A political figure: The number of Muslims in Germany

The Federal Ministry for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) has published a new study on the number of Muslims living in Germany for the first time since 2009.

After the admission of hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers by the Merkel government in summer and autumn of 2015, these numbers are eminently political: populist movements’ campaign platforms focus on the (perceived) ‘Islamisation of the West’, and 40 per cent of Germans believe that the country is being ‘infiltrated’ by Islam.

Providing a corrective to populists

These fears are also reflected in the tendency—observable in all Western countries—to overestimate the Muslim population. An Ipsos Mori poll, conducted in late 2016, revealed that German respondents estimated more than 20 per cent of the German population to be Muslim.(( https://www.theguardian.com/society/datablog/2016/dec/13/europeans-massively-overestimate-muslim-population-poll-shows ))

Against this backdrop, the numbers of the BAMF study are a welcome reality check. According to the study, by December 31, 2015, Germany was home to between 4.4 and 4.7 million men and women of Muslim faith. This translates into a Muslim share in the overall population of about 5.4 to 5.7 per cent.

Growing diversity of the Muslim population

Moreover, the study contains interesting insights about the composition of the Muslim population in the country. While in 2011 67.5 per cent of Muslims were of Turkish background, their share has dropped to about 50.6 per cent. Muslims of Middle Eastern origin now constitute the second largest group among German Muslims.

This is linked to the fact that around 27 per cent of Muslims in Germany—or 1.2 million men and women—have only recently, i.e. over the past 5 years, immigrated to the country. Consequently, the diversity of Muslim life has grown significantly in Germany over the past few years.

An inadequate religious structure

The participation of these new arrivals in the existing religious institutions and frameworks is not straightforward, however. In a large number of the country’s mosques, Turkish language, culture, and Islamicality predominate, meaning that they struggle to attract Arab Muslims.

At the same time, many Syrians have felt uneasy to visit Arabic-speaking mosques, due to their conservative nature. Syrians reported that they were often criticised for their clothing style and their (lack of) religious devotion. Most of these mosques are financed by the Gulf monarchies.(( https://de.qantara.de/inhalt/syrische-fluechtlinge-und-arabische-moscheen-in-deutschland-allah-hoert-zu ))

Some hope that the arrival of Syrians can help to break the hold of Wahhabi-Salafi orthodoxy in Arabic-speaking mosques. Yet this is not a foregone conclusion: Syrian refugee Jaber al-Bakr, who planned a bomb attack on one of Berlin’s airports, was reportedly radicalised by conservative Imams after his arrival in Germany.

Shortcomings on ample display

Yet in spite of its contribution to factualising the debate, the BAMF’s study also contains a number of distinctive shortcomings.

At the most general level, the fact that the study was conducted by the federal office responsible for migration and refugees is telling. It highlights that Islam and the presence of Muslims is still seen predominantly as a migrant phenomenon—rather than as a phenomenon that is part and parcel of ordinary German life and citizenship.

More particularly, the reliance on the databases of the BAMF means that German converts to Islam are not included in the study’s figures. The number of these converts is difficult to gauge due to lack of data. According to leading researcher Esra Özyürek, whose anthropological fieldwork has focused on German converts to Islam, estimates range from 20,000 to 100,000.(( http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/gesellschaft/muslime-in-deutschland-konvertiten-erfahren-besonders-viel-abneigung-a-1111636.html ))

Foreigner = Muslim

At the same time, the BAMF often counts every immigrant from a Muslim-majority country as Muslim—irrespective of whether the person in question identifies with the Islamic faith. Nor, of course, is the BAMF interested in the level and the particularities of individual religious observance.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/zahl-der-muslime-in-deutschland-wie-viel-millionen-sind-es.886.de.html?dram:article_id=375505 ))

The study is thus an important contribution to a debate that all too often appears completely disconnected from factual analysis. Yet on its own, the obsession with numbers does very little to address any of the questions and problems that Germany and its Muslim community face.

Pig heads thrown in mosque in eastern France

The Muslim community in eastern French town of Dijon were targeted by an Islamophobic attack when six pigs heads were thrown at the gates of a mosque under construction.

Six halves of pigs heads were discovered on the gates of the mosque building in Genlis, a small town near Dijon, France on Friday morning.  “Cold cuts” of pork were discovered thrown into the yard.

Dijon prosecutor’s office launched an investigation under charges of ethnic hate and fueling discrimination, the report said.

Genlis City Mayor Vincent Dancourts confirmed the attack in a written statement and said that the authorities were in full solidarity with the area’s Muslim community.

“The police have taken samples and I hope the person or people who perpetrated this act will be held accountable. Hatred linked to religion has no place in our commune where everyone must live in harmony and respect for each other,” he said.

The French Socialist party’s Kheira Bouziane joined the mayor in speaking out against the incident “with the upmost firmness”.

SOS Racism, an anti-racist movement in France, strongly condemned the attack and called on the authorities to hold those responsible accountable for the acts. The mosque building was handed over to a Muslim association in Genlis in recent months and was under construction at the time of the incident.

 

‘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.

France’s choice of non-Muslim to lead French Islam foundation causes controversy

The appointment of French politician Jean-Pierre Chevènement to head the newly formed Foundation for Islam in France, which aims to improve relations between the state and the Muslim community, has sparked controversy in many French circles.

Chevènement, a former French interior minister, was chosen to head the Foundation for Islam in France Monday following a meeting between current Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and Muslim community leaders in Paris.

Announcing the decision Monday, Cazeneuve said the aim of the discussions was to forge “an Islam anchored in the values of the French Republic”.

But the choice of Chevènement, a 77-year-old career politician whose past posts include defence as well as interior minister, was greeted with skepticism by many activists and community leaders.

“It’s a joke,” civil rights activist Yasser Louati, whose work focuses on issues of Islamophobia and national security said. “We keep treating Muslims as if they are foreign people who need to be disciplined.”

The problem with this foundation and similar ones that came before it, Louati argued, is that it was established by the government. For such an organisation to succeed, it needs a bottom-up, and not a top-down approach, he said. The community should have been asked about how they wanted the initiative to be structured and who they wanted to head it. As it stands, “it is bound to fail,” he said.

Louati was also critical about Chevènement’s appointment. “It is like me appointing Ronald Reagan to head up African-American affairs,” he said.

Ghaleb Bencheikh, an author and expert on Islam, who will sit on the organisation’s board, said that while a Muslim president for the foundation would have been “ideal”, Chevènement is an acceptable choice in the short-term, when the main aim is to get the project up and running.

Bencheikh said there is no obvious consensus option from within the community at the time being, and that Chevènement will serve a transitional role.

Chevènenement is not without credibility within the community, Bencheikh added. He was a disciple of noted French Arabist Jacques Berque, he has travelled extensively in the Arab world, he was president of the France-Algeria Association and he resigned from his position as minister of defence in protest at his nation’s involvement in the first Gulf War.

But Chevènement has already ruffled feathers by saying that Muslims should be “discreet” and try to blend in. He also said that there were 135 nationalities in a racially diverse suburb of Paris, but one has almost disappeared, referring to French nationals.

The implication that the French nationals living in Saint-Denis, many of them of North African origin, are somehow not French prompted officials in the northern Parisian suburb to write to President Hollande, asking him to renounce Chevènement’s appointment.

Bencheikh said that in the aftermath of the recent terror attacks in the country, something needed to be done. France was faced with a choice over what kind of Islam it wanted: a tolerant, open Islam or the Islam of violence and jihad. Bencheikh believes the foundation will help promote the former.

 

Muslim community joins Regina pride parade for 1st time

Regina held its annual Queen City Pride parade on Saturday, as the main event for pride week.
This year was special for some Muslim people in Regina, as it’s the first time a group from the religious community marched in the parade.
Sabreena Haque, a Muslim woman who took part, said many who joined the parade felt it was time to show more visible solidarity, especially in the wake of the tragic shooting in Orlando at a gay bar earlier this month.
“We are a misunderstood community ourselves, and I think you know when things like Orlando happen and things that happen in other places, I think other people always see us as being this harsh group of people. That we have only one way of thinking,” Haque said.
Haque said people were happy to see group marching, and said they’re thankful for the opportunity to take part.

GOP Rep: American Muslim Community ‘Would Kill Every Homosexual’ In U.S.

Republican Rep. Mo Brooks (AL) said Thursday that Democrats “are in a perplexing position” between appealing to the gay community and “to the Muslim community, which, if it had its way, would kill every homosexual in the United States of America.”
Brooks made the remarks, first picked up by BuzzFeed, on the Matt & Aunie show on WAPI radio, where he was asked why “the left refuses to face this fact” that “mainstream Muslim thought” says homosexuality is punishable by death.
“Well, it’s probably because they’re counting votes,” Brooks told the radio show. “And they’re seeking a block vote from the Muslim community in the United States and that’s a community that is increasing in political power, as it’s doing in Europe. More and more votes are there. And the Democrats are in a perplexing position. On the one hand, they’re trying to appeal to the gay community, but, on the other hand, they’re trying to also appeal to the Muslim community, which, if it had its way, would kill every homosexual in the United States of America.”

American Muslims Send A Powerful Message Of Solidarity To Orlando Victims

The tragedy in Orlando has prompted both compassion and debate within the Muslim community.

The American Muslim community reacted with an outpouring of love and support in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
The support came in the form of fundraisers, blood donations, and public statements that firmly condemned the violence that claimed the lives of 49 victims at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub early Sunday morning, and left dozens more injured.
At the same time, the violence sparked a debate within the community about whether Muslim leaders need to speak out more forcefully against homophobic ideologies.
The gunman, identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen, reportedly called police about 20 minutes into the shooting and pledged his allegiance to ISIS. His father, Seddique Mateen, has claimed that his son became upset after seeing two gay men kissing in Miami a few months ago. Pulse was a haven for Orlando’s LGBTQ community.
Muslim organizations and activists across the country have spoken out against the shooting, explicitly calling it a hate crime.

A Muslim Community in Virginia Feels the Heat of Extremists’ Sins

It was a Friday Prayer like any other at the Islamic Center of Fredericksburg until the warning came from the imam. Less than a week after the Orlando, Fla., nightclub massacre by an American-born Muslim, and after Donald J. Trump’s renewed call to bar Muslims from entering the United States, Imam Hilal Shah told his congregation to stay vigilant for violence against their families and community.
“We’re fearful of a backlash,” Imam Shah called out through the speakers as he mentioned other attacks by Muslim extremists in Paris and in San Bernardino, Calif. “Anytime an event takes place such as what happened in France, such as what happened in San Bernardino, such as in Orlando, we as a Muslim community feel scared.”

Partner of San Bernardino Victim Urges Tolerance of Muslims

A man whose boyfriend was killed in the San Bernardino terror attack criticized Donald Trump’s suggestion that Muslims be banned from entering the U.S. and encouraged tolerance in the wake of the shootings.
Speaking to students Monday in a “Terrorism in the 21st Century” class at California State University, San Bernardino, Ryan Reyes said his anger has shifted from the attack to how the nation has responded. He said the Muslim community should not be blamed for the actions of radical groups.
“A ban on anybody based on something like that, I was appalled that that notion even came up,” Reyes said of Trump’s Muslim ban proposal.

Muslim charity to put ‘Allah is great’ posters on buses to portray Islam in a positive light

Hundreds of British buses will carry adverts praising Allah as part of a campaign launched by the country’s biggest Muslim charity to help victims of Syria’s civil war. Islamic Relief hopes the posters, which bear the words “Subhan Allah”, meaning “Glory be to God” in Arabic, will portray Islam and international aid in a positive light.

Buses will carry the advertisements in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leicester and Bradford. These cities have large Muslim populations and the charity hopes it will encourage people to donate generously ahead of the start of Ramadan on 7 June.

Imran Madden, the UK director of Islamic Relief, said: “In a sense this could be called a climate change campaign because we want to change the negative climate around international aid and around the Muslim community in this country.

“International aid has helped halve the number of people living in extreme poverty in the past 15 years, and British Muslims are an incredibly generous community who give over £100 million to international aid charities in Ramadan.”

The new campaign will appear on buses from 23 May on 640 buses around the country. The adverts will have a special resonance in London as the city elected its first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, on Thursday – despite a Conservative campaign, which repeatedly accused him of having connections to extremists.