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How Islam Helps Refugees Integrate in Germany

As the German interior minister questions whether Islam “belongs” to Germany, Mohammed Khallouck of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany explains, in this book excerpt, the important role that Islamic citizens’ initiatives play in refugee integration.

Written by Mohammed Khallouck Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a Ramadan reception with Nurhan Soykan of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) in Berlin in 2015. STEFFI LOOS/AFP/Getty Images

Today, Islam is increasingly interpreted as an impediment to the principles as well as the practices of democracy in multi-religious societies. According to such interpretations, it is the central condition for the process and the progress of integration that Muslim migrants leave their religion behind.

The activities of Islamic associations in Germany during the current refugee crisis show that the opposite is true. The influx of migrants from countries with Muslim majorities offers opportunities for shared activities which strengthen the Muslim as well as the German identity of both Muslim refugees and Muslim refugee workers.

Islam, then, is not a threat to European countries, but a path to peaceful cohabitation in a multi-religious world. It is crucial for the Muslim minority as well as the non-Muslim majority in Germany.

Islamic associations in Germany run programs for refugees on various levels, covering all areas of refugee relief. For example, during Ramadan in 2015 and 2016, the Central Council of Muslims (ZMD), an umbrella organization with which more than 300 mosque communities are affiliated, ran the campaign “Deutschland Sorgt für Flüchtlinge” (Germany Cares for Refugees).

Muslims from all over Germany organized iftars (fastbreakings): They invited local and regional politicians, representatives of other religions and refugees. During the iftar receptions, the refugees were welcomed at richly laid tables, thus concretely experiencing the community of Muslims in Germany, their new host society.

Some of the refugee workers were refugees themselves. The shared history of flight creates trust between the refugee workers and the refugees who are considered equals. The refugees are encouraged to overcome difficulties through proactive participation in public and political life, following the role model of those who “made it.”

The refugee relief run by Islamic associations allows both refugees and refugee workers to experience that integration into German society is not at odds with Islam. On the contrary, Muslims who commit themselves to care for refugees are living evidence that Islamic beliefs and behaviors facilitate integration of a variety of ways of life into the constitutional democracy of Germany.

It is beyond doubt that the refugees who encountered the euphoric willkommenskultur (“welcoming culture”) at the outset of the current refugee crisis will eventually experience the pejorative discourse about Islam in the public and political spheres. However, the experiences they had in the refugee relief by Islamic associations remind them that such islamophobia is not inevitable.

If conflicts with state and society arise, Muslim refugee helpers support Muslim refugees. Bringing together Muslims and non-Muslims, the refugee relief run by Islamic associations prevents refugees from radicalization, on the one hand, and from secularization, on the other hand. The refugee workers realize that their activities are of importance to state and society in Germany, because they demonstrate that the pluralistic political system is a chance rather than a challenge for Islam.

As Matthias Rohe argues, religion is not decelerating but accelerating the process and the progress of integration when it helps refugees to make social and economic needs meet in a way that allows them to experience linguistic, cultural, and religious familiarity in the new country. Given that Islam has become part and parcel of Germany, an approach to integration which aims to overcome Islamic beliefs and behaviors is “nonsense.”

The majority of refugees who have arrived in Germany come from countries which are – at least nominally – Islamic. However, in some of these countries the refugees had to relinquish their rights to political and religious freedom, which is one of the reasons for seeking refuge in Germany.

The activities of Islamic associations demonstrate to them that these rights can be experienced within a pluralistic political system, thus strengthening their identification with democracy. There is a place for Islam in Europe. The experience of not being able to practice one’s faith in countries with a Muslim majority reinforces this identification with democracy.

Many refugees might return to their countries once they have the opportunity to implement democratic principles and practices. With or without such a return, however, they are motivated to proactively participate in both the state and the society of Germany.

Altogether, Islam is crucial to the process and progress of integration. Due to the activities of Islamic associations, Muslim refugees meet Muslim refugee workers to whom they can connect in the practice of Islam. In these shared practices, they encounter a nuanced experience of Germany which prevents naivety, on the one hand, and anxiety, on the other hand, with reference to their new host society. The activities of Islamic citizen’s initiatives facilitate the integration of refugees, bringing the identities of Germans and of Muslims together.

This is an edited excerpt from Mohammed Khallouck, “Confronting the Current Refugee Crisis: The Importance of Islamic Citizens’ Initiatives in Germany,” which was published in the edited volume Religion in the European Refugee Crisis (2018) by Palgrave Macmillan and is reproduced with permission of SCSC.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Refugees Deeply.

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