Fact Checking: Islam – Comments by Mathias Rohe
Is the use of violence legitimized by Islamic Law? Is the Koran calling for the murder of non-believers? And what is the “Islamization of the Occident” all about? These are the questions that Mathias Rohe, founding director of the EZIRE, is concerned with in a new Focus series. In “Faktencheck Islam” Rohe deconstructs myths and half-truths that are said to be broadcast especially by supporters of right-wing political parties and groups such as Pegida.
In the first part of the series, Rohe discusses the killing of non-believers in the Koran. The Islamic Studies scholar clarifies that there are in fact some ‘clumsy passages’ in the Koran that could be interpreted as a call for violence against non-Muslims. In these cases, it is up to individual interpretation. However, Rohe emphasizes that most Muslims interpret these text passages within the historical context of wars against the pagan Meccans and do not relate them to today. The mentioned passages were mainly to be understood as stories about the violent conflicts than as a call to kill in the name of religion. Furthermore, Rohe stresses that there far more passages in the Koran in which respect towards other religions, especially Christianity and Judaism, are emphasized.
The second part of the series focuses exclusively on the accusations, brought on by Pegida supporters, that Muslim migrants “islamized the Occident”. Rohe emphasizes how ‘unreliable’ und ‘unfair’ these fears are. These ‘horror-statistics’ were lacking any basis. The birth rate of Muslim migrants adapted to its surroundings after only a few generations. Aside from that, accusations like these suggested that there was a homogenous Muslim group, which was not the case.
The potential violence of Sharia law is Rohe’s point of focus in part three of the series. First, he straightens out the assumption that the Sharia is a uniform text of law. There was not ‘one Sharia’, Rohe explains, which meant it could not be generally judged to be ‘bloody’. However, Rohe acknowledges that certain texts of the Islamic law have potential to be interpreted as legitimizing violence. This potential of Islam was a problem, which had to be faced, but also existed in other religions. However, many Muslims, as the Islamic Studies scholar explains, cared very little for a life that accurately followed the teachings of the scribe, but rather followed a ‘moral-ethical’ interpretation of Islam. This meant, that Sharia was not considered to be a set system of rules, but synonymous with certain virtues. Moreover, there were entire denominations of Islam, Alevism for example, that do not consider Sharia Law as obligatory.
Part four of the series is dedicated to the prejudice that for Muslims the Sharia would be above the Basic Law. Rohe says that one can not bring Sharia and the Basic Law on one level. The Sharia – not a code, but an Islamic theory of norms – has, according to Rohe, very many elements that are completely compatible with the Basic Law. Moreover, Sharia has the principle that Muslims living in a non-Muslim country must respect the laws in force there. So, according to Rohe, there is no necessary antagonism between Sharia and the Basic Law. However, problems could arise if the Sharia is interpreted by extremists as the sole law.
The fifth part of the series deals with the debate on whether Islam belongs to Germany. In this article, Rohe refers to investigations by the Federal Office for Refugees, which say that currently about 4.4 to 4.7 million Muslims live in Germany. Most Muslim families live in the old industrial centers, as their migration took place, for example, as part of the migrant worker movement. Almost 50 percent of these Muslims have German citizenship, according to Rohe, and there are more and more German Muslims due to births in Germany. Islam is in no way opposed to integration, unless one follows Islamist interpretations.
The sixth part of the series deals with the question of whether the Koran preaches the oppression of women. The evil is patriarchy, that is values and norms prescribed by Muslim men, says Rohe. In fact, there are passages in the Koran that can be interpreted to mean that women are subordinate to men, but these are read in a time-bound manner by most Muslims. The position of women in Islam has already improved significantly.
In Part seven, Rohe addresses the prejudice that women should not publicly shake hands with men. Muslim men, as in other religions, have different views, but most Muslims have no problem with shaking hands with the opposite sex because, among other things, they know that this is common in Germany. If the handshake is denied, cultural reasons in particular play a role – denial is not to be understood as disrespect, but as a respectful gesture. Many Muslims have a basic attitude based on the separation of the sexes, according to Rohe.
Part eight deals with the prejudice of the radicalization of terrorists in German mosques. Rohe explains that there are no reliable figures on the spread of radical ideas in German mosques. It is said a lot, but little known. Therefore, one could assume only individual cases, which are known to the security authorities in time. The bigger problem is backyard circles, where no one knows exactly where they are meeting. The mosque associations, however, are under surveillance, explains Rohe.
The many half-truths and prejudices about headscarves in Islam are addressed in the ninth Part of the Series. Basically, there are only a few vague suras in the Koran which deal with clothing regulations, clarifies Rohe. One should dress “chaste and decent”, but that concerns women and men at the same time. Elsewhere it’s just said that women should cover their heads. But this tradition did not originate from Islam, but can be found in many cultures, including Germany, and was morally sincere for “respectable” women. Rohe here refers to the proverbial ‘get under the hood’.
In Part Ten of the fact check, Rohe explains why Islam is not an intolerant religion. One must distinguish the human and the theological level. Even though Islam, like other world religions, sees itself as the “region of truth”, there is a basic attitude of respect for other faiths. A task to manage is the handling of non-religious people, atheists or people who want to turn away from religion- in this area, there is still a high level of intolerance. But that is more a question of education than a set principle.
In Part Eleven, Rohe answers the question of whether all Muslims fast in Ramadan. Fasting is a “sign of a certain outward religiosity” and a social event that invites and attracts others, so many people take this religious duty seriously. But there are also many Muslims who break with Ramadan – if only for professional reasons. In a non-Muslim society, fasting is not that easy, but in Islamic-dominated countries it would be a bit calmer in the month of fasting. As far as alcohol consumption is concerned, according to Rohe, there are both, Muslims who do not drink alcohol at all and those who would not see it as strictly.
Part Twelve of the series deals with the prejudice of Islam being an aggressive religion. According to Rohe, Islam is generally “safe” because of the many harmless Muslims who are a normal part of society. Nevertheless, there are extremist attitudes and interpretations that can indeed be very dangerous, as several attacks in Germany have already shown. But next to this danger “in Islam”, there also is the possibility to actually create the dangers you want to avoid by a blanket suspicion of all Muslims and pure “hatred of Islam”. One has to be careful because by trying to divide Muslims out of society, one can reinforce the extremists.
In Part Thirteen, Rohe addresses the prejudice that Muslim boys refuse to be told. Every now and then, immigrant students would question the authority of their teachers. However, this behavior has less to do with the origin than with the education of children, so Rohe. The culture and the patriarchal education, not the religion, are largely to blame for the “macho attitude”. Not infrequently it is the mothers who teach their sons to defend themselves and the family, but of course such education is not always the case.
Part Fourteen of the FOCUS series addresses magistrates. Rohe explains that magistrates are understood as people who settle conflicts within extended families. This title can be achieved through authority and power, also the size and reputation of the family is playing a particularly important role. However, according to Rohe, these mediators are overrated. The underlying phenomenon is called parallel justice – the attempt to keep conflicts internally and also to decide against the applicable German law, to put pressure on witnesses and victims and to protect one´s own family. At the moment, a great deal of dilettantism and sometimes also the attempt to “trample on the rule of law” can be observed, which one should not put up with. Rohe speaks of a threat to the rule of law, one must see that one can “break the scene”. But this can only be successful by creating trust in German institutions. Through education measures, Muslims must realize that in Germany the courts are better dispute mediators.