Germany: The history of Islam in Germany

The history of Islam in Germany goes back as far as the 8th century. From the reign of Charlemagne, to Goethe's literature, to the Turkish guest workers who arrived in the 1950s and 60s and made a home here, the Muslim religion has been a part of German culture for hundreds of years.

The history of Islam in Germany is believed to date back to the Caliph Harun al-Rashid. In the fabled tales of "1001 Nights," al-Rashid is said to have wandered the streets of Baghdad at night dressed as a merchant in order to learn about the needs of his subjects. Various sources relate that Charlemagne established diplomatic relations with this Abbasid ruler in the year 797 or 801. Both sides reportedly guaranteed freedom of belief for members of the other religion in their respective empires. It is in any case an established historic fact that the elephant Abul Abbas died in 810. This magnificent animal had been sent by the caliph to Charlemagne in Aachen as a token of his friendship.


In order to better understand the "Koran of the Turks," church reformer Martin Luther called for the printing of a complete Latin translation of the Islamic holy book in the Swiss city of Basel. In his treatise, "On the War Against the Turk," he didn't mince his words when summarizing his opinion that "the Muslim is possessed by the lying spirit" and "where the lying spirit holds sway, the murdering spirit is present as well." Although he granted that the Turk had a number of admirable characteristics, he opined that -- just like the Pope -- he was a "servant of the devil." For many years, Europeans widely believed that Islam was a Christian sect, the Koran was a Turkish bible and Muhammad was an epileptic, a swindler and a charlatan.

Acceptance of Islam

Up until the 17th century, the "Turkish threat" and fear of the Turkish wars overshadowed interactions with Muslims. It was not until 1701 that the situation began to change. That was the year when Sultan Mustafa II conveyed his congratulations to King Frederick I of Prussia on his coronation. This led to more or less open diplomatic relations between the two powers. When the Duke of Kurland presented King Frederick William I with 20 Muslim Tatars as prisoners of war, the German monarch saw to it that they received a prayer room, but ordered by decree that they hold their day of rest not on Friday, as dictated by Islam, but on Sunday.

During his rule between 1712 and 1786, Frederick II ("The Great") also showed tolerance towards other religions. In reference to the state and the civil rights of Catholics, he said: "All religions must be tolerated and the crown must ensure that none is detrimental to the other, for each must be allowed to worship in their own way." Furthermore, he said: "All religions are equal and good when the people who profess them are honest people; and should Turks and heathens come to populate the land, then we shall endeavor to build mosques and churches for them."

In order to create a counterweight to the Habsburg crown, Frederick II sought and found a loyal ally in the Ottoman Empire. Official diplomatic relations to the Sublime Porte -- the court of the sultan -- were established, and on Nov. 9, 1763 the first Turkish envoy, Ahmed Resmi Efendi, arrived in Berlin with an exotically dressed entourage of 73 aides who were greeted by the cheering inhabitants of the city. Deeply impressed and evidently slightly confused by this emphatic reception, the diplomat wrote to Sultan Mustafa III that "the people of Berlin recognize the Prophet Muhammad and are not afraid to admit that they are prepared to embrace Islam."

When a successor to the envoy died in 1798, Frederick William III, who ruled from 1770 to 1840, ordered that he should be buried in accordance with Islamic rites. This required a royal bequest, and thus the first Turkish-owned property on German soil was the Islamic cemetery in Berlin.


Source: Spiegel (English)

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