For years now, the teachings of imams in Germany have been hotly debated.Does that sound reasonable? Is that a balanced article as it should be expected from a mainstream medium? I don't think so. Why? Let me first deliver some additional information regarding the experts quoted. It will clarify a lot.
The vast majority (90 percent) are of Turkish origin, but there are also imams from Morocco and Iran. Frequently, imams speak little or no German, nor are they acquainted with the political, social and cultural norms in Germany. Many politicians -- as well as many Muslims living in Germany -- are now demanding that this situation change.
Ferid Heider grew up in Berlin and serves as imam at two of the city's mosques. "Every Muslim can decide for himself who he recognizes as an authority figure," Heider said.
As a Muslim and an imam, Heider is under no obligation to follow the fatwas issued, for example, at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo -- one of the most significant educational institutes in the Islamic world -- or any other scholarly community for that matter.
His task, he said, is to do the best he can according to knowledge and his conscience. For him, that means taking the German way of life into account when offering opinions and advice. A fatwa, he stressed, should always refer to a specific case and set of circumstances.
Challenges of life in Germany
Heider said he's often asked by those in his religious community about which behaviors should be permitted or forbidden for Muslims. Everyday life in Germany is not without conflict for Muslims. Prayer times and working hours often don't mesh, nudity -- whether in parks, gyms or the media -- is pervasive, and alcohol is freely available.
The imam listens to people's problems, and then refers to the Koran and examples from the life of the prophet Mohammed. Based on these sources, he then issues an Islamic legal opinion.
For fatwas issued in Europe, Heider said it's important to have "Islamic scholars in Europe that have either grown up here or have lived here for a long time." In his view, only those who are intimately acquainted with the political, social and economic situation of a place can issue adequate fatwas.
Fatwas issued in Germany often vary greatly from those issued in countries with a majority Muslim population. That's in part due to the nature of a fatwa, says Bettina Graef, an Islamic scholar at Berlin's Center for Modern Oriental Studies (ZMO). A fatwa may be a ruling in an individual case, but its significance is often much larger.
"Everything that's not forbidden is, in principle, allowed," said Graef. "And so of course people try to push the boundaries."
Fatwas are of central importance to the Islamic identity, says Graef -- an identity that has become particularly important in Europe and the US since the 1990s.
Fatwas imposed from abroad
Many legal scholars in traditional Islamic countries view the new Islamic practice of law in Europe with concern. They're worried that their brothers in faith are straying too far from the right path, and may be jeopardizing Islam. In order to prevent this, they issue their own fatwas about how Muslims in Europe should lead their lives.
These fatwas may be issued in far-off countries, but they're nonetheless a source of concern for law professor and expert on Islamic law Mathias Rohe. It's a worrying development, he said, adding that it has its roots in Saudi Arabia. Imams there have issued opinions demanding that Muslims in Europe hold themselves apart from what is, in their view, a faithless world.
Islam is a religion without a highest authority. There's no position that is comparable to the Catholic pope. Instead, the faithful can choose from a multitude of voices: the imam from the nearest mosque, scholars at Al-Azhar University, prominent TV sheiks, and superregional fatwa committees. Islamic extremists can just as easily find fatwas to confirm their beliefs as can moderate Muslims who believe in peaceful coexistence with members of other religions.
Islamic organizations representing Muslims in Germany have also attempted to convince their followers to subscribe to a set of basic principles. The variety of opinions and degree of individualism hampers Muslims' efforts to successfully represent themselves as a group, said Burhan Kesici, the secretary general of the Islamic Council in Germany.
In his view, having some commonality on fatwas is beneficial to the credibility of Islamic spokespeople in Germany and Europe. A common Islamic organization could very well influence the beliefs of individuals, Kesici said. In addition, it would make it possible to exclude Muslims with extremist views.
Bettina Gräf M.A., who sounds like a convert (or at least like an about-to-be convert) to Islam, a "scholar" of Islamic studies appears to be without the slightest distance to the object of her supposed-to-be scholarly research. Her recently submitted doctor's thesis is about "Media-Fatwas by Yusuf al-Qaradawi: Popularisation of the Islamic Understanding of Law. That is the same Al-Qaradawi who, so Gräf herself informs us in her own words in an 4 year old article in the leftwing taz
... supports the fight for independence of the Palestinians... initiates solidarity campaigns, collects money and decries at any opportunity the ongoing occupation of Palestine... He goes pretty far here: In an Islamic legal opinion he justifies Palestinian suicide assassinations as a means to the end of self-defense against Israel's policy.In the same article, Gräf describes the object of her scientific research as a "scholar of law" who
... promotes Islam and the rights of Muslims since his boyhood, but speaks up against extremism and violence as well. Al-Qaradawi claims for himself the term "center school of thought". That means that he equally recognizes and consults all the different Islamic legal traditions.We can safely assume that promoting the "rights of Muslims" means, as it always does, overriding the rights of people from other cultures, and we are slowly about to get a whiff of where Gräf stands.
Mathias Rohe, the other Islam expert quoted in the above article, is of a different calibre than Gräf, which makes things worse. A highly qualified scholar of law, he holds a chair for international civil law at the old and respected Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg. His secondary subject was Islamic science, which makes him a sought-after expert on Islamic law and he is, as such, a consultant to the German office for the protection of the constitution (Verfassungsschutz), a rather creepy thought in the light of the fact that Rohe promotes a speedy equal legal treatment of Islam and the Chritian faith on the grounds of the same constitution his client is supposed to protect.
Rohe, too, condiders the Islamic sharia as law with the same functions as the legal systems of Western societies, namely "to establish a societal order of peace and to coordinate and harmonize the different interests of the people". Rohe sees no conflict of interests between sharia and Western law. Case in point: An immigrant who brings his four (by Islamic law legal) wifes to this country, has no legal consequences to fear. We are accepting this polygamous marriage already for a considerable time now and German social legislation does indeed provide for all four wives widow's retirement pension expectancy. Not ONE expectancy divided by four, mind you, but four full ones. Because of that, Rohe argues, it is only logical to accept the rest as well.
The positivism out of the loony bin of Rohe's argument, that sharia is a good thing worth further promotion because parts of it are already applied, makes the mind boggle. Instead of asking for the abolition of such violation of the rights of the German people and our Western culture, this German (doubtlessly eminently highly qualified) scholar of law states that it ought to be applied even further. Rohe says now that beheadings and amputations are something the "German sharia law" will not allow. How can he know? Because all his nice, moderate, peacefully-minded Muslim friends are telling him so?
If a common organisation of all Muslims in Germany and the legal recognition of sharia law really aims, as it is nauseatingly often claimed, to promote moderate Islam by offering an alternative network to that of "militant Islamists", we don't need it. A truly moderate Islam would be able to cope with the Western laws, if it can't, it would be suicidal to allow it. We all know fully assimilated Turks, we even believe that they will never pose a threat to us. But where are they when it is about distancing themselves from Muslim claims, demands and atrocities? Where are the 100%-assimilated Muslims when their brethren rally all-but-peacefully against Israel? That said, where are the GERMANS speaking out against Muslim verbal and physical violence towards Israel? You don't know? They are marching side by side with them.
Who are the people who are selling us out to the fascistoid, totalitarian and deeply imperialistic Islam? What makes them tick?