How Seehofer is pushing to ‘replace foreign influence’ at Islam Conference

On Wednesday and Thursday, the controversial Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CDU) is for the first time hosting the Islam Conference in Berlin, with integration as a top theme.

How Seehofer is pushing to 'replace foreign influence' at Islam Conference
The logo of this year's conference, held in Berlin on Wednesday and Thursday. Photo: DPA

Shortly after becoming Interior Minister in March, Horst Seehofer announced that Islam “doesn’t belong to Germany” – a statement he has sought to reverse after the sharp criticism it generated.

The Bavarian interior minister, the host of this year’s Islamic Conference in Berlin, has said that Germany’s 4.5 million and growing Muslim population should live as part of German society rather than separately or even in opposition to it.

Namely, the Bavarian politician is pushing for mosques in Germany to train their imams in Germany rather than abroad, and depend less on foreign contributions, he announced in his opening talk on Wednesday.

Seehofer did not concretely say how mosques would receive funding in the future. He announced, however, that existing funding programmes for integration projects within the mosque communities would be expanded.

He wants to see that “German Muslims replace foreign influence not only organizing and financing their communities themselves, but also adapting imam training to their needs,” Seehofer wrote in a guest article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Monday.

What is the conference?

The Islam Conference (DIK), started in 2006 by then Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, brings together German Muslims and representatives of the federal, state and local governments. This year there are around 200 attendees, pushing to fill a gap in political discourse: of the 703 members of the Bundestag, only three have reported themselves to be of Muslim faith.

In recent years the conference has discussed topics such as religious education and Islamic pastoral care, but this year it will tackle more concrete issues such as foreign funding of mosques and how Islamic education can be provided in Germany.

This time around, Seehofer has invited liberal theologians and scholars – such as Seyran Ates, who founded Berlin's liberal Ibn Ruschd-Goethe mosque – in addition to the Islam associations who usually attend. Some of them had sharply criticized the associations in the past because of their conservative understanding of Islam.

“This time the cast is more colourful, I think that's good”, said Ates. In the next few years, the DIK will focus on “everyday practical questions of living together,” he added.

SEE ALSO: Eight things to know about Islam in Germany

Political response

Politicians from across the political spectrum have welcomed the “new start”, which they say they hope will bring solid changes to the table. Green party politician Katrin Göring-Eckardt called for training more imams in Germany but also for better recognition of Islamic religious groups in Germany.

“We finally need concrete proposals for the recognition of Islamic religious communities,” said the Green politician.

With regards to the Turkish Islamic umbrella association Ditib, which currently funds 900 mosques in Germany, she cautioned that there should be no recognition for associations “that do not accept fundamental constitutional principles of our society, for example because they spy on their members and are in fact the extended arm of the Erdogan regime”.

In the past two years there had been criticism, above all, of sermons and activities of Ditib's imams. Some have been accused of spying on congregants. Another stumbling block was that the association asked their followers to make prayers for Turkish soldiers in Syria. The imams of the Ditib are sent to Germany by the Turkish state religious authority.

The candidate for the CDU presidency, Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn, demanded binding rules for Muslims on integration in Germany.

“Integration will only succeed in the long term if these mosque communities see themselves as German mosque communities and not, for example, as Turkish ones”.

Mosques must not be financed from abroad, imams must be trained in Germany and speak German, he added.

‘A secular Islam’

The week before the conference, prominent Islam experts, including Green politician Cem Özdemir, had founded the “Initiative for Secular Islam”. The aim of the group is to make a contemporary understanding of Islam heard, as reported by “Die Zeit”. The group criticized the predominance of the religious-conservative associations in the Islam Conference.

The Integration Commissioner of the Federal Government, Annette Widmann-Mauz, demanded an “emancipation” of the mosque associations from abroad and a restructuring of the representation of Muslims in Germany.

“Whoever wants to be part of Germany as a mosque association cannot remain part of Riyadh or Ankara,” she said, adding that mosques who want to rely on the German church tax must meet the legal criteria,” the CDU politician told the “Bild” newspaper on Wednesday.

Former Green Party chairman Cem Özdemir approached the conference with skepticism, pointing out that change will not come overnight.  He told the newspaper “Die Welt” that “all parties in the federal and state governments have completely overestimated the willingness of Islamic associations, especially Ditib, to reform”.

“But anyone who wants recognition as a religious community must accept that the Grundgesetz (Basic Law) is the guideline for living together, said Özdemir. “There is no room for misogyny, militarism and religious fundamentalism.”

The Central Council of Muslims in Germany promoted more trust in the mosque communities. “I can only warn against seeing the mosque community as a problem. On the contrary: it is part of the solution,” chairman Aiman Mazyek told the Editorial Network Germany.

At the same time he acknowledged “considerable deficits” and mistakes among Muslim religious communities, which he hoped the conference would take a step towards repairing.

Member comments

  1. German politicians can play around with Islam all they want. Eventually it is going to take over the country and also all of Europe. Europe will no longer be a Christian Europe but a Muslim Europe. See how Christians are treated once the Muslims have the upper hand. The Western European countries have signed their own death warrant by allowing their countries to be over run by Muslims.

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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