Muslims in Germany

Pop and Politics of Which the Prophet Would Approve

The most varied aspects of the Islamic community were on view for all to behold at the Inssan Festival in Berlin. Even the Muslim pop star Sami Yusuf was there. Ariana Mirza took a stroll around the festival grounds

The most varied aspects of the Islamic community were on view for all to behold at the Inssan Festival in Berlin. Even the Muslim pop star Sami Yusuf and former MTV presenter and Muslim convert Kristiane Backer were there. Ariana Mirza took a stroll around the festival grounds

The singing star, whose poster is everywhere, really does pull in the crowds. "We are here to see Sami Yusuf!" say many of the young visitors at the Inssan Festival in Berlin. Yusuf fans Murat, Deniz, and Amira pass the time until their idol takes to the stage by wandering around the sprawling festival grounds.

They haven’t yet discovered the improvised prayer room. But they have wandered through the Orient Bazaar, where tucked away between craft stalls and market stalls, the Berlin branch of the Christian Democratic Union has set up an information stand.

After all, Muslims are part of the electorate too. Up on the festival stage, representatives of all Germany’s parliamentary parties and Berlin’s Senator for the Interior, Ehrhart Körting (Social Democratic Party), are discussing the image of Islam portrayed by the media and politics.

It is both a battle for votes and a debate about democratic attitudes. Senator Körting reminds the audience that Muslims in Germany are urgently called upon not to seclude themselves from the rest of society. He goes on to say that many Muslim communities have not clearly stated their support for sexual equality.

"Muslim initiatives are going unnoticed"

The spokespeople for Inssan für kulturelle Interaktion (Inssan for Cultural Interaction), Imran Sagir and Shaban Salih, on the other hand, draw attention to the fact that many Muslim initiatives are going unnoticed.

They present their initiative against forced marriages, their co-operation with the German bone marrow donor register, and an environmental campaign aimed at young people. The stage is a platform for representatives of an Islamic faith that considers German society to be its natural home.

"This is why we speak German and want to assume responsibility as Muslims in Germany." The Inssan representatives stress that the Muslims in the organisation only speak German amongst themselves.

Inssan was founded in 2001 with the aim of bringing together Muslims in Germany from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and promoting a consciously German-speaking Islam. The main focus of Inssan’s work is also on playing a self-confident role in German society and working actively in a variety of programmes to prevent the creation of parallel societies and violence, to promote intercultural dialogue and the modernisation and opening up of Muslim communities, and to support various women’s projects.

Inssan hopes that through its work it can contribute to the creation of an Islam and a Muslim community in Germany that is both seen and accepted as a natural part of German society. Inssan already has good contacts to other civil organisations and institutions in Germany such as the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Viadrina University in Frankfurt an der Oder.

"I love my prophet"

Meanwhile, 19-year-old secondary school student Lisa browses through the book stalls selling Islamic literature. She converted to Islam a year ago and is thrilled with the festival idea.

Lisa is accompanied by her mother, Marlies, 42. Marlies welcomes the fact that the liberal-minded festival is correcting the prevailing one-sided image of Islam. At the same time, however, she regrets that "non-Muslim Germans don’t even know that the festival is taking place."

While it is true that marketing of the event outside the Islamic communities was minimal in the run-up to the festival, there is certainly no shortage of marketing on the festival grounds! Consumer goods, posters, billboards, and merchandising are just as much a part of this festival as they are of any other festival.

19-year-old Omar and his 15-year-old friend Taha are selling music CDs on a merchandising stand. They volunteered as helpers and were allocated to this stand.

The two secondary school students are members of the "Muslimische Jugend" (Muslim Youth) association. Initially they are quite shy, but they soon start talking openly about their positive experiences with their youth organisation.

They tell of summer camps with young people from all over Germany, barbeque evenings they organised themselves, and sporting events. Taha is very obviously proud of his cool T-Shirt bearing with its "I love my prophet" logo.

Things are really livening up on stage. To thunderous applause and the drum beats of the Gambian percussionist Bubajammeh, Germany’s break-dancing champions are doing their thing.

This is not the first entertainment act of the day: before the break-dancers came the Asian swordfighters, the German-language rapper Ammar114 (who was born into a Christian family in Ethiopia and later converted to Islam in Germany), and the German-Turkish cabaret comedian Murat Topal, who pokes fun at the idiosyncrasies of Turks living in Berlin’s immigrant centre, Kreuzberg.

And it doesn’t end there: the programme also includes music and dance from the farthest flung regions of the world. The festival’s entertainment programme clearly demonstrates that Islam is a global religion.

Smart Koran recitations and a modern Islam

The performance by Mustafa Günesdogdu, the world champion in Koran recitation, is memorable. Günesdogdu, who grew up in Germany and is now imam at the Zentrum mosque in Hamburg, turns out to be a born entertainer and is more like a savvy crooner than a spiritual scholar.

This is certainly no accident, especially as the Inssan Festival wants to showcase the "modern" face of Islam. The former MTV presenter, Kristiane Backer, who converted to Islam several years ago, and her husband, Al-Jazeera journalist Rachied Jaafar, who jointly hosted the Festival, symbolise a "modern Islam": a faith that sets out clear principles and rules of conduct, but is not averse to either marketing or pop culture.

Just how Islamic pop culture works is demonstrated at last when the young festival-goers start chanting "Sami, Sami" as the sun sets and the singer takes to the stage after the requisite delay. When he does, the tearful eyes of his young female fans are reminiscent of the adoring looks cast by other female fans to their idols elsewhere around the world.

Ariana Mirza

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

© 2006

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