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Muslims of the world, unite?

 

From: Christ in der Gegenwart, 48/2013, P. 535 et sequ.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation

 

    What distinguishes a "pop-Muslim" from a "neo-Muslim"? Is the "Euro-Islam" only a figment of functionaries? A Stuttgart meeting provided exciting insights into intra-Islamic debates.

 

A specter is haunting in Muslim communities. It is called "Euro-Islam" and the opinions on it differ. The term, which goes back to Bassam Tibi, scholar in the field of politics and Islam, does not only go round in the minds of academic commissioners for integration, religious scholars and sociologists, but has meanwhile reached the grass roots. There it causes trouble, because one does not know exactly what it means. Moreover, the requests which are associated with this term are felt by not a few Muslims as a provocation. The questions are for example: How does "Islam" harmonize with "Europe"? Which adaptations to a former Christian, but now largely secularized Western European majority culture are expected, before politics is ready for services in return in the sense of state support? Which contentual, theological teachings and ways of thinking must be "defused" or reinterpreted symbolically, so that enemy images, stereotypes and distrust are broken down? It is about custom and tradition, power and morality, faith and reason. What is unchangeable in Islam, and what has historical causes and is therefore open to interpretation?

It is a great merit of the Catholic Academy of Rottenburg-Stuttgart that it - in collaboration with the "Southeast Europe Association" and supported by the "Robert Bosch Stiftung" - organized a meeting in which not a few experts from outside talked about "the Muslims" but representatives got a chance to speak who covered the whole Muslim spectrum of opinion and thus provided a fascinating insight into intra-Islamic debates and emotional worlds.

 

The Catchword Europe

The high pressure within the Muslim communities became not only apparent in the emotional clash about the emotive word "Euro-Islam". Several discussants, among them many highly educated junior researchers who effortlessly spoke alternately German, English, Turkish or Bosnian, turned the tables of the usual integration debate and asked: When you speak of Europe, what do you actually mean with this term? And according to which model do you create the so-called Euro-Muslim, for whom you are longing so fervently and whose main advantages are that he eats also roast pork, drinks at times an after-work beer, takes the Qur'an not so seriously, and first and foremost sees his faith as strict private affair?

There was much talk about the majority society's ascriptions to and characterizations of foreigners. These clichés had to be scrutinized. Some things were so exaggerated that it almost verged on a caricature: "T h e Muslim does not exist, t h e Muslim is made by others." Sometimes, only the role of victim was one-sidedly emphasized, according to which after the collapse of communism Islam as the new bogeyman supposedly keeps Western Europa together. Nevertheless, it is essential to reflect on the relation between how one sees oneself and is seen by others, if one wants to understand better the various contemporary trends in Islam.

The Bielefeld sociologist Levent Tezcan reminded of the fact that in the speech of Euro-Islam also Christianity is always present - either as a positive or as a negative reference point - depending on your perspective. Some would see in today's Christianity, which has made its peace with modernity, also the "vision of salvation" for Islam. It is true indeed that, after centuries of development, the churches now not only accept but inwardly approve of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, which they had initially opposed. They accept both the rules of democracy and the in science common historical-critical method for the interpretation of Scripture. Even the high moral validity claims for the lives of individuals leave room for privacy and divergent decisions of conscience.

 

Model or Nightmare Scenario?

Due to those attitudes, the churches become valuable partners for the liberal-secular state. They are supported by it for their work in the field of education, social affairs and culture. Similarly, politics wants to transfer those church-state relations to the relations with Muslims. But here sensitive, highly controversial question arise. Is there willingness in the Muslim communities to get involved in these processes of transformation? Who are the contact persons - and with what authority may they speak for the highly diverse Muslim communities? Is it possible at all to demand a "Verkirchlichungsprozess" [become a church-like institution] from Islam? For in case of a recognition as a public corporation, the church structure would be technically in the background as a model. Among Muslim theologians there are ardent supporters for it - but also bitter enemies.

 


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At grass roots level, however, Levent Tezcan notices an overriding discomfort. There the development of Christianity is not seen as a "salvation history" but as "history of decline." One does not want to experience its risks and side effects in one's own religion. Tezcan mentioned as examples the decrease in church affiliation, the retreat of religion into the private sphere, the loss of authority of the religious leaders, the lack of interest of young people in religious matters, the lax handling of moral norms and values. All this was too high a price for many Muslims. That's why "Euro-Islam" is perceived rather as a dangerous watering down, as taming their religion according to the model of Christianity.

In the book "Neo-Muslims" by the journalist Eren Güvercin (Herder, Freiburg 2013), the author Feridun Zaimoglu e.g. writes, "I am not among those who believe that one must take every culture and examine or improve its compatibility with Europe." He describes himself as a "fierce opponent" of Euro-Islam. It was "ultimately only the brainchild of some busybodies" who had "too often traveled to the USA, had read a lot of American books, and now wanted to shine with it in Germany." He could certainly not ascribe "convincing thoughts, refinement and brilliance to these professors. Those who expected from the Turks a "Christianized Islam" will "have to wait not only one but several eternities, and I think that is a good thing."

"Neo-Muslims" are called by Eren Güvercin those children of immigrants who are born in Germany and who, due to numerous hostilities and the general climate of suspicion, anew deal deliberately and intensively with their religion. Their vision of Islam is transnational, and neither culturally nor ethnically limited. They see in their religion a last bulwark against the total economization of the world and the "relativization of truth" in view of the dictatorship of pluralism - a fight which Christianity has long since lost. They do not want to build a theocracy but wonder how you, out of a religious attitude, could end the global injustices with which the entire mankind is afflicted. "Freedom and thoughts about an order which preserves freedom are of divine origin for Muslims as well as Christians. This does not aim at a theocracy but only to the fact that a purely mundane reason quickly becomes unreason, because the comprehensive ideas of an order which corrects and endorses its weaknesses are missing. These thoughts put people in the focus and not the market."

"Neo-Muslims" refuse to cooperate with the state, and also do not hold back from criticizing Islamic "functionaries". If religious functionaries negotiate with governmental officials, they would become entangled in worldly affairs and ignore here that in such matters the state is always stronger than religion.

It is amazing to what extent their cultural criticism is akin to Pope Benedict XVI's pessimistic diagnosis of the times. Güvercin writes, "Some Muslim communities make the same mistakes as long since many Christians ... Both in Islam and Christianity it is about truth. It calls upon and obliges the individual. It is beyond and above the political constellations. But the pluralistic society mistrusts those who live on this truth and thus maintain a certain distance."

Of course, the "neo-Muslims" are not the only players in the debate. On the other side, there are high-ranking Islamic theologians such as Mustafa Cerid, leader of the Bosnian Muslims for many years, and honored with many awards. He has developed specific theological models of thought how treaties between Muslims in Europe and the respective governments might be concluded - also taking into account both Sharia law and Basic Law ("Islam in Europe", EZW-texts No. 227). It is unclear, however, to what extent Cerid has parallel societies in mind, and with what response his thoughts meet beyond the Bosnian borders, as e.g. in Germany.

 

Appetite for Religion

The Berlin sociologist Naika Fourutan examines above all the concepts of identity which today in Germany are available for Muslims at the age of seventeen to fifty years. At the meeting she presented different role patterns. In addition to the "Muslims of origin" who are primarily defined by ethnicity, and secularly thinking "cultural Muslims" who only folkloristically celebrate the holidays, there are new and exciting phenomena. According to her, among the already mentioned theologically arguing "neo-Muslims" and "reform-Muslims" number the so-called "media-Muslims" who see themselves, due to derogatory discourses, downrightly urged to act as advocates of Islam in public. Finally, there is still the type of "pop-Muslims" who simply think it is "cool" to be different, and to be perceived as exotic. This finds expression, for example, in an excessive machismo or in very apolitical-religious ideas where consumption, hedonism, individualism, economic success and "Muslim-ness" are effortlessly compatible. In these circles, the Egyptian star preacher Amr Khaled is regarded as "hero". His remarks are rather reminiscent of a Protestant virtue ethics, which arises from the concern for oneself, than of a spiritual-religious belief. "I want to be rich so that people point at me and say, "Look, a pious man, who has become rich. Then, due to the fact that I am rich, they will love God. I only want to have lots of money and wear the best dresses in order to whet people's appetite for religion."

For a long time it was of no great significance for the Federal Republic what discourses are conducted in Muslim theology and by whom the "guest workers" of Muslim faith are cared for religiously. But at least since the attacks of 11 September 2001, which were prepared from Germany, this has fundamentally changed. Although not the Bosnian or Turkish, but Saudi and Egyptian Muslims were responsible for the attacks, the integration debate in Germany has got a "religious turn." The former "guest worker" and the religiously unspecified "immigrant" has now become the Muslim.

But the tendency to dissolve ethnic differences in a global "Muslim-ness" does not only exist in the perception of Germans. The Islamic-conservative Turkish government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressly understands Turkey as a" patronage state for Muslims" - as the political scientist Kerem Öktem from the University of Oxford explained. The Turkish influence in the Balkans and in Central Asia is manifested not only politically but also theologically, as e.g. by the establishment of a religious infrastructure with schools, mosques, training of preachers ... With the creation of a separate Ministry for Turks living abroad, Erdogan has also reinforced his claim to bind more closely to their original homeland the Turkish Muslims who are living in Germany. The intellectual roots of his party, on the other hand, are in the Milli-Görüs movement. The latter is observed by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution because of its worldwide contacts also to Islamist religious leaders.

 

Ditib and Milli Görüs

Ditib, the in 1984 founded and by Diyanet, the Presidency of Religious Affairs in Turkey steered umbrella organization of Turkish-born Muslims was for many years perceived by the Federal Republic as a quasi-official contact for the here living Turkish Muslims. Almost 900 mosques communities were organized by it, and the Imams financed. However, Ditib has got a competitor in the Islamic Community Milli Görüs. The latter regards itself not as an ethnic, in this case Turkish shaped umbrella organization, but as a global Islamic movement. In Germany already 323 mosques are affiliated to it. Both organizations see themselves as attorneys and spokesman of the Muslims living here and offer their service to the government as a negotiating partner, as e.g. with the organisation of Islamic religious education. The prospect of receiving the much sought-after status of a public corporation reduces the rivalry between the associations up to a limited cooperation, observed Kerstin Rosenow-Williams, assistant at the Institute for International Law of Peace and International Humanitarian Law at the Ruhr-University Bochum.

In contrast to the past, today Germany is very keen to keep the influence of foreign countries on local Muslims as low as possible and to promote instead an Islam that is rooted here, says Rosenow-Williams. The newly created professorships for the training of Islamic religious teachers at German universities are an example for it. However, the extent to which this area is mined becomes just apparent again in the debate on the allegedly un-Islamic teacher of Islam Mouhanad Khorchide (see CIG No. 46), who should also speak in Stuttgart. According to media reports, the police adviced him for reasons of safety, at present to avoid public appearances. Thus, the important question of what a "Euro-Islam" contentually, theologically might look like, remained unfortunately a bit underexposed. However, the stirring lecture of the Muslim educators Abdullah Sahin indicated the direction in which it might go. Sahin, who trains Muslim scholars at the University of Gloucestershire (England), is convinced that globalization trends will continue advancing. The hope of a secularization based on the Western model he called naive. Conversely, he called upon the Muslim communities to practise an attitude of self-criticism and cultural openness. It is the necessary precondition to live with heart and soul in Europe. One cannot demand civil rights and at the same time close one's eyes to the serious problems that are connected with a rigid interpretation of Islam. An attitude of huffiness because of the Islamophobic climate in society is no excuse to shirk the task of thinking self-critically and seriously about the problem of violence. He called upon the mosque associations to stop handing down only their traditional religious and cultural ideas to the next generation. This would force the young people under guidelines which automatically make them outsiders. They should rather be open to the experiments of the young generation, to their attempts to combine intellectually and religiously Islamic values and new suggestions, which they absorb from their European-influenced everyday life, and thus to revive and promote the pluralistic tradition of Islam.

The "Euro-Islam" - just a fantasy? Could be! But a most powerful and highly productive one.

 

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