a “generational cut” – i.e. provisions that would force children to choose one passport over the other after the second generation (in the case of the CDU/CSU proposals) or the fourth generation (in the case of the plan put forward by the FDP).

Lack of questions on jihadism, counter-terrorism

A noteworthy omission from the survey were any questions dealing with the phenomenon of jihadism. Perhaps IZ, DML, and ZMD did not want to entrench the linkage between ‘Islam’ and ‘terrorism’ by touching upon the subject; perhaps they were of the opinion that the issue is already overrepresented in the media or that the current jihadist violence is inherently ‘un-Islamic’.

Yet it is surely a question of great interest to Muslim voters how different parties think about this issues. It might allow an interested electorate to gauge the stance different parties might take in the face of future attacks – for instance with respect to potentially discriminatory anti-terrorism legislation.

Equally, it would have been welcome to see the parties forced to take a clear-cut position on their willingness to enhance inter-religious dialogue and to foster existing de-radicalisation strategies. These are, after all, initiatives that would also benefit Muslims and their position in society.

No Muslim “pressure group”

On a critical note, the IZ’s chief editor Stefan Sulaiman Wilms noted that especially CDU/CSU, SPD, and Greens had remained relatively general in their answers to the “Compass”. Only The Left, he observed, had given more concrete indications on how it wished to support German Muslims in practical, everyday matters ranging from anti-discrimination to halal slaughtering.

For Wilms, the vagueness of parties’ responses is also due to a failure of German Muslims to organise and to constitute themselves as an effective lobbying group. He asserted that

“for some years, the activist discourse of some Muslims has focused a lot on empowerment. Yet so far this does not amount to anything more than the financing or funding of isolated projects. Unfortunately, we are not perceived by politicians as noteworthy addressees whose concerns could be electorally relevant.”(( https://www.islamische-zeitung.de/irgendwo-zwischen-konkretem-und-allgemeinem/ ))

Call for more civil society activism

Wilms thus called upon his brothers and sisters in faith to step up their civic and societal engagement. German Muslims could only make themselves an incontrovertible political player by become organised and more socially involved. Their disproportionately strong charitable activism in the domain of refugee and asylum aid showed German Muslims’ potential, or so Wilms argued.(( https://www.islamische-zeitung.de/irgendwo-zwischen-konkretem-und-allgemeinem/ ))

Indeed, German Muslims’ socio-political activism as well as their religious organisations are in urgent need of professionalisation. Both social involvement and the provision of religious goods are still overwhelmingly done on a voluntary basis. With central organisational capacities underfunded and understaffed, Muslims’ public voice and political impact continue to be limited.

Need for political engagement

Against the backdrop of these limitations, Cemile Giousouf argues that German Muslims should not devote all their energies to civil society activism only. In an interview with the JUMA network – with JUMA standing for Young, Muslim, Active – Giousouf urged Muslims to help influence the political process by joining political parties.

Giousouf, who is the CDU/CSU’s first Muslim member of the Bundestag, asserted that Muslims would have to engage more directly with the intricacies of policymaking in order to effectuate more durable change: “It is decisive that your [i.e. young Muslims’] concerns become part of everyday political work and are not only formulated in Muslim civil society initiatives”, Giousouf observed. (( http://www.juma-ev.de/2017/09/ich-finde-es-schade-wenn-religion-als-uncool-bewertet-wird-cemile-giousouf-integrationsbeauftragte-der-cducsu/ ))

As of now, roughly 1,000 Muslims have become members of the CDU/CSU.((https://www.islamische-zeitung.de/muslime-und-die-wahl-es-fehlt-an-daten/ )) It remains to be seen whether Cemile Giousouf’s party as well as other political players will gradually become the home of a more distinctly Muslim voice.

German Islamic associations and their mosques between political demands and institutional deadlock

The role for mosques after recent attacks

The German government’s Commissioner for Migration, Aydan Özoğuz (SPD), has called on the country’s mosques to be more proactive in preventing radicalisation among young Muslims. Mosques could make an important contribution to signalling the presence of extremist, or so Özoğuz argued.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/oezuguz-moscheevereine-101.html))

Her intervention comes after Germany has been shaken by two ISIS-linked attacks – the first ones on its territory – in late July: first, a 17-year old Afghan refugee injured several people by assaulting them on a train with a knife and an axe; subsequently, a Syrian man killed himself without injuring others in a suicide-style attack outside a music festival. In both cases, video material and pledges of allegiance were released by the Islamic State’s Amaq news agency.

The political debate surrounding DITIB and its mosques

Even prior to these attacks, however, the political debate surrounding German mosques and their position in de-radicalisation efforts had become more and more heated. For decades, national politicians and local authorities had been happy to delegate responsibility for the religious needs of the large and predominantly Turkish Muslim population to DITIB, an offshoot of the Turkish Presidency for Religious Affairs (Diyanet).

With recent diplomatic and political woes between Germany and Turkey on the rise, however, the old reliance on DITIB now appears problematic, with DITIB seen as a potential Trojan horse under the command of President Erdoğan. Numerous German politicians have voiced fears that the Turkish government could use DITIB’s close to 1000 imams to advance its own agenda and thereby influence Turkish-German Muslims, inducing them not only to favour Erdoğan’s authoritarian policies but also what his increasingly conservative stance on religious matters.

Leading Green Party politician Cem Özdemir, for instance, has lauded the social and welfare activism of individual members of DITIB mosques but denounced DITIB and its Imams as “a prolonged arm of the Turkish state”. The Social Democratic mayor the Neukölln district in Berlin, an area often in the spotlight in public debates on issues of integration has voiced her unease about “foreign-directed mosque associations” and criticised Imams who “are not formed according to the German understanding of fundamental values and have not grown up here”.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/islam-in-deutschland-predigen-aus-der-tuerkei-entsandte-imame-1.2963893))

Unresolved questions about the institutional position of Islam

These issues touch upon a raw nerve in ongoing debates about the institutionalisation of Islam in the German constitutional-legal framework. While the German Basic Law allows religious communities to exercise wide ranging prerogatives (including the right to oversee religious instruction in state schools, as well as the right to control the training of religious practitioners), in the case of the Muslim communities in the country, this institutionalisation process has been dogged by numerous political and procedural difficulties. Consequently, the (Sunni) Muslim religious infrastructure in the country is still comparatively weak, in spite of the progress of recent years.

Yet in the current political and security climate, a growing number of demands is placed on this underdeveloped infrastructure: Muslim associations are asked to develop a ‘liberal Islam’ or a ‘state Islam’, compatible with the Basic Law and German values.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/03/01/a-peoples-islam-volksislam-as-an-enrichment-breaking-linguistic-taboos-in-the-german-political-debate/)) They are, in Özoğuz’s words, tasked with detecting and combating radicalisation. And they are, ultimately, supposed to become fora in which a positive, meaningful and theologically sophisticated Muslim spirituality is elaborated and allowed to grow.((http://dtj-online.de/islam-versus-dschihadismus-wir-machen-propaganda-fuer-den-is-77574))

Vicious cycle of mistrust and underdevelopment

These abstract exhortations do not, however, necessarily translate into real progress. To be sure, at the local level, especially where conditions are favourable and financing available, there are many initiatives that bring together administrations, civil society broadly conceived, and Muslim communities.

However, at the national level and in larger political discourse, no viable path forward has been offered: On the one hand, large Muslim associations and their mosques have been treated with ongoing suspicion and thus remained shut out of existing political, fiscal, and legal frameworks. On the other hand, the fact that that they remain outside of these frameworks reinforces their ‘otherness’, which justifies their continued marginalisation: Because they are not ‘insiders’ of the German scene, they continue to depend e.g. on foreign financing (for instance from the Turkish state).

Thus, mistrust invites marginalisation, and marginalisation invites mistrust. If Aydan Özoğuz’s demand that mosques and Muslim communities play a greater role in the prevention of radicalisation is to be taken seriously, then this vicious cycle needs to be broken. Calling upon mosques and communities to develop answers to pressing questions is right and important, yet they must also be structurally enabled to deliver these answers.

Islamic theology in Germany poses great challenges to universities

13 August 2010
Calls for an Islamic theology in Germany are growing ever louder. But the challenge that this represents is underestimated not only by politics, but also by Christian theologians and cultural scholars, writes theologian Klaus von Stosch. Ever since the German Science Council published its recommendations for “Islamic Studies” at German universities, the desire to see a German Islamic theology appears to have become a common cause for all the major political parties in our country. Islamic theology and its attendant infrastructure for the education of Islamic religious teachers and imams is apparently viewed by many as the magic formula for the integration of Muslims living in Germany.
But the institutions are not necessarily prepared for this major project. The author claims that it will not be easy for German universities to overcome the challenges. They will only succeed if a competition of various academic institutions can be organised in the medium-term, thereby allowing for the possibility of trying out a number of different models. In this context attention must be paid in the first instance to the promotion of young blood in the field of Islamic theology, because at present there are virtually no eligible German-speaking Islamic theologians for the study field to be established.

Islamic theology in Germany poses great challenges to universities

13 August 2010

Calls for an Islamic theology in Germany are growing ever louder. But
the challenge that this represents is underestimated not only by
politics, but also by Christian theologians and cultural scholars,
writes theologian Klaus von Stosch. Ever since the German Science
Council published its recommendations for “Islamic Studies” at German
universities, the desire to see a German Islamic theology appears to
have become a common cause for all the major political parties in our
country. Islamic theology and its attendant infrastructure for the
education of Islamic religious teachers and imams is apparently viewed
by many as the magic formula for the integration of Muslims living in
Germany.

But the institutions are not necessarily prepared for this major
project. The author claims that it will not be easy for German
universities to overcome the challenges. They will only succeed if a
competition of various academic institutions can be organised in the
medium-term, thereby allowing for the possibility of trying out a number
of different models. In this context attention must be paid in the first
instance to the promotion of young blood in the field of Islamic
theology, because at present there are virtually no eligible
German-speaking Islamic theologians for the study field to be established.

German islamic preacher Pierre Vogel is legal in Switzerland

The controversial German Islamic preacher Pierre Vogel has surprisingly and legally entered Switzerland in order to give a talk during an educational seminar in Disentis, in the canton of Graubünden. Vogel is not considered a “hate or radical preacher” in Germany, however he had been refused entry to the country last December, though Swiss authorities state that there is no officially entry ban for him. The Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (IZRS), organizers of the event in question, announced that Vogel’s participation had not been announced in other to expose the negative stigma against him “in full public view as false and unjustified.” Jonas Montani, spokesperson for the Swiss Federal Agency for Migration, stated that the prior entry refusal could not be compared with Vogel’s participation in the educational seminar.

Integration, a national initiative in Germany [4:32]

When German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble called a conference to open dialogue with the country’s Muslims in the autumn of 2006, aims were set high. Schäuble said then he wanted to send a signal that Muslims were welcome in Germany. At the same time, the dialogue was also intended to prevent the radicalization of the Muslim community. Representatives of Germany’s federal government, and Muslim organizations addressed the issues of Islamic religious instruction at German schools, education in accordance with Western values and ways to prevent young Muslims from drifting into militant circles. On Thursday, the German-Islamic Conference will meet for its final session.

Representative of the German Islamic Council hold Anti-Semitic Speech

A member of the board of the German Islam Council, the German convert Abu Bakr Reiger, had held an openly anti-Semitic speech. After a video of the speech was made public, the Council forced him to resign. The Islamic Council is a member of the Federal German Islam Conference, which is organized by the Federal Ministry of Interior. Jan-Philipp Hein, Yassin Musharbash and Anna Reimann report.

Merkel to Meet German Islamic Leaders

BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to have talks later this year with leaders of the country’s 3.3 million Muslims, a report said Wednesday. Merkel is due to invite the heads of 16 Islamic groups to the chancellery before parliament’s summer recess to boost dialogue after worldwide protests over cartoons depicting the Muslim Prophet Mohammed, said the newspaper Die Welt. The move comes amid unprecedented calls by German teachers for the closure of a Berlin high school following massive disruptions by Arab and Turkish students.

In Germany, Harder Line Looms; Bavarian Probes Into Muslim Groups May Foretell Deeper Scrutiny

MUNICH, Germany — Local officials have started taking steps against one of the historic centers of Islamism in the West, after years of tolerating and even supporting it. At the center of attention is the Islamic Community of Germany, which has its headquarters in a Munich mosque that also has been a key base for the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was founded in 1920s Egypt as a reform movement to Islamicize society but since then has spawned a host of radical organizations. Now, attorneys in the state of Bavaria have launched two separate investigations. One is aimed at determining whether the Islamic Community of Germany misappropriated state funds, a move that could force the group to pay back more than _700,000 ($868,070) to the state. Prosecutors also are investigating an allegedly related organization that runs a nearby school. Officials denied an education license to the school just as the school year was about to start, a move confirmed by courts last week. The actions in Bavaria could signal that Germany will take a harder line nationally against Islamist organizations. One of the driving figures behind the moves is G_nther Beckstein, the Bavarian interior minister who is widely expected to become Germany’s interior minister after national elections on Sept. 18. Mr. Beckstein believes that the Islamic Community of Germany’s allegedly ideological links with the Muslim Brotherhood make it an undemocratic force. Taking Aim “The Islamic Community of Germany is a group that is against the constitution,” Mr. Beckstein said in an interview. “It is justified that the state not support such organizations.” For decades, the Munich mosque and its related organizations have been cornerstones of the Muslim Brotherhood network that gradually spanned Europe. In early July, The Wall Street Journal published a front-page article detailing the history of the Islamic Center of Munich, which was founded in the late 1950s by a group of ex-German World War II soldiers and exiled leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. The center’s legal successor is the Islamic Community of Germany, which is still based in the mosque although most of its operations have moved to Cologne. For almost a decade, domestic intelligence had observed and published warnings about the group’s allegedly radical ideology. Public officials, however, continued to deal with the organization, financing its private school with _340,000 a year. The organization maintained nonprofit status, which allowed donors to write off their contributions. “It was always a thorn in our side that extremist organizations were obtaining public money,” said Michael Feiler, spokesman for the Bavarian branch of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a domestic intelligence agency that tracks groups believed to threaten Germany’s democratic order. In the late 1990s, the Islamic Community of Germany began to attract unwanted attention: A man sentenced for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center had been a regular at the Munich mosque and, later, a high-ranking al Qaeda suspect who had contact with mosque members was arrested nearby. In 1998, the group was put on the domestic intelligence agency’s watch list. The next year, the Islamic Community of Germany lost its nonprofit status because of sloppy bookkeeping, Bavarian state officials say. Although the matter is still in court, donations to the group are no longer tax-deductible. That led to the current investigation. Officials say the Islamic Community of Germany deliberately misled state education officials by failing to tell them about its loss of nonprofit status. From 1999 onward, the Islamic Community continued to receive roughly _340,000 a year to run the school, which last year had seven teachers and 111 pupils. Officials say the group may have to pay back some of the money it received from 1999, when it lost nonprofit status, to 2003, when a new organization took over the school. Ibrahim El-Zayat, the head of the Islamic Community of Germany, didn’t respond to requests for comment. In a previous interview, Mr. El-Zayat denied bookkeeping irregularities at his organization. The Islamic Community of Germany’s direct involvement with the school ended in 2003, when a group called the German-Islamic Educational Enterprise was founded to run the school. It obtained nonprofit status and received roughly the same amount of state support to run the school, officials say. Now, state prosecutors are investigating whether the new group may have forged the signatures of members who weren’t present at its founding. German-Islamic Educational Enterprise couldn’t be reached for comment. Local officials denied the school a license for the current school year because they say it is a dummy organization set up to disguise links to the Islamic Community of Germany. “We are afraid that the group running the school, which belongs to the Islamic Community of Germany, is using the school to spread Islamist ideology,” said Thomas Huber, spokesman for the district government of Upper Bavaria. He said the district hadn’t analyzed the school’s textbooks but that the alleged links to the Islamic Community of Germany were enough to deny the school its license. The group running the school has denied a direct link to the Islamic Community of Germany. Its members couldn’t be reached for comment but have said in local media reports that any links were informal. Sealed registration documents reviewed by the Journal show that most of the school group’s founding members had been members of organizations allied with the Islamic Community of Germany or are active in its mosques. Parents say the maneuvering between the government and the organization is hurting their children. Hisham Awwad, spokesman for the German-Islamic School Parent Committee, said the school wasn’t spreading Islamist ideology. “I don’t know anything about links to the Islamic Community of Germany,” said Mr. Awwad, a German citizen who emigrated from Egypt. “All we parents want is a way for our children to learn some of our Arabic heritage. We have no interest in radicalism, and I never noticed anything radical.” Mr. Awwad and other parents say they want to form their own nonprofit organization to run the school. Last Tuesday, a court denied the parents’ attempts to prevent implementation of the decision denying the school a license. Although the parents have other legal channels, their children will attend other schools this year.