The long road to acceptance
Currently around 4.5 million Muslims live in Germany, including the rising number of traumatised refugees from war-torn regions that have entered the country since 2015. This corresponds to about 5.7 percent of the total population. But unease and outright hostility toward Islam is on the rise both in Germany and in Europe as a whole.
Since the indiscriminate and repeated attacks by the self-proclaimed Islamic State terrorist organisation began, migrants, including many Muslims, have been subjected to mistrustful sideways glances and live under a general cloud of suspicion.
According to a 2015 Bertelsmann study, one in two Germans views the religion as a threat. Fifty-seven percent of non-Muslim respondents characterised Islam as "very threatening" or "threatening". Nearly half of all university graduates share this view and 61 percent of Germans think the religion doesnʹt fit into the Western world.
"There is a tendency to perceive Islam as an ideology rather than a religion," Yasemine El-Menouar of the Bertelsmann Foundation says.
This attitude persists, despite the fact that authorities classify fewer than one percent of the Muslims who meet regularly in about 2,350 mosques and Alevi "Cem" prayer houses across Germany and support a democratic form of government as radicals. These include many ultra-conservative Salafists.
Imams provide social services
Despite these sobering findings, Islamic scholar and sociologist El-Menouar takes an overall positive view. She says the integration of Muslims who immigrated in the 1960s and 1970s as part of the effort to recruit guest workers is "clearly moving forward". Back then, Turks were the predominant group looking for work in Western Germanyʹs industrial hubs.
"The vast majority of migrants from Turkey, North Africa and other countries arrived here ages ago; they have built lives for themselves, raised their families and created jobs," El-Menouar told Die Zeit daily newspaper. Many of them have established and maintained "good contacts with the locals" and have "close ties" to Germany.
According to a study by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), Islamic communities are also promoting a sense of fellowship. Almost all go well beyond just "religious services" and help migrant negotiate Germanyʹs bureaucracy and offer tutoring and help with homework.
95 percent of all imams do more than just preach; they take on social responsibility, brokering cooperation with German teachers and social workers, for example. According to the 2012 "Islamic Community Life in Germany" survey, "Islamic communities are important points of contact for integrating Muslims."
According to El-Menouar, integration is enjoying widespread success: "The overall trend is clear and Muslim migrants are moving further into mainstream society with every generation. The speed of this process depends not just on migrantsʹ willingness to integrate; the educational system and labour market policy also factor in."
From working class district to no-go area
Still, there are districts in which integration seems to be failing miserably, such as Duisburg-Marxloh, a former working-class district the media are fond of calling a "social hotspot" or "no-go area". Marxloh is one of Germanyʹs most impoverished regions. The unemployment rate for the around 19,000 people who live there is around 16 percent and roughly 64 percent of all residents come from a migrant background.
The media has frequently reported on the deplorable conditions in the area with too many people crowded together, backyards choked with rubbish and broken front doors. Many migrants have no health insurance, so their children donʹt get the vaccinations they need and lots of people depend on the volunteers at free clinics for their health care. Policemen have been verbally harassed and sometimes even attacked.
Writer Hatice Akyun was born in Duisburg-Marxloh and her parents still live there. "Of course there are problems, just like there are in certain districts in Berlin, Hamburg and Frankfurt," she told the Welt Online news site. "But thatʹs not down to the migrants.... it is down to the failures of a government that gave up on these districts long ago."
The problem with ghettoisation
Islam expert Yasemine El-Menouar takes a similar view. Many former guest workers lost their jobs during the industrial crisis between 1980 and 1990, a major trigger in the development of these disadvantaged areas. "Working-class neighbourhoods have become pockets of extreme poverty." Those who could afford to have moved away. "It is always problematic when disadvantaged populations are concentrated in segregated neighbourhoods."
Erol Yildiz, professor of intercultural education at the Austrian Alpine Adriatic University in Klagenfurt, detailed the consequences of living in Muslim communities such as Cologne-Kalk, Berlin-Neukolln or Hamburg-Veddel in an article for the online portal www.islamiq.de: "the massive stigma associated with living in these areas makes it difficult to find a job and perpetuates local unemployment, because the people who live in these districts are met with mistrust and reluctance from employers when they mention their place of residence, street or postal code."
"Migrant neighbourhoods are not always poverty-stricken areas," El-Menouar emphasises. They often have an established "migrant infrastructure" that can facilitate integration – especially for new migrants, who come in contact with migrants who have lived in the country for some time. Society overall could benefit from cultural and religious diversity, she adds, if the German public took a more open approach to and broadened its view of Muslims. Integration could truly succeed – despite all the obstacles – in both Germany and in Europe as a whole.
© Goethe-Institut 2018
Translated from the German by Sarah Smithson-Compton