Grand Mosque of Paris pulls out of Foundation for Islam in France

The Grand Mosque of Paris will pull out of a new, state-sponsored Muslim foundation, criticizing “interference” in how Islam is exercised, at a time of simmering tensions surrounding France’s second-largest faith, its spokesman said.

The mosque, which represents some 250 Muslim associations, called in a statement for other Muslim groups to follow suit and “reject all attempts of stewardship” by the state.

“We’re happy to have the state create a foundation, but the president must be Muslim and it must be done in collaboration with Muslims, we don’t want it imposed,” said Slimane Nadour, the mosque’s communications director.

But Abdallah Zekri, secretary-general of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, an umbrella body, suggested the mosque was peeved that its head, Dalil Boubakeur, was not tapped as foundation president. “We need a foundation,” he said.

 

Fear and apprehension among German Muslims after the Berlin attack

Disavowing the attacker

Following the truck attack on a busy Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz in the heart of former West Berlin on December 19, German Muslims have sought to dissociate themselves from the presumed attacker. The suspected jihadist, Anis Amri, remains at large at the time of writing.

Muslims gathered on the square where the attack had occurred, wearing t-shirts with the inscription “Muslims for peace”, and holding up signs such as “I am a Muslim, not a terrorist”.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/anschlag-in-berlin-muslime-demonstrieren-gegen-terror-a-1126876.html )) A choir, composed of long-standing German residents and recently arrived refugees, came out to sing Christmas songs.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/anschlag-in-berlin-wir-sind-hier-weil-wir-alle-menschen-sind-1.3305340 ))

In the aftermath of the attack, anxieties among refugees are running particularly high: speaking to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, many express fears about a worsening security situation and a growing incidence of terrorist attacks. They worry about tighter immigration policies and above all about greater suspicion and distrust that couls make building a life in Germany more difficult.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-12/anschlag-weihnachtsmarkt-berlin-fluechtlinge-reaktionen/komplettansicht ))

Responses of Muslim bodies and representatives

Representatives of the country’s largest Muslim associations have strongly condemned the attack and sought to show their presence during official ceremonies of mourning.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2016/12/20/religionsvertreter-verurteilen-berliner-anschlag/ )) An Imam participated in the oecumenical service at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a war-damaged church at Breitscheidplatz rechristened as a monument to peace. The service was also attended by leading politicians, including Chancellor Merkel.(( http://islam.de/28268 ))

At the same time, Muslim associations’ capacities remain circumscribed due to their internal divisions and their limited ability to represent Muslim believers in a convincing fashion. In contrast to a host of Christian and Jewish institutions, they are also not recognised as ‘religious communities’ (Religionsgemeinschaften) or as ‘corporate bodies of public law’ (Körperschaften öffentlichen Rechts) and thus have a distinctly inferior legal status in the country – a fact which hampers their financial and social capacities as well as their political clout.(( https://en.qantara.de/content/islam-in-germany-a-poor-second ))

The complex politics of Islamic associational life

Consequently, Germany’s Muslim community may struggle to develop a coherent and powerful public response to the Berlin attack. Already in January 2015, when a vigil with a large number of high-ranking participants from politics and society was organised in front of the Brandenburg Gate to commemorate the attack on Charlie Hebdo, bitter infighting broke out among Germany’s disparate Muslim associations.

At the time, representatives of the DİTİB, VIKZ, and IRD umbrella bodies, each of which runs substantial numbers of mosques, had a public fallout with their rival Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD). They accused Mazyek of using the vigil to distinguish himself and to derive political capital for himself and the ZMD to the detriment of the other associations. ((http://www.fr-online.de/terror/zentralrat-der-muslime-muslime-sauer-auf-mazyek,29500876,29557370.html ))

Germany at a crossroads

One might be tempted to hope that in the aftermath of the Breitscheidplatz Christmas market attack – the first substantial jihadist incident on German soil – the country’s Muslim associations could be propelled to overcome some of their long-standing hostilities and move to a more unified position.

Yet it is equally if not more plausible to expect tensions between these antagonistic players to increase in the coming weeks and months. Muslim representatives and institutions seem poised to be sucked into a divisive spiral of politicisation in which they are required to prove their loyalty to the German state.

The onset of this dynamic could already be observed in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Horst Seehofer, leader of the CSU, Bavarian sister party to Angela Merkel’s CDU, swiftly demanded a fundamental recalibration of Germany’s immigration and integration policies.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article160483611/So-rechtfertigt-Seehofer-seine-Zuwanderungsaussage.html )) A high-ranking AfD politician commented on Twitter that the fatalities of the attack were “Merkel’s dead”, i.e. a consequence of her lax immigration policies.(( https://www.welt.de/regionales/bayern/article160485594/Polizei-prueft-Tweet-von-AfD-Mann-Pretzell.html ))

Invoking unity

The bulk of the political responses to the events of December 19 has been more measured so far. Berlin’s mayor, Michael Müller (SPD), called upon the three monotheistic religions to continue to live together in peace. He asserted that “Jews, Christians and Muslims belong to this city” and must “not let themselves be pitted against one another”.(( http://islam.de/28268 ))

CDU politicians as well as a range of civil society actors harshly criticised Horst Seehofer for his glib calls for repressive measures and his populist ‘law and order’ approach.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/annegret-kramp-karrenbauer-weist-horst-seehofer-nach-berlin-anschlag-zurecht-a-1127140.html ))

Cautionary tale from the other side of the Rhine

In this respect, the political climate in Germany is still far from attaining the poisonous levels reached in France after the November 2015 terrorist attacks. Yet it is worth remembering that after the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre, France lived through something of a moment of national unity in which millions of citizens and leaders peaceably took to the streets, collectively defying the terrorist challenge.((http://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hollande-idUSKBN0L91VN20150205 ))

Nearly two years and two major attacks later, this sense of unity appears to have dissipated completely. This highlights the challenges that Germany will face in the months and years ahead. The truck assault of December 19 may inspire the sense of cohesion that many observers are hoping for. Yet this cohesion remains fragile and vulnerable to further attacks.

Dismissal of prison chaplain over extremism accusations highlights growing tensions between state and Muslim associations in Germany

Model project on prevention

The Ministry of Justice in the state of Hesse has ended its cooperation with an Imam working as a prison chaplain at a correctional facility in the city of Darmstadt. Authorities reacted to advice given by the German domestic intelligence agency (the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz): the agency had classified Imam Abdassamad El-Yazidi as a security risk.

Starting point for this assessment had been El-Yazidi’s association with the organisation Deutsch-Islamischer Vereinsverband Rhein-Main (German-Islamic Associational Union, DIV), deemed since August 2016 to be ‘under extremist influence’ and consequently placed on a surveillance list. El-Yazidi had been the DIV’s chairman until three years ago; presently, he chairs the Hessian chapter of one of the country’s largest Muslim associations, the Zentralrat der Muslime in Deutschland (Central Council of Muslims in Germany, ZMD), of which the DIV is a member.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/rhein-main/so-treibt-man-verdienstvolle-muslime-ins-innere-exil-14478785.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Complex institutional landscape

This episode highlights the complex institutional landscape of Muslim representation in Germany, with the ZMD being an umbrella body composed of further umbrella organisations. The DIV, which is now in the spotlight, for instance, brings together 46 local associations. One of them, the Europäische Institut für Humanwissenschaften (European Institute for Human Sciences, EIHW), located in the Ostend neighbourhood of Frankfurt, now triggered the intervention by the Verfassungsschutz. The Institut is perceived to be part of a transnational Muslim Brotherhood network. ((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/rhein-main/so-treibt-man-verdienstvolle-muslime-ins-innere-exil-14478785.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Amidst this organisational diversity and fragmentation, El-Yazidi asserted, it was at times impossible for the mostly unpaid volunteers working in the ZMD to scrutinise all aspects of fellow players on the associational scene. At the same time, El-Yazidi also defended decisions to retain contacts with institutions deemed to be under extremist influence, on the grounds that only continued engagement would make it possible to prevent further radicalisation. ((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/rhein-main/so-treibt-man-verdienstvolle-muslime-ins-innere-exil-14478785.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Criticism from Catholic representatives

In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, El-Yazidi noted that he had only received a call from the Hessian Ministry of Justice informing him that he had to end his work as a prison chaplain without being given more concrete information about the suspicions directed against him.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/rhein-main/so-treibt-man-verdienstvolle-muslime-ins-innere-exil-14478785.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Joachim Valentin, responsible for Christian-Muslim understanding at the Catholic bishopric of Limburg and chairman of a Catholic cultural centre in Frankfurt, decried the measure as disrespectful and counter-productive. He criticised the Verfassungsschutz for “failing to differentiate between orthodox Islam, radicalism, extremism, and terror threats.” Blanket accusations and criminalisation would only serve to “drive meritorious Muslims into inner exile.” ((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/rhein-main/so-treibt-man-verdienstvolle-muslime-ins-innere-exil-14478785.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

The ZMD itself reacted with a press release deeming the exclusion of its representative from prevention programmes against radicalisation “incomprehensible”, stressing that so far Hessian authorities and participants had appreciated the collaboration and its effects. ((http://zentralrat.de/28081.php ))

Signs of strain between state and Muslim associations

The affair surrounding chaplain El-Yazidi is only the latest episode in a gradual worsening of the relationship between German authorities and the country’s Muslim associations. In recent months, much of the political discussion has centred on DITIB and the influence of the Erdogan government over this association and its mosques.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/freiburg-declaration-secular-muslims-starkly-reveals-fault-lines-among-german-muslim-associations/ ))

Yet it is questions of foreign financing and control more generally have taken centre stage, amidst a renewed debate about the (lack of) loyalty Muslim citizens exhibit vis-à-vis the German state. ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/old-question-loyalty-german-turks-relationship-erdogan/ )). This prompted the ZMD in its reaction to the El-Yazidi affair to stress its determination to “reject any influencing from abroad, no matter from which country.” ((http://zentralrat.de/28081.php )) Yet recent developments surrounding the EIHW have rekindled voices accusing the ZMD itself to be an apologist of the Muslim Brotherhood. ((http://www.allgemeine-zeitung.de/politik/hessen/im-schatten-der-muslimbrueder_17372765.htm ))

Muted reaction of German Muslim leaders to Orlando touches upon uncomfortable issues of homophobia and media discourses

The response of German Muslim leaders and organisations to the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando has generally been relatively muted. Whilst the main federations – DITIB, ZMD, VIKZ, and IGMG – had been quick to denounce recent attacks in Brussels and Paris in official press releases on their websites, these organisations have remained comparatively silent after Orlando. In two tweets from his personal account, ZMD chairman Aiman Mazyek denounced the “mad deed” and expressed his solidarity with the perpetrator’s victims and their families. Mazyek then went on to criticise the media for pouncing on the supposed religious motivations of shooter Omar Mateen and refrained from further substantive comments on the events of Orlando. An article on the IGMG-leaning website Islamiq.de took the same line: instead of seeking the rationale for Mateen’s actions in his Muslim faith, the shooting ought to be seen as a non-religious hate crime, or so the article’s author argued. Only the small Liberal-Islamic Federation (LIB) released a statement explicitly condemning the attack and the religious references employed by Mateen. The LIB also vowed to fight homophobic prejudice.

 

The mainstream associations’ limited response might be due in part to the confusion that still reigns about the nature of attacker’s motives. As Yassin Musharbash notes in a piece for Die Zeit titled ‘But he did say IS though!’, Mateen’s ostentatious pledge of allegiance to the so-called Islamic State must be counterbalanced by an appreciation of his personal history of psychological instability and potentially suppressed homosexual tendencies. As Musharbash points out, the Orlando attack was not connected to the IS in a direct operational manner, nor does it seem to have been backed up by a clear politico-ideological outlook on the part of Mateen himself. Rather than being due to recognisably ‘religious’ factors, then, Musharbash sees Mateen’s reference to Islam and to the IS as a testimony to the power of the IS’s iconography and to its capability to establish itself and its vision as a countercultural force. On this view, the silence of Muslim associations is understandable and reasonable, since from an Islamic religious perspective there is comparatively little about the attacker that is worth commenting on.

 

However, the limited nature of German Muslim organisations’ reactions has also been criticised. In the Tagesspiegel newspaper, psychologist and anti-radicalisation activist Ahmad Mansour denounces Muslim leaders for giving in to the initial reflex-like claim that the attack ‘has nothing to do with Islam’. Mansour argues that Mateen’s jihadist leanings need to be taken seriously, and that the Muslim organisations and their leading personnel are averse to fighting the homophobic prejudice that has taken hold in their communities. Whilst many commentators in the German media – including renowned academic scholar Thomas Bauer – have pointed out that attitudes towards homosexuality have been historically more relaxed in Muslim societies than in the West, Mansour replies that this historically accurate observation must not detract from the fact that today homophobic discriminations and attacks are justified in recognisably ‘Islamic’ terms. The failure of the main Muslim associations to react to the Orlando shooting is thus seen as indicative of the unwillingness to recognise homosexuality as legitimate and to unquestioningly denounce homophobia.

 

http://www.islamiq.de/2016/06/13/muslime-verurteilen-massaker-von-orlando/

http://lib-ev.jimdo.com/

http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2016-06/orlando-attentaeter-islamischer-staat-medien

http://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/ahmad-mansour-ueber-islam-und-terror-der-islam-muss-sich-reformieren/13751768.html

German conservatives call for Islam Law

Leading members of the CSU party, Bavarian sister organisation to Angela Merkel’s CDU, have called for an ‘Islam Law’ that would curb foreign influence on German mosques. CSU Secretary General Andreas Scheuer asserted that “German has to become the language of the mosques”, with Imams being trained in Germany and being steeped in German “basic values”. In order to curb what Scheuer described as imported extremism, mosques, Islamic cultural centres and Muslim institutions should also no longer be allowed to receive money from abroad. These proposals follow the lead set by Austria, who adopted similar measures in 2015.

While Scheuer explicitly mentioned Saudi Arabia’s practice of funding Wahhabi and Salafist organisations as dangers to domestic German stability, in the context of recent diplomatic rows between Germany and Turkey, the Turkish connection of many of Germany’s Islamic institutions has now also come into the focus of the political debate. Up to 1000 Imams in Germany are trained in Turkey, and are sent to Germany by the Turkish presidency of religious affairs, Diyanet. They work in mosques administered by DITIB, Diyanet’s German affiliate, and continue to be paid by the Turkish state.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, DITIB has been extremely critical of the CSU proposals, arguing that they violate the German constitution and the right for religious self-determination anchored therein. The DITIB Secretary General dismissed the proposal for an Islam Law as “discriminatory”, “populist”, and as playing into the hands of the far-right AfD party. Other, more Islamist-tinged functionaries of the German Islam Council (IRD) and the Millî Gorüs community (IGMG) equally castigated the proposals as an attempt by the CSU to gain undue state influence over Muslim religious life.

Other commentators have noted the with approval that the CSU – in contrast to its past positions – now appears willing to recognise the existence of Muslim communities in Germany and the need to provide some sort of institutional infrastructure for the exercise of their religiosity. However, in an opinion piece for the newspaper Die Zeit, Parvin Sadigh notes that many mosque communities in the country are already using German as their primarily language, due to the diversity of origins of the attendees, as well as due to the fact that the children and grandchildren of Muslim immigrants often no longer speak the language of their parents and grandparents well enough to be able to follow religious instruction in Turkish or Arabic. Conversely, most Salafi and jihadi preachers are fluent in the German language and extremely well-versed in the sociocultural features of young Muslims’ lives. Ostentatious ‘integration’ in the mainstream of German society is thus not synonymous with theological liberalism.

Sadigh notes that degree programmes for Islamic Theology at German universities have only been in existence for 6 years, meaning that for the foreseeable future there will remain an acute shortage of German-educated Imams for mosques and of religious education teachers for public schools. Moreover, Sadigh notes that German mosques often do not have the necessary financial resources to offer adequate salaries to their Imams: without the constitutionally recognised status as a ‘religious corporation’, they have been unable to construct a durable financial infrastructure and thus continue to depend on charitable offerings from their members and on large-scale funding from abroad in order to be able to offer religious and social services.

Another CSU politician, Alexander Radwan, reacted to these criticism and proposed to enable Muslim associations in Germany to levy a church tax, analogous to the practice of the Catholic and Protestant churches. This, according to Radwan, would remedy the need of mosque communities to rely on foreign funding. What Radwan did not mention, however, is that the attainment of the requisite status of a ‘religious corporation’ that would enable Muslim associations to levy such a tax has remained elusive for most of the deeply divided Islamic organisations operating in the country.

Young Islam Conference

March 17, 2014

 

The Young Islam Conference sees itself as both a forum for dialogue and a mouthpiece for young Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It seeks to counter prejudice and negative ideas about Islam in Germany. Shohreh Karimian spoke to Esra Küçük, the managing director of the Young Islam Conference, about the forum’s background and aims

 

Source: http://en.qantara.de/content/young-islam-conference-interface-between-politics-and-society

Major challenges for German Islam Conference

February 10, 2014

 

According to experts such as Islam Scholar Michael Kiefer, the German Islam Conference has not made progress, since it was found by former Minister of Interior Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) in 2006. The initial success was the creation of an institutional connection to Islamic representatives and the foundation Islamic studies in schools.

Since then, the dialogue between State and religion representatives has gone through difficult obstacles such as the debate on selection processes through home affairs politicians and constitution protection authorities. The exclusion of extreme Islamic organizations like the Turkish Milli Görüs represented.

Further challenges are questions related to the understanding and representation of Islam in Germany. The current Minister of Interior Thomas de Maizière (CDU) seeks a pragmatic oriented approach to Muslim associations with a “goal-oriented” and “issues-driven” agenda. Muslim associations have welcomed the Ministers approach by sidelining security policy issues, focusing mainly on issues such as the recognition of Islam as a statutory body under public law.

Again, there will be questions related to the representativeness of associations. The growing Islamophobia will be a further challenge to the German Islam Conference. Critics fear the conference to remain an event of political symbolism. The politician Lale Akgün (SPD) claims more representative rights for women. Female teachers of Islamic studies, female Imams would be necessary to enhance a feminist view of Islam, deliberately strengthening a “liberal” Islam in Germany.

 

Qantara: http://en.qantara.de/content/changing-the-orientation-of-germanys-islam-conference-new-agenda-same-old-faces

Muslim associations call Muslims to participate at German elections

Sep 19th

 

The major Muslims associations have called Muslims to participate at the upcoming election for the German Bundestag. Associations such as the Turkish Community in Berlin (TGB), Islamic Community Milli Görüs (IGMG), the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers (VIKZ), the Turkish Islamic Union Institute for Religion (DITIB) and the European Turkish Union have organized information meetings in mosques and Islamic centers across Germany to inform Muslims about the relevance of the upcoming elections.

 

Muslim immigrants have the opportunity to access information about the parties and their programs. Issues such as the dual citizenship are popular among immigrants. Albeit Muslims associations inform citizens about the political system, the parties and the political issues, they remain neutral in terms of any  recommendation.

 

Cooperation of the State North Rhine-Westphalia with Muslims

Sep 17th

 

The Minister of Integration in the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia, Guntram Schneider (SPD) has announced the constitution of the dfi “dialogue forum Islam”. It will be represented by members of Muslim associations and the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia. The dfi will consult the State dealing with issues such as Muslim life in Germany.

 

The program will last three years until 2016. Issues will emphasize “pluralism of Islam” and “security for Muslims”. Furthermore the dfi will be involved in issues such as Islamic funeral ceremonies, prevention of extremism, Islamophobia, welfare and care of the elderly for Muslims.

According to the Minister Schneider, the State will be discussing the recognition of Islamic associations as corporations under public law.

 

Aiman Mazyek, chair of the central council of Muslims in Germany and speaker of the cooperation council of Muslims underlined the determination to support every attempt for the institutional equalization of Islamic associations and communities. Yilmaz Karahan representative of the Alawites in Germany expressed the hopes of his community for more cooperation and dialogue through the forum.

 

The dfi will be represented by two, constantly represented groups of parties. The first group includes all members of the coordination council of Muslims: The Turkish-Islamic Union Institute of Religion (DITIB), the Islam Council of Germany, the association of Islamic centers of culture (VIKZ), the central council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) and the Alawite community of Germany. The second group is represented by the Ministries of North Rhine-Westphalia and policy experts. Criteria for membership in the dfi is the ability to present a comprehensive coverage of community structure across the State.

 

The German State of North Rhine-Westphalia counts a Muslim population of 1.5 Millions. The total population of Muslims in Germany is about 4.3 Millions. Thus the headquarters of the biggest Islamic associations are based in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Muslim associations and Green Party in Lower Saxony criticize Minister of Interior

November 26

 

Muslim associations in Lower Saxony have criticized Minster of Interior Uwe  Schünemann (CDU) for defining Muslims as a marginal group. The associations did not accept to dialogue with the Ministry of Interior in July, after Minister Schünemann had refused to withdraw his “checklist” for the recognition of Islamists. Emine Oguz, a lawyer of the Islamic Union Institute for Religion – Ditib said, Schünemann would continue the checklist and keep controlling the mosques.

 

The migration policy speaker of the Green party Filiz Polat, criticized the government of Lower Saxony for ignoring the situation of Muslims. The Green party claims to record criminal offences against Muslims. Also, the Greens plan to include the situation of Muslims as an issue for the upcoming elections in Lower Saxony. The share of the Muslim population in Lower Saxony is about 6,2%.