DIK - Deutsche Islam Konferenz - Young Muslims' New Selfawareness

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Self-Evidently Incorporated

Young Muslims' in Germany demonstrate a newly found new self-awareness.

They want to be acknowledged and heard as fully-fledged members of this society. This young generation of Muslims is different to their parents' and yet the young people have strong ties to Islam. How do they ensure that their self-image is finally accepted by society?

In December 2011 in the Altes Stadthaus in Berlin, over 300 young Muslims took part in I-Slam, a competition in the poetry slam tradition. Nine young men and women competed against one another with their own poems and were rewarded with the audience's enthusiastic applause. The poems dealt with issues of faith, and also with friendship and family, the consumer behaviour of youth, attitudes to alcohol and the consequences of discrimination and anti-Muslim resentment.

The six-person I-Slam team struck a chord with their initiative and this carried beyond the confines of the event in Berlin. Similar events also took place over subsequent months in Hamburg, Bremen and Cologne where the organisers, the two students Youssef Adlah and Younes Al-Amayra, and their team found they were hugely popular in these towns, too. The purpose of the events was to give "young, talented Muslims the opportunity to be heard when expressing themselves on social, political or religious topics," explained the organisers.

And in doing so, they are completely in line with current trends. For several years now numerous initiatives and small clubs have been emerging in which young Muslims are involved. Their common goal is to be engaged in society and to have a pro-active role in shaping their environment. Being German and being Muslim is not a contradiction in terms for them but a self-evident expression of their interests and expectations.

Young Muslims demand a voice even among non-Muslims, for example, on the internet. For the makers of on-line initiatives such as the Muslim tv film portal it is not merely about exchanging ideas about religious issues. In the professionally produced short films made by the young filmmakers, they wish to confront the erroneous widespread belief that Muslims are distant and old fashioned.

Five adolescents chatting.Five adolescents chatting. Source: Katy Otto

The message of these youth and young adults is accordingly self aware. They do not see themselves as supplicants but as citizens with rights and interests which have not been met in German society to date. A powerful contribution to the film portal bemoans the "deafening silence" concerning the massacre of Srebrenica of July 1995 in which over 8,000 Muslims were killed during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. The massacre did not only shape the lives of approximately half a million Muslims from the former Yugoslavia but also the lives of many young Muslims in Germany, and yet it barely makes an impression on the historic memory of German society. The short film about Srebrenica is a reminder to make the lives of Muslims visible in the life of Germany.

The express wish to be visible and to participate differentiates these young people and young adults from the generations of their parents and grandparents. To date, many first-generation Muslims have held to the traditions of their homelands. And Islam plays an important role for many young people too. Several studies that have been carried out in recent years document the significance that Islam and religious ideas have in the everyday lives of young people. Yet the ways in which religion is lived out by young people is very different from the traditions and doctrines adhered to by their parents. This is seen not least in the value that many young people ascribe to the German language. For young people involved in the youth initiative "Lifemakers", in the council of Muslim students and academics, or in HIMA, the Muslim environmental initiative, German is the natural language of daily use. This is as true for discussing theological issues and giving social advice to students as it is for public campaigns concerning fair trade and ecological issues.

This shift in self-understanding reflects an openness towards their environment. Islam and the umma, the brotherhood of Muslims, continue to be an important point of reference for them without meaning that they have to withdraw from German society. Accordingly, the reaction of young Muslims to the incessant debates about integration and the position of Islam in Germanyis one of irritation. These arguments have nothing to do with the reality of their lives.

Götz Nordbruch, 31.08.2012

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