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Youth Islam Conference experimental game

Be a participant at the German Islam Conference for a day

Bingo! A joyful voice echoes through the dignified room with its high light-coloured walls and parquet floor. Suddenly the bingo calls follow in rapid succession and drown out the murmuring in the walls of the Graduate School of Social Sciences at the Humboldt University of Berlin. It is a 'getting to know you' game that the research project team at HU Berlin "Hybrid European Muslim Identity Model", known as Heymat, has devised to break the ice between the young people as quickly as possible. Forty school and university students from Berlin and North Rhine-Westphalia, with and without an immigration history, Muslims and those of other faiths, aged between 17 and 23 years, have come together on the first weekend of February to find out more about Muslims in Germany and the German Islam Conference.

The Mercator Foundation has woven together a full programme as a preparatory seminar for its project in which it would like to give the younger generation the opportunity to discuss the role of Islam in their everyday lives and find out about the German Islam Conference. The programme includes lectures by experts, a panel discussion with former and current members of the German Islam Conference, work in small groups, a one-page introductory guide and a cultural programme on the side. All this is intended to help young people who have been selected from a large number of applicants to prepare themselves as well as possible for the big event: The "Youth Islam Conference – Berlin 2011".

Young people want to shape society together

They are thirsty for knowledge and cannot be held back. And so they continue their discussions in the short breaks. One of the young people is the Berlin school student, Till Becker. He would like to get involved in the political debate about Islam. "I hope that what we are discussing here won't disappear without a trace." And he wants to learn new things about Islam and discover different points of view. The Sarrazin debate has sparked the interest of  Jonathan Mühlbauer, who is in his final year at school. And so he could not resist the invitation in the Tagesspiegel newspaper to apply to attend the Youth Islam Conference. Next to him is Ecem Oskay. She is studying political science in Berlin and grew up in Germany as a child of "guest workers". "I am constantly confronted by it, even when it's unintentionally meant," she replies when asked why she applied to attend the Youth Islam Conference.

Changing points of view

At the end of the long weekend, it starts to get interesting. Roles are ceremoniously allocated to the participants at the German Islam Conference. The criteria, according to which the young people have been given their roles cannot be explained, even by the political scientist, Dr Naika Foroutan, leader of the Heymat team. Sometimes they wanted to build on the strengths of the young people and the experiences they had already had, sometimes there was the prospect of a change of perspective. And the excess numbers of male stakeholders in the German Islam Conference on the side of the state and Muslims means that young women even have to get to grips with the role of the current Foreign Minister or a mayor. Five participants will take on the role of journalists from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), the tageszeitung (taz) and Bild. In the two weeks until the experimental game, they will comb the internet to gain as comprehensive a picture of their role as possible.

Be someone else for a change

On 18 February 2011, everything is ready. Dr Bernhard Lorentz, managing director of the Mercator Foundation, emphasises in his welcome speech that the foundation wishes to offer young people in its project with the Young Islam Conference a platform to discuss issues surrounding Muslims and Islam in Germany. After the official part, the welcome speeches and lectures, Marett Katalin Klahn, a university student, opens the experimental game in the parliament building in Berlin in the guise of Federal Minister Dr Thomas de Maizière surrounded by a storm of flashbulbs from the real press photographers present. She had prepared herself well. Eloquent and self-assured, she held her own as a man in her business man's suit. But the others, such as Nuriana Hamdan playing the part of the Federal Minister Prof. Dr Annette Schavan, Till Hartmann as Hamed Abdel Samad and Mohomed Kanaan as the Mayor of the city of Duisburg, Adolf Sauerland, are in no way inferior to her. On this day, the young men and women in their roles as attendees of the German Islam Conference discuss the possibility of institutionalising the state/Muslim dialogue at local level.

Is Germany swallowing a bitter pill?

Breaks allow informal discussions but also give those playing the role of press representatives from Bild, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) and the tageszeitung (taz) the opportunity to chase up information and interviews for their reports.

And there is no shortage of resourcefulness and journalistic flair. And so, after the initial hours of heavy negotiating, the fictitious Bild headlines with "Is Germany swallowing a bitter pill?" and hints at the challenge of dealing with Germany's new diversity of religions. The taz is less caustic with analysis and background research.

The participants are quick to note that dialogue is hard work. It also means moving closer together, abandoning one's own viewpoint to achieve a common goal and to strike compromises.

Own recommendations elaborated to the German Islam Conference

On the second and final day for the time being, the young men and women reverted to being themselves with their own history, their environment and their view on things. Many had particularly looked forward to this day because now they wanted to develop their recommendations together for the German Islam Conference. The Federal Minister for the Interior had promised his support for the project at the outset and had offered to accept the ideas and suggestions made by the school and university students for a joint Germany at the next plenary meeting of the German Islam Conference on 29 March 2011 and to incorporate them into the work of the Conference.

Germany is a mosaic.

In groups they wrestled with answers to questions such as "Does (the Islamic) religion have any role to play if we are considering integration?" Many of the participants had issues with the provocative question of whether Germany or "the Germans" suited "Islam". What is German and what is Islamic? Hüda Sag, a student of educational science, psychology and sociology in Bielefeld, put it in a nutshell: "The question detaches me from Germany." Another participant put it like this: "Germany is a mosaic and Islam is one colour in that mosaic."

Other ideas were gathered in a played-out discussion group on the subject of "creating community together". Aylin Selcuk, a student of dentistry in Berlin, spoke animatedly into the microphone and campaigned for working with associations: "Everyone knows they must get involved. There are thousands of opportunities to help other people that are not dependent on being Muslim." Vincent Streichhahn supported her. He believed that community can be achieved if you get involved in community projects. Denise Henschel, a paediatric nurse and trainee teacher for German and Ethics vehemently entered the argument against discriminating against women who wear headscarves and spoke up for equal opportunities.

On 29 March, a participant of the Youth Islam Conference will hand over the package of ideas to the Federal Minister for the Interior. We can hardly wait!

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