Cultural scene

Islamic Youth Culture in Germany: What Is “Pop Islam” and Where Is It Going?

Der Islamwissenschaftler Dr. Götz Nordbruch spürt Trends unter muslimischen Jugendlichen auf; Foto: privatThe Islam scholar Dr. Götz Nordbruch studying trends among Muslim young people; photo: privateIslam is the fastest growing religion in Germany. The German Islam scholar Götz Nordbruch studies trends and lifestyles among Muslim youth. In an interview with goethe.de, he explains why young Muslims take their faith so seriously and what has happened to the youth culture of pop Islam.

Dr. Nordbruch, what is pop Islam?

“Pop Islam” refers to a youth culture that has emerged in the last eight to ten years. These young people are conservative and religious Muslims. At the same time, they see themselves as part of society and define themselves as German. The term is hardly used by Muslims, however, because in their view its sounds like Islam “light”.

How strongly does religion influence these young people?

Looking at initiatives such as “Muslim Youth in Germany” and “Muslim – The Next Generation”, one realises the great significance religion has for the young. They organise their daily life so that it conforms to Islamic rules. This begins with prayer but can also come to expression in reservations about mixed-sex activities. That is a lifestyle which influences the way they deal with others as well as their daily routine. Islam is an offer to be part of a community, but also an orientation in a phase of life marked by upheaval. Of course, it’s also about spirituality – that’s unfortunately often forgot in the debate about Islam.

Many young Muslims seek dialogue with Christians

Whether bag or T-shirt, an Internet shop offers Muslim young people everything in Islam-related design; photo: styleislam.comThese young people then cut themselves off from others …?

They do a lot of things amongst themselves, go together to the mosque and do their homework in the Islamic Centre. That doesn’t necessarily mean they cut themselves off from society: many Muslim youth organisations, for example, deliberately seek dialogue and discussion with Christian youth organisations. And many Muslim organisations endeavour to provide volunteer work that isn’t directed solely to Muslims – as, for example, the Muslim association Lifemakers, which looks after the homeless.

The London Underground bombers also seemed engaged and integrated into society … How do young Muslims view such actions?

The youth scenes that are part of pop Islam reject terrorism. This was the case from the start and is completely credible. The Salafi scene, on the other hand, which has nothing to do with pop Islam, is another matter. Prominent preachers such as Pierre Vogel in Cologne and Abdul Adhim in Berlin represent a rigid Islamic doctrine. They too reject the use of violence in their speeches, but preach an Islam that offers points of contact to an Islamism that is willing to resort to violence. They follow a version of Islam in conformity with that of the first Muslims in the 7th century. These preachers have an influence on young Muslims because they’re often charismatic and profess a very strict orientation.

Taking others seriously

How should we respond to a fourteen year-old that speaks in favour of jihad at school or a girl that suddenly dons the headscarf?

A teacher or social worker should respond to a young person that wears the headscarf as he would to someone that dresses like a punk. Wearing the headscarf can be a provocation. It is important to respect these individual decisions. Anything else would be presumptuous. For many young people the experience of being taken seriously is the basis for their even getting into conversation with each other. It’s another thing of course when someone uses religion to defame others, put them under pressure or even to call for violence. There staunch opposition is important.

What do young people think of the debate about whether Islam is part of Germany?

For Muslim young people this discussion misses reality. They have been born here, some families have been here for three or four generations, and they have been socialised in Germany. They feel themselves no longer to be immigrants, but a part of society, and demand a voice for themselves. One should also bear in mind that many young people of Turkish or Arabic background aren’t religious at all. For these young people the headscarf isn’t really an issue. Yet they feel backed into the Islamic corner by the current debate. They suddenly have to face the question: What do you think about the headscarf? What do you think about honour killings? So it’s hardly surprising that many of these young people call themselves Muslims. Many young people start only then to come to grip with Islam.

Where is pop Islam heading?

Many Muslim young people have a very conservative understanding of religion; photo: Volker Qasir / Pixelio.deFive or six years ago you could have said pop Islam is young, conservative Muslims that identify themselves as German Muslims and wear T-shirts emblazoned with “Muhammad is my prophet”. Today pop Islam can’t be so clearly defined. The boundaries of the spectrum are dissolving – in both directions. Radical Islamist groups such as the Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Germany because it distributed anti-Semitic propaganda and is said to have incited violence, have also adopted pop cultural elements: these Muslims wear similar T-shirts and listen to similar music. Here’s a blurring of the boundary in the radical direction. At the same time, the boundary is dissolving in the direction of less religious young people that aren’t so easy to classify. In the end, this is the expression of a pluralizing of the youth scene in which Muslim young people situate themselves and – even if this sound a bit like speech-making – a naturalisation of Islam in Germany.

The German scholar of Islamic Studies Dr. Götz Nordbruch is Assistant Professor at the Centre for Contemporary Middle East Studies at the southern Danish University in Odense. He is co-founder of the Association Ufuq.de and co-editor of the Newsletter “Jugendkultur, Religion und Demokratie. Politische Bildung mit jungen Muslimen” (i.e., Youth Culture, Religion and Democracy. Civic Education with Young Muslims) of the German Federal Agency for Civic Education.

Eva Zimmerhof
conducted the interview. She is an historian and educationalist and works as a freelance editor in Munich.

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
Dezember 2010

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