Muslims in Germany

"Fanaticism Has Nothing to Do with Islam"

The German Muslim community has been criticised for being too subdued in its condemnation of fundamentalist ideas. The Interior Minister of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia met with Muslim leaders to talk about their position.

Ralf Lehnert reports

The room of the Fatih Mosque in Essen where the press conference is held was very crowded – an unusual amount of attention. NRW's Interior Minister Fritz Behrens has come to the mosque to find out about the work of the Muslim communities and to talk to their spiritual leaders, the Lebanese Imam Tahir El Zein and the Turkish Hoscha Ercan Aksu.

Behrens praised the work of the Muslim communities in Essen-Katernberg, a suburb of the city of Essen, and the clergy's commitment against crime and violence. At the same time the minister condemned fundamentalism.

"I hope for a broad alliance against extremism and Islamism that preaches terror and violence, an alliance in which as many Muslims as possible take part. We can't and won't accept an Islamism which turns against our society and our legal system," Behrens said.

"It is the duty of all people living in Germany, including all Muslims living here, to acknowledge our constitutional principles and abide by the laws of this country. Our state is democratic and open, but it cannot and will not tolerate people who abuse these liberties, to preach hate and mischief."

Imam Tahir El Zein took up this theme. He condemned terrorist attacks. All that the members of his community want is to live in Germany peacefully, he said. Contrary to some radical Muslim leaders who see violence as condoned by Islam, El Zein stressed the peaceful nature of his religion: "Fanaticism and radicalism sow corruption and destroy countries. Radicalism and fanaticism have nothing to do with Islam."

Alliance of mosque associations, public institutions

One aim of the mosque associations in Essen-Katernberg is to help their young people integrate into German society and so protect them from the lures of fundamentalism. To be able to do this, they have formed an alliance with the police and the youth-welfare office – a joint project based on mutual trust and tolerance. The alliance has achieved a drop in juvenile delinquency.

However, for integration to be successful, education is important, says Turkish Hodscha Ercan Aksu.

"We always stress to our children and the members of our community that they should get all the education and job training they can. Because integration works best when you have reached a certain level of schooling. We also point out that this society needs educated people who have trained for a decent profession and who have good qualification and the ability to integrate."

Teaching police staff about Muslim customs

Integration isn't a one-way street. This is why the state of North Rhine-Westphalia teaches its police staff about Muslim customs and values and has been recruiting people from different cultural backgrounds since 1997. Minister Behrens also plans to appoint special Islam-experts within the police force who can help their colleagues as well as liaise with the Muslim community.

But all these measures won't be enough, if the rest of the society doesn't get involved. Behrens called on Germans to go and attend the day of the open Mosque on October 3rd.

"I think this is a great opportunity for all citizens to get a personal impression of the religious lives of the Muslims in their neighbourhood. People with a Christian background like myself can start to understand a different religious belief und learn to comprehend the values particular to Islam. I would like all citizens of North Rhine-Westphalia to accept this invitation."

Ralf Lehnert

© DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW-WORLD.DE 2004

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