DIK - Deutsche Islam Konferenz - A history of Muslims in germany

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The history of Muslims in Germany

Even though the presence of Muslims in Germany today is first and foremost a result of the labour migration of the 1960s and 1970s, their origins reach much further back.

The first Muslims came to Germany as prisoners of war from the Siege of Vienna by the Ottomans (1683). The majority of these prisoners were in fact either baptised or returned to their homeland. However, some of them also died here, as evidenced by gravestones from 1689 in Brake and 1691 in Hannover.

Traces until the First World War

Muslims once more entered the country in the eighteenth century as prisoners of war from the Russo-Turkish War of 1735-39. The 22 Turkish "Lange Kerls" [long fellows] were a gift from the Duke of Curland to the Prussian King Frederick William I (1713-40) in 1739. A prayer room was set up for them in the "Königliches Waisenhaus" [royal orphanage]. They were subsequently allowed to return to their homeland by an act of "königlicher Großmut" [royal magnanimity]. In1741, under Frederick II, Tartar and Bosnian Muslims were incorporated into the so-called Ulan Regiment which at times consisted of up to 1,000 soldiers.

During the course of Prusso-Ottoman relations a permanent Ottoman mission was established in Berlin in 1763, whose third envoy, Ali Aziz Efendi, died in Berlin in 1798. The Prussian King Frederick William III provided a burial site for him on the Tempelhofer Feldmark. Four more Islamic burials were carried out there, before the cemetery had to give way to a barrack yard in 1854. In 1866 the five bodies were transferred to the Turkish cemetery on Columbiadamm in Berlin-Neukölln, which remains intact to this day. The Turkish Şehitlik Mosque has stood there since 2003.

In the First World War the Ottoman Empire fought on the side of the Central Powers. Consequently, Muslim prisoners of war from the Allies on the one hand came to two internment camps in Wünsdorf and Zossen near Berlin, whilst the Ottoman armed services on the other hand came to Berlin. The first mosque to be erected on German soil was in the so-called "Halbmondlager" [Half Moon Camp] in Wünsdorf. The wooden domed structure with its 25-metre-high minaret did not exist for long, however, and was demolished in 1930, having fallen into a state of disrepair.

Muslims in the inter-war years

After the First World War some 90 Muslim exiles and students remained in Berlin, where they managed to establish a semblance of community life. The "Islamische Gemeinde zu Berlin" [Islamic Community in Berlin] was thus created in 1922, which united some 1,800 members of diverse nationalities and ethnic origin as the "Deutsch-Moslemische Gesellschaft" [German Muslim Society] in 1930. The Society drew together students, academics and intellectuals, as well as German converts. These founded the mosque in Berlin-Wilmersdorf in 1924. Numerous small Muslim associations had been formed alongside at the time.

The Third Reich also proved to be a difficult time for Muslims in Germany. The religious life of Muslim communities was hit particularly hard by the exploitation of Muslim associations and the polarisation caused by the actions of the Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husayni. Having fled from the territory of the British Mandate, Amin al-Husayni stayed in Berlin several times between 1941 and 1945 and also lived there for a time.

His role in the Third Reich is controversial due to his anti-Semitism, veiled behind religion, and Nationalist sympathies. During the war, for instance, he attempted to organise a pro-German Arab resistance against the British and to recruit Muslims from the Balkans for the Waffen SS. On the other hand, he tried to use his contacts with the Nazi leadership to block the Jewish settlement of Palestine, particularly from the area under German rule, although he had knowledge of the extent of the Jewish Holocaust.

Post-war era to the present day

All previously existing associations were disbanded after the war. The remaining Muslims gathered around the Wilmersdorf Mosque. Its isolated position meant that Berlin would no longer play a significant role in post-war history for the time being. The impetus for the revival of Muslim life came from the Indian-Pakistani Ahmadiyya Movement. This came from Great Britain in 1955 to set up a base in Hamburg, where it founded the "Ahmadiyya Bewegung in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland e. V." [Ahmadiyya Movement in the Federal Republic of Germany].

Branches were subsequently established in several towns. The "Geistliche Verwaltung der Muslimflüchtlinge in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland e. V." [Ecclesiastical Administration of Muslim Refugees in the Federal Republic of Germany] for former Muslim members of the armed forces was set up in Munich in 1958. In 1961, Iranian merchants who had long been based in Hamburg founded the Shiite Islamic Centre on the Outer Alster. During the course of the sixties, predominantly Arab students and academics established the Islamic centres in Munich and Aachen.

Muslims came to Germany in greater numbers with the signing of recruitment agreements with Muslim states, such as Turkey (1961), Morocco (1963), Tunisia (1965) and Yugoslavia (1968). A stop was put on recruitment during the economic crisis of 1973. As the economic situation in their countries of origin was correspondingly uncertain at the same time, many migrants chose to stay in Germany permanently.

They brought their families together over the course of time. Religious and cultural needs, which had been managed on a temporary basis, had to be properly served as a result. Mosque associations and organisations were set up on a larger scale for this purpose from the mid-1970s. Difficulties in communication for linguistic, religious and politico-ideological reasons led to the emergence of a multitude of other mosque associations besides the Turkish ones.

From the mid-1970s until today the labour migrants have been joined by Muslims who have come to Germany as refugees and asylum seekers mainly from Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Iraq. Mention must also be made of Muslim students and academics. Not only in West Germany did the latter play a leading role in the establishment of Islamic centres and the Islamic unions which sprang up in universities and colleges from the 1990s. Students from Arab brother states (e.g. Syria and Yemen) were the original members of a community which lived modestly in the former GDR, primarily in Leipzig and East Berlin.

The German converts to Islam must not be neglected. Although thought to be relatively low in number, they have played a significant role in the Muslim community at least since the First World War. This is reflected above all in the Central Council of Muslims in Germany.

DIK-editorial team 08.12.2008

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