Germany: Jewish leader calls for more Islam education
Stephan J. Kramer is secretary general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany
The relationship between the popular majority in Germany and the country’s Muslim residents is one of the foremost topics of public discussion in the country today, one that often escalates into a dispute. One side accuses Muslim immigrants of simply not wanting to assimilate into German society, while the other accuses the majority of Germans of being hostile to Islam and trying to exclude Muslim residents from public life in this country.
The reality is admittedly much more complicated than that, and this complexity must be acknowledged and appreciated.
An important part of this recognition is to illuminate the background against which demands for integration must be met. Historically, German identity has been shaped not only by German language and culture, but also by Christian faith. Anyone whose culture did not fit into these parameters was perceived as alien. The group that experienced the effects of this exclusionism most painfully was the Jews. The tragic culmination of Jewish strivings to be accepted by the German people is only too familiar.
Today, Germany is a liberal democracy. Therefore, any parallels drawn between the Holocaust and the xenophobia that exists today with regard to Muslims is not only an insult to the victims of Nazi genocide, but also reveals an utter disregard for and ignorance of the democratic achievements of the Federal Republic of Germany since 1945.
Nevertheless, the historically anchored self-image held by German society remains omnipresent and places a burden on the integration of immigrants and their children. This is not meant as a reproach – for it is just as impossible to impose a supra-ethnic national identity from above in Germany as it is in any other country – but it does make it all the more pressing for us to find a better model for coexistence.
For the majority, the key tasks are to spread knowledge of Islam, as well as to consistently inculcate respect and tolerance for others. I would dare to claim that most Germans are not familiar with the basic facts about Islam and Muslim culture.
In debates about Islam, for instance, God is usually referred to using the Arabic word for God, “Allah” – leading to the perception of a different, separate divinity, so to speak, more severe and unyielding than the Christian “God of love.” And how many Germans know anything about Islamic social doctrines, jurisprudence or the duty to act charitably?
Hence, it is urgent that a more balanced view of Islamic religion and civilization be imparted to the larger German population. So long as this does not happen, or does not happen sufficiently, prejudices will proliferate.
This is no easy task. It requires the creation of teaching materials for schools and other institutions, the education of teachers, plenty of time and, of course, funds, which always seem to be scarce. And it is not always popular politically – people are loath to give up their old prejudices, and thus avoid coming to terms with uncomfortable themes.
And yet, without a comprehensive effort at enlightenment on the federal, state and municipal levels, “Islamophobia” and hostility toward Muslims will continue to spread. This is not only immoral, but promotes divisiveness and cements the tendency of some Muslim social strata to set up parallel societies.
Source: Daily Star (English)