Berlin preparing to free German Muslims from influence of Ankara - FT

Germany is looking to sever the financial and institutional ties between local Muslim communities and the Turkish government as part of a campaign to help German Muslims develop their own version of Islam, the Financial Times reported on Sunday.

Home to some 4 millions Muslims, including more than 3 million people of Turkish origin, Germany is eyeing an interpretation of the faith that highlights “an Islam for German Muslims that belongs to Germany,” Markus Kerber, the top civil servant in the German interior ministry, told the Financial Times.

Kerber stressed that Berlin is not looking to create a new theology, but rather get German Muslims to ask themselves the question ‘’what kind of Islam do we want here?”

The goals of the initiative include reducing foreign influence — both financial and personal — on Germany’s Muslim community; ensuring that imams preaching in Germany are trained in Germany; and ensuring that Muslims are better integrated in German society when it comes to issues of everyday life, the Financial Times said.

While part of the urgency in the project is linked to the 2015-16 refugee crisis, which led to the arrival of more than 1 million migrants from Muslim countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, the article noted that a marked rise in political tensions between Berlin and Turkey has also played a role.

Austria, which has also seen greater tensions with Turkey of late, has similarly begun applying pressure to Islamic institutions linked to Turkey. Last week, the country's top court ruled that expelling imams linked to Turkey is not discriminatory, potentially opening the door to the deportation of the more than 60 imams working for the Turkish Islamic Union, which is run by Ankara and pays the salaries of its imams. 

"Protecting the autonomy and independence of accredited churches and religions is in the public interest," the court said.

The Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, also known as Ditib, is the largest Islamic organisation in the country and a branch of Turkey’s own state directorate for religious affairs.

It runs 900 of the 2,400 mosques in Germany and its imams are sent from Turkey, mostly preach in Turkish and are paid by Ankara, the article recalled.

Germany mosque

The Turkish government has to accept that the days when they had total control over German mosques run by Ditib are over,’’ Kerber said, adding. “I told officials in Ankara: your Turks are also our Turks now. Get used to it.”   

Berlin’s desire to play a larger role in the development of Islamic life in Germany has been welcomed by liberal Muslim scholars, however, sparked criticism from other sections of the Muslim community, the article said.

A Ditib-organised conference of Islamic scholars this year warned in a joint statement that any attempt to introduce a “German Islam” or “European Islam” stood in “contradiction to the universality” of the faith.

Kerber, a former London-based investment banker who presided over Germany’s powerful BDI industry federation from 2011 to 2017, says the challenge of accommodating Islamic life in Germany is of “geostrategic importance”.

He is a firm believer that for Muslim communities cannot attain independence in Germany they become financially independent from foreign backers, and imams must be educated and trained in Germany.  

“We want to put German mosques in a position to be able to fund themselves, just like Christian and Jewish communities already do today. One possible solution would be a mosque tax. That would mean that Muslim communities would have to incorporate themselves as legal entities under German public law and supply membership lists, among other things. In return, the German state could raise taxes from their member on their behalf [as it does for other faiths],” the official said.