Does Islam ‘belong’ in Germany?

A mediaeval interpretation of Islam has no place in Germany, just as a mediaeval interpretation of Christianity does not.
Monday 26/03/2018
Conflicting views. German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) talks with German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer before delivering a speech to parliament on March 21

LONDON - German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, leader of the centre-right Bavarian Christian Social Union, made headlines after he said that “Islam does not belong to Germany.”

“The Muslims who live here are naturally part of Germany. That does not, of course, mean that we therefore give up our country-specific traditions and customs… Germany is shaped by Christianity. That means not working on Sundays and celebrating religious holidays such as Easter, Pentecost and Christmas,” he said in an interview with Bild magazine.

“My message is: Muslims need to live with us, not next to us or against us,” said Seehofer, whose party is coalition ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

Is there a difference to Islam not belonging to Germany but Muslims having a place in it? Where is the line drawn?

The Christianisation of Germany, like most of Europe, was precipitated by the Roman Empire, eventually cemented by Charlemagne in the eighth century. The Holy Roman Empire lasted for more than 1,000 years, with the latter part of the Catholic empire’s history riven with sectarian division and conflict following the Protestant Reformation.

Germany, like most post-Reformation societies in Western Europe, is largely secular. Article 4 of Germany’s Basic Law explicitly states freedom of religion is “inviolable” and guarantees the “undisturbed practice of religion.” Germany may have been “shaped” by Christianity but its law and constitution guarantees religious freedom.

Latest census figures indicate that 58% of Germans (47.9 million) identify as Christians, with 26.5% of the population identifying as Protestant and 28.5% Roman Catholic. There are distinct Evangelical, Baptist, Pentecostal, Mennonite, Orthodox and even Mormon communities in Germany.

So, what precisely does Seehofer even mean when he says “Christianity”? For him, is Christianity only not working on Sundays and celebrating Christmas?

What about the Christianity seen during the brutal Thirty Years’ War? What about the Wurzburg or Bamberg witch trials? Or Pope Pius XII’s Concordat of 1933 with Hitler and the Catholic Church’s lack of action in the face of the Holocaust?

There is no universal Christianity, just as there is no universal Islam — only varied interpretations. Some of these “belong” in Germany and others certainly do not.

The Islamic State (ISIS), al-Qaeda and other Islamist militant groups are pursuing a mediaeval interpretation of Islam that obviously has no place in the modern world. That, however, does not mean that Islam, as a religion, or the “Islam” as it is practised by the majority of the 4 million Muslims in Germany do not belong in the country.

If there were Christians who were similarly following a mediaeval interpretation of Christianity — slavery, witch trials, the remission of sin through religious crusades — that group would be just as anachronistic and brutal as ISIS.

A mediaeval interpretation of Islam has no place in Germany, just as a mediaeval interpretation of Christianity does not. If Seehofer wants to avoid controversy and angering a significant portion of German voters, he must be more careful with his language.

Seehofer’s comments only deepen division and create greater anxiety among German Muslims, potentially driving them into the arms of those Muslims who do not belong there.

It also emboldens Germany’s far right, which, for the first time since the second world war, have a presence in the Bundestag. The far-right, anti-Islam Alternative for Germany became the third largest political party in the country after elections last September, winning 12.6% of the vote.

Far-right, anti-Islamic views are gaining traction across Europe. Recent arson attacks targeting mosques in Germany demonstrate the problem. Although police suspect the attacks have been carried out by Kurds as part of Turkish-Kurdish tensions, the lack of action and media attention on the issue demonstrates a wider anti-Muslim sentiment, activists said.

“When mosques in our country burn, then our country burns. We need to stick together as a society. Mosques are on fire. We can’t just go back to the everyday routine,” Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims, said at a news conference.

Seehofer’s unhelpful comments were quickly repudiated by Merkel, who sought to reassure Germany’s Muslim community.

“They can live their religion here, too,” she said at a news conference. “These Muslims belong to Germany and in the same way their religion belongs to Germany.”

It can only be hoped that Merkel will continue to stand against those who want to sow division and create discord over religion.