Tensions rising in battle for German Islam

The blunders of German officials spurred heated responses from traditional Muslims at last week’s Islam Conference in Berlin, as the two sides seemed to take their positions in the fight for the future of Islam in Germany, and across Europe.

By calling for the end of foreign funding for mosques and a more secular-minded Islam, German officials and liberal-minded German Turks have in recent weeks sought to sideline the conservative Islam of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey.

In response, all three leading Turkish Muslim organisations in Germany sent low-profile figures to the two-day event, instead of their leaders, as a form of protest, reported Diaspora Daily. Some 3 million people of Turkish origin call Germany home; no country is home to a greater share of the Turkish diaspora. 

The Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), which is an arm of the Turkish government, the German chapter of Turkey’s Islamist Millî Görüş movement (IGMG), and the Islamic Council (Islamrat) view several of the figures the government has chosen to invite to the event, and collaborate with, as having questionable Islamic credentials. They often criticise Seyran Ateş, who runs an LGBT-friendly Berlin mosque, and former Green Party co-chair Cem Özdemir, leader of the recently launched Initiative for Secular Islam.

Once the conference began, German officials appeared out of step with Muslim sensitivities. Germany’s Integration Ministry undersecretary Serap Güler joined a panel discussion wearing a miniskirt.

“Madam, how you dress in your private life, it is none of our business,” Stuttgart-based freelance journalist Yüksel Aktay said on Facebook. “However, when you go to the Islamic conference, you have to be decent and virtuous.”

Then came the lunch buffet, where alongside halal, vegetarian, and fish dishes was a blood sausage made of pork, according to the BBC. "What signal does (Interior Minister Horst) Seehofer's Interior Ministry want to send?” journalist Tuncay Özdamar wrote on Twitter. “A little respect for Muslims, who don't eat pork, is needed."

Tensions have risen in Germany thanks in part to groups like the far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party, which sees Islam as incompatible with German values.

Meanwhile, conservative Muslims, who tend to favour foreign funding like that of DITIB, have clashed with Germany's more liberal-minded Muslims, who appear willing to embrace secularism. At the same time, German intelligence is considering an investigation into spying activities at the country's Turkey-supported mosques. 

On the day the Islam conference in Berlin opened, Erdoğan inaugurated an Islamic cooperation summit in Istanbul, calling for Muslim unity in the face of Western domination and control. "From Syria to Iraq, Yemen, Palestine, the crisis and the bloodshed in the region stem from the lines drawn after World War One," he said. "We should not fall into the trap of those who give more weight to a drop of oil than a drop of blood.”