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Muslims in Germany

Muslims in Germany number approximately 4 million, including 2.9 million Sunnis, 500,000 Alevis, and 280,000 Shia. Ethnic Turks make up about three quarters of Germany's Muslim population. The rise of a substantial Muslim minority continued to engender social conflict with religious overtones at times. These conflicts commonly included local resistance to mosque construction, opposition to the leasing of land for Muslim cemeteries, or disagreements over whether Muslims could legally use loudspeakers in residential neighborhoods to call believers to prayer. Authorities argued many disputes were related to compliance with construction and zoning laws, and private groups (with some Interior Ministry financing) sought to better educate Muslim groups about these laws to reduce conflicts. Muslim groups, however, claimed such rules were often abused or that local opposition was motivated by anti-Muslim bias.

Comments by the Interior Minister before a 29 March 2011 conference on Islam in Berlin exacerbated tensions with the Muslim community. While claiming he was speaking only from his personal perspective, the Minister remarked, “Successful integration requires both knowledge about the societal reality in Germany… and clear awareness of the Christian-occidental origin of our culture.” A leader of the country’s Turkish community said that the Minister’s remarks engendered “great disappointment” among Muslim associations.

In 2010 the Berlin House of Representatives adopted the first state law to permit burials that fully meet Muslim requirements. After the Federal Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that banning the wearing of headscarves is within state legislative jurisdiction, eight states enacted headscarf bans (and in some cases any religious symbol) for teachers in public schools and in some places, for all civil servants. Courts have upheld headscarf bans in several cases. In August 2011 two female teachers from North Rhineland-Westphalia (NRW) filed a new complaint at the Constitutional Court regarding the ban.

Any religious organization may request it be granted “public law corporation” (PLC) status, which entitles the group to name prison, hospital, and military chaplains, and to levy tithes (averaging 9 percent of income tax) on its members, which are collected on their behalf by the state. No Muslim communities have been granted PLC status. The federal government favors, in principle, granting PLC status to Muslim communities, but has suggested Muslims form a single organization that can negotiate directly with states and the federal government. In 2007 the four largest Muslim organizations formed the Muslim Coordination Council (KRM), which claims to represent the country’s Muslims. Whether and when this group would meet legal requirements for registration as a PLC remained unclear and was to be decided at the state level.

Ditib, by far the largest Muslim religious organization, is an affiliate of the Turkish Ministry for Religious Affairs. Ditib is affiliated with and largely funded by the Turkish Ministry of Religious Affairs but operates within Germany as a charitable association. Many of its employees are Turkish government officials. It represents the members of nearly 900 Turkish-Muslim community centers (over 700 of which also include a mosque). Over 75 percent of Germany's Muslims are affiliated with Ditib through these centers. Two of the other three organizations in the Muslim Coordination Council (KRM), the Islamic Council and the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers, are also primarily Turkish. The KRM could, because of Ditib's influence and because two of the other three member organizations are largely Turkish, could end up pursuing a Turkish nationalist agenda, rather than the integrative development of a German Islamic identity sought by the German government and very many Muslims.

Muslim religious organizations are religiously and socially conservative, and their leaderships and staff are culturally isolated and consequently ineffective in dialogue with the larger German society. At its most extreme, this can lead to advocacy of parallel societies for Muslims and other Germans. In most KRM organizations, support for separate social lives for boys and girls is still favored. Except for the Central Council of Muslims, all the other organizations are led by first generation immigrants and operate their organizations in a traditional and non-transparent way. Ditib is actually headed by an Ankara-designated official of the Religious Affairs Ministry, elected (i.e., confirmed) in a managed vote by Ditib's constituent communities. He carries the title of "Counselor of Embassy for Religious Affairs."

Only 15-30 percent of persons with a Muslim heritage are registered members of mosque communities. It is wrong to consider all persons with a Muslim background as Muslims for religious purposes (indeed, some studies have shown that as many as 50 percent of persons from Muslim countries are non-practicing or consider themselves as secular or cultural Muslims. Such persons have no reason for joining a religious organization and could not be represented by it. Muslim religious practice does not involve any formal process of affiliation with a mosque/religious community and it will take some time for Muslims to absorb this religious/legal aspect of German practice.

Islamic religious instruction for the estimated 750,000 to 900,000 Muslim students in the public school system remained controversial. Although no Muslim group had PLC status, state governments recognized the demand and worked with local Muslim organizations to establish such courses. In December 2011, the NRW state parliament announced it would add Islamic religious instruction to the regular public school curriculum. The content would be determined by an advisory board consisting of four members of the Muslim umbrella organization, “Coordination Council of Muslims” (KRM), and four members of the government, chosen with the KRM’s consent. The Bavarian state government’s five-year pilot project for providing school courses in Islam continued. A total of over 250 Bavarian schools, most of them elementary schools, offered Islamic instruction for about 10,000 pupils and employed approximately 70 teachers.

A number of Muslim organizations were under observation by state and federal Offices for the Protection of the Constitution (OPCs). Some of these organizations profess peaceful activities but are suspected by the OPCs of furthering extremist goals. Examples include the “Islamische Gemeinschaft in Deutschland,” connected with the Muslim Brotherhood, whose ideology (in the OPCs’ view) is considered socially disintegrative. The OPCs also suspect the 30,000-member “Islamische Gemeinschaft Milli Goruse” of spreading Islamist ideologies that advocate the rejection of democracy.

The 04 September 2007 arrests of three suspects planning large-scale attacks in Germany has sent shockwaves through Germany, given that two of the alleged terrorists, Fritz Gelowicz and Daniel Martin Schneider, were German citizens with non-immigrant backgrounds who converted to Islam as teenagers (Ref A). Previous terrorist cases over recent history have typically involved individuals with immigrant backgrounds and/or dual nationalities who were generally raised as Muslims from birth. Although there has been at least one previous instance in which a German convert has taken up arms in the cause of Islam (e.g., Thomas "Hamza" Fischer who died fighting in Chechnya in 2003), this case was the first in which such converts were planning their attacks on German soil against German (and U.S.) targets.

Media coverage and editorials immediately following the arrests have expressed shock at how Gelowicz and Schneider, who had been raised in unremarkable typical German circumstances, managed to adopt an Islamic extremist ideology and plan violence against their fellow citizens. There has been much hand-wringing and anxious speculation on how many other potential homegrown terrorists in Germany might be planning similar attacks. A poll (by the national polling firm Emnid) taken shortly following the arrests indicated that 85 percent of the public believe the threat of terrorist attacks in Germany has increased. This same poll showed that 56 percent of the public believe a strengthening of security legislation is the best response to the new threat.

The Federal Prosecutors Office identified a number of German cities as centers of Islamic associations and potential sites for extremism, including Ulm, Neu-Ulm, Braunschweig, Cologne, Berlin and Muenster. Of these, the neighboring cities of Ulm and Neu-Ulm have figured the most prominently over the past decade as breeding grounds for Islamic extremists. Ulm, a mid-sized city (population 120,000) in Germany's relatively conservative southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, is a leading center for scientific research and birthplace of Albert Einstein. Ulm was rated as Germany's most healthy city by the health-oriented magazine "Healthy Living" in a nationwide survey last month. Neu-Ulm (population 51,000) is located on the eastern side of the Danube river in Bavaria.

The cities received an influx of Muslim refugees from Bosnia in the mid 1990s, adding to their existing Muslim communities which came mainly from Turkey. Despite their traditionally moderate take on Islam, Bosnian Muslims developed ties with international extremists who were often viewed as the first to respond in Bosnia's hour of need. During the 1990s, the region was seen as a staging point for Muslim extremist fighters going to Bosnia. More recently, Ulm and Neu-Ulm have both hosted organizations that have played central roles in Germany's radical Islamist spheres.

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Page last modified: 30-08-2012 16:44:17 ZULU