“Secular Islam“ Initiative in Berlin – Kick-Off Event

Sunday Feb 24, 2019, a new German movement called „Secular Islam Initiative“ invited the public for a kick-off event in Berlin. Located in a Protestant Church building, the initiators Ali Ertan Toprak (member of the German Conservative party CDU), Ahmed Mansour, Hamed Abdel Samad, Sevim Dagdelen (MP Left Party) and Seyran Ates (founder of a liberal mosque in Berlin) presented their views on „secular Islam“ to a broader public; app. 200 people filled the room of the event.

Though the co-founder of the initiative, the Green MP Cem Oezdemir was not present, the right-conservative German Minister for Health, Jens Spahn (CDU) was the most well-known figure for the presentation.

The initiative has its roots in the „Islam Conference“, organized by the German government, bringing together all mayor players of Muslim life in Germany. The founders of „Secular Islam“ argue, that the Muslim participants of the German Islam Conference are in fact representatives of a political Islam. „The picture of Muslims, the picture of individuals from Muslim countries is more colorful than the Islam represented in the German Islam Conference.“ Therefore, the initiators want to show an Islam full of diversity.

According to the founding documents, „Secular Islam“ is demanding a modern comprehension of Islam. They believe in a diversion of religion and state. As citizens of a democratic society, Muslims have to share the same rights and duties like all other citizens. The acknowledgement of the official Muslim communities in Germany as legal public entities is denied by the initiators: „We do not accept with the increasing power of an undemocratic, politicized Islam, which demands the only sovereignty of interpretation.“

The German minister Jens Spahn said in his greeting words, that he „wants to support all actors, who are fighting for a secular Islam. The state can no longer have a dialogue only with radicals, it is time to talk with a religion that does not want to interfere with politics“, Mr. Spahn said.

Although having well-known figures on board of the campaign, the German public and also many experts don’t seem to be convinced with the viewpoints of the initiative: Although it was publicly announced in autumn last year together with a big PR campaign and an online petition, only 3.000 signatures country-wide could be collected. Also, the initiative does not seem transparent regarding the financial supporters: donor lists are not available, questions regarding the financial support – which does not come from official institutions – are not being answered.

But the main problem lies in the name of the movement, because a „secular religion“ is a contradiction in itself. Nobody is calling for a secular Christianity or a secular Judaism.

Experts in Germany like scientists and journalists we spoke with, also said that the initiative is in fact a useful PR tool for Germans, criticizing the Islam itself. A political scientist from Berlin University says that the initiative will try to prove, that only it can represent the Muslim community in Germany. Having very flexible solutions concerning religion and state in Germany, why should the law grant privileges for Christian churches in the country with a huge impact into public and administrative life (church taxes, church schools, broadcasting in state TV) and at the same time not allowing Islam communities similar rights? „Muslim believers in Germany should be dialogue partners, but at the same time are defined as the main integration problem. They should accept European values and principles, but simultaneously accused of being intolerant, backwards. Especially when integration is connected with flexible terms like freedom, democracy or secular, the initiative’s goal still remains foggy.“

The initiators of „Secular Islam“ are not demanding that the Christian churches should become private foundations, it does not tell us, when religion is only religion and at what point it might become politically, where does piety begin and where could it violate secular mentality: With a headscarf, with a prayer in public, neglecting a handshake?

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