Where are the Islamic chaplains?

No pastoral care for Muslims in Germany's armed forces

Lieutenant Nariman Hammounti-Reinke risked her life for Germany in Afghanistan. But when it comes to her religion she feels left out by the Bundeswehr, despite the growing number of Muslim troops in the country's army. By Christoph Strack

"I've had situations where I've thought, 'It's crunch time. It's no longer practice. They are real shots and real missiles being fired at you'," Nariman Hammouti-Reinke, a 41-year-old soldier in the German army, the Bundeswehr, recalls. When she talks about her Bundeswehr mission, one can sense the pressure and fear from weeks and months of dangerous foreign deployment.

Lieutenant Hammouti-Reinke is Muslim, German-Muslim. The daughter of Moroccan parents, she was born near Hanover in Germany's north. For her, preparing for deployment abroad affected her profoundly on both a personal and religious level.

"I took my own shroud with me," the author of the book Ich diene Deutschland (lit.: 'I serve Germany') revealed. "I had to write a sort of manual for my boss in the event I was killed. And I had to think about and arrange who would tell my parents if I died."

Military pastoral care only for Christians and Jews

A Muslim soldier deployed on a dangerous mission needs to plan in detail. Even more so, because there is no Muslim military pastoral care offered in the German army – unlike for Christians and, in the near future, people of the Jewish faith. "That's still discrimination and unequal treatment," Hammouti-Reinke says.

German soldiers on parade (photo: Bundeswehr/Sebastian Wilke)
A reflection of German society in the 21st century: some 185,000 soldiers currently serve in the Bundeswehr. Of those, around 53,400 are Protestant and almost 41,000 Catholic. Estimates suggest some 300 soldiers are followers of the Jewish faith and some 3,000 are Muslim

Things were supposed to be different. At the end of January, Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer met the Chairman of the Central Council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek, at a meeting of high-ranking Jewish and Muslim religious representatives. Kramp-Karrenbauer spoke with one of the rabbis about the agreement to have military rabbis in the Bundeswehr in future. She then turned to Mazyek and said: "And the next step should follow. We will start talks at some point and see how we will achieve that."

Many discussions, no concrete actions

Mazyek isn't the only one who recalls this. Journalists were also present. Half a year on and the Central Council representative says that since the talks, "nothing has happened. They just have to start – take a step and organise pastoral care for Muslims."

Since the historic decision was made one and a half years ago to establish a Jewish military chaplaincy by the federal government and the Central Council of Jews, there have been negotiations, politicians have talked about it, cabinet ministers and both houses of parliament have deliberated and decided it should happen. The agreement for a Jewish chaplaincy was signed, in the presence of the German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, by Kramp-Karrenbauer and Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. Sometimes a mumbled sentence was heard that Muslim military chaplaincy should follow. At some point. Without a doubt.

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