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Marfa Heimbach {*}

On the Way into the German Society

The Demands on Muslim Associations are Growing


From: Herder Korrespondenz, 4/2009, P. 189-193
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    Not least the work of the German Islam Conference got the Muslim associations moving even though the difficulties are still evident. Will the associations succeed in developing correspondigly? And what are the German society's obligations towards its Muslims?


A new generation is growing up in the Muslim communities. It is committed to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany and frees itself, albeit slowly, from the fixation upon their fathers' countries of origin. Out of associations devoted to Islamic tradition and culture communities develop which want to become actively committed to the German society. Not without difficulty. For up to the top of the associations in Germany Islam is nationwide dependent on volunteer staff as well as on theologians and imams who come mostly from abroad.

"Islam is part of Germany and part of Europe, it is part of our present and our future," says the government statement of the German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble in September 2006. Until now no federal government had so clearly given its view on the fact that about three million Muslims in Germany are no longer a temporary phenomenon. In the same month the German Islam Conference (DIK) was convened; it became the milestone of a new assessment of the religious diversity in Germany.

For the first time the until then in the public rather nebulously perceived associations of the organized Islam made their mark. At least the nationwide umbrella organizations belonging to the DIK did so: the Zentralrat der Muslime in Deutschland e.V. (ZMD) [Central Council of Muslims in Germany inc.], the Islamrat für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland e.V. (IR) [Islamic Council for Germany inc.], the Türkisch-Islamische Union der Anstalt für Religion e.V. (DITIB) [Turkish-Islamic Union of the Institute for Religion inc.], the Verband der islamischen Kulturzentren e.V. (VIKZ) [Association of Islamic Cultural Centers inc.] and the Alevitische Gemeinde Deutschland e.V. (AABF) [Alevi Community Germany inc.]. The ZMD represents for its part 19 member organizations, the Islamic Council according to its information at present 37 member associations, including the largest partial organization Islamische Gemeinschaft Milli Görüs (IGMG) [Islamic Community Milli Görüs] which is observed as Islamist one(see also HK, April 2005, 182 et seq.)

The Islam Conference covers the largest organizations by one representative per every umbrella association, but many Arab, North African and the Bosnian Muslims feel inadequately represented, although the latter are members of ZMD as well as of the Islamic Council and should therefore be represented via those umbrella associations.


How Does One Hear a Silent Majority?

Apart from one representative per every umbrella organization ten representatives for the non-organized Muslims participate in the DIK. Their selection was difficult and has been giving cause for criticism from the start of the Islam Conference. On the one hand they are to represent a broad spectrum of the Muslim population and on the other hand the ten selected are individuals who have no mandate by a specifically defined group. It was therefore inevitable that this group of non-organized Muslims is rather a motley collection of people, which is partly due to the current popularity of the persons concerned.

But there are good reasons for including also non-organized Muslims in the DIK. The estimated total number of Muslims is based on projections, mostly due to ethnic origin and by including the also imprecise knowledge about a large number of German Muslims. The belonging to one of the Islamic organizations is equally elusive, since the associations are not constituted by membership. In addition, the number of registered, paying members does by far not correspond to the number of those who visit and use the mosques and institutions of the organizations.

On the other hand the use e.g. of a DITIB mosque for Friday prayers does only partly inform about the individual Muslims' sense of belonging to the association that maintains the mosque. The former chairman of DITIB, Counsellor Ridvan Cakir admittedly announced repeatedly in the public that DITIB represented about 80 percent of Muslims in Germany; he justified this by extrapolated Mosque visitors and surveys among the population of Turkish origin. Such numbers games, however, rather tell of bringing about with them one's entitlement mainly to represent the Muslims than of reality. One can assume that all in all about 15 to 20 percent of the Muslims in Germany are organized in the large and small associations,



compared to about 80 percent of Muslims who are not organized. If one wants to represent all Muslims and to give room to them, one is facing here an unsolvable dilemma. "The vast majority of Muslims does simply not want to join a representative association" (Michael Kiefer and Jamal Malik, Tageszeitung, February 24, 2008).


A Silent Majority Rejects the Associations as Too Conservative

The idea seems Utopian. If one takes into account e.g. the many Christians who remember their church membership only on the occasion of weddings and funerals but apart from that do not actively participate in the church's life and yet they are able to make their criticism public, one can therefore assume that this is also the case among Muslims. With one difference: Christians are qua baptism already members of their church, sometimes even very critical ones, whereas Muslims today had theoretically to decide in favour of an association. Critics of the current association scene naturally find that difficult, if it is not quite impossible for them.

Not only that such organizational structures, i.e. membership in an organization, are for historical reasons simply foreign to Islam, also the history of today's religious organizations is relevant for it. They have their origin without exception in former culture associations and in political foreigners' associations which are related to the homeland and are, in concrete terms, partly party political ones. A clear profile, unaffected by the country of origin, has not yet emerged.

Where the silent majority of Muslims makes itself heard individually, it usually rejects the existing associations as being too conservative and rigid. The dilemma is rather that many of the non-organized Muslims like attending mosques, want Islamic religious instruction for their children in the schools, hope for support by an imam in cases of distress, illness or death or want to take, if possible free of charge, advantage of the communities' help with translation and homework.

But who is to finance the mosque? Who is, according to Article 7 of the Basic Law, as religious community responsible for teaching? Who is to pay the imams needed for it? And that gives the questions back to those that at present can as the only ones offer a piece of Islamic religious organization: the associations. Here the working groups of the German Islam Conference could be a forum for constructive inspiration. But the organized and non-organized representatives still seem rather to be ill disposed towards each other.

Within the scope of the state's neutrality in religious matters it is not the task of the state to define religious communities. That has to be done by the communities themselves. In many cases, as e.g. for the religious education in state schools, the state does nevertheless need those contacts. They could be a long-term result of the DIK. But it is the primarily formulated goal that "Muslims in Germany are to regard themselves as part of this society and are also seen in this way by it".



Three working groups and a discussion group discuss socio-political issues, but no theological ones (WG 1: German Social Order and Consensus on Values, WG 2: Religious Affairs in the Understanding of the German Constitution, WG 3: Business and Media as a Bridge; DG: Security and Islamism.) The interim results published in March 2008 are for the time being only on paper. The Islam Conference is after all still going on, and if one expected too quickly visible, measurable results one would ignore that many developments as processes need time ( und Ziele/Bisherige Ergebnisse).

For many decades the German public is confronted with a forest full of Islamic associations and organizations the ethnic and political composition or different religious orientation of which is very difficult to comprehend for outsiders. So there has long been the demand for a joint binding contact, which at first was rather strictly formulated. But meanwhile it is clear that, from the legal perspective, also several contacts are possible. The unions of the Islamic Council and of the ZMD to umbrella organizations in the eighties and nineties were first, albeit little effective attempts in this direction.

Only a few months after the start of the Islam Conference the Muslim organizations caused a surprise and announced in April 2007 in the Cologne Arena the establishment of the Koordinierungsrat der Muslime (KRM) [Coordination Council of Muslims] (see HK, May 2007, 221). With the exception of the Alevis, it is now a union of the above-mentioned associations ZMD, Islamic Council, DITIB and VIKZ. The KRM from the outset claimed to be the contact that had been demanded for such a long time. "We represent a mainstream Islam," Ayyub Axel Köhler said, who is chairman of the ZMD and the first speaker of the KRIvl spokesmen that are changing in a semi-annual rotation system. The Coordination Council represented "about 85 percent of the mosque communities. We represent thus the overwhelming number of Muslims who practice their faith" (Die Zeit, April 19, 2007).

Since 2008 the KRM is also represented by its spokesman at the Islam Conference; with it the group of the organized representatives has admittedly become larger but not necessarily more diverse. As one of the individual representatives in the DIK the scholar of Islam Navid Kermani said, "no one should assume that the KRM was speaking for all Muslims living in this country. The KRM can be one contact but never the only possible contact." Up to now the KRM is not looking for the inner-Islamic dialogue, for example with younger Islamic groups like the Muslimische Theologinnen und Theologenbund eV (MTB) [Association of Muslim Theologians inc.] in Bochum or with the in December 2007 founded Union der muslimischen TheologenInnen und IslamwissenschaftlerInnen eV (UMTIS) [Union of Muslim Theologians and Scholars of Islam inc.]; both regard themselves as forums of young theologians who are independent of associations and socialized in Germany. This applies equally to the two women's associations: Zentrum für islamische Frauenforschung (ZIF) [Centre for Islamic Research on Women] and the Begegnungs- und Fortbildungszentrum muslimischer Frauen (BfmF) [Conference and Training Centre for Muslim Women]; both of them have their headquarters in Cologne.

A clear profile of the KRM is still lacking, and one wonders how the KRM represents its members, if even member associations of the ZMD or of the Islamic Council "learned of the founding of the KRM only from the newspaper" (Esnaf Begic, Islamische Gemeinschaft der Bosniaken in Deutschland eV (IGBD), until 2007 VIGB eV [Islamic Community of Bosniaks in Germany]). That much is certain, the Bosnian Muslims, although theoretically represented by the KRM, were up to now not involved in meetings. Many Muslims have been demanding the inner-Islamic dialogue for some time, but it is starting very slowly.


Communities on the Path to Social Participation

In the wake of the big questions about the contact and the only with difficulty growing understanding between the major organizations hundreds of volunteers in the local associations take the first steps on the path of regional, social participation. But in many places even today the language difficulties, uncertainty and distrust of the 'ocean' of the majority society have an unfavourable effect.

In recent years consistent dialogue initiatives of the two large churches have decisively promoted communication and mutual understanding. Various projects supported by federal funds did the same. A multi-religious study group (MUREST), led by the Alevi community Germany, has for example in 2003 begun to deal in a multi-religious way with systematic issues such as conversion, authority structures in religious communities, faith and law, inter-religious prayer, but also conflict-laden issues such as gender relations, inter-religious marriages, dealing with violence etc. The result of it was the "Handbuch Interreligiöser Dialog" (edited by: Alevitische Gemeinde Deutschland, 2. edition, Köln 2007). It is significant that from the Muslim side only theologians independent of associations were involved in the project. Unlike as it had been planned, DITIB withdrew in the first phase.

In the framework of "Entimon", which belonged to programme for action "Youth for Tolerance and Democracy" started in 2001 by the federal government, an interesting project is devoted to the inner-Islamic dialogue. In the way of role play and subsequent reflection under expert advice Alevi and Sunni youths in swapped roles experienced their often deep-rooted mutual prejudices, the reappraisal of which was then started.



In the focus of the project "Religions in the Secular State" is the imam (leading the prayers) who has only been noticed as disseminator since a few years, and his role in the communities (see also HK, January 2007, 25 seq). In cooperation with the Christian churches and Muslim organizations since 2004 dialogue sessions for pastors, priests and imams, Muslim board members, Catholic or Protestant parish staff and non-governmental disseminators are held by the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung [Federal Agency for Political Education] on behalf of the Federal Ministry of the Interior.

Apart from questions about the "relationship between state and religious communities" especially practical issues are the main topic of the meetings: everyday demands on communities in the area of social and pastoral work, raising awareness of urgently needed action in fields such as pastoral care in hospitals, prisons and in emergencies, youth work, care for the elderly or for people in the process of grieving. Other priorities are the issues of religious instruction within the respective communities, on the one hand in differentiation to RE at school, on the other hand regarding methodology and didactics.

Concept and areas of responsibility of the Christian pastoral care are foreign to the traditional job description of the imam. According to it he is solely responsible for the daily prayers, the Friday sermon and the cleanness of the mosque. The imams imported from abroad are not prepared for the requirements of the communities, especially of the younger generation, for questions of an Islamic-Christian dialogue, or even for communication with local communities or schools. Since they have mostly no command of the German language they can, despite visible goodwill, simply not communicate. Even within the communities the understanding with the younger generation is often hardly granted.


Competent Theologians and Imams are in Demand

This applies in particular to the imams of DITIB who as officials of the Turkish state resp. of the Ministry of Religious Affairs (Diyanet Isleri Baskanligy) come for two to four years to Germany. Here the 600 hours of the preparation courses in language and regional studies, organized since some years by the Goethe Institute in Ankara and Bursa, are very useful but not sufficient in practice. Against this background, the scholars on Islamic studies Kiefer and Malik are certainly right when they critically note that the central role of the imams in the integration of Muslims was overestimated (Tageszeitung, February 24, 2008).

From the internal perspective of the local communities this sometimes turns out to be different. The volunteers have no theological training; they have little knowledge about their own religion, and often social traditions from the country of origin are wildly mingled with religion. Competent theologians and imams are therefore highly in demand in the communities. The Diyanet has been striving for several years to send to Germany only imams who have completed their university studies.

On the occasion of a nationwide internal DITIB training for board members of local communities in winter 2008 the majority of the participants regarded the lack of adequate linguistic transfer and the lack of socialization as a hindrance for coping with and developing especially the social responsibilities of the communities. Competent partners are in demand who are socialized here and proficient in the German language, especially in theological issues. Diyanet takes this into account: since 2006 meanwhile nearly 100 people who were born and grown up in Germany and other European countries are receiving a scholarship and studying International theology in Ankara or Istanbul in order later to work again as imams abroad.

All this cannot obscure the fact that there are close ties and dependencies between DITIB and the Turkish Diyanet. Scholarship holders funded by Ankara will for years deepen the dependence resulting from the fact alone that the Turkish state is paying the salaries of the theological personnel of DITIB's about 889 communities. An added problem is that, as far as labour law is concerned, the imams are put in charge of the Attachés of the consular districts, hence the German DITIB has no authority to issue instruction to the imams.

For some years VIKZ has been training most of its imams in Germany. The German language skills of these imams are, particularly among the on average younger Imams in North Rhine-Westphalia, significantly better. VIKZ had come in the focus of public criticism by its boarding schools which were classified as hindrance to integration, and by a negative opinion of Ursula Spuler-Stegemann from 2004. Above all in Baden-Wuerttemberg, where it maintains most of the boarding schools, VIKZ meanwhile makes efforts to ensure transparency and builds up good structures of communication with the neighbourhood of the boarding schools as well as with schools. The conception of the boarding schools, which is on principle based on an integrated religious world view, also fulfills social functions, especially in terms of homework help and afternoon care for adolescents. The question is left hanging in the air whether the Muslim pupils who are living in the boarding schools could or should, in parallel with this, not take part also in other leisure activities such as music or sports.

One has also to wait for the results of the legal restructuring of the association since 2007. The first centrally-managed association with headquarters in Cologne has in the last two years gradually established federal and local associations which are self-registered and thus legally responsible. VIKZ has meanwhile refrained from its critical up to negative attitude to RE at school:



During a meeting of imams in November 2008 at the Catholic Academy of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart the association has, due to positive experiences, welcomed for the first time RE at school. With one reservation: All the school experiments are in future, also on the part of the Lands to be understood as interim solutions until a denominationally oriented RE can be introduced in accordance with Article 7 of the Basic Law. This does up to now not exist in any Land.


Women on the Advance

In different regions of Germany 16 conferences took place: with DITIB, VIKZ, AABF - a conference with the Bosnian imams is in preparation. What would be more natural but to create synergy effects and to concentrate resources here in the regional context? However, conferences embracing different associations were up to now not possible - with a single exception. It is typical that in summer 2008 a joint cooperation project could be managed with two associations and independent women's organizations such as ZIF and BfmF on the occasion of a women's conference in the Catholic Academy "Die Wolfsburg" in Mülheim (Ruhr), under the programmatic title "To Recognize Boundaries - and to Move Them". Apart from the conference with Alevis the women's conference was the only one that could up to now be carried out without simultaneous interpreting. And one experiences just women as a potential of competence that has been, from the perspective of Islamic associations, totally underestimated.

Only the Alevi community in Germany has an independent women's association; as a woman in an executive committee of a federal association one finds only Kilicarslan Ayten (DITIB, since 2007). Ankara has meanwhile sent 15 ladypreachers together with the imams, and DITIB communities have meanwhile employed and privately financed another 15 ladypreachers. In the context of preparations for the women's conference VIKZ too made the most of the opportunity and appointed Nigar Yardim as official responsible for women and integration. The eloquent young theologian and preacher is inter alia intensely devoted to the development of modern didactics and pedagogy in the field of religious instruction within the VIKZ mosques.

In the next few years the first graduates of the Islamic training of RE teachers will go as trainee teachers at the schools. The first textbooks for primary schools have just been released (My Islam Book, Munich 2009). A full course of study of Islamic theology is at present not yet offered at German universities; only at the Goethe University in Frankfurt the Diyanet in Turkey has up to now founded a chair of Islamic religion which is connected with the Department of Protestant Theology. It has long since become recognizable that in the long run there is no getting around a course of study of Islamic theology and a full training of imams in Germany. At a meeting of the Academy of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart the Federal Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has just confirmed, "We need an Islamic Theological Faculty." The road there will certainly be thorny but the door has been pushed open. In some years Islam could be fully established in Germany.


    {*} Marfa Heimbach (born in 1960) studied Islamic sciences and history and works as a freelance feature writer for the Westdeutscher Rundfunk. On behalf of the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung [Federal Agency for Political Education] she is since 2004 in charge of the dialogue project for imams and pastors, "Religion in the Secular State".


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