For years, the conference has been regarded as the most important forum for cooperation between the German state and the more than five million Muslims in the country. Muslim associations, scientists, politicians and other religions are represented in it. Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) announced when the conference was restarted in this legislative period that she wanted to focus primarily on the fight against Muslim hostility, but also on new forms of training Islamic preachers.
In recent years, the criticism of the conference itself has not stopped. Since it was launched 16 years ago, disputes have repeatedly broken out about the composition of the meetings. It was controversial, for example, who should represent the interests of Muslims – the influential conservative umbrella organizations, liberal mosque communities or even secular Muslims. The umbrella organizations do not by far represent the majority of Muslims living in Germany!
It is progress that the new responsible minister apparently wants to limit the influence of other states on religion in Germany. Minister Faeser announced that she wanted to “gradually reduce the state posting of imams to Germany”. Ultimately, the goal is to end it entirely.
The sending of preachers from Türkiye is being particularly scrutinized. Her ministry is already in contact with the Turkish religious authorities. State Secretary Juliane Seifert held talks on this in Ankara. There has always been harsh criticism of the Turkish government’s influence on the mosques in Germany. Faeser emphasized that German-speaking imams, who are also familiar with the reality of life in Germany, are also in the interests of the communities. However, the question here is whether talks with the authorities in Ankara – Diyanet – make any sense at all. As long as this is controlled by the Islamic AKP government under President Erdogan, an opening is certainly not to be expected: Erdogan has repeatedly shown that he uses Diyanet for his propaganda, especially among Turkish communities abroad. Recent campaign appearances in Germany, Switzerland, France and Belgium have once again confirmed this. Therefore, the German government should not be too naïve, but should ensure by law that there are no longer any preachers in Germany who have received questionable training.
The Turkish-Islamic Union of the Institute for Religion (Ditib) is now training some of its staff at its own center in the Eifel. That would only be a “pro forma” solution, because the influence of Diyanet in Ankara would continue to exist. Therefore, it would not primarily play a role where the training takes place. Rather, the federal government should in future pay attention to which interests are the training institutions linked to. A good example is the Islamkolleg Deutschland, which was founded in Osnabrück at the end of 2019 as an institution for practical Islamic theological training. Here the theologians are teachers who do not move within the sphere of influence of the traditional and conservative Islamic associations; on the contrary, many belong to the reform movement within Islam. Since the graduates of this college have so far had great difficulty finding employment, the federal government should take action here, breaking the power cartel of the conservatives.
But the cooperation with organizations like the Central Council of Muslims (ZMD) should also be questioned. The council not only includes the extreme right-wing Turkish Gray Wolves, but also the Islamic Center Hamburg, which is controlled by the Iranian mullah regime, the Bundestag recently called for its ban with a large majority.
The current Islam Conference wants to address the issue of hostility towards Muslims and provide “direct impulses for better coexistence between Muslims and non-Muslims”, but at the same time the Federal Government emphasizes that the Islam Conference is not a security body: Aspects such as political Islamism and extremism are therefore excluded. It is precisely these forces that undermine the “better cooperation” demanded by the state.
“There is a consensus that murder and terror in the name of Islam pose a great danger. But in the case of Islamism, the political enforcement of special freedoms for a life in accordance with the Sharia, immunity from criticism and the oppression of women, minorities and those who think differently, that doesn’t seem so clear, because Islamists are also recognized representatives of mosques or Islamic associations. The state cooperates with them and supports them with tax money. They have an influence on teacher training, the faculties for Islamic theology and sit at the table with the federal government during discussions.” Scientists and a number of politicians in Germany commented on the efforts of the responsible Interior Minister Faeser in an open letter.
The challenges of the Islam Conference are not really addressed with the credo of “anti-Muslim racism”. It is true that Muslims in Europe are exposed to hostilities. Fighting such discrimination must be a priority for society and politics alike. But it should also be clear to the federal government that the term of anti-Muslim racism, also known as “Islamophobia”, is used by those who refer to an Islam that has not yet arrived in the 21st century, to whom religion is not a private matter of the individual, but a political action, which is partly directed against the values of an enlightened society. These circles even accuse critics from their religion of racism if they advocate an Islam that wants to implement human rights, Western values and enlightenment as part of the religion.
The scientific and social processing of Islamism has so far been avoided. We know little about cash flows, foreign backers, and the dissemination of Islamist content in mosques and organizations that remain government collaborators. This must finally be examined on a scientific basis, with clear recommendations for the legislature. The ideological breeding ground of political Islamism is hardly the subject of academic research or political action. Without knowledge of the explosive force of Islamist ideology, we are extremely ill-prepared to confront the enemies of democratic society. If one is justifiably outraged about violence against women and homosexuals in Qatar, one cannot remain silent about Islamist organizations in Germany with a similar ideology.
There were also debates about the conference in the Federal Government, which has been in office for a year. “In the coalition agreement, we negotiated that progressive Muslims should be more closely involved in the political discourse,” said Lamya Kaddor, spokeswoman for domestic affairs for the Greens in the Bundestag. According to the Interior Ministry’s plans, however, they should initially play hardly any role at the Islam Conference. Muslim associations have been making this demand of German government agencies for years, without success so far. These have the same right to have a say at the Islam Conference as the traditional associations. The latter, however, have always been particularly effective in their lobbying efforts towards government agencies in Germany, regardless of whether they are governed by the CDU or by the Social Democrats.
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