The Paris attacks of November 2015 and their aftermath witnessed unusually vocal denunciations of Saudi foreign policy and of Saudi-Wahhabi religious agendas. In early December, a damning report by the Federal Intelligence Agency (Bundesnachrichtendienst) on Saudi Arabia’s role in in the Middle East and on the monarchy’s alleged increasing inner instability was leaked, potentially with the backing of the Federal Chancellery. Euro-Islam reported on Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel’s subsequent remarks echoing the BND’s assessment. Muslim voices in Germany have in fact made similar pronouncements. Cem Özdemir, co-chair of the Green Party, asserted that “the ‘Islamic State’ does not emerge out of nowhere. The IS has political, financial, and above all theological sources. […] Saudi Wahhabism is not part of the problem, it is its cause.” In a similar vein, the recently founded collective ‘German Muslim Forum’ (Muslimisches Forum Deutschland) urged all Muslims to “debunk all those wahabi-salafi and other politicised forms of Islam and to face them with utmost determination.”

Yet the most widely noted contribution to this discussion was made by Navid Kermani, a scholar of Islam and one of Germany’s leading public intellectuals. Already in October 2015, Kermani received the Peace Prize of the German Bookseller’s Association, one of the Federal Republic’s most important honours. In his acceptance speech, Kermani castigated Saudi Arabia and its state-enforced Wahhabism as being responsible for an Islamic “civilisational amnesia”. Kermani criticised the destruction of historical Islamic sites – “where until a few years ago the house still stood in which Muhammad once lived with his wife Khadija, there is now a public toilet” – and their replacement with an empty consumerism: the Kaaba, “the true sanctuary of Islam […] is literally being towered over by Gucci and Apple.” Against what he depicted as trends toward spiritual impoverishment, Kermani demanded a rekindling of the richness of the Islamic tradition. He also stressed the ideological linkages between the ‘Islamic State’ and Saudi-Wahhabi doctrines: “[i]f you know that the schoolbooks and curricula under the ‘Islamic State’ are to 95 per cent identical with Saudi schoolbooks and curricula, then you know that it is not just in Iraq and Syria that the world is being divided into ‘forbidden’ and ‘allowed’ and mankind into ‘believing’ and ‘infidel’.”

More conservative voices were significantly more restrained in their criticism of Saudi Arabia. The chairman of the Central Committee of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), Aiman Mazyek, confined himself to lauding Kermani’s “tireless effort for the reconciliation of religions and cultures”. He also deemed the awarding of the Peace Prize to Kermani as an expression of “a Germany of new diversity”. Yet the public reception of Kermani’s speech also made it clear that this ‘new diversity’ is not without its controversies: while overall media reactions were strongly positive, journalist Johan Schloemann of the Süddeutsche Zeitung criticised Kermani for closing his speech with a prayer for the victims of the war in Syria and Iraq. According to Schloemann, holding a public prayer – even an ostentatiously non-sectarian one accommodating atheists – in the context of a secularised setting constituted an “insufferable transgression”: “there is no cross-confessional prayer in secular space in Germany (any more), and there should not be one either.” Shared hostility to what is perceived as a Wahhabi threat by Muslims and self-described secularists thus does not obliterate other sources of frictions surrounding Muslim life in Germany.

Links for More Information:

The BND’s report on Saudi Arabia:

Euro-Islam’s report on Vice-Chancellor Gabriel’s statements:

Interview with Cem Özdemir:

Press release of the ‘Muslim Forum’:

The text of Kermani’s speech: in German, as well as a round-up of major points in English:

The ZMD’s reaction

The secularist criticism:

Share Button