By  Zora Hesova

PhD Candidate — Germany

 

Image

Cologne Mosque

The year 2009 has been full of turbulent events. Surprising statistics were revealed and spectacular conferences were held, according to Berlin’s monthly Islamische Zeitung(Islamic Journal). Politically, 2009 has brought unprecedented progress. There was more goodwill and political determination to improve the Islamic community’s life conditions in Germany than ever. But on the downside, there was a series of painful setbacks.
A Disappointing Start

The year started badly, with a sense of powerlessness vis-à-vis the war in Gaza underlined by the meek European diplomacy. Then, there was the sad affair of the Hesse State Award that illustrated the ambivalence of progress in Germany. The Land of Hesse decided to promote dialogue and understanding through giving an award to four prominent personalities of the four main religions in Germany. The renowned Islamic scholar Fuat Sezgin decided not to accept his award, as a form of protest against another awardee’s attitude to the Gaza War. He was replaced by Navid Kermani, a well-known writer and scholar, but the latter was in turn rejected by a Christian awardee for an alleged lack of respect toward Christian religious symbols. Despite the German goodwill, international political and religious susceptibilities led to no Muslim being awarded.
Islam Becomes Official

The biggest shock to the German Muslim community took place in July when Marwa Al-Sherbini, the Egyptian woman who had the courage to sue a man who had insulted her for her hijab, was brutally murdered by that man, inside the court premises.

On the bright side, 2009 culminated in June with the fourth plenary session of the German Conference on Islam (Deutsche Islam Konferenz — DIK). Federal Minister of the Interior Dr. Wolfgang Schauble (part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s grand coalition of 2006) gave the opening speech, and this was an indication that the German state had decided to let its Muslims speak for themselves and define their own solutions to the problems of social integration of immigrants and religious communities. The conference brought up all the hidden grievances and misunderstandings between the German state and its Muslim citizens and noncitizens. In addition, it showed the many cleavages among the Muslims themselves. Although the very meditated process led to limited concrete results, it had an enormous symbolic impact: Islam is now officially part of Germany, and Muslims are more welcome as German citizens.

Indirectly, the conference has spurred a lot of positive developments. The degree of integration of Muslim community has increased, and it can now better defend its interests before state authorities. For instance, the scope of Islamic studies offered to Muslim students has never been so high. The six departments of Islamic studies in German universities show the increased readiness of state authorities to support the Muslim community’s autonomy. Those departments have to be backed by local Islamic communities in order for their graduates to work as imams in German mosques. More departments are expected to shortly follow, many of which are supported by Turkey. In a few years, the German Muslim community will have religious scholars of its own.

The latest DIK conference was accompanied by another noticeable event: The promised thorough study on German Muslims was finally released with astonishing results. Among these results is that there are much more Muslims living in Germany than the usually quoted 3.3 million (around 4.3 million, representing 5% of Germany’s population). Another finding is that Muslims are integrated in the host society better than what the media promotes. For instance, more than half of German Muslims are members in German clubs and associations. Also, the study revealed that they are more religious than expected, and that a third of the respondents actually stated that they are very religious. Last but not least, the study indicated that not religion and ethnicity, but jobs and education, that are their major problems.
Persistent Misconceptions

Cologne Mosque has marked the victory not only of Cologne Muslims, but also of the ex-mayor and a large German Christian coalition willing to invest into peace and coexistence in Cologne.

The biggest shock to the German Muslim community took place in July. Marwa Al-Sherbini, the Egyptian woman who had the courage to sue a German man who had insulted her for her hijab, was brutally murdered by that man, inside the court premises. Muslims were appalled by the crime but also disappointed by the sluggishness of the government’s response. Germany has a full anti-discrimination juridical arsenal to protect minorities, but it appears that the political will to protect Muslims and prevent crime sometimes lacks vigor.

In autumn, the Swiss declaration of a referendum on banning new minarets brought about a huge debate and various reactions. Germany’s elite distanced itself from the issue, but nobody doubts that, had there been a similar referendum in Germany, the outcome could have been the same. There is an official side advocating the acceptance of Muslims in Germany as full-fledged citizens. But there are still unofficial fears among Germans regarding Muslims in German society. The gap between the two is persisting. While there is finally a real progress being made on the official, state-sponsored side, public opinion harbors a great deal of fear of political Islam and misconception about Islam. Any kind of foreign violent attack ascribed to Muslims, like the recent Detroit and Denmark events, always gets full attention and has negative repercussions on the neighborly level.
The Bright Side

On a good note, Germany deals with most of its affairs in a pragmatic manner. In November 2009, the first stone of the controversial Cologne Mosque has been finally laid down. The opening of the grand glass-and-steel construction designed by the German Boehm bureau  for a Turkish investor has marked the victory not only of Cologne Muslims, but also of the ex-mayor and a large German Christian coalition willing to invest into peace and coexistence in Cologne. For a year, Germany has been witnessing a number of new and spectacular mosque projects, especially in Duisburg and Berlin. They all have real minarets!


Zora Hesova is a PhD candidate in Islamic philosophy at Munich University. She studied political sciences, philosophy, and Islamic studies in Berlin and Toulouse. Ms. Hesova speaks Arabic and has widely published on Islam-related issues in European politics.