Germans head to the polls on Sunday in a national election that will prove crucial for the future of the county, the European Union and the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Among the central themes of the months-long campaign were Islam and the assimilation of Muslim immigrants in German society.
In the wake of the refugee crisis and several recent terror attacks in European cities, political candidates and experts discussed topics like hijab bans, Islamic ideology and how the millions of Muslims in Germany should be integrated into society.
But as these high-profile public figures debated on talk shows or spoke out during campaign rallies, Germany’s Muslim community was hardly ever asked to weigh in on the Bundestag election.
More than 1.5 million of Germany’s 61.5 million eligible voters are Muslim. HuffPost Germany spoke to 10 of them about German politics, the parties’ different programs and their hopes for the future.
Merve Gül, law student and translator:
“Muslims are not a security risk!”
Gül: I often have the feeling that Muslims are perceived as a security risk. As if we were not interested in living in peace.
What we really need in politics are new approaches and real visionaries. All the talk about integration means little to people with an immigrant background who actually grew up here.
We want to live in a country where Muslims have the same opportunities in the labor and housing market as other Germans. It is not really authentic that parties say they ascribe to these demands but make little real commitment to them.
Ugurlu Soylu, graduate economist from Manheim and pioneer of Islamic banking:
“Islam is not a problem to be solved!”
Soylu: I have spent my whole life in Germany. It hurts me that the parties in Germany always link Islam to issues of integration and immigration and see it as a problem that needs to be solved somehow.
It is right to point out that Muslims should not separate themselves from society, but German Muslims are still not a part of the worldview of Germany’s political parties.
I hope that Muslims will play an equally small or an equally large role in the electoral programs as do Christians, Jews, Buddhists or others. This is a challenge for all of us. But if we don’t manage this, we’re going to play into the hands of the people who divide society.
Rabeya Müller, imam and education adviser at the Center for Islamic Women’s Research and the Promotion of Women:
“Radicals and extremists are a problem we all have to contend with”
Müller: Basically, I have the impression that many groups and parties only take one aspect of Islam or people of Muslim faith into account.
But Muslims should not be treated differently from other citizens. If they were treated the same, certain groups would not be able to make use of Islam in the way that has been done so far, even without the election campaign.
It is important to bring normalcy to the relations between Muslims and the non-Muslim population, to look at each other not as a problem, but to tackle together the problems that affect us in society as a whole.
Radicals and extremists are a problem that we all have to contend with and that concerns us all.
My children and grandchildren are German Muslims from birth; it would be nice if they could grow up and live naturally with this self-evident fact. At least I have tried to show them how important it is to vote. To my knowledge, they will do so, thank God.
Benjamin Idriz, imam and chairman of the Munich Forum for Islam:
“Muslims who advocate for cooperation should receive stronger support”
Idriz: In politics, Islam is mainly addressed as a problem. If a rather large group of the German population — and this includes Muslim women and men — are being reproached continually, over the decades, with the idea that they are mainly a problem, then this does not contribute to a solution.
Our goal should be to place much more emphasis on what is positive, constructive and encouraging.
Muslims who successfully advocate for cooperation should be recognized much more and receive much stronger support.
In Munich, we have faced the very acute problem of having a shortage of prayer rooms for the Friday prayer in the inner city for several months now. One would expect that a city of millions would seek, together with Muslims, quick and practical immediate solutions in their own interest. As is evident, however, they prefer to wait until the end of the election campaign before going publicly to Muslims.
Politicians need to look for partners among Muslims who, together, want to move forward constructively and resolutely, build structures, show paths and specify how we will make progress. That wouldn’t be hard—if you only wanted to!”
Menerva Hammad, blogger and writer:
“At least Angela Merkel stands by her decisions and does not run screaming from talk shows”
Hammad: For me as a Muslim, there are still many extremely unanswered questions after this election campaign. Why do people from other cultures and religions have to give up their values in Germany? Is it not enough to acquire German values?
What about the Germans who have converted to Islam? Do they have to assimilate, too? And who evaluates such an assimilation as successful or failed?
There haven’t been many concrete answers to these questions. Instead, politicians of all stripes worked hard to portray Angela Merkel as Germany’s big problem. At least she stands by her decisions and does not run off indignantly from TV talk shows. [Far-right leader Alice Weidel abruptly left a TV debate in September.]
I hope that after the Bundestag election, the really important issues will finally be addressed ― for example, equal pay between men and women. This is long overdue.
Orhan Bey, 27, a process engineer from Düsseldorf:
“We mustn’t let more and more Muslims cut themselves off!”
Bey: The integration of Muslims has rightly been an issue in the election campaign. Unfortunately, I always meet people from my own country, Turkey, or other Arab countries who do the incomprehensible: They enjoy living in one of the most livable countries in the world, but do not want to adapt to the society and its values.
On the other hand, it must, of course, be politicians’ task to motivate Muslims in a meaningful way to adapt to social customs in Germany. We mustn’t let more and more Muslims cut themselves off!
My parents have done everything for me to grow up as a German. The Islam that they conveyed to me involves respecting all people and helping others in need. There is not just the one Islam, as it is often portrayed in the media.
Bülent Babür, economist and doctoral student at the University of Bolton:
“My most important issue is not Islam but social justice”
Babür: In my opinion, Islam should not be discussed separately. Religion must not be politicized. People who become radicalized do not do so because of their faith.
The real sources of radicalization are a lack of education, a lack of orientation within increasingly rapid social change and the weakening social state in the course of massive capitalism. My most important political issue is therefore not Islam, but social justice.
If people have to get by on a 700-Euro pension (about $834), then I am for a change, guaranteed. Because, in my view, that violates the first article of our constitution (which guarantees human dignity and rights).
For this reason, I will also vote for seniors to finally be able to regain their dignity. Not as a Muslim, not as a Turk, but as a human being who suffers with other human beings.
Said Haider, lawyer and chairman of the Club Gears Network:
“Women who wear the hijab should be able to become judges and teachers”
Haider: I would really like the big parties to make sure that women who wear the hijab can become judges and teachers.
But if you look at the current discussions about Muslims in Germany, the far-right AfD party sets the tone and direction. The other parties then have to react to these destructive debates.
To regard German Muslims on their own as a separate group and then, on the other hand, as part of the country and to conduct differentiated discussions, is a tightrope act that hardly any politician can succeed in doing. This is frustrating.
Ersin Dermican, blogger from Cologne:
“The discussions about Muslims in Germany are evidence of incapacity”
Dermican: If you read through the parties’ programs, you can quickly get the impression that Muslims are aliens that have just recently landed in Germany.
That we are debating today about whether and how Muslims belong to Germany is evidence of incapacity. With about 4.5 million Muslims, of whom just 1.5 million are eligible to vote, it is not surprising that the parties do not seek the favor of the Muslim electorate.
The number of those eligible to vote could be much higher if people were to make use of their right to German nationality or if policy would clear the way for dual citizenship.
Alim Khaleel*, student from Munich:
“Politicians should calm people down, not incite them further”
Khaleel: Islam in itself is often referred to as a dangerous ideology, while Muslims are often portrayed as a dangerous fringe group. Each party tries to deal with this alleged danger in its own way. Islam is thus strongly instrumentalized.
I find the statements on some election placards frightening, but I also often find them simply ridiculous. The electoral program of the CSU, the Christian-Social Union in Bavaria, talks about Islamist terror and radical left-wingers. Right-wing extremism, however, remains unmentioned, which I find very regrettable with the present growing right-wing trends.
Likewise, the increasing attacks on Muslims and rising Islamophobia are not mentioned in any of the party programs.
I really expect German politics to calm the population down and not to incite it. Germany has enough problems of its own and should stop distracting from them with bashing Islam and [Turkish president] Erdogan.
*Alim would like to remain anonymous. His real name is known to the editor.