"I don't believe in God, but at the same time Christianity, Judaism or Buddhism don't bother me. Only Islam bothers me more and more," wrote Nicolaus Fest, vice editor-in-chief of the Bild am Sonntag newspaper in the editorial published on Sunday.
Fest then laid out why Islam's "criminality," "murderous contempt" and "honour killings" did not belong in Germany, in comments which prompted a raft of hostility online against the Axel Springer-owned tabloid.
"I'm bothered by the considerably disproportionate criminality of youths from Muslim backgrounds," wrote Fest. "I'm bothered by Islam's murderous contempt for women and homosexuals. I'm bothered by forced marriages, 'justices of the peace,' 'honour killings.'"
All this, wrote Fest, was making Islam "a barrier to integration" – something which should be weighed up when assessing claims for asylum and visa applications to Germany.
"I don't need any imported racism and I don't need anything else Islam stands for," he concluded.
The short piece, which by Monday morning had been shared over 9,700 times on social media, quickly drew harsh criticism of the paper by politicians calling it racist and calling for the paper to apologize to the estimated 4.3 million Muslims in Germany.
#IntegHindernisIslam ich bin Ingenieur und bin Muslim und in diesem Land geboren diese Debatte ist sehr verletztend!
— Lahieb (@lahieb45) July 27, 2014
"I'm an engineer and a Muslim and I was born in this country this debate is very offensive," wrote Twitter user Lahieb. Meanwhile, others such as Green party politician Volker Beck took to Twitter to demand an apology from Germany's best-selling paper.
Ich finde, @BILD sollte sich für den Kommentar bei allen Muslima und Muslims entschuldigen!
— Volker Beck (@Volker_Beck) July 27, 2014
On Sunday evening, Bild's editor-in-chief Kai Diekmann attempted to calm the debate with an online editorial rejecting Fest's arguments for not drawing the line between Islam as a religion and the political beliefs of Islamism.
"For Bild and Axel Springer there has been a clear, unshakeable dividing line between Islam as a world religion and the degrading ideology of Islamism," wrote Diekmann, Bild's editor-in-chief since 2001 and executive board member of the Turkish daily Hürriyet.
"That's why in Bild and Axel Springer [publications] there is no room for generalized, depreciating comments against Islam and the people who believe in Allah.
"We don't want such a debate along religious lines. We don't want to lead it, take it up or conjure it. For they always end in disaster – history has shown that to us often enough."
The debate comes in the wake of a number of anti-Semitic incidents by German Muslims during protests against Israel's Gaza operation over the past weeks.