On the way to meet Zehra on her classʹs week away, making use of his brand-new driving licence, Michael didnʹt notice that the hand brake wasnʹt fully disengaged. His fatherʹs car gave off clouds of smoke as he confessed his love to her over the battered geranium. "We should concentrate on finishing our exams next year and then you have to ask my father," she said, infatuated and distressed in equal measure.
Michael became the youngest youth councillor in the local town hall, while Zehra organised theme nights, oldies parties with parents and DJ nights for teenagers, spearheaded local environmental projects and canvassed for the CDU. Both of them passed their exams with flying colours. Zehra had just had four wisdom teeth removed when Michael proposed to her on the way home from the dentist. "I will!" she wrote on a piece of paper, touched and happy. She couldnʹt actually speak at the time.
"Baba Osman, I love your daughter…"
Then came the moment they had been dreading for so long: "Baba Osman, I love your daughter and Iʹm certain I want to marry her. Will you give me your blessing?" Mr Tayanc was clearly surprised. "You want to be her husband, I see. But what do you believe?"
Michaelʹs heart sank. Did Osman mean "Who do you think you are?" or did he mean "What do you believe in?" Would he have to convert to Islam? "Are you a Christian?" Zehraʹs father added. Perhaps heʹd prefer a Christian son-in-law to an atheist, Michael thought. "Er . . . Iʹm on my way. Iʹm trying to become a Christian. And I respect and revere your religion."
Zehraʹs mother Anne put a hand on Michaelʹs shoulder and said: "Oglum!" My son – an honorific and a pet name with the weight of a quasi-adoption. To her husband, she said: "Michael isnʹt a Muslim, but if you ask me – Iʹll take him as a son-in-law." Osman was encircled by loving people.
"Thatʹs alright then. I agree," he said. His smile turned into a grin. The men hugged. "So this is how your patriarchy works," a relieved Michael thought. He took a baptism preparation course that counted as intensified confirmation lessons. His atheist parentsʹ reaction was quietly positive: "We fought for freedom. Itʹs OK if you use that freedom to become a Christian."
Zehra lights the baptism candle
The church is full to the rafters. Adult baptisms are a rare occasion. And of a well-known member of the local youth council at that! Zehra and her parents are there too. Once Michael has been christened with a few drops of water on his head, the pastor addresses the congregation: "Iʹd like to invite Zehra Tayanc to the front." People turn their heads in surprise. "She is his fiancee and played a major part in sparking Michaelʹs faith. Zehra – would you light his baptism candle, please?"
Zehra was a trainee at a bank at the time, while Michael was taking a degree in religious studies at Tubingen University. They had three wedding ceremonies: secular, Muslim and Christian. Michael got a part-time position as an "inter-religious dialogue officer" in a regional ministry in Stuttgart and wrote his masterʹs thesis on "The Opening of Islam in Germany through a New Islamic Elite".
He sent emails to young Muslims requesting interviews, asked them to forward them and thanked them with the hope of "soon being allowed to work together again". It was not until he evaluated the questionnaires that he noticed one of his respondents was a radical Muslim. "Does Islamist influence go all the way to the Stuttgart regional government?" a newspaper bellowed in its headline.