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 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 empty pockets for Pakistan flood victims

18 August 2010
As flooding in Pakistan continues to displace millions of people, Muslim groups in Germany are mobilizing to raise money and support aid programs to help those in need. A week into the Islamic fasting period of Ramadan, Muslim groups in Germany have asked their community to dig deep for victims in flood-ravaged Pakistan, where an estimated 20 million people are suffering due to high waters.
Ayyub Axel Koehler, who chairs the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), says the country’s Muslim community is shocked and dismayed at the recent devastating floods that have killed around 2,000 people in Pakistan. He says this is why a special slogan has been devised for this year’s Ramadan: “Fast, pray, donate.”
The Germany branch of aid and development organization Islamic Relief is one such group that has rallied in support of flood victims. Islamic Relief Germany spokesperson Nuri Koeseli says that 100,000 euros ($129,000) was donated in the first week of flooding in northern Pakistan. German Muslim aid group Muslime Helfen is also involved in the aid drive for Pakistan, throwing its support behind emergency accommodation for 2,000 flood victims.

German police launches a nationwide initiative to gain trust and sympathies among Muslims

The German police launches a nationwide initiative to gain turst and sympathies among Muslims. The aim is to become introduce migrants, especially Muslims, transparently the role and tasks of the German police. Information and education material has been printed in German, Turkish and Arabic. Big Muslim organisations, such as the ZMD and DITIB support the initiative.

Germany’s Muslims Angered By Cardinal’s Remarks

The Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) harshly criticized the Christian churches after high-ranking German clergyman Cardinal Karl Lehmann last week spoke out against Islam enjoying equal status to Christianity. “The (Christian) churches would like to ban Islam to the lower leagues,” Aiman Mazyek, general secretary of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, told the Sunday edition of Berlin’s Tagesspiegel. Mazyek also pointed out that Germany’s Basic Law ascribes equality to all religions, saying that there were no legal grounds for granting Christianity special legal status.

New Umbrella Group Founded

The leading Muslim organizations in Germany have joined forces to form an umbrella group. Now the German government will have a single negotiating partner on important issues affecting Muslims — that is, if the group succeeds in agreeing on a common position. Henry Kissinger once famously quipped: “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” The German goverment has long had the same problem when it came to pursuing dialogue with its own Muslim community: Who to call? Now the four leading groups representing Muslims in Germany have banded together so that, at last, the government in Berlin can call that elusive phone number. The founding of the new umbrella group — the Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany (KRM) — was unveiled during a Muslim religious celebration in Cologne on Tuesday. The group will combine the Turkish-Islamic Union for Relgious Affairs (DITIB), the Islamic Council (IR), the Central Council of Muslims (ZMD) and the Association of Islamic Culture Centers (VIKZ). The new council will represent the interests of the estimated 3.2 million Muslims living in Germany to the government. Bekir Alboga, spokesman for the DITIB, made the announcement at the Cologne Arena in the presence of thousands of Muslims who had gathered to celebrate the birth of the prophet Muhammad.