Life of Muslims in Germany
Study tour gives insights into the life of Muslims in Germany

Studienreise - Life of Muslims in Germany
© Goethe-Institut/Bernhard Ludewig

At the same time, the trip showed the participants, who as Muslims belong to an overwhelming majority in their homeland, what the reverse situation is like for Muslims living as a minority in Germany. This opened the door for intensive discussions and stimulating dialogues.

The two-week tour provided the fourteen participants – seven women and seven men from all over Indonesia – with the opportunity to gain an insight into the everyday life of Muslims in Germany. Through discussions and meetings with representatives of Muslim organizations, politicians and academics, as well as visits to museums, universities, mosques and churches, the participants acquired a realistic impression of the life of Muslims in Germany on site and arrive at possible answers to questions concerning integration, peaceful coexistence and conflict potential.
At the same time, the trip showed the participants, who as Muslims belong to an overwhelming majority in their homeland, what the reverse situation is like for Muslims living as a minority in Germany. This opened the door for intensive discussions and stimulating dialogues.
A series of seminars led by Dr. Susanne Kaiser, journalist and expert on Islam in Germany, covered the theoretical part of the study trip: from the history of the first guest workers in Germany to the backyard mosques in Berlin and the role of Islam in politics and society.
Visits to various universities in Berlin, Göttingen and Hamburg – institutions offering studies in religion and Islam – left a lasting impression on those involved, especially among the participants who themselves are lecturers and assistant professors in Indonesia. They found the juxtaposition of belief and science particularly interesting. Non-denominational Islamic science requires students to deal critically with the Koran and thus allows pluralistic interpretations. This form of encounter with the Koran is not possible in Indonesia, where the courses of study are denominationally oriented.

Mosques as meeting places

The participants met a number of community members in Berlin mosques, including the Dar Assalam Mosque and meeting places in Berlin-Neukölln, where they were informed about local activities.
Built according to Ottoman architecture, the Şehitlik Mosque serves as a place of prayer for Muslims in neighboring districts and includes a cultural center for other religious and social services. There is also a BAHIRA consulting center on the premises. As a cooperation project between the Violence Prevention Network and DITIB (Turkish-Islamic Union of the Institute for Religion e.V.), BAHIRA is engaged in raising awareness and the qualification of mosque communities concerning the topic of radicalization prevention. At the same time, BAHIRA’s mission is to establish the mosque communities as “providers” and points of radicalization prevention.
A visit to the Ibn Rushd Goethe Mosque, which opened a year ago and provoked controversial reactions – including among Muslims themselves – was another appointment attended by Indonesian participants. This liberal mosque welcomes homosexuals, has a female imam, and women and men pray together. This was new territory for the visiting Indonesian intellectuals, and their reactions were quite varied.
Encounters at the political level were also part of the program. Visits to the German Bundestag, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Interior brought the participants in some cases into contact with high-ranking politicians. Discussions covered foreign policy and the role of Islam in both Germany and Indonesia.
The group was also given a tour of Berlin’s Neukölln quarter, where the largest proportion of people with migration backgrounds live. About 40% of the people in Neukölln have a non-German family background and a quarter of them are Muslims, tendency rising. In the “Orient Rösterei” on Sonnenallee, participants were not only treated to delicacies such as dates, nuts and coffee, but also in conversation with the owner they learned more about the history of Sonnenallee and the district of Neukölln in general, where it is possible to “live one’s entire life without speaking even one word of German”.

Dialogue of Religions

The Junge Islam Konferenz (JIK, Young Islam Conference), a dialogue forum for young people, addresses issues about living together constructively and equal rights in the German immigration community. With events and networking, the JIK tries to reduce prejudices through personal encounters and to encourage young people to express and work for an open and diverse society. When the Indonesian group dropped in on the JIK office, lively discussions and an animated exchange arose in which both sides were open to learning from each other and were able to do so.
A visit to St. Marienkirche was also on the agenda – it was the first time many of the Indonesian participants had entered a church. This was followed by Father Eric Haußmann taking the group to the “House of One”, which houses a church, a mosque and a synagogue under one roof, a place “for meeting people of different religions and no religion and for exchanging views”. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2019. At the moment, there is a pavilion on the site where you can learn about the concept and where events and programs are already regularly taking place. The “House of One” project is a world first.
Despite the tight schedule, the Indonesian visitors still had time for the “beautiful things of life” – city tours in Berlin and a Hamburg harbor tour, while those interested in football could watch the semi-finals and the final of the World Cup in Russia at a public viewing with other fans.
During the remaining free time, the participants explored Berlin or went shopping, and some used their last hours in Germany to return to places already visited in order to deepen and add to their impressions. One participant, for example, re-visited the Ibn Rushd Goethe Mosque, which he found to be particularly “revealing and enlightening”.
In the concluding discussion it became clear that at the end of their two-week stay the participants had a predominantly positive impression of Muslim life in Germany. They mentioned good integration and successful careers as examples. Foregrounded also was the fact that the different Muslim groups (e.g. the Sunnis, Alevi, Shiites, Alawites, Ahmadis) co-existed for the most part peacefully with each other. This cannot be taken for granted in Indonesian.
Areas of friction and potential conflict were also acknowledged, especially in the wake of the refugee crisis and the increased number of Muslims in Germany in recent years, where nearly five million Muslims currently live. The possible consequences of international political factors can also have an effect on the day-to-day reality of Muslims in the country.
As Dr. Heinrich Blömeke, Director of Goethe-Institut Indonesien, said, a factor in the selection of participants was their role as multipliers in religious and public educational institutions or in the media so that they would be in a position to share their impressions and experiences to a broader audience after they returned to Indonesia. At a time when so-called right-wing populism is experiencing a new upswing, inter-religious and cultural study tours and projects are now more important than ever. In this regard, “The Life of Muslims in Germany” is a key component in the dialogue amongst religions and for this reason is planned again for next year.