The Central Council of Muslims in Germany was established in 1987 and includes several civil society groups as well as roughly 300 mosques throughout Germany. Sven Lilienström, founder of Faces of Democracy, spoke with Aiman Mazyek, the current head of the organization.
Mr Mazyek, democracy is for many Germans self evident. You were born here - what significance does democracy have for you personally?
I gave an interview to Das Parlament newspaper several years ago in which I said that “democracy is currently the best form of government.” I still believe that. For me democracy provides the opportunity to live peacefully alongside and with one another while choosing our own way of life.
I see myself as a patriot to our constitution and to the values of our Basic Law, without any exceptions. The Central Council of Muslims worked for a long time to achieve agreement on that point with its members, which resulted in the “Islamic Charter” being published more than ten years ago. I'm proud that I was part of that process.
The Austrian government banned full-face coverings in March this year. The Christian Social Union in Bavaria want to do the same. What is your opinion on such a ban?
This ban is unnecessary, and the legal decisions run the risk of being politically instrumentalized. In Germany there is not a single woman who wears the burqa, and most of the women who wear niqabs - we estimate there are not more than a hundred - are visitors from abroad. This debate gives fuel to the populists and serves the agitators.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has on several occasions compared Europeans to Nazis, and warned that they can't safely travel abroad in the future. How much do such statements damage the Muslims who live here?
These aren't the first cheap Nazi comparisons. They are a scandal, both for the victims of the Nazis and for us as Germans.
By the way, the heads and hearts of German Turks are won through persuasion and incentive, not through compulsion and decades of stalling, like on the question of Turkish membership of the EU. In my opinion, the discussion about how to deal with our Turkish Germans needs a bit more honesty than the current moral double standards.
How contentiously was the constitutional referendum in Turkey discussed by members of your organization?
Most importantly, everyone had the freedom to choose on this matter. We didn't give people a recommendation and we didn't take a political stance. We are a German religious community and alongside our many different members, we include a German-Turkish association.
After New Year 2016 in Cologne, there was much verbal ill will against the Central Council of Muslims and against you individually. What is the situation like now?
The situation has become even worse over the past year. In 2016, we had the highest ever number of attacks on Muslims and their institutions - we are constantly pointing out that hatred towards Muslims is growing in Germany.
The general assumption of extremism against all Muslims encourages Islamophobia. It plays into the hands of right-wing populists. People are afraid and increasingly don't trust Muslims, this is a development which has its dangers.
What are your expectations for the election year 2017?
Above all we hope of course that radical groups won't manage to drive a wedge further into our society, and further alienate communities from one another. I hope and expect from all democrats that they place themselves on the side of democracy - without ifs or buts.