Leading members of the CSU party, Bavarian sister organisation to Angela Merkel’s CDU, have called for an ‘Islam Law’ that would curb foreign influence on German mosques. CSU Secretary General Andreas Scheuer asserted that “German has to become the language of the mosques”, with Imams being trained in Germany and being steeped in German “basic values”. In order to curb what Scheuer described as imported extremism, mosques, Islamic cultural centres and Muslim institutions should also no longer be allowed to receive money from abroad. These proposals follow the lead set by Austria, who adopted similar measures in 2015.
While Scheuer explicitly mentioned Saudi Arabia’s practice of funding Wahhabi and Salafist organisations as dangers to domestic German stability, in the context of recent diplomatic rows between Germany and Turkey, the Turkish connection of many of Germany’s Islamic institutions has now also come into the focus of the political debate. Up to 1000 Imams in Germany are trained in Turkey, and are sent to Germany by the Turkish presidency of religious affairs, Diyanet. They work in mosques administered by DITIB, Diyanet’s German affiliate, and continue to be paid by the Turkish state.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, DITIB has been extremely critical of the CSU proposals, arguing that they violate the German constitution and the right for religious self-determination anchored therein. The DITIB Secretary General dismissed the proposal for an Islam Law as “discriminatory”, “populist”, and as playing into the hands of the far-right AfD party. Other, more Islamist-tinged functionaries of the German Islam Council (IRD) and the Millî Gorüs community (IGMG) equally castigated the proposals as an attempt by the CSU to gain undue state influence over Muslim religious life.
Other commentators have noted the with approval that the CSU – in contrast to its past positions – now appears willing to recognise the existence of Muslim communities in Germany and the need to provide some sort of institutional infrastructure for the exercise of their religiosity. However, in an opinion piece for the newspaper Die Zeit, Parvin Sadigh notes that many mosque communities in the country are already using German as their primarily language, due to the diversity of origins of the attendees, as well as due to the fact that the children and grandchildren of Muslim immigrants often no longer speak the language of their parents and grandparents well enough to be able to follow religious instruction in Turkish or Arabic. Conversely, most Salafi and jihadi preachers are fluent in the German language and extremely well-versed in the sociocultural features of young Muslims’ lives. Ostentatious ‘integration’ in the mainstream of German society is thus not synonymous with theological liberalism.
Sadigh notes that degree programmes for Islamic Theology at German universities have only been in existence for 6 years, meaning that for the foreseeable future there will remain an acute shortage of German-educated Imams for mosques and of religious education teachers for public schools. Moreover, Sadigh notes that German mosques often do not have the necessary financial resources to offer adequate salaries to their Imams: without the constitutionally recognised status as a ‘religious corporation’, they have been unable to construct a durable financial infrastructure and thus continue to depend on charitable offerings from their members and on large-scale funding from abroad in order to be able to offer religious and social services.
Another CSU politician, Alexander Radwan, reacted to these criticism and proposed to enable Muslim associations in Germany to levy a church tax, analogous to the practice of the Catholic and Protestant churches. This, according to Radwan, would remedy the need of mosque communities to rely on foreign funding. What Radwan did not mention, however, is that the attainment of the requisite status of a ‘religious corporation’ that would enable Muslim associations to levy such a tax has remained elusive for most of the deeply divided Islamic organisations operating in the country.