Friday, April 16, 2010

Germany: Study of German Imams

Germany: Study of German Imams

Religious scholar Rauf Ceylan talks about extremists in Germany, Islamic education in schools, and his idea of a homegrown, moderate, European Islam. His new book includes interviews with radical preachers who actively want to recruit young Muslims in Germany.

The Radical Preachers

SPIEGEL: In your new book you talk about meeting an imam in Germany who admits to "sympathizing with Bin Laden" because he believes Bin Laden is "fighting western terrorism." Is this man a classic preacher of hatred?

Ceylan: Yes, he is indeed one of those who preach hatred. He and others like him represent an extreme type of Islam. They are generally relatively young, very eloquent, able to express themselves in German, and usually form groups separate from organized Islam, in other words outside the mosque associations. They have not trained in theology, and they radically simplify Islam, which makes them attractive to young people in particular. They are extremely skillful at mobilizing people, and that's what makes them so dangerous.

SPIEGEL: Where do they come from?

Ceylan: I've been able to have in-depth discussions with three of them. They all had abrupt shifts in their lives. For instance, one extreme left-wing Kurd who supported the Kurdish Workers' Party -- the PKK -- suddenly became a conservative Muslim extremist. Another divorced his wife because she was no longer Muslim enough for his liking. These imams give a political spin to religious dogma. They claim that Islam has been manipulated over the course of its 1,400-year history, and they call for a return to its original state in what they see as the "Golden Age."

SPIEGEL: Surely you can't become an extremist from one day to the next, can you?

Ceylan: They started as young men who had an identity crisis and sought spirituality. They met charismatic extremists who recommended certain books and set them on a radical path. Some even fly to Saudi Arabia to study for one or two years, before returning as true hardliners.

SPIEGEL: How many of these extremists live in Germany?

Ceylan: Among the 2,000 or so imams (who live here), they are a minority. I can't quantify it any better than that. They don't preach in normal mosques, but behind closed doors in cultural associations. An official at the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution told me this week, "If a right-wing extremist pees against a tree, we learn about it, but we know very little about what Muslim extremists are doing." They try to remain inconspicuous, while at the same time winning over as many Muslims as possible for their ideas. They primarily target 15- to 25-year-olds.


SPIEGEL: What is the empirical basis for your conclusions?

Ceylan: I conducted 44 in-depth interviews and about 250 background interviews with imams. My goal wasn't a representative survey. I wanted to provide insight into a completely un-researched social scene, and to spark debate. At any rate this is the first time a significant number of imams in Germany has talked about what they really believe.


The Conservatives

Ceylan: Seventy-five percent of the imams in our mosques are conservative traditionalists. They oppose quick reform and perpetuate traditional role models, like those regarding relations between men and women. I call them "the Prussians among imams."


Ceylan: Because they espouse obedience to authority, patriotism, religious tolerance, fear of God, as well as a positive attitude toward the state. They live in their enclaves, speak little German, and generally take jobs here because they pay well. They don't understand that the role of imam is different in Germany from the role in Turkey.


The Progressives

SPIEGEL: You're not painting a pretty picture. Haven't you met any imams who favor integration?

Ceylan: Seventy-five percent of conservative imams may be in favor of it, but they are simply not qualified to promote it. We could undoubtedly reach some through training. The approximately 15 percent of progressive, intellectual preachers have demonstrated how imams can promote integration.

SPIEGEL: How would you characterize this group?

Ceylan: They come from religious families, and they have critically evaluated traditional interpretations of the Koran. They have a contemporary view of the Koran, they are very open-minded about other religions, and they have a modern view of the roles of men and women. They also address real-life issues like the men's cafés that have turned into gambling dens, where alcohol is served and eastern European women provide entertainment. In some cases these cafés come under the influence of the Islamist rat-catchers. Progressive imams try to address young people in a new way. They do things like organizing soccer competitions. But they often find themselves isolated within the mosque associations. Many older members of the congregation say, "Imams should teach people about the Koran, not run after a leather ball."

SPIEGEL: One progressive imam in your interviews complains that younger members of the congregation are leaving their mosque and founding their own groups as soon as they complete their theological training. How common is that?

Ceylan: I can see this brain-drain taking place in the Ruhr Valley and in Cologne. Highly-trained academics are leaving mosque associations out of frustration with the slow pace of modernization in their communities. At the same time, they tend to lose contact with the Muslim grassroots.


Source: Spiegel (English)

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