The largest mosque umbrella organisation in Germany, the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (known as DITIB), has had its ups and downs since its foundation in 1984 in Germany as a branch of the Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate. While DITIB remains closely interlinked with the Turkish religious authority Diyanet in terms of finance, staff, and organisation, it claims to manage about 900 mosques nationwide.
The umbrella organisation is still under spotlight for claims of—among others—spreading anti-Semitism, teaching radical Islamism, resisting efforts of integration, and keeping a controversial link to the Turkish state. Such résumé has at least raised eyebrows across the years. Consequent scepticism towards DITIB, which directly reflects on the lives of the youth, has become commonplace in Germany.
Susanne Schroeter has shared her scepticism and critique of DITIB, especially concerning Turkish-speaking Imams, the sense of belonging to “the fatherland Turkey”, and anti-Semitic sentiment. She also brought to memory the “martyr comic” that was originally published by the Turkish religious authority Diyanet in Turkish, and used by DITIB for the youth in Germany. As an encouragement for the youth, the martyr comic glorifies the concept of dying for God, after which martyrs reach paradise.
Hussein Hamdan, an Islamic scholar at the academy of the Rottenburg-Stuttgart diocese, argues that younger generations are different from the older ones. Today, younger generations ask more questions and demand more answers and engagement. Breaking out of the patronage of older generations, they attempt to found youth associations for education, free time, and sport activities. For instance, the Association of Alewite Youth in Germany (BDAJ), was founded in 1994 and comprises of branches in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Hessen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Bremen, Hamburg, Berlin, Schleswig-Holstein, and Lower Saxony. BDAJ represents the interests of more than 33,000 children, adolescents, and young adults until the age of 27. While the association focuses on the Alewite doctrine, it is also committed to promoting a just society and peaceful coexistence, where human rights, equality between women and men, freedom of all faiths, rights of oppressed minorities, critical thinking, democratic participation of Alewite youth, and integration of young people with a migration background take precedence. As concrete programmes, BDAJ offers inter alia educational seminars, panel discussions for the youth, educational field trips, workshops, theatre performances, and festivals.
Hamdan argues that this is not the only positive example to draw a differential line between younger and older generations. “While BDAJ started its activities for the youth in 1994, DITIB began its activities for the youth in 2009. This should urge to think,” Hamdan said.
It is worth to note that Alewites increasingly identify themselves as Alewites and not as Muslims.
It is important, Hamdan notes, to pay attention to the positive signs from the Muslim youth; therefore, there must be caution in Germany that the Muslim youth do not pay for the mistakes of older generations.
It is quite obvious that Muslim youth get caught up in religious fundamentalism, and increasingly become entangled in Jihadist ideologies such as that of Islamic State (IS).
Ahmad Mansour, a psychologist and a programme director at the European Foundation for Democracy, argues that while radicalisation is a very complex topic and is perceived differently by different people, it is also a process, which does not happen overnight. But why do Muslim youngsters slip into radicalisation?
Young people, Mansour explains, might be unhappy or discontent with their lives, and are constantly looking for alternatives. There are several reasons that could push young Muslims into radicalisation. Perhaps they lack a role model such as a father, regardless of whether the father has abandoned the family, passed away, or been unable to find himself in society. Perhaps they have experienced failure at school or a frustrating transition period from school to work. Perhaps they have dealt with a family member’s illness or death. There are cases in which a teenager changes hearts because of such a tragic incident in the family. Perhaps they have encountered discrimination experiences, in which they may have felt their religion and place of origin were viewed with prejudice. Those who feel they are somehow disconnected from society develop feelings and unstable personalities that make them susceptible to radicalisation. Such vulnerability could be at its peak in a “time window” of one to two years that starts at the ages between 15 and 17. There are, however, cases where such a time window towards radicalisation starts at the ages of 13 or 14.
Salafists fill such gaps with their patriarchal ideology and concepts of the all-knowingly punitive God. Salafism is very well received by these young people and this might be for several reasons: offering the youth an identity, a sense of belonging, a simple explanation of a complex world, friendships, and community. In other words, while Salafism is dangerous, it is also attractive because it presents a regulated, structured world, for which a clear vision, mission, and orientation are put forward.
For instance, Mansour illustrates, explaining the war in Syria might need hours to break down its complexity and make sense of it. However, for radical Salafism, it can be explained with a simple statement: “It is a war against Islam.”
Mansour calls for a social and political rethinking process of the phenomenon of radicalisation in order to prevent and combat ideological extremism. It is a process, in which everyone in society should take part.
The flame of hope
Perhaps it is true that instead of playing the role of a victim in a complex world, it is more fruitful to participate in an inclusive preventive process, in which all do their share in order to live together in a peaceful society.
“This is possible when the people have the will to do so,” said Taoufik Hartit, a national project manager at the Federation of Muslim Scouts in Germany (BMPPD).
BMPPD was founded in 2010 and aims to educate and train young people between the ages of seven and 21 in Germany. Following the principles of the Quran as they represent themselves, the BMPPD recognises that dialogue with people of different faith, ethnicity, skin colour, language, and nationality as equal partners is indispensible. But are there any concrete signs?
The Muslim scouts organised a project called “The Flame of Hope”, which is intended to help Muslim youth gain a better understanding of German history and the social responsibility for a peaceful coexistence far from prejudice and ideological frameworks. In this project, a group of Muslim scouts travelled to various cities across Germany from September 2012 to October 2013 to meet with other youth groups of different backgrounds. The goal was inter alia to integrate young people with a migration background in society in order to strengthen their sense of citizenship.
This should also, Hartit argues, actively involve the youth in building a better future for a diverse and pluralist society.
While asked to describe the current integration processes of Muslim youth in Germany in one word, Hartit said it remains a “virtuous action”. The same question was directed to Susanne Schroeter, Claudia Hackhausen, Ahmad Mansour, and a civil police officer and they answered respectively “ambivalent”, “hopeful”, “needs to be brought up-to-date”, and “improvable”.
Hakim Khatib is a political scientist works as a lecturer for politics and culture of the Middle East, intercultural communication and journalism at Fulda University of Applied Sciences and Phillips University Marburg. The article first appeared in Mashreq Politics and Culture Journal.