Islamic Associations in Germany

The Divided Muslim Community Has Problems Asserting Its Interests

Seven Islamic organizations in Germany recently decided to band together to form one large alliance, but not all Islamic organizations want to participate in the new union. A report by Filiz Kükrekol

photo: dpa
Who is allowed to teach Islamic religious instruction? The federal government in Germany has no central Islamic organization with which it can engage in a dialogue

​​Many organizations have taken up the suggestion of the Council of Islam to unite under a single umbrella organization. In addition to the Council of Islam, the other participating organizations are the Central Council of Muslims, the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers, the Islamic Religious Community of Hessen, the Schura of Hamburg and Lower Saxony, and the Islamic Religious Community of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Their common goal is to establish a central organization for carrying on a dialogue with the German federal government on matters concerning Islam. The organization will represent the religious interests of the Muslim community politically and socially.

Ali Kizilkaya, chairperson of the Council of Islam and one of the initiators of the new alliance, is convinced that the concept will be accepted by the majority of Muslims:

"Our starting point is the religious community that we together constitute," says Kizilkaya. "Beyond that we have no other goals. And because our foundation is based in the Koran, the Sunna [the collection of Mohammed's deeds and words (editor's note)] and the German constitution, we are prepared to work together with anyone who shares these values with us. We have no doubt that a majority will want to accept this."

A question of legitimacy

But the facts indicate otherwise. Only a quarter of all Muslims living in Germany are organized within the many Islamic associations and organizations. This leads to questions about the legitimacy of the new alliance, especially given that one prominent organization is not joining, namely the DITIB (Turkish-Islamic Union for the Institution of Religion), which has close ties to the Turkish Republic and is the most important large organization of Muslims in Germany.

For the federal government in Germany, this is a problem because it is seeking a reliable and recognized partner for dialogue, especially concerning decisions on controversial topics such as Islamic instruction in German schools. Ali Kizilkaya is aware of this:

"As regards religious instruction, the German government would like to find in us a single partner for dialogue. But if we Muslims are divided among ourselves, we will have a hard time asserting our interests. I think, however, that there is no reason for differences here."

Muslims are being asked to create a structure that is foreign to the Islamic context, i.e., associations that represent the interests of a Muslim minority concerning social and political questions. Islam does not have a concept of membership in the same way that Christian churches do.

In addition, two-thirds of the more than 3 million Muslims in Germany are of Turkish descent. A majority of them have been influenced by a strand of Islam represented by the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Turkey. The DITIB in Germany is considered an extension of this ministry.

DITIB will not be participating

The DITIB more or less explicitly lays claim to being the sole representative of Muslims of Turkish origin, and this is the reason for its non-participation in the new alliance.

"An alliance that does not include the DITIB will never have a chance at success," emphasizes Bekir Alboga, the DITIB spokesperson on the issue of dialogue.

"DITIB is the most legal religious representative for Muslims living in Germany. In Turkey there is only one office for religious affairs, and all Imams are appointed by the executive board of this office. It is the sole representative for religion. And this is why the DITIB also has this position in Germany, it serves as the representative here—and this is how the DITIB wants to be perceived."

Under observation by the state

But this is not the only reason the DITIB is not joining the other large associations in the new alliance. The Council of Islam, one of the initiators of the new coalition, is also very close to an organization known as "Milli Gorus." And this Turkish organization has been under observation by the German authorities for several years.

The same is true for the "Islamic Community in Germany." They are not directly participating in the new umbrella organization, but they have a strong influence on the Central Council of Muslims, according to Herbert Müller, an expert on Islam at the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Baden Wuerttemberg.

"I think that the people responsible for the new coalition see the potential problem of sitting down at the table with the wrong people," says Müller.

"Certain statements from within the Muslim spectrum concerning DITIB's claim to be the sole representative make it clear that there are also other internal problems that must be resolved. Apparently conflict is pre-programmed here."

A difficult undertaking

Does it really claim to be the sole representative? This is, of course, a delicate issue, admits Bekir Alboga of DITIB: "We know that the notion of being the only representative for all Muslims living in Germany is a very sensitive issue. But because this move affects Muslims directly and because it is one of the most important decisions related to the future of Muslims in Germany, a coalition that is formed this quickly can ultimately only be unstable!"

In other words: DITIB is not interested in participating in the long run either. In a year the new umbrella organization intends to publish the initial results of its collaboration. This road might be difficult for them.

Not only because a mere fraction of the Muslims living in Germany will be represented by it, but also because Islam in Germany serves as a mirror for the entire Islamic world, including the many different and often competing currents in Turkey that tend to come into conflict. In the immediate future it may remain a tough task to unite all Muslims in one boat.

Filiz Kükrekol

© DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW-WORLD.DE 2005

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