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.

Number of Incidents Targeting U.S. Mosques in 2015 Highest Ever Recorded

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 12/17/15) – The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today released a preliminary report on incidents targeting American mosques and religious institutions in 2015 that shows a greater frequency of damage, destruction, vandalism, and intimidation than in any other year since CAIR started tracking such cases in 2009.

VIEW GRAPHIC OF 2015 MOSQUE INCIDENTS

Of the total of 71 incidents to date in 2015, 29 occurred since the November 13 terror attacks in Paris. Of those 29 incidents, 15 occurred prior to the December 3 San Bernardino killings and 14 took place after that attack.

CAIR’s preliminary data is being issued in advance of a soon-to-be-released comprehensive report on Islamophobia in the United States.

[Report Located Here]

Mosques afraid of wave of violence from extreme right groups

After members of the extreme-right group Identitair Verzet [Identitair Resistance] shortly occupied the Al Hijra mosque in the city of Leiden, the Contact Body Muslims and Government (CMO) is afraid for an escalation of anti-Muslim violence.

CMO, representing 80% of the Dutch mosques takes the incident very serious, says spokesperson Yassin Elforkani. There have been incidents before, but this was the first time that an action was committed and coordinated by a ideological driven group. There are moreover signs that more actions will follow.

Mosques should provide support to families of jihadis

According to Contact Institution Muslims and Government (CMO), mosques need to provide more support to families of people going to Syria and Iraq. These people are in need of contact with people going through the same situation and also practical support, which they both don’t get from Islamic communities.

Yassin Elforkani, who is working for CMO, responds to the plan of establishing a support centre for families of jihadis’ (see: ‘Support centre for families of jihadis’), saying that this plan can only be successful when there is a ‘bond of trust’, since parents shouldn’t be afraid that their information will be handed over to the police, for instance.

Imams from Amsterdam start website for youth, against radicalism

Five imams from Amsterdam are starting a ‘peaceful jihad’, consisting of a website and meetings where youth can ask questions, to prevent them from radicalizing. They say they want to make clear what the correct meaning of jihad is. Not ‘war’, as many people in general and Muslim youth think, but: ‘striving.’

According to Mohammed Ercharrouti, chairman of the Board of Moroccan Mosques in North-Holland’, radicalized youth have weak theological knowledge, which makes them amenable to the ideas of radical organizations.

‘Majority of Mosques target of violence.’

Ineke van der Valk (University of Amsterdam) investigated acts of violence against Muslims and mosques. Two/third of the mosques she questioned have experience some sort of act of violence: the breaking of windows, arson and there were also mosques that found a dead sheep or pig near their mosque.
90% of the mosques went to the police. However in the majority of cases the police ‘didn’t do anything’ and two/third of the perpetrators were never found.
Most of the mosques keep quiet about the incidents in the media, because they are afraid of invoking even more aggression.
CMO (Contact Institution Muslims and Government) pleads for an Islamophobia-register. According to mosques organizations the Islamic communities don’t believe that their reports about the ‘incidents’ are taken seriously by the police.

ISIS Recruitments shifts from online to the ground networks

Sources from the Guardian claim that the counter-terror police’s strategy in severing online networks has led to recruitment being shifted to the ground. Extremist preachers in mosques, particularly from Cardiff and Birmingham where men have travelled to Syria to fight, are a growing concern inside the Muslim community.

A 19 year-old ISIS supporter – who states that he is not based in the UK but still within Europe – has said to the Guardian, “We’re really excited to come in and join the khilafah. I know many brothers who have said the recruitment has been booming ever since the announcement [of the caliphate’s establishment] was made because this is what all these groups fought for years and years.” He argues that the UK in particular has been targeted due to its large minority of Salafis.

Central Council of Muslims condemns the violence of the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’

August 21, 2014

The chairman of the central council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek condemned the approach of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq. Mazyek spoke about “the infamous actions of barbarian and marauding gangs” when describing the approaches of ISIS after the murderer of US journalist James Foley. These acts would contradict Islam, the Koran and the Muslim way of life.

He called Muslims in Germany to take clear position against ISIS. German Muslims should not limit themselves demonstrating only against the war in Gaza. Mazyek excluded the possibility of potential ISIS sympathisers within Muslim communities. Those who sympathise with Jihadis would be young people with destroyed families and social backgrounds, who experienced discrimination and brainwashing. Islamism should be combated with Islam and the support of moderate Muslims.

Mazyek criticized the idea of arm delivery to the Kurds in Iraq. Humanitarian help should be a priority for the German government. Weapons could quickly arrive and access by wrong actors, said Mazyek.

Calling Imams to condemn the crimes and terror committed by ISIS

August 15, 2014

Over the last 2 months we have witnessed the atrocities committed by ISIS to the people of Iraq. ISIS have targeted and forced Christians to convert to Islam, pay a high tax or face execution, therefore thousands of people left their homes and belongings and fled their city. Some Churches have been damaged and converted into Mosques.

ISIS has painted the letter “N” in Arabic on the houses of Christians in the city of Mosul (N standing for Nasara, word used to describe Christians in Arabic). Many churches and shrines have been destroyed, this is an extension to a dangerous movement which is spreading, we witnessed this in Syria and even reports in Libya, Tunisia and Lebanon. Arabs, Christians and people throughout the world have launched the #WeAreN campaign on social media sites to show solidarity with Iraqi Christians. This week we learn of the horrors to the Yazidi community, the displacement and the brutal targeting of the Yazidi community is causing a humanitarian crisis,  ISIS in addition continue to target Sunni and Shia population who have not pledged allegiance to the so-called “Islamic” authority. Mosques and shrines have been destroyed completely. The Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board is encouraging Mosques and Imams to condemn these crime and express solidarity, this Friday 15th August. Each Mosques and Imams have found appropriate means to delivering this; this includes delivering Friday Khutba’s on this issue, organising events, and send out information through newsletters, social media Facebook, twitter etc. The MINAB is working with the media including the BBC and Sky News to ensure this activity is reported.

La Monumental, the great Mosque of Barcelona

August 7, 2014

Muslim leaders in the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia say they have been promised a mega-mosque in Barcelona if they support independence from Spain in a referendum set for November 9.

Officials from the Catalonia’s ruling Convergence and Union Party (CiU) are seeking the ballots of all of the roughly 100,000 Muslims in the region who are eligible to vote. “If you support us in the referendum, there will be a mosque,” CiU officials are said to have promised Muslim leaders, according to Spanish media.

The mega-mosque in question is said to involve a 2.2 billion euro ($3 billion) project to convert a historic bullfighting stadium in Barcelona into the third-largest mosque in the world, after those in Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

The tentative plan calls for the Emir of Qatar to purchase the stadium, known as the La Monumental, and to cover all costs associated with converting the property into a mosque. The five-year project would be completed sometime around 2020.

The mosque would also include a research center on the history of Al Andalus, the Arabic name given to those parts of Spain, Portugal and France that were occupied by Muslim conquerors (also known as the Moors) from 711 to 1492.