Commentary: Ursula Spuler-Stegemann

"The Inhibitions of Islamic Organisations in Germany Continue to Fall"

The Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany was established just in time for the second Islam Conference. Ursula Spuler-Stegemann, professor of Islamic Studies, comments on the problematic representation and composition of the Council

The Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany was established just in time for the second Islam Conference. The Marburg-based professor of Islamic Studies, Ursula Spuler-Stegemann, comments on the problematic representation and composition of the Council

Dr. Ursula Spuler-Stegemann (photo: private copyright)
For secular Muslims, many of whom fled to Germany to escape a repressıve kind of Islam, the self-appointed representatives are an affront, says Ursula Spuler-Stegemann

​​There was no shortage of enthusiasm at the public launch of the long awaited Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany (KRM) as the sole umbrella organisation to represent German Muslims.

The unfortunate thing about this is that it creates the erroneous impression that, by so doing, Germany's Muslims have finally given the government the responsible, representative negotiating partner it has long been calling for to deal with Islamic issues.

The Coordination Council brings together, though admittedly without a merger, the four largest Muslim umbrella organisations in Germany: the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), the Islamic Council of Germany, the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), and the Association of Islamic Culture Centres (VIKZ).

Lack of precise figures

This excludes around 500,000 Alevis. Most Sufi orders, too, remain unrepresented, as do the Turkish Fethullahçıs, who are actively involved in education in Germany, as well as elsewhere. Current spokesperson for the Coordination Council is the chairman of the Central Council of Muslims, Dr. Ayyub Axel Köhler.

The Coordination Council claims to speak for 80 per cent - although the figure of 85 per cent has also been bandied about - of Muslims and more than 2,500 mosques. Precise figures, apparently, cannot be worked out. There are those in the know, however, who see the proportions differently and claim that it represents no more than 10-15 per cent of the country’s Muslims.

The fact that most German Muslims do not have anything to do with the Islam propagated by this Council can only be a source of satisfaction. For secular Muslims, many of whom fled here to escape exactly this kind of Islam, these self-appointed representatives are an affront.

More and more demands

People are worried, and not without justification, that the kind of Islam represented by the groups in the Council might be taught to their children in religious education. After all, demands for acceptance of headscarves - and Islamic clothing - in public service have already surfaced. Many more such demands are sure to follow.

The liberal "Initiative of Secular and Lay Islamic Citizens in Hesse" recently made its position on the Council clear in a statement to the press. Secular Muslims are finally defending themselves against those who are trying to appropriate the right to say who is a real Muslim and who not.

It is worth noting that the majority of those heading the member associations are not themselves theologians. Kenan Kolat, chairman of the "Turkish Community in Germany" with its - he claims - 200,000 members, told the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung that there are plans afoot to create "a theological department or organisation that would be tasked with interpreting the Koran from a secular point of view." It all sounds rather utopian; it will be interesting to see how things develop.

The status of Coordination Council

Islam does not have organised church-like structures. It is therefore absurd to treat the Coordination Council as if it were comparable to the churches and say that it must be recognised as a public body with all of the concomitant privileges such a status entails.

It is not really surprising that the staunchest supporters of these objectives are also the staunchest and most faithful supporters of Islam and the Sharia; that is only to be expected. However, it is a process that has also allowed extremist associations to find a footing: the Islamic Association Milli Görüş (IGMG) in the Islamic Council, for example, or the Muslim Brotherhood in the Central Council, whose members were obviously allowed into Germany as victims of political persecution.

But the interests of foreign states are also being served by these organisations – Turkey, for example, via the DITIB or Iran by means of the Hamburg Islamic Centre – and are therefore being infiltrated into Germany by them.

The four member groups rotate the presidency between them at six-monthly intervals. This may seem like democratic practice; in reality it is anything but. As reported in the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet on 24 April, the sole right of veto rests with the DITIB.

The justification given is that the DITIB with its 870 mosques is the largest of the Islamic organisations. What this means is that the Turkish state-controlled DITIB has now openly joined forces with the three Islamic umbrella organisations to which it had previously kept its distance.

Turkey's influence ın Germany

A gradual warming of relations with the highly problematic IGMG, an organisation best known over the last ten years for its anti-Jewish opinions, has been evident for some time; a development that the Turkish national newspaper Milli Gazete has been monitoring.

One cannot help feeling that as part of his religious policy, Prime Minister Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan is consistently bringing together Islamic and Turkish nationalist forces not only at home, but in Germany too; this policy also involves the VIKZ.

Whilst hundreds of thousands are taking to the streets in Turkey to demonstrate against the candidature of a religiously motivated president, who, in a position of extraordinary power, is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces and could, in alliance with the head of the government, change the Islamic orientation of the entire country, the inhibitions of Islamic organisations in Germany continue to fall as their demands rise, and all in the safety of relative anonymity.

Ursula Spuler-Stegemann

© 2007

Translation from the German by Ron Walker

Prof. Dr. Ursula Spuler-Stegemann is a professor of Islamic Studies at the Philipps-Universität Marburg, Germany. She has written several books on the subject of Islam in the modern world.

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