Islam in Germany 2016: Professor Rohe takes stock

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Photo: Vitantonio CicorellaMikko Pitkänen 2006

Terrorism, burqa, child marriage – this have only been some of the “Islamic” subjects that German society has been occupied with throughout last year. But do these bad news really bear with scrutiny? With regard to Islam, which challenges are awaiting Germany in 2017 and how can those challenges be dealt with, while including Muslims in the process? Mathias Rohe debates stock of Islam in Germany in 2016 in conversation with Christiane Florin from the German broadcasting station Deutschlandfunk.

2016 started with New Year’s Eve in Cologne, which has by now become a synonym for refugee’s outdated perception of women. Professor Rohe, director of the Erlangen Center for Islam and Law in Europe, states: “(…) We have to talk about this. People, who are used to strict gender segregation in public, are now coming to us and they see that we handle things very differently here (…). We have to communicate why we handle things the way we do and that we will not change our way of life.” Rohe explains that many Muslim had an unidimensional perception of women, according to the motto: European women are easy women. But he also says: “This perception of gender is based on patriarchal living realities. It’s not about Islam in the first place.” The current development that mistakes made by Muslims would automatically be explained with regard to their religion was a “fatal development”, which had already started after 9/11. People who had previously talked about Arabs, Turks or simply “Foreigners” would now frame everything foreign as Islamic. And yet Rohe doesn’t know of anyone in the Islamic sphere who would endorse events as New Year’s Eve in Cologne. The problem were difficult social living conditions that had coined the socialization of the perpetrators.

Rohe also talks about the fiery discussion of prohibiting the burqa in Germany in summer 2016. Once more, he makes clear that for him, the Burqa is an “imposition”. The gender perception behind the Burqa was a “sheer catastrophe”. However, Rohe also points out that in a free society, people had to accept a lot of things that might appear unreasonable to them. One would need good arguments to restrict the freedom of the individual.

The German public in 2016 has also debated in which cases origin and religion of a sexual criminal where to be mentioned in covering the event. Rohe tries to dissolve the discussion by proposing this recommendation: The religion or nationality of a suspect was to be mentioned “if this contributes to the solution of the case”. With the regard to the heated debate in German public and to avoid conspiracy theories, Rohe would however tend to “put all cards on the table”. This would also enable a discussion on if origin and religion of a suspect did really have an impact on the committed crime.

So is there any truth about the negative perception of Islam that many people in Germany currently seem to have? Rohe makes clear that “proving” the alleged misanthropy of Islam by stating the Quran was pointless: “It is up to Muslims to interpret their holy scriptures.” This is also why Rohe disapproves of the sentence that Islamist terrorism did not have anything to do with Islam: “There is the potential of violence in Islam, if you want to read it like those people want to read it.” For him, the most important step was to ask why those Islamists had radicalized themselves in the first place. After all, there was also a violent potential of Christendom and Judaism. This once again made clear that “it all depends on the attitudes of the believers”.

And how can German society deal with all those challenges waiting in 2017? Rohe’s conclusion after a year with many attacks, terrible news and heated debates is clear: “We got to stick together, all the peace-loving persons of all ethnicities and religions.” All the peaceful Muslims living in Germany were not to be put under general suspicion.