Fear of an Islamic Fatherland

The current debate about Islam’s place in German society is often skewed by a perverse interpretation of the religion that most average Muslim citizens do not recognize, writes Thomas Seibert from Der Tagesspiegel.

Fear of an Islamic Fatherland
Photo: DPA

President Christian Wulff recently riled his fellow conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) by declaring that Islam was part of Germany just like Christianity and Judaism.

He won praise for his comments from Germany’s large Turkish community, but the uproar over the Wulff’s speech must seem rather hypocritical back in Ankara and Istanbul.

Turkey constantly faces European criticism – justifiably – for its treatment of religious minorities, but is now being told by the CDU’s Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) that religious freedom is not the same as religious equality. Had a Turkish politician made a similar remark, the CSU would have no doubt warned against allowing Turkey into the European Union.

In the heated debate surrounding Islam in Germany, the perverse interpretation created by the Osama bin Ladens of the world is often presented as the “true” core of the religion. But average Muslims in both Turkey and Germany do not recognize this distortion of their faith.

A frequent argument heard is that a literal interpretation of the Koran cannot be squared with western democratic values – as if a literal interpretation of the Bible could. Another common criticism is that the Muslim world has yet to go though any sort of Enlightenment, the period that curbed the role of religion in western society.

But who said that the history of Europe was the standard for all things, and that such a radical break with religion is necessary? Perhaps in other religions certain things developed in different ways than they did for the European Christians.

Plenty of Islamic scholars around the world devote their energies to asking what modern Islam should be like. The Turkish Ministry of Religion, for example, has branded forced marriage, ‘honour’ killings and the disenfranchisement of women as un-Islamic.

The late Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy, who as head of the al-Azhar University in Cairo was one of the world’s leading Islamic scholars, dismissed women’s veils as pure tradition without religious foundation in Islam.

But such voices and developments barely register in the West, where Islam is presented as a violent, reactionary block hopelessly resistant to reform. Such crude generalizations about Islam and the criticism of Wulff are mainly born of fear and the desire for excluding something seen as foreign.

Wulff’s statement that Islam belongs to Germany provokes the Germans because it touches anxieties of an alien force invading and taking over the country. Thilo Sarrazin’s theories have been so successful because they seem to prove to his readers that such fears are justified.

Of course, the problems with Germany’s integration policies need to be discussed. But in this very emotional debate, Islamic extremists need to be described as what they are – marginal figures.

No-one demands of average Christian Europeans that they distance themselves from the war criminals of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, who kill, maim and terrorize their victims and recruit child soldiers in the name of their Christian God. Muslims in Europe see themselves as being put under a general suspicion of being Osama bin Laden’s remotely controlled jihadists waiting for the moment to draw their scimitars.

The failure to make this distinction is not just bad for the integration of millions of Muslims in Germany and Europe. It also makes it more difficult to deal with the real threat of extremists like al-Qaida. If you equate Islam with terror, injustice and the Dark Ages, then you can no longer tell the difference between friend and enemy.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

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Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday

The mayor of Cologne has announced a two-year pilot project that will allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer on the Muslim day of rest each week.

Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday
The DITIP mosque in Cologne. Photo: dpa | Henning Kaiser

Mosques in the city of the banks of the Rhine will be allowed to call worshippers to prayer on Fridays for five minutes between midday and 3pm.

“Many residents of Cologne are Muslims. In my view it is a mark of respect to allow the muezzin’s call,” city mayor Henriette Reker wrote on Twitter.

In Muslim-majority countries, a muezzin calls worshippers to prayer five times a day to remind people that one of the daily prayers is about to take place.

Traditionally the muezzins would call out from the minaret of the mosque but these days the call is generally broadcast over loudspeakers.

Cologne’s pilot project would permit such broadcasts to coincide with the main weekly prayer, which takes place on a Friday afternoon.

Reker pointed out that Christian calls to prayer were already a central feature of a city famous for its medieval cathedral.

“Whoever arrives at Cologne central station is welcomed by the cathedral and the sound of its church bells,” she said.

Reker said that the call of a muezzin filling the skies alongside church bells “shows that diversity is both appreciated and enacted in Cologne”.

Mosques that are interested in taking part will have to conform to guidelines on sound volume that are set depending on where the building is situated. Local residents will also be informed beforehand.

The pilot project has come in for criticism from some quarters.

Bild journalist Daniel Kremer said that several of the mosques in Cologne were financed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “a man who opposes the liberal values of our democracy”, he said.

Kremer added that “it’s wrong to equate church bells with the call to prayer. The bells are a signal without words that also helps tell the time. But the muezzin calls out ‘Allah is great!’ and ‘I testify that there is no God but Allah.’ That is a big difference.”

Cologne is not the first city in North Rhine-Westphalia to allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer.

In a region with a large Turkish immigrant community, mosques in Gelsenkirchen and Düren have been broadcasting the religious call since as long ago as the 1990s.

SEE ALSO: Imams ‘made in Germany’: country’s first Islamic training college opens its doors