Muslims in Germany


DEBORAH POTTER, correspondent: Almost 90 percent of the students at Rainbow Elementary School in Berlin are from immigrant families, most of them Muslim. Fitting in can be tough, because a lot of them can’t speak German—even though many of their families have been here for decades.

HEIDRUN BOEHMER (School Principal): When I started being a teacher more than thirty years ago I thought that problem we won’t have in ten years. They all will speak German. But they don’t.

POTTER: Heidrun Boehmer has watched her students struggle to succeed. About 75 percent never finish high school—more than double the national rate. In school and the outside world, their chances are limited by a complicated mix of social and economic issues, religion, and history.

Muslim immigrants, mainly from Turkey, first came here in large numbers in the 1960s, when Germany was facing a severe labor shortage. They were called “guest workers,” but most of them never went home. Instead, they brought their families and settled in neighborhoods like Neukolln in Berlin, where shop signs are in Turkish and Arabic, and satellite dishes bring in programs from back home. Storefront mosques are tucked behind fruit stands. Until ten years ago, immigrants could not become German citizens, and they still don’t have a chance at most government jobs. Integration just hasn’t happened.

post01RIEM SPIELHAUS (Humboldt University): People who live here since forty, fifty years, were born here in the third generation, are understood as foreigners, are understood as immigrants while they are not. They just have a different faith. So this debate leads to people thinking about their neighbors as problematic because they do have a different faith.

POTTER: Today, Germany has about four million Muslims—five percent of the population, making Islam the second largest religion. Germany has more Muslims than Lebanon and twice as many mosques as the United States. Young Muslims here describe themselves as more religious than their parents, in a country where few Christians go to church. Berlin is sometimes called the atheist capital of Europe. But while religious freedom is enshrined in the German constitution, public schools are required to offer Christian religious instruction. Leaders of Muslim organizations are now demanding Islamic religious instruction as well, and tensions are growing.

SPIELHAUS: The number of people that don’t want to live together with Muslims, that don’t want to have a mosque in their neighborhood—this number is rising.

POTTER: According to public opinion polls, the vast majority of Germans associate Islam with violence and terrorism, and they resent what they see as too many Muslims sponging off the German welfare system. But the country’s strong social safety net may be one reason why Germany has not seen the kind of violence that scorched Muslim neighborhoods in France a few years ago. Young Muslims there took to the streets, angry about unemployment and police brutality. Nothing like that has happened in Germany, even though the jobless rate in some Muslim neighborhoods hovers near 50 percent.

BARBARA JOHN (Office Against Discrimination): If there is no easy opportunity, or if they can’t make as much money as they get from the state as welfare money, they don’t work, of course. It’s not that they don’t want to work, it’s just reasoning, and they are rational people.

POTTER: Barbara John has spent 30 years dealing with integration issues, a task complicated by the fact that Germany has never had a policy of limiting immigration.

JOHN: It’s part of our history of Nazi times. We were guilty, and we still feel guilty, especially when it comes to minorities and to accepting people who are persecuted, and once we were, ourselves, able to give it, we could hardly say no, and now immigrants come, and they want to live in Germany, they want to be proud of this country, and the Germans themselves are not. So integration is difficult for these minorities.

post04POTTER: The government is now trying to help, offering subsidized language and culture classes for adults at a cost of about $200 million a year. But those who sign up don’t always come.

NADINE HASKE (German Language Teacher): Some of them, they’re not interested. But some of them, also, they have many problems here with immigration, problems that we can’t understand—problems with job, to find a job.

POTTER: The problems are all too apparent to Ender Cetin, who says Muslims want more than equal job opportunities. They want to feel truly accepted.

ENDER CETIN (Turkish-Islamic Union): We feel many, many attacks, not violence but in words, feel many, many kind of discrimination. This makes us also afraid a little bit. There’s a distance. That’s not so good for integration.

POTTER: Cetin was born in Germany but chose to retain his parents’ Turkish citizenship rather than give it up, as required by law, to become a German citizen. As a spokesman for the biggest mosque in Berlin, he now gives tours to school groups, hoping to make Islam seem less threatening.

CETIN: We have many, many questions also in these years and the questions are always the same. The question is—terrorism and Islam, can it be together?

ERDINC SINAC: Not every Muslim are terrorist, something like that, yeah? Sometimes in the TV it looks like that. Every Muslim looks like terrorist. It’s not true.

POTTER: Erdinc Sinac came here from Turkey at age five and recently became a German citizen.

SINAC: I go to school, learn very good German. For me it’s okay, and I have not problems.

POTTER: In the long term, Germany needs immigrants. The country’s birth rate is one of the lowest in Europe, the cost of its social programs among the highest.

JOHN: We have to consider these people as our future, too. They are—their children, the children of the immigrants, are our children, are the children in Germany, they are the children of everybody, and we have to care for them and look after them and give them a better education, give them a good education, so why shouldn’t they be successful? It’s everything in human nature that can make them successful, and we are a country that has money, and we have educators, so we should improve our system.

POTTER: But there’s a long way to go. Other Western democracies have similar problems, but a new study by an international economic group says Germany does about the worst job of providing equal opportunities for immigrants and their children.

For Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, I’m Deborah Potter in Berlin.

  • R. Sweeton

    Seems to me these Muslims would want to integrate
    into their new countries and learn the language of their land. Why are they in Germany for decades and cannot speak German? Children pick up new language easy and this is making it so hard for these kids to integrate and feel welcome! Speaking the same tongue unites us no matter what country you’re in. You know the saying: When in Rome — — — —— –.

  • Adjunct Prof Bedell

    This news report shows what happens when you mix church and state and then a “minority” population grows and demands that their religion also be taught in public schools. The lesson is not to force your own myopic brand of faith into government-run programs, like education, or you may perhaps have democratically elected representatives introduce fundamental Islamic based principals into your nation’s legal system.

  • darlene kaiser

    it seems to me that musluims love to go to countries where they can live without working if the german government would crackdown they would leave or race to get a job

  • umarah

    Excuse me!
    that is NOT the status of all Muslims. Many of them have an active role in society. however there are people like that in every society, every religion. Clear your concepts regarding ISLAM and trying thing before you speak regarding any religion.

  • hana

    please please read about Islam itis a wonderful religion ,and ofcourse who are suffering from unemployment are not only from muslims ,clear your concept regarding Islam

  • Dina

    I agree with Hana. how about you reread that article and comprehend that the germans brought them into their contury . our number one goal in life is to provide for our family, give them oppertunities we never had, and allow them to grow up n a safe environment. So leas dont be ignorant and do your researchbefre you make comments abot any religion or faith.

  • wanchiko umar

    islam is peace, islam is wonderfull

  • fawz

    muslims are shown as terrorist in media. nearly 1/4of world population are muslims. if u think about amount of terrorist Its less than 0.1 percentage of muslim population. terorist doesnt have religion. there are terorists in every religion.(try to search DR zakir naik speach about terrorism) dont beleave what media shows. think your own.there are some muslim culprits because of them dont blame islam and every muslims.try to learn about islam and real muslims.

  • nadia

    I think that they should do away with all the mosques and let them go back home where they belong, trying to change germany or any other country into their own kind of place is replacing good for their wrong ideology that is never going to change, remember they want to annilate israel. they want to control the world and kill those that dont believe,islam isnt a modest peaceful religion. look at the more heavily populated that a country is with islamic people then there is much more destruction. They want to take over,dont be fooled!

  • Abiola Damilare

    i must say that you are part of those that cannot define yourself for yourself. just look @ what you post on the wall.. are you really helping matter here? he best thing for you to do next time if you don’t know how to respond to an articles like this it’s better you don’t comment at all. cos they are talking about life there, people with family’s.remember they have contribute to the growth and development of Germany in one way or the other in good terms.Am a Nigerian. and proud to be a Nigerian. we have different types of religion there and in which be course we love ourselves we respect each other religions and we all speak in one voice nothing of such as happened like( heavily populated that a country is with islamic people then there is much more destruction). so pls stop tarnishing the image of muslim. cos ISLAM IS FOR PEACE.

  • umar

    well, every one has a right to think of it’s own.
    then why u believe that MUSLIMS are terrorist, how can u decide?
    u know media is fake more than50%.
    u know……….

    and i think MUSLIMS are facing such a situation………nowadays

  • mahsun

    hallo,, hallo,,

    hi,, guys,, for all of you who always think that moslem are terorist,,bad guy,,etc.. YOU,RE ABSOLUTELLY WRONG..

  • Andy

    Do argue any more, soon you will teach your son to be suicide bomber, rape his wife and kill her if she complains, and your son and you like that, that is good for men.

  • Nahid

    I am from Afghanistan. I think a good way is accept only immigrants who learn germen and those who marry someone from a second country should learn German then let them come to Germany. for example some Pakistani Pashtoons are very violent cause they are used to living in those tribal areas where they lived. So the government should be careful the should only accept those who learn German and only Moderate Muslims. I am a Muslim but i don’t want to see Germany another Pakistan. Islam itself is good but religious ignorance and extremism is very dangerous and i know it cause i lived in Afghanistan. so I am against Burka and Sharia law but head scarf is good.