German Islam Conference: Commitment and Election Campaign

Muslim representatives would like clear measures – be it to strengthen civil society or in dealing with the Turkish election campaign.

Interior Minister Faeser gives a speech

Home Secretary Nancy Faeser at the Islam Conference on December 7th

BERLIN taz | Around five and a half million Muslims* live in Germany. They were born here or immigrated here, conservative or liberal, very or very little religious. The German Islam Conference (DIK), which has regularly brought together representatives of the state and the Muslim community since 2006, addresses their concerns.

On Wednesday Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser opened the fifth phase of the DIK. The three current priorities: the fight against Muslim hostility, improving the social participation of Muslims and their communities, and progress in the training of imams in Germany.

It is “very important to her to depict the diversity of Muslim life,” said Faeser. This has “become more colorful in recent years”. A sentence that Deniz Nergiz doesn’t want to leave completely. “This diversity has not emerged in recent years, it has only now become more visible,” says the managing director of the Federal Immigration and Integration Council (BZI).

She welcomes the fact that at the opening event it was emphasized that one specifically wanted to encourage young Muslims and women in their commitment. “But I’m curious to see what that looks like in practice – whether these groups and their topics really sit at the table in the appropriate rounds.” Because so far they have been clearly underrepresented there.

Departure from Seehofer

On Monday, Faeser repeatedly emphasized how important volunteer work by Muslims is – for local integration, but also for society as a whole. “We need you and your commitment to participatory, pluralistic democracy and the cohesion of all citizens,” said the Minister of the Interior.

“It is very good that the Federal Minister of the Interior in Unlike her predecessor Horst Seehofer no longer questions the affiliation of Islam and Muslims in Germany,” says Saba-Nur Cheema. The political scientist is a member of the Federal Government appointed independent group of experts on Muslim hostility, which will present its results and clear recommendations for action next summer. But Cheema is also critical of the call to the community.

On the one hand, this commitment has existed for a long time, be it in district work or in supporting refugees. “And on the other hand, this old narrative always resonates: Muslims are not part of society at first, and if they get involved, they come in.” Nor should issues of empowerment remain empty phrases. Instead, one must deal intensively with the establishment of structures.

Take the subject of imams, for example: more and more Islamic clerics have been trained in Germany in recent years. Nevertheless, the majority of practicing imams come from abroad. In the case of the largest association, Ditib, to which almost 1,000 mosque communities in Germany belong, the majority of the imams are sent directly by the Turkish state – and are also paid for it. Juliane Seifert, State Secretary in the Ministry of the Interior, explained at the DIK start that they now want to gradually reduce it and finally end it.

Imams are needed

“It’s not new to say that this should come to an end, and that imams are now being trained here isn’t new either,” says Cheema. Faeser’s predecessor, Horst Seehofer, also made the subject the focus of the Islam Conference. “But what is the alternative?” Many communities would have simply do not have the financial means to adequately pay their clergy.

But the need is clear and will continue to grow. “The number of Muslims in Germany is growing. And mosques are by no means only important for the religious among them,” says Cheema. “They are also an important social and cultural space for many secular Muslims – for example when they get married.”

“Nancy Faeser mentioned some very important key words in her keynote address,” says Eren Güvercin, co-founder of the Alhambra Society. “The fact that anti-Muslim hostility will be on the agenda was a clear expectation of the Muslim community, both from the associations and independent of the association.” However, from his point of view, one important topic was missing at the start of the Islam Conference.

“Next year there will be elections in Turkey – and for the past two months, AKP MPs have been traveling through the Ditib mosques in Germany and campaigning for nationalism,” says Güvercin. “On Wednesday, a Ditib official sat on the podium at the start of the Islam Conference, but there were only critical questions from the audience.”

Targeted election campaign

At the event, Güvercin and also the former Greens member of the Bundestag, Volker Beck, asked relevant questions to Eyüp Kalyon, spokesman for the Coordination Council of Muslims – and responsible for imam training at the Ditib Federal Association. He replied that MPs from all parties were welcome at Ditib. “But election campaigns and party politics are not allowed in our mosques.”

Around 1.4 million people who are eligible to vote in Turkey live in Germany. It’s been there since September Media reports on visits by MPs the governing party AKP and the right-wing extremist MHP in mosques belonging to Ditib and the Islamic Community Milli Görüş (IGMG). President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is also apparently advertising with a letter specifically in mosque communities and Turkish associations in Germany.

When it comes to election campaigns in mosques, the federal government has clear rules, State Secretary Juliane Seifert said at the DIK launch. Since 2017, foreign representatives are allowed do not advertise here in the three months prior to a vote. “I also pointed this out during my visit to Ankara,” said Seifert. She was in Turkey last week to talk about how to deal with the imams in the future.

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