‘It’s a question of values’: Meet the Muslim running for mayor in Christian Bavaria

With his neatly trimmed beard, sharp suit and broad smile, Ozan Iyibas looks like a typical politician out to win votes ahead of a municipal election in southern Germany's Bavaria region.

'It's a question of values': Meet the Muslim running for mayor in Christian Bavaria
Ozan Iyibas stands next to a Bavarian lion in January. Photo: DPA

But he has unleashed a mini earthquake with his candidacy — as the first Muslim standing for the Christian Social Union (CSU) in a predominantly Catholic region.

“I don't see any contradiction in this choice,” says the 37-year-old, sitting back in an armchair and clutching a mug of tea in the town of Neufahrn.

“It's a question of values. The values of my religion are very close to those of Christians.”

While Iyibas won the local CSU's nomination unanimously, such support is not always a given in the region where party chief Markus Söder in 2018 ordered crosses to be displayed at the entrances of all public buildings, as a way of honouring the region's “cultural heritage”.

READ ALSO: Crosses must be mounted in all state buildings, Bavaria orders

In another Bavarian village, Wallerstein, resistance from local CSU members was so great against a Muslim candidate that the hopeful was forced to pull out of the race.

“It was not about me, but about my faith. For example, an argument is that the C in CSU and I as a Muslim did not go together,” Sener Sahin told Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Party top brass had sought to intervene in Sahin's favour, but the rank and file would not budge, even though Sahin is a successful entrepreneur who was both player and trainer in the village football club and whose wife is Catholic.

'No difference'

The CSU, sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has been the dominating force in Bavaria since the end of World War II.

But the far-right and Islamophobic AfD, and the ecologist Greens, have in recent years chipped away at that support, which at the last state elections in 2018 hit its lowest level since 1954.

In recent years the CSU has swung between lurching right to save its conservative vote, and veering left to win back younger, ecologically minded voters.

In Neufahrn, the CSU is counting on Iyibas' unusual profile to rejuvenate the party and wrest the mayoral post from the Greens at the March 15th vote.

READ ALSO: Everything that changes in March 2020 in Germany

Iyibas in Echling, Bavaria on January 13th. Photo: DPA

The consultant for start-ups was born just a few kilometres away from the town where he grew up in the suburbs of Munich.

When he crosses paths with someone he knows, they discuss the local economy, public transport, the environment — but not religion.

“In my opinion, the most important issue is housing,” says Erica, a pensioner who he meets at the entrance to a grocery store.

“The religion of the candidates makes no difference.”

Branded 'enemy'

Iyibas, who is of Turkish origin and an adherent of Alevism, a secular branch of Islam, said he has been brought up to feel at ease in a predominantly Catholic environment from a young age.

“When I was little, my mother took me to a church and I asked her why. She replied that if we were going to live here, we needed to understand and share the values of this country. That's what I have done.”

Stefan Wurster, a professor of political studies at the Bavarian School of Public Policy, has noted that “many Germans from migrant backgrounds believe in conservative values that correspond with those of the CSU.”

The conflict in the party today, he says, is “less between Christians and Muslims, and more between religious people and atheists”.

READ ALSO: Eight things to know about Islam in Germany

Iyibas is also convinced his party is changing.

For him, a “new conservatism” could arise that “honours tradition but innovates at the same time”.

And he is hopeful that “in five or 10 years' time, (religion) won't be an issue”.

But he still faces an uphill battle to win over local far-right supporters.

AfD members have branded him an “enemy” on Facebook, and have told him that they “will fight against a Muslim mayor”.

By Pauline Curtet

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Four injured as WWII bomb explodes near Munich train station

Four people were injured, one of them seriously, when a World War II bomb exploded at a building site near Munich's main train station on Wednesday, emergency services said.

Smoke rises after the WWII bomb exploded on a building site in Munich.
Smoke rises after the WWII bomb exploded on a building site in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Privat

Construction workers had been drilling into the ground when the bomb exploded, a spokesman for the fire department said in a statement.

The blast was heard several kilometres away and scattered debris hundreds of metres, according to local media reports.

Images showed a plume of smoke rising directly next to the train tracks.

Bavaria interior minister Joachim Herrmann told Bild that the whole area was being searched.

Deutsche Bahn suspended its services on the affected lines in the afternoon.

Although trains started up again from 3pm, the rail operator said there would still be delays and cancellations to long-distance and local travel in the Munich area until evening. 

According to the fire service, the explosion happened near a bridge that must be passed by all trains travelling to or from the station.

The exact cause of the explosion is unclear, police said. So far, there are no indications of a criminal act.

WWII bombs are common in Germany

Some 75 years after the war, Germany remains littered with unexploded ordnance, often uncovered during construction work.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about WWII bomb disposals in Germany

However, most bombs are defused by experts before they explode.

Last year, seven World War II bombs were found on the future location of Tesla’s first European factory, just outside Berlin.

Sizeable bombs were also defused in Cologne and Dortmund last year.

In 2017, the discovery of a 1.4-tonne bomb in Frankfurt prompted the evacuation of 65,000 people — the largest such operation since the end of the war in Europe in 1945.