Islam in Berlin


[Return to top]

Of the approximately 160,000 Muslim foreigners in Berlin, about 73% are of Turkish background, 7% from Bosnia-Herzegovina, and 4% are from Lebanon. The total foreign population of Berlin is estimated at 466,518. In addition to these numbers, it is assumed that there are at least 40,000 Muslims in the city who are naturalized German citizens. The size of the Muslim population in Berlin stands at approximately 9% of the city’s total population.1

The concentration of Muslims in Berlin, largely Turks, is due to the settlement policies of the former West Germany at the beginning of the immigration wave in the 1960’s. The number of Muslims is especially high in the Kreuzberg sub-district (in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district), Wedding sub-district (in Mitte district) and Northern Neukölln district. The Neukölln district is of special interest because of incidents such as the recent school riots, and the governing mayor having publicly declared the collapse of the integration policy.2

There is evidence that segregation is growing in parts of Berlin, particularly between Germans and Turks. While public debate often accuses immigrant populations of engaging in voluntary self-segregation from mainstream society, divisions were already present at the beginning of the wave of immigration in the 1960’s, due to forced discriminations in the housing market.3

The Assyrians, a Christian minority in Turkey and several other countries, fled in considerable numbers from Turkey, where they were involved in the war of the military against the PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan, or Kurdistan Workers Party). Many also arrived from Iraq, where they suffered under the regime of the Baath party of Saddam Hussein. About 35,000 Kurdish refugees found a new home in Germany, and have a large presence in Berlin.4

In the districts of Neukölln, Kreuzberg and Mitte, the number of welfare recipients makes up more than 11% of the population – the highest in Berlin; welfare rates in Neukölln run 14.3%, 13.2% in Mitte, and 13% in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. The average percentage of welfare recipients in Berlin is roughly 8.1%. The number of foreign welfare recipients stood at 27% of the entire city population at the end of 2004 (SFS 2005; in OSI 64). The share of households receiving housing benefits is about 14.6%, compared to rates of to 22.6 percent in the Neukölln district, and 18.9% in the Kreuzberg district.5


[Return to top]

Policies concerning religious education vary considerably throughout Germany. In Berlin, religious instruction in public schools is voluntary. Choices of courses include Christianity, Islam, and Lebenskunde (knowledge about life).6

In January 2005, the Neutralitätsgesetz (Law on Neutrality) was passed in Berlin, which excludes the display of all religious signs and symbols from schools and other public services. The headscarf or hijab has been interpreted by politicians as a religious symbol, and was thus subsequently banned from all civil servant and employee professions with superior functions. All demonstratively religious symbols, such as the headscarf, large Christian crosses, and the Jewish skullcap are also included in this 2005 prohibition. Enforcement of the law is applicable for teachers, judges, policemen, prison officers, and district attorneys. Small crosses worn by Christians are interpreted as a form of jewelry, and are thus excluded from the law.7

After twenty years of court procedures, the Islamische Föderation won the right to begin teaching religious lessons in public schools; the organization began teaching at 20 Berlin schools in Fall 2002. There remains a great deal of skepticism among Berliners about the Islamische Föderation, which is regarded by the Verfassungsshutz (the internal Intelligence Service) as an extremist/Islamist organization.8

Since the Federation’s induction, teachers hired by the Islamic Federation and paid for by the city of Berlin have taught thousands of school children. City officials are not in a position to control Islamic religious instruction. Citing the linguistic differences of students, many teachers hold private lessons in Turkish or Arabic, often behind closed doors. Since the introduction of Islamic instruction, effects of the classes have spilled over into other parts of academic activities – school offices are often inundated with petitions to excuse girls from swimming, sports, and class field trips, based on religious grounds (NYT). The Islamic Federation ran into trouble with the Berlin education ministry for allegedly disseminating pamphlets and forms to Muslim parents, advocating the exemption from their daughters from participating in co-educative classes.9

In 1980, the Islamic Federation asked Berlin school authorities to establish religious instruction in the city’s schools. The petition, in addition to others filed in 1983 and 1987, were rejected. In March 1994, the Islamic Federation sued and won; Berlin’s Administrative Appeal Court ruled in 1998 that the Islamic Federation must be recognized as a religious community under section 23(1) of the Berlin Schools ct, since a religious community is defined by a consensus about faith and belief, regardless of whether the religion is organized as a public corporation or a private society. The court rejected the argument put forth by Berlin school authorities, which said that it could not deal with religions which were not organized or similar to public corporations. The Federal Administrative Court left it to the Berlin’s Appeal Court to interpret the meaning of “religious community” within the Berlin Schools Act. (UC Davis) On February 23, 2000, Germany’s highest court for administrative law, the Bundesverwaltungsgericht, ruled that Berlin’s Islamic Federation may offer religious instruction in Berlin schools; although, Berlin school authorities must approve the curriculum.

In June 2004, Muslims and non-Muslims joined forces and founded the Muslimische Akademie with the support of the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (Federal Agency for Civic Education). The aims of the academy were to encourage the participation of Muslims, and offer an independent forum for inter- and intra-religious dialogue.10

In March 2006, the head of the Rütli-Schule Hauptschule (secondary school) in the Neukölln district wrote a plea to the Senator for Education asking for immediate help, because violence in the school made teaching impossible. Because of the immigrant (and mainly Muslim) background of over 80% of the students, a debate about integration of Muslims in the education system once again became a hot topic. Several politicians used the incident to promote selective deportations of foreign juvenile defenders; crime linked to drug abuse if often directly linked to the avenged deportation of offenders. The school attracted international media coverage of this incident.11

Religious Life in Berlin

[Return to top]

(Unless otherwise noted, all information in this section is sourced to Riem Spielhaus – see References for full citation)

The Commissioner for Integration commissioned a recent study of the city’s religious civic associations, looking at Islamic communities in the context of their social, cultural, urban, and individual aspects. Below are findings from the study:

Organization of Municipal Life

[Return to top]

  • Of the approximately 82 mosques and Islamic centers in Berlin, almost half do not have an affiliation or association with particular municipal representations.
  • In the last 10-15 years, mosques have had no affiliation on local or federal levels.
  • Members in Berlin overarching Islamic federations (IFB, DITIB, VIKZ) exclude Turkish affiliated mosque associations. Only the relatively open IBMUS organization brings different linguistic and cultural associations together (German, Arab, Urdu-speaking, Bosnian)

The use of the Islamic center varies, from exclusive use for prayer and religious life, to offering cultural and education activities in addition to religious obligation.

Cultural and social activities of Islamic associations often advertise themselves by offering Friday prayers, but also offer such activities including reading clubs, age-relative activities and projects, consultations, and educational instruction.

The Economic Situation of the Associations

[Return to top]

Today, some mosque associations are in worse financial situations than eight years ago because many of their contributors have face unemployment, or strained under the economic stresses in Berlin.

Many mosque associations operate as more than religious centers, offering social and cultural activities in addition to religious obligations. German classes, computer courses, homework support, volunteering, parent and family activities, and work opportunities for women and youth, are just some of the projects that mosques and Islamic centers offer. Funding these community projects takes additional financial resources, and associations often times are lacking in funding.


Municipal membership on a federal level

PercentageAcronymGerman NameEnglish Name
1%AMJAhmadiya Muslim Jamaat DeutschlandAhmadiya Muslim Jamaat Germany
1%ZMD/VIGBZentralrat der Muslime in Deuschland/Vereinigung Islamischer Gemeinden der BosniakenCentral Council of Muslims in Germany/Combination of Islamic-Bosnian Municipalities
1%Jama'at un Nur (Arabic)Sect of Sun
1%AAFBFöderation der Alevitengemeinden in DeutschlandFederation of Alevi Community in Germany
2%ADÜTFTürkisch-demokratische Idealistenvereine in EuropeTurkish-Democratic Idealist Association in Europe
4%IR/IRABIslamrat für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland/Islamischer Rat der Ahlul BeyIslamic Advice for the Federal Republic of Germany/Islamic Advice of the Ahlul Bey
9%VIKZVerein Islamischer KulturzentrenAssociation of Islammic Cultural Centers
12%IRIslamrat für die Bundesrepublik DeutschlandIslamic advice for the Federal Republic of Germany
12%DITIBTürkisch Islamische Union der Anstalt für ReligionTurkish Islamic Union of the Institute of Religion
40%Gemeinden ohne VerbandszugehörigkeiNo Association/Affiliation

Older and basic year of the mosques and prayer areas

Year(s)1930 Forward1971-19761977-19821983-19881989-19941995-20002000-2006
(Based on the data of 70 associations)

Ethnic Breakdown of the Muslim Population in France

Muslim Population GroupCouvreur (1998)Boyer (1998)
Total/French CitizensTotal
Algerian origin1,500,000 / 900,0001,500,000
Moroccan origin1,000,000 / 400,0001,000,000
Tunisian origin350,000 / 150,000350,000
Middle East and Turkey350,000 / 150,000--
Arab from Middle East (ME)-- / --100,000
Non-Arab from ME (incl. Turkey)-- / --315,000
Sub-Saharan African250,000 / --250,000
Harkis* and their Children-- / --450,000
Converts to Islam--/ --40,000

Prayer area represented in size, in square meters

Number of MosquesSize (sq. meters)
8Under 150
(Data of 42 associations)

Distribution of prayer areas in regional quarters

RegionPrayer Areas

Attacks on mosques and other Muslim-owned establishments occurred with the following notable incidents reported by the German NFP; between November and December 2004 four attacks on mosques were noted: Sinsheim (arson), Usingen (arson), and Schwäbisch-Hall (gun shot). In Berlin, a Swastika was painted at the entrance area of the Sehitlik mosque (OSI).

Political Participation and Citizenship

[Return to top]

Turkish and Kurdish politicians with no particular religious affiliation are present in offices of the municipal government, and mostly in the parties of the left. Members include Giyasettin Sayan, Keskin Hakki, Dilek Kolat, Ulker Radziwill, Evrim Baaba, and Ozcan Mutlu.12

Data from a 2007 Gallup World Poll finds that religion remains an important part of identity for Muslims in Berlin, German identity is highly important. Moreover, Muslims living in Berlin overwhelmingly prefer to live in neighborhoods that are ethnically and religiously diverse – 71% of respondents said that they preferred to live in a neighborhood made up of a mix of people who both shared, and did not share their ethnic and religious background.13

In Berlin, 85% say that religion is an important part of their daily lives. This figure stands in stark contrast in comparison to 41% of the general population. These numbers do not reflect a disparity between religious and national identity – Muslims were not likely less likely than populations at large to say they identified with their country (ie, Germany) according to polling results. These results are in contrast with how the general public in Germany perceives Muslims’ degree of loyalty; when asked directly whether they think Muslims living in France are loyal to the country, between 35% and 45% of Germans responded positively. However, the overwhelming majority, 72% of Berlin Muslims residents themselves, maintained that they believed Muslims to be loyal to the country.14

Asked whether or not violence is an acceptable moral response for a noble cause, based on a five-point scale, 94% of Muslims in Berlin chose a low rating of either one or two. These numbers reveal the important step of dispelling common misconceptions on both sides in order to achieve greater understanding. Moreover, 87% of Muslims in Berlin feel that fellow Muslims should be more involved in the politics of their country, compared to the actuality of involvement today.15

Several Muslim civil society organizations are active in Berlin:

  • The Islamische Föderation (Islamic Federation), which oversees twelve mosques in Berlin, the most important being the Mevlana-Moschee in Kreuzberg. The Islamic Federation has gained attention in recent years from winning a court case to obtain official recognition as a corporation, and delivering Islamic instruction in Berlin public schools.16
  • Founded by young Muslim academics in 2002, the INSSAN e. V. draws members from different Muslim communities in Berlin. Their goals include finding a common German Muslim identity, and building a mosque and cultural center that would gather participants of different cultural, ethnic, and religious identities for diverse dialogue for unification of German Muslims.17
  • The MJD or Muslimische Jugend in Deutschland (Young Muslims in Germany) is the first exclusively German-speaking, nationwide and independent Muslim youth organization in Germany. The MJD was founded by and for young Muslims. Several bookstores, magazines, and discussion groups geared towards Muslim, immigrant, and Turkish communities within Berlin are also quite active.18
  • The Entegra e.V is a very specific Muslim organization in Berlin, which takes care of the spiritual needs of Muslim prisoners and their families, and helps with advising post-release.19

Public Perception and Community Projects

[Return to top]

The issue of religious education is one of the few topics concerning Muslims discussed in German literature and public opinion. Only one organization in Berlin, the Islamische Föderation (Islamic Federation) has managed to be recognized as an official corporation, and has since 2002, subsequently started to teach Islamic lessons in Berlin schools. The Islamic Federation fought 20 years of court battles, with the aim of reaching public corporation status. When they finally won the this status, the reaction by German officials and the media was highly critical, as the Federation is linked to controversial Turkish politician Milli Görüs – seen in a highly critical light by the Verfassungsschutz (the domestic intelligence agency). Others argue, however, that the authorization for the Federation to give Islamic lessons in Berlin schools is an important sign because it is indicative of the growing social participation of Muslims and Islamic organizations. In addition, this kind of public involvement and public recognition may strengthen those parties and persons to promote active participation in German society.20


[Return to top]

OSI – Open Society Institute

SLB – Statistisches Landesamt Berlin

SFS – Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung


[Return to top]

“Stand der rechtlichen Gleichstellung des Islam in Deutschland,” Antwort der Bundesregierung auf die Große Anfrage – BT- Drucksache, no.16/2085, June 29, 2006.

Butler, Jeffrey. “Gesundheitliche und soziale Lage von Kindern nichtdeutscher Hekrunft in einem Berliner Innenstadtbezirk” (Health and Social Situation of Children of Non-German Origin in an Inner-City District of Berlin). In Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Migration, Flüchtlinge und Integration (Commissioner of the Federal Government for Migration, Refugees and Integration) (ed), Gesunde Integration. Dokumentation der Fachtagung am 20. und 21. Februar 2003 in Berlin (Healthy Integration. Documentation of the Symposium on the 20th and 21st of February 2003 in Berlin). Berlin: Bonner Universitäts-Buchdruckerei, pp. 106-108. 2003. Online: gesundheit/oegd_reform/literatur_gesetze/gesunde_integration.pdf

Der Spegel, “Notruf der Rütli Schule” (“Call for help from Rütli School”). 30

March 2006. Online:,1518,408803,00.html73

Deutsche Welle. “Pushing for Islam in German Schools.” 2005. Online:,2144,1506557,00.html

European Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC). Muslims in the EU: Discrimination and Islamophobia. 2006. Online:

Gallup World Poll. ThinkForum: Muslims in Europe. Muslims in Berlin, London, and

Paris: Bridges and Gaps in Public Opinion. The Gallup Oranization. Princeton, NJ. 2007. Online:

Gallup World Poll. Nyiri, Zsolt. Muslims in Europe: Basis for Greater Understanding Already Exists. 2007. Online:

Kleff, Hans-Günter. Vom Bauern zum Industriearbeiter: Zur kollektiven Lebensgeschichte der Arbeitsmigranten aus der Türkei (From the Farmer to the Industrial Worker: About the Collective Life Story of the Labour Migrants from Turkey). Ingelheim: Germany Manthano. 1984.

Lindert, Jutta. “Krankheit kennt keine Papiere” (Illness Knows No Documents). In

Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Migration, Flüchtlinge und Integration (Commissioner of the Federal Government for Migration, Refugees and Integration) (ed), Gesunde Integration. Dokumentation der Fachtagung am 20. und 21. Februar 2003 in Berlin [Healthy Integration. Documentation of the Symposium on the 20th and 21st of February 2003 in Berlin]. Berlin: Bonner Universitäts-Buchdruckerei, pp. 143-147. 2003.

New York Times. “The New Berlin Wall.” 2005. Online:

Open Society Institute, European Union Monitoring and Advocacy Program. Muslims in the EU. Cities Report. Germany, 2007. Online:

Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung, 4. Berliner Wohnungsmarktbericht (4th Report on the Berlin Housing Market). 2005. Online:

Spielhaus, Riem. Graphiken zur Studie ‚Islamisches Gemeindeleben in Berlin. Graps of Conclusions of Berlin Mosque Study. Koordination Riem Spielhaus, Alexa Färber. 2007. Online:

Spielhaus, Riem. Ergebnisse der Studie “Islamisches Gemeindeleben in Berlin.” Summery of Berlin Mosque Study. 2007. Online:

Statistisches Landesamt Berlin (Berlin state statistical office). 2006. Online:

Statistisches Landesamt Berlin (Berlin state statistical office). 2005. Online:

University of California, Davis. “Berlin: Islamic Classes?” 2000. Online:


[Return to top]

Share Button

  1. SLB 2005-2006; in OSI 65. 

  2. OSI 64. 

  3. OSI 8. 

  4. Kleff 1984; in OSI 11. 

  5. SFS 2005, in OSI 64. 

  6. OSI 27. 

  7. OSI 25, 34. 

  8. OSI 66. 

  9. Deutsche Welle. 

  10. OSI 49. 

  11. Der Spegel 2006; in OSI 44. 

  12. OSI 67. 

  13. WGP, Nyiri 2007. 

  14. WGP 2. 

  15. WGP, Nyiri 2007. 

  16. OSI 67. 

  17. OSI 67. 

  18. OSI 67-68. 

  19. OSI 47. 

  20. OSI 54.