‘Freiburg Declaration’ by ‘secular Muslims’ starkly reveals fault-lines among German Muslim associations

A ‘secular’ and ‘European’ Islam

“We are dreaming of an Islamic reform”: this is the opening phrase of the ‘Freiburg Declaration’, a manifesto launched by a group of self-declared ‘secular Muslims’ from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.(( http://saekulare-muslime.org/freiburger-deklaration/ )) The leading initiator of the Declaration is Abdel-Hakim Ourghi,  Head of the Islamic Theology department at Freiburg University of Education.

Over the course of the Declaration’s paragraphs, writers and signatories develop their thoughts on an “enlightened” and “European” Islam that cherishes religious freedom as well as human diversity in all its forms. Their stated ideal is “a Muslim community that conceives of religious faith as a personal affair between God and the individual and that is not afraid of questioning its own religion critically” in view of evolving circumstances and realities.((http://saekulare-muslime.org/freiburger-deklaration/ ))

Subsequently, the text lays out a charter of “values” that include rejection of all forms of discrimination, equality of men and women, and an endorsement of “religious-ideological neutrality” in public service, which, according to the Declaration, necessitates that Muslim women do not wear a headscarf when fulfilling public functions. ((http://saekulare-muslime.org/freiburger-deklaration/ ))

The text closes with a series of “goals” the signatories seek to reach, including a “historical-critical analysis” of the Quran, the “propagation of liberal-Islamic ideas and concepts”, the schooling of female imams, and the extension of “humanistically-oriented Islamic religious education” in public schools. The signatories also seek a reconfiguration of the discussion panels bringing together state and Muslim representatives so that “members of a reformed liberal Islam” are represented next to “members of conservative federations”. ((http://saekulare-muslime.org/freiburger-deklaration/ ))

Liberals vs. conservatives

The last point – the composition of state-convened panels and councils – touches on a particularly raw nerve. Many such fora exist at local, regional, and national level in Germany. Their remit includes debate on a range of issues, including the official recognition of Muslim associations (and the consequent conferral of legal, fiscal, and political privileges), as well as the introduction of Islamic religious education at public schools. The creation of these councils has picked up pace since the founding of the German Islam Conference (DIK) in 2006.

While the signatories of the Freiburg Declaration evidently estimate that “a reformed liberal Islam” has been underrepresented in these contexts, other observers have come to the opposite conclusion, arguing that the state staffed especially the DIK with handpicked – and consequently compliant – ‘liberal’ or ostentatiously ‘critical’ Muslim representatives. ((http://www.islamiq.de/2016/09/18/dik-staatliche-steuerung-durch-kooperation/ )) The Freiburg intervention is thus only the latest salvo in a protracted political battle over who can claim to speak for German Muslims.

Unsurprisingly, the Turkish DITIB federation and the other large established associations have maintained an icy silence after the Declaration’s publication, which they must view as another assault on their legitimacy. By contrast, the text was approvingly reprinted on the website of the Kurdish Community in Germany (KGD), whose chairman Ali Ertan Toprak is one of the main signatories. ((https://kurdische-gemeinde.de/freiburger-deklaration-wir-traeumen-von-einer-reform-des-islam/ ))

That a Kurdish representative should take such a position against the ‘Islamic establishment’ is hardly surprising after the altercations of the past weeks and months, in which DITIB was often castigated for being a pawn in the hands of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and complicit in the post-coup crackdown of the Turkish President. ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/26/amidst-political-controversy-german-ditib-association-vows-greater-emancipation-turkish-state/ )) The politics of religious organisation and institutionalisation in Germany are thus not just a purely domestic political game; rather, they also reflect the geopolitical turn of events elsewhere, especially in Turkey.

Fault-lines among ‘liberals’

However, Ourghi’s initiative also received harsh criticism from the fellow ‘liberal Muslims’ he claims to represent. The Liberal-Islamic Union (LIB) swiftly issued a statement clarifying that it did not support the Freiburg Declaration. In its communiqué, the LIB’s board accuses Ourghi explicitly and personally of “having become the accomplice of racist and Islamophobic discourses”. “A ‘liberal Islam’ stops being liberal where it unreflectingly falls into line with marginalising discourses of mainstream society”, or so the LIB asserted. ((http://lib-ev.jimdo.com/ ))

Indeed, Ourghi has a history of having fall-outs with other liberals: a few years ago, he accused Mouhanad Khorchide, Chair of Islamic Theology at Münster, of having plagiarised one of his books. However, while Ourghi’s claims were published in the large Austrian Der Standard newspaper, he was subsequently unable to substantiate his accusations with evidence. Somewhat paradoxically, Ourghi’s intervention against Khorchide was celebrated by the ‘conservative associations’ that Ourghi regularly criticises: given the fact that these federations have their own axe to grind with Khorchide – whose theses they regard as too freewheeling – they gladly used Ourghi’s attack as ammunition in their own fight with the Münster theologian. ((http://www.zeit.de/studium/hochschule/2014-01/khorchide-muenster-islamische-theologie-kritik ))

More recently, Ourghi has increasingly positioned himself publicly as a ‘critic of Islam’. When controversial writer Hamed Abdel-Samad published his latest popular science book on the life of Prophet Muhammad, Ourghi was one of the very few voices defending Abdel-Samad’s stark theses, which were widely disparaged in the scientific community as overly crude and even Islamophobic. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2015-12/hamed-abdel-samad-islamkritik-buch ))

The publication of the Freiburg Declaration is thus a further episode in the long-standing struggle for power and public recognition between various Muslim factions in Germany. In these struggles, theological differences, personal enmities, and jockeying for political influence intermingle freely. What arguably none of the various actors in this game foster is the much-needed further development of political dialogue and institutional structures that would benefit German Muslims. It almost appears that the further development of such frameworks – including the extension of religious education, or the progressive realisation of social, fiscal, and other privileges that the German constitution grants to all religious communities – need to be obtained not because of but in spite of the public interventions of those who claim to represent German Muslims.

Turkish Ambassador to Germany wishes an official Ramadan Gala

July 8, 2014

The ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to Germany, Hüseyin Avni Karslioglu, expressed that he would like to see an official Ramadan gala hosted by the Federal Government. Recognizing the many events taking place within Germany’s constituent federal states, Hüseyin Avni Karslioglu referred particularly to the USA and the Obama administration as one positive example he could think of. He stated that such an event would be symbolic for the arrival of Islam in Germany. Thomas De Mazière as well, Federal Minister of the Interior, upheld Iftar for its capacity to overcome boundaries and described it as an event fostering “reconciliation”.

German ZMD statement concerned with the war in Palestine

July 17, 2014

The Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) issued a statement concerned with the continued bloodshed in the Holy Land. It called upon the European Union as well as the United Nations to undertake their utmost to cease the extrajudicial killing and collective punishment of the Palestinian civil population taking place in Gaza. Likewise the ZMD utterly condemned the kidnapping and killing of four innocent teens (3 Israeli and 1 Palestinian). Finally, the statement called upon all Abrahamic communities in Germany and Europe to distance themselves explicitly from any forms of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism as well as appealed to the media to give an unbiased and unprejudiced account of the conflict.

 

 

German Muslims demand consequences after right-wing terror

Dec 13

 

Erol Pürlü, speaker of the coordination council of Muslims, thanked the German commission of inquiry for its efforts to shed light to unsolved questions related to the right-wing terror series. He criticized the distorted picture of Islam in the public, which would enhance the stigmatization of Muslims.

 

Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, demanded consequences after the terror series of the NSU (National Socialist Underground). The right-wing motivated terrorist attacks against Muslims would be the “German September 11th”. Mazyek raised concerns about the belittlement of society toward right-wing extremism and ignorance toward daily racism against Muslims.

 

German Muslims Feel for Victims in Toulouse

22.03.2012

Following the shootings at a Jewish school in Toulouse last Monday and the subsequent killing of the Muslim gunman, an al-Qaeda sympathiser, the Central Council of Muslims in Germany expressed their sympathy for the victims’ families and friends. At the same time, the Head of the Council, Aiman Mazyek, compared the attacks to the right-wing extremist group NSU in Germany and expressed his concern that the events may encourage copycats. He called on the police to increase the surveillance of Islamic centres and institutions.

New Study on Muslims and Integration in Germany

02./03.03.2012

On Thursday, the Federal Ministry of the Interior released a new study on integration and Muslims in Germany – in the public media dubbed the “Muslim-study” – which has triggered yet another intense debate about Muslims and the role of Islam in Germany. The study, entitled “The Daily Life of Young Muslims in Germany”, surveyed Muslims between 14 and 32, both German citizens and non-citizens. In addition, several group interviews were conducted with young living in Germany, Internet forums were analyzed, and TV news reports evaluated. The aim to the study was to find out how Muslims living in Germany view German culture as well as their attitudes towards integration.

 

According to the study, a significant minority is particularly sceptical about integration: Only 52% of non-German Muslims favoured integration, while 48% refuse to integrate, but prefer to live in separation from the German mainstream. These figures change slightly when taking into account German Muslims: While, then, 78% of Muslim favour integration, 22% prefer a more separatist approach. Overall, about 24% of non-German Muslims reject integration, question Western values, and tend to accept violence.

 

Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich expressed his concern about the study’s findings and emphasised that those who reject democratic values and constitutionally enshrined freedoms do not have a future in Germany. Similarly, Hans-Peter Uhl, domestic affairs spokesman of the government’s CDU faction, said the high number of Muslims who refuse to integrate was alarming. The rejection to integrate may provide a fertile ground for religious fanaticism and terrorism.

 

While many CDU politicians were concerned about the study’s findings, the Liberal Democrats criticized the study for producing “headlines”, but no actual findings beyond the religious commitment of young Muslims, which cannot automatically be connected with violence. Furthermore, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (FDP) questioned the study’s validity and significance. Green-Party politician Volker Beck went even further and criticized the Interior Ministry for viewing Muslims solely in the light of the potential danger they pose – according to Beck, this alludes to the Interior Minister’s lacking willingness to fully integrate them.

 

Germany’s Muslim communities have also expressed criticism. Kenan Kolat, for instance, head of the Turkish Community in Germany, accused Friedrich of populist behaviour. Instead of publishing the study’s findings, they should have been discussed during the Islam Conference. The Chair of the Central Council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek, by comparison, was more concerned about the potential radicalisation of young Muslims. He called on politicians for support preventive work more strongly.

Arrest of Two German (Salafi) Muslims Disturbs Inter-Cultural Dialogue and Integration

02.08.2011

In Solingen, the beginning of Ramadan is clouded by the news that the two German Muslims, who were recently arrested on terror charges at the port of Dover (as reported), were originally from Solingen and members of a regional group of Salafis. Solingen’s Muslim communities distanced themselves from any radical Islamic tendencies and, instead, emphasized their interest in promoting successful integration. Eray Ünver, the Ditib’s local commissioner for integration and also responsible for the local inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue, criticized that news about arrests of radical Muslims disrupt the process of dialogue and integration, as they trigger fear and feed prejudices. Similarly, members of the local Islamic Center distanced themselves from radical preachers such as (Salafist) Pierre Vogel.

German Muslims Criticise the Social Democrats’ Refusal to Expel Sarrazin

26.04.2011

There is strong resentment amongst Germany’s Muslim and Jewish communities against the Social-Democratic Party’s (SPD) decision not to expel Thilo Sarrazin from its ranks for his harsh criticism of Muslim immigration to Germany. Just before Easter, the decision was taken that Sarrazin, who had made inflammatory statements about race, Muslims, and immigration in his best-selling book Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany destroys itself), could hold on to his party membership, overcoming efforts by fellow party members demanding his exclusion.

The Party’s decision was not only controversially received within its own ranks (as expressed by many members’ signing of a petition against Sarrazin’s continuing party membership), but also criticised by Aiman Mazyek, Chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany. According to the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, Mazyek especially criticises the SPD for avoiding a clear (and ruthless) confrontation with Sarrazin and his destructive arguments. Mazyek argues that Sarrazin’s account of (Muslim) minorities in Germany did not align itself with the principles of a tolerant, liberal-democratic society. Therefore, the Party’s decision was not a positive signal for Muslims in Germany.

German Interior Minister Friedrich Opens Up to Muslims

12 April 2011

Hans-Peter Friedrich, German Minister of the Interior, has recently denied that Islam belonged to Germany. At a discussion in Regensburg, he has now began to open up to German Muslims. At the “Regensburger Religionsgespräch”, at which predecessor Wolfgang Schäuble declared in 2009 that Islam is indeed a part of Germany, Friedrich has spoken in favour of supporting religious groups, because religion in his view fostered society cohesion, and that also extended to Islam. An Islam, he qualified, that recognises the inviolability of human dignity. He also emphasised that Christianity has deeply shaped German culture up to the language, but he was eager to avoid the term “Leitkultur” or guiding culture, which is often employed by conservative politicians. Reactions at the event were positive, but it was highly regretted that the only Muslim participant had fallen ill and was unable to attend.

Home for the Aged to be Founded for German Muslim Retirees

8 April 2011

German Muslims are planning a new charity fund in order to establish Islamic homes for the aged and kindergartens, the Islamische Zeitung reports. Chairman of the Central Council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek, said the initiative would reflect the reality in German society, and it was a necessary step for Muslims. The same rights and duties as for Christian charities would apply.

According to Deutsch Türkische Nachrichten, Muslim elderly have different needs than non-Muslims. A pilot project in Offenbach near Frankfurt has therefore started an apprenticeship programme, training young men of migration background to become carers for the elderly. The programme focuses on culturally sensitive issues, language and customs, something that become especially important with people suffering from dementia. Apart from working at homes for the aged, graduates of the programme could also be employed in new projects like shared housing for intercultural groups.