German Islam Converts

Islam as an Alternative?

The number of Germans converting Islam is on the rise. According to figures released by the Islam-Archive Central Institute, a record number of Christians have converted to Islam since September 11, 2001. Aslan Khassan and Rizki Nugraha report

Two Muslim women in Germany (photo: dpa)
In search for a new identity - a religious conversion is often preceded by a personal crisis

​​In 2005 the number of German converts has quadrupled in comparison to previous years. German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is concerned over the growing number of citizens converting to Islam. This definitely has "something very menacing about it," he recently stated to a German newspaper.

Of course not every convert is a potential terrorist, says Schäuble. But "among us the phenomenon of 'home-grown terrorism' – terrorism that is more or less grown on our own dung" – is on the rise. Criticism of Schäuble's statement came from the Islam Council for the Federal Republic of Germany as well as the Central Muslim Council in Berlin.

The chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany, Kenan Kolat, even wants Schäuble's remarks to be the theme of this year's German Islam Conference.

But why are more and more German Christians converting to Islam? One example is Rüdiger Deutsch, who now calls himself Arif Abdurrachman ("Servant of the merciful one") and converted to Islam last September.

The urge to do good

The 67-year-old was a relatively prosperous small businessman. His company manufactured slot machines. Neither he nor anyone else in his family were baptized or had a Christian upbringing.

He frequently felt the urge to do something good. He repeatedly donated money to charitable projects, for instance, for founding a Waldorf kindergarten and for two natural food stores.

But in the end he was not able to cope with the situation: "On the one hand, I had this ideal; on the other hand, the slot machines – it just didn't work," explains Deutsch. "I felt that this was not my path. I couldn't do it anymore. I could no longer continue to live in two different worlds."

Nevertheless, Rüdiger Deutsch kept on working in his company and in charitable projects. He tried to overcome his personal crisis, but he didn't succeed. The outcome: his company went bankrupt, and his wife left him. He fell into a depression and required medical treatment. Finally, he withdrew from public life.

In his search for a new identity he came in contact with Islam. He began an intensive study of the religion, read much about it, and eventually made Muslim friends. With them he also visited the mosque. In the Islam community he feels safe. He finally converted to Islam in September 2006.

The fact that Rüdiger Deutsch and many other Germans are converting to Islam at a time in which fear of terrorism and talk about honor killings are so widespread, surprises many people.

According to a study financed by the German Federal Ministry of the Interior and conducted by the Islam-Archive Central Institute, approximately 4,000 Germans converted to Islam in the past year alone.

"Solidarity reflex"

Salim Abdullah, director of the institute, sees this phenomenon as a "solidarity reflex," which is not really new: "We have observed this since 1972 – that is, for instance, whenever a press campaign against Islam continues for a longer period of time, the number of converts to Islam increases," explains Abdullah.

Religion sociologist, Monica Wohlrab-Sahr, has another explanation. She is skeptical about the idea that a "solidarity reflex" has led many Germans to change their beliefs. Instead Wohlrab-Sahr sees the main motive, for instance, in marrying into a Muslim family or an encounter with Oriental cultures.

Wohlrab-Sahr also surmises that only a smaller number of converts were actually motivated by religious or theological grounds that draw on their own biographical background. "These are persons who are in a biographical process of upheaval or are in crisis or are searching for a new inner stability," explains the religion sociologist.

Spiritual search leading to Islam

It was no sudden inner upheaval that led Dorothee Sabriyah Palm to change her beliefs. The 46-year-old woman had been in contact with Islam for years before her conversion. As an Islam scholar she had studied Islam for many years, learned Arabic, and frequently traveled to Muslim countries.

For Sabriyah Palm Islam is primarily a way to feel closer to God. "Praying five times a day brings me back into contact with my origins," says Palm. "This is very healing for me. I can retire from my everyday life for a short time. And this stabilizes me and gives me strength."

Converting to Islam was the end of a long spiritual search for Dorothee Palm. At first it led her to various Catholic cloisters and Christian sects. But she did not find here what she was really looking for. She says: "I was spiritually starving and instead of a fat roast they offered me water soup!" In any case, after a long search she is now certain that she has found her true religion.

Aslan Khassan, Rizki Nugraha

© DEUTSCHE WELLE/Qantara.de 2007

Translated from the German by Nancy Joyce

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