Nearly two-thirds of Germans believe that Islam does not belong to Germany, according to a recent opinion poll, which also found that only 22% of Germans consider Islam to be an integral part of German society.
In a similar poll conducted in January 2015, 37% of Germans said that Islam belongs to Germany, 15% more than now. The results indicate that German attitudes toward Islam are hardening after Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to allow more than 1.1 million mostly Muslim migrants to enter Germany in 2015.
The poll has opened yet another chapter in the decade-long debate over the phrase, "Islam belongs to Germany." The words were first uttered in September 2006 — at the time there were 3.5 million Muslims in Germany, compared to nearly six million today — by then Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.
Speaking ahead of the first-ever German-Islam Conference, the first institutionalized dialogue between representatives of the German government and of Muslims in Germany, Schäuble said: "Islam is a part of Germany and a part of Europe. Islam is a part of our present and a part of our future. Muslims are welcome in Germany."
The phrase was repeated in October 2010 by Germany's then president, Christian Wulff, during a keynote speech to mark the 20th anniversary of German reunification. Wulff proclaimed that "Islam belongs to Germany" because millions of Muslims now live there:
"Christianity doubtless belongs to Germany. Judaism belongs unequivocally to Germany. This is our Judeo-Christian history. But now Islam also belongs to Germany (Der Islam gehört inzwischen auch zu Deutschland)."
Wulff then quoted the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who in his West-Eastern Diwan (West–östlicher Divan, 1819) wrote: "He who knows himself and others will understand: East and West are no longer separable."
Since then, a debate has raged over the increasingly contentious question of Muslim immigration, integration and the role of Islam in German society. The University of Bonn launched a research project entitled, "How much Islam belongs to Germany?" The Konrad Adenauer Foundation published a paper: "Which Islam belongs to Germany?" According to the head of the Lutheran Church in Germany, Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, only "Democratic Islam" belongs to Germany.
What follows is an abridged historical review of the phrase "Islam belongs to Germany."
March 3, 2011. In his first press conference as German Interior Minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich said that Islam does not belong to Germany: "To say that Islam belongs in Germany is not a fact supported by history at any point." He added that Muslim immigrants should respect the "Western Christian origin of our culture." His comments set off a firestorm of criticism from the guardians of German multiculturalism.
March 4, 2011. Wolfgang Bosbach, of the ruling Christian Democrats (CDU), defended Friedrich: "I like politicians who say what they think. Islam is part of the reality of Germany, but it is not part of German identity."
March 5, 2011. Alexander Dobrindt, the General Secretary of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Angela Merkel's CDU, said: "Of course there are Muslims in Germany. But Islam is not part of the German mainstream culture (Leitkultur)." CDU parliamentary leader Volker Kauder said: "Islam has not shaped our society in the past and it does not do so today. Therefore, Islam does not belong to Germany."
May 31, 2012. The new German President, Joachim Gauck, distanced himself from Wulff's comments: "The reality is that many Muslims live in our country. I would have simply said that the Muslims who live here belong to Germany." He added: "Where has Islam shaped Europe? Did Islam experience the Enlightenment, or even a Reformation?"
January 12, 2015. Chancellor Angela Merkel, during a meeting in Berlin with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, declared: "Former German President Christian Wulff said: 'Islam belongs to Germany.' That is true. This is also my opinion." She stressed the need to "strengthen the dialogue between religions because there is still too much ignorance."
January 13, 2015. Hans-Peter Friedrich, the former interior minister, challenged Merkel's claim that Islam belongs to Germany:
"The Muslims who live in this country, who are committed to this country, belong to Germany, no question. There is nothing to deny and nothing to relativize. But I can see nowhere that Islam belongs to Germany. Islam is not a formative, constitutive element of the identity of our country.
"The issue revolves around the question of what is constitutive, of what makes the identity of this country. And the identity of this country, developed over centuries, is not Islam but a Christian culture, based on Christian and Jewish roots.
"Islam is not a defining element of the identity of this country. Anyone who travels through Germany can see this. They can see churches and paintings, they can listen to music that comes from many centuries of ecclesial roots; they can see art and architecture which are marked by Christianity.
"Whether Islam will be a defining element of Europe or Germany in centuries from now, only time will tell."
January 20, 2015. Thilo Sarrazin, a renowned former German central banker and a member of the Social Democrats (SPD) who has been warning Germans for years about the consequences of mass migration, criticized Merkel:
"When the Chancellor says she is of the opinion that Islam is part of Europe's tradition and culture, she is mistaken. When Angela Merkel says that Muslims should enjoy full citizenship in Germany and will be welcome if they integrate, her statement is true, although banal."
He said that Islam "with all its radical, violent manifestations" arrived in Germany only in the last 40 years due to "unplanned and uncontrolled mass immigration into German society." He added: "In addition, Angela Merkel's statement obscures the real problem: A growing proportion of Muslim citizens in Europe does not share the Western system of values, does not want to culturally integrate and seals itself off in parallel societies."
June 30, 2015. Merkel, speaking in Berlin after an Iftar, an evening meal that breaks the daily fast during Ramadan, declared: "It is indisputably obvious that Islam now belongs to Germany."
September 21, 2015. Edmund Stoiber, the Honorary Chairman of Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) said: "I cannot accept the phrase, 'Islam belongs to Germany.' Muslims belong to Germany, but Islam does not. Islam is not a core element of German culture and has not shaped our intellectual history and tradition."
April 17, 2016. Beatrix von Storch, the Deputy Chairperson of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), now the third-most popular political party in Germany, said: "Many Muslims belong to Germany, but Islam does not belong to Germany. Islam is at base a political ideology that is not compatible with the German Constitution."
Alexander Gauland, the leader of the AfD in Brandenburg, elaborated: "Islam is not a religion like Catholicism or Protestantism. Intellectually, Islam is always linked to the overthrow of the state. Therefore, the Islamization of Germany poses a threat."
May 1, 2016. The AfD adopted a manifesto calling for curbs to migration and restrictions on Islam. The document calls for a ban on minarets, Muslim calls to prayer and full-face veils:
"Islam does not belong to Germany. The AfD views the spread of Islam and the growing number of Muslims in Germany as a great danger for our country, our society and our system of values. An Islam that does not respect our legal system and even fights against it and claims to be the only valid religion is incompatible with our legal system and culture. Many Muslims live according to our laws and are integrated and are accepted as valued members of our society. However, the AfD wants to prevent the emergence of Islamic parallel societies with sharia judges. The AfD wants to prevent Muslims from radicalizing and turning to violent Salafism and religious terrorism."
May 5, 2016. CDU parliamentary leader Volker Kauder said that Christian Wulff's choice of words in 2010 were "well-intentioned but imprecise." He said that while Muslims belong to Germany, Islam certainly does not: "Germany has not been historically or culturally shaped by Islam." According to Kauder, Islam has many manifestations, "some of which we can never accept in Germany." He added: "For us, religion is never above the state." He said that religious freedom is not unlimited, but is restrained by the German Constitution.
May 16, 2016. The German journalist Henryk Broder wrote:
"Anyone who believes Islam belongs to Germany should not hesitate to go one step further and declare: Sharia law belongs to Germany. Without Sharia law, there is no authentic Islam. The 'Euro-Islam' desired by many is a chimera, as was 'Euro-communism' during the Cold War.
"This would significantly facilitate peaceful coexistence on a firm foundation. It would also be the end of all debates — about the equality of men and women, marriage for all, headscarves in the civil service, the separation of power in politics, separation of church and state, caricatures and satires. We would save a lot of time and could turn to the really relevant questions. For example: Was Jesus the first Muslim?"
In a speech on October 22, 2014, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that she agreed with the statement of former German President Christian Wulff, that "Islam belongs to Germany."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter. His first book, Global Fire, will be out in 2016.