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German Quran Handout: Salafis Criticized For Distributing Holy Books

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An Islamic fundamentalist group calling itself 'The True Religion' drew attention in Germany for actions some politicians criticized as “aggressive,” Der Spiegel reports.

Those actions? Handing out copies of the Quran to passers-by.

True Religion's campaign to distribute German translations of the Quran throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland has met widespread opposition, the New York Times reports.

A spokesman for the state interior ministry of North Rhine-Westphalia described concerns surrounding the book distribution and unease felt by Germans.

"What is presented as the simple distribution of the Quran is in truth the subtle spreading of the Salafist ideology," he told the BBC.

"The radical Salafist group is disturbing the religious peace in our country with their aggressive approach," Guenter Krings, vice chairman of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, told the Rheinische Post, according to Reuters.

Der Spiegel specifies the group was not breaking any laws, but concerns stem from the fundamentalist background of the organization. "It is the Salafist movement itself that most find objectionable," the newspaper writes.

Salafism, a conservative form of Islam, emphasizes a strict interpretation of religious texts.

According to the NYT, the group behind the Quran campaign was overseen by Ibrahim Abou-Nagie, a Palestinian Salafist, who came under scrutiny by German officials in 2005 after launching a website that was suspected of spreading extremism. He was acquitted of the charges this year.

Deutsche Welle notes the project aimed to distribute 25 million Qurans, but in light of the recent criticisms, its publisher, Ebner & Spiegel, stopped production of the holy books.

So far, the group has distributed around 300,000 copies, the BBC reports.

On Saturday, Salafist men handed out copies of the Qurans at a popular crossroads in Berlin, while protesters demonstrating against religious extremism stood just feet away, the NYT reports.

Deutsche Welle also notes that in Cologne, the Salafists didn’t even turn up. Instead, a table was decorated with a lone banner that said, “Islam means peace.”

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