‘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.

Islam scholar in Münster under pressure

January 10, 2014

 

Prof.Dr. Mouhanad Khorchide, a scholar at the Centre for Islamic Theology (ZIT) at the University of Münster has been under recent public pressure. In an open statement, students of the centre raised their concerns about these issues, which would negatively effect the reputation and image of the ZIT.

Prof. Khorchide has been accused of plagiarism having used content and ideas of the Syrian Koran interpreter Muhammad Shahrour, inappropriately for his book “mercifulness”. The central council of Muslims in Germany spread the news as well as the daily news paper in Vienna “Standard”.

The central council of Muslims does not recognize Prof. Khorchide as a theologist. Yet, the accusations against Prof. Khorchide have not been verified. In his book, Khorchide is said to demand the modernization of Islam, which has been criticized by Muslim associations such as the coordination council of Muslims. In 2010, the coordination council permitted Khorchide to teach as a certified religious scholar. The same council is aiming to dispose Prof. Khorchide.

 

Die Zeit: http://www.zeit.de/studium/hochschule/2014-01/khorchide-muenster-islamische-theologie-kritik

Students’ statement (In German): http://fachschaftzit.blogspot.de/?m=0

Avicenna Scholarship for Muslim students

Talented Muslims students are given the opportunity to finance their studies through the Avicenna-Studienwerk, which was established in March 2012. Two students called Matthias Meyer (University of Konstanz) and Beschir Hussain (WHU and Columbia University) had the initial idea to create a foundation for Muslim students. The association was founded in March 2012 by researchers and students in Osnabrück. The director of the Institute for Islamic Theology Bülent Ucar spoke about a historical step towards recognition and equality of Muslims in Germany.

Selected undergraduate students receive 670 Euros per month and doctoral students receive 1050 Euros per month. The Mercator foundation is supporting the Avicenna-Studienwerk with 1 Mio. Euros for the duration of five years. The Ministry for Education and Science will support the Avicenna-Studienwerk with another 7 Mio. Euros.

The average rate of Muslims in Germany is about 4.6% to 5.2%. However the Muslim representation rate is just below 3% at German Universities.  The aim of the Avicenna-Studienwerk is to create equal opportunities for talented Muslims to participate and engage in German society.

Germany’s First Center for Islamic Theology Launched Last Week

16./ 17.01.2012

On January 16th, German Federal Education Minister Annette Schavan officially opened Germany’s first Centre of Islamic Theology at the University of Tübingen. The centre in Tübingen is the first of four planned Islamic study centres throughout the country, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research with a total sum of around 20 million Euros (as reported earlier). During the opening ceremony, Annette Schavan said the centre was a “milestone for integration” of Germany’s approximately 4.3 million Muslims. And indeed, the plans to establish Islamic study centres and introduce study programmes in Islamic theology are part of a modern integration policy. The centre will mainly function to train imams and teachers for Islamic studies; so far, most imams currently in Germany are from Turkey and many of them do not speak German.

Mathias Rohe on Islamic Theology in Germany *Triggering Global Debates*

In Germany, Islamic theology is being introduced as a university course – a much debated issue in academic terms, but also politically.
In this interview, Mathias Rohe, Germany’s most renowned academic expert on Sharia law, talks about what this means for the development of Islam in Germany and, potentially, on a global level

New Centre of Islamic Theology at the University of Tübingen

30.09.2011

The University of Tübingen opened the first German Centre of Islamic Studies/ Islamic Theology last week. The centre is one of four new centers for Islamic Theology nationwide (as reported) dedicated to the study of Islamic Theology to train, for instance, future imams or teachers for Islamic religious education. However, the interest by aspiring students has remained far behind expectations  and, so far, only 24 students have enrolled.

Islam in German Schools

08.07.2011

The federal states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony are planning to introduce Islamic religious education in state schools, starting at the beginning of the school year of 2012/ 2013 (as reported). The new subject is not only meant to impart knowledge and introduce children to Islamic practices, but also offers opportunities to promote tolerance and acceptance for people of different faiths. However, currently, the states are concerned about the lack of teachers to successfully implement these plans in practice.

 

To enable potential teachers for Islamic education to complete basic (and obligatory) university studies in theology, Federal Minister of Education and Research, Annette Schavan, is planning on introducing (and funding) Islamic Theology at four universities throughout Germany. The universities of Münster/ Osnabrück and Tübingen, for instance, offer some courses in the next academic year. Similar to the lack of teachers, the demand for lecturers and professors cannot be met domestically. Therefore, personnel will initially be recruited from abroad.

New Islam-Professorship at the University of Hamburg

22.06.2011
The University of Hamburg established a professorship for Islamic Studies and Islamic Theology at the Academy of World Religions. In the fall of 2011, Katajan Amirpur (40), a German of Iranian origin who has previously worked at the University of Zurich, will take up the professorship in Hamburg. The University honoured Amirpur as an excellent academic in the area of innovative approaches to Islamic Theology. The Academic of World Religions, which was implemented in 2010, focuses especially on religious and cultural diversity.