Salafism in Germany
Iʹll wear a niqab if I want

Children's life choices are often difficult for parents to endure and even more difficult to understand. Especially when they embark on a path towards Islamism. An encounter with an affected mother. By Matthias von Hein and Esther Felden

It's something no mother would ever want to experience. The unexpected appearance of state security officers on your doorstep, to inform you that your daughter was planning to leave for Syria to allegedly join the terrorist militia "Islamic State."

But that is exactly what happened to Monika Muller. She recalls every detail of that particular day in 2014 when she was told about her daughter Sophia. Her shock was followed by relief: the police had been acting on false rumours the officers had seemingly picked up in a mosque. But how did Sophia and her family get to this point? Muller was willing to share her daughter's journey, but only on condition that her family's anonymity be protected.

Be alert

In her early 60s, Muller is a woman who likes to laugh. Her alert face is framed by short red hair. She is a doctor in a mid-sized town in Germany's most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where we met in her practice. We became aware of Muller through an aid project focussing on de-radicalisation. For two years now, she has been working with the project, trying to warn young people about the dangers of Islamist radicalisation.

Monika Muller looks out of the window in her surgery (photo: Matthias von Hein/DW)
Trauma a reason for converting to Islam: Monika Muller attributes the fact that Sophia, who is now 24, converted to Islam as a teenager to an event that she describes only vaguely in conversation with us as a "traumatic experience outside the family"

During her talks, she always recalls her daughter: "Young people should be alert, so that they are not simply persuaded to do things by just anybody." She emphasises that this does not only apply to religious radicalisation: "It would be the same if the young people were right-wing extremists. Radicalisation can cause a family to break apart."

Muller's family is still intact. The mother maintains close contact with her daughter Sophia, who is now 24. They call and message each other almost every day and visit each other regularly. Sometimes they go out together – for example to the Christmas market. But that wasn't always the case. There were times of complete silence – sometimes for months, when the family's fabric disintegrated under intense pressure.

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