Islamic spiritual journeys in Germany

Şehitlik Mosque and Muslim cemetery in Berlin. Credits: flickr/cosmonautirussi

Islam belongs to Germany”, said Angela Merkel in 2015. Germany today has the largest Muslim population of the European Union, which equals to 5 per cent of it. There is an incredible diversity within the German Muslim community. Most have Turkish origins, but there are also European, Middle Eastern, North African and Asian Muslims in this country.

Therefore, Muslims in Germany practise their religion in different ways. Some of them feel closer to their original country’s traditions than Islamic teachings, even if it can also be an important part of their identity. There are Islam’s followers who are liberal, while others are conservative. There are also Muslims who do not like these kinds of labels, thinking that it just divides the Umma (the Muslim community). They just want to live their own connection with Allah.

Among these practising people, Aalihaja and Manar, who are two different Muslim German women. They tell us about their personal spiritual journeys in Germany.

Aalihaja

Aalihaja is a German and Muslim married stay-at-home mother of two children. She is 27 and she used to work in a hospital, before getting pregnant. She talks about how her way to perceive Islam has changed with time and meetings with Germans and migrants.

Where do you come from?

I am German. My dad is Egyptian and my mum is German too. She is converted to Islam, while my father was born Muslim.

Do you practise this religion the same way your parents do?

Not really. I mean, we are all Muslims, but they are practising, how could I say, in a more liberal way. They both pray and fast, but they don’t always understand my religious choices. For instance, during the small eid, the party at the end of Ramadan, they invited their whole friends and family while I do not appreciate to be with so many people. I prefer to stay apart from men.

Did you always practise Islam the way you practise it today?

No. The trigger point was when I met my sister’s husband. He is German and converted to Islam. I was sixteen. He allowed me to discover a new way to live Islam. My parents are a kind of mix of Islamic teachings and Arabic culture. For me, Islam is a line and I try to hold on to it. But the way I perceive religion evolves with time. A significant example is the way I dress. In high school, I began to wear the veil. In the beginning, I wore white pants with a scarf rolled to form big flowers and I used mascara. Then, I wore long tunics down to my knees. Since the last year of high school, I wear the jilbab and I totally stopped make-up. My appearance really changed during my teenage years, but my practise of Islam also affected me inside. Appearance is just what people notice at first.

Did your family and friends change their behaviour with you?

Not really. However, one day, a friend wanted me to do something against my religious beliefs and we argued about it. She was really disappointed. She did not understand. Sometimes, it is complicated for people to accept who I am without judging me. When I was in high school, we once had a conference and one of the speakers told me, in front of everybody, that I should not dress like this. Even my teachers agreed, telling me that I am too open-minded, that I did not fit in a jilbab.

“Living in Germany allowed me to think of Islam in a deeper way. It is not just a cultural heritage, it is really something personal.”

How do you explain the fact that you are more practising than your dad, for example, even if you were born and grew up in Germany?

I think that my dad comes from a country where religion was more an injunction than a choice. It is not that he comes from a strict community, but other people’s opinion is important. He did not have the freedom that I have in Germany. You can be whatever you want to be here. For instance, if you do not drink alcohol, even if it is really traditional in Germany, people do not mind. Living in Germany allowed me to think of Islam in a deeper way. It is not just a cultural heritage, it is really something personal. I had the freedom to unrestrainedly seek what Allah wants from me.

What would you like people to know about Muslims in Germany?

I think it is important to be aware that Muslims are all different, without any judgement. My husband is Kurdish from Iraq, my father is Egyptian, my mother is German, my sister and I are mixed. Even in one family, there are so many differences. There are born Muslims and converted ones. We all practise in a different way and we are not a monolith. Today, we find Islam in Germany because of immigration. However, we should not think that all Muslims are immigrants, because there are lots of converted Germans.

Manar

Manar is a married German woman in her fifties who converted to Islam 17 years ago. She is an imam in the Ibn Rushd Goethe mosque in Berlin. This progressive place of worship is located in a Protestant church. The name of the mosque references to the German poet Goethe and the Muslim, Arabic and Andalusian scholar Ibn Rushd, well-known as Averroes.

What is your spiritual journey?

I was born in a family where religion was not something important. Therefore, I did not believe in God. I lived like this until I met Turkish Muslims. They allowed me to really begin to learn about Islam. Allah came to me! So I converted to this religion. Today, I sometimes lead the prayer in the mosque.

Is it complicated to be an imam as a woman?

We received lots of journalists who wrote really bad articles about us. The thing is, I still do not understand why it is shocking that a woman leads a prayer. People do not know Islam, there are so many misunderstandings. It is the same with the veil. We accept everyone here. You can come with or without a scarf. However, we should remember that Allah knows all of us, so why wearing a headscarf in the mosque when we do not wear it in our daily life?

From what I read, the fact that you do not accept women wearing a burka while welcoming everyone, is what most annoyed people. Can you explain this choice?

Even in Mecca the burka is not accepted! All we ask is for people to show us their faces, in order for us to be able to recognise them. We never know who is under this cloth. It is a matter of security. I am personally not against women who wear it. They can wear it wherever they want, but when they come to our mosque, they have to show us their faces. It is the single condition, for everybody.

Muslim Germans, who are neither immigrants nor children of immigrants, exist too. It would be fine to acknowledge it.

Your mosque is also considered as liberal. What does that mean?

The mosque is a place of reflection. We welcome all kinds of Muslims here. Sunnis, Shias… In the holy Quran, Allah tells us to respect everyone and forbids us to offend or speak badly of people. Therefore, we do not have a problem with LGBTQ Muslims, for instance. We also have people from everywhere, not forgetting Germans, who were born and grew up here. There are many Turkish people, as they are the largest Muslim community in Germany. Sometimes, people come with members of their family who do not follow Islam like Christians, for example.

What would you like people to know about Muslims in Germany?

People should be informed of the fact that we are all different and that Islam is not a religion from elsewhere. Muslim Germans, who are neither immigrants nor children of immigrants, exist too. It would be fine to acknowledge it.

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