“That invisible majority of moderate Muslims”
By a quarter past six in the evening Ezhar Cezairli has finished visiting her last two patients, and is finally free to speak for us for a few minutes on the telephone. Because, in addition to being a secular member of the German Islamic Conference, she is also a dentist, practising in Frankfurt. “The conference has enabled the beginning of a dialogue, and within the community, too, we have finally begun to discuss”, Cezairli tells us. The first Turkish woman to obtain a school leaving certificate, she has founded an association of secular Muslims and believes in a private faith: “The majority of the German Muslim population are well-integrated and moderate, but they are not organized and are not visibile” she argues. “The Germans are lucky, because most Muslims have Turkish origins, and in Turkey, up until now, religion and politics have been separated. But I worry that the recent developments in Turkey will influence German Muslims too”.
An interview by Daniele Castellani Perelli.
What do you think about the results of the German Islamic Conference?
The Islamic Conference has not finished. It is in process, and the Minister of the Interior, Wolfgang Schäuble, has said that it may last another two years. We do not have any concrete results yet, but one success we can point to is that we have a dialogue between State representatives and some representatives of the Muslim community. Of course this is a small success, but it is also important to note that the Islamic Conference has begun a dialogue among Muslims themselves. Muslims are not a homogenous group – we have so different opinions about how Islam should be lived!
Are those who are taking part in the conference representative of the German Muslim community?
There are five people who represent particular organized groups, and the other ten are individuals who are not organized. This means that they are not organizations, but rather individuals from different sections of society, as in my case. I am a migrant of course, I have a migratory background, but I do not belong to any Islamic organization, so I am one of those ten Muslims who are more liberal and secular.
So your answer is “yes”.
Yes, that is what I think – why not? Maybe when you have such a conference you cannot take everyone, and, of course, the majority of the Muslim representatives are of Turkish origin (of the 3.3 million Muslims in Germany, I think more than 80 percent come from Turkey), but there are also people from Iran, Afghanistan and Syria. So the majority are from Turkey. I think the debate has not been not too bad, even though I am still not very sure what the results of the conference will be. There have been working groups meeting every six weeks to discuss certain topics; the first public conference with press participation took place in September and the second in May, but after that one I was a little bit disappointed because the organized groups used that conference to profile themselves and demonstrate that they were present, becoming more radical to draw attention to themselves. Moreover, in the second conference there were a lot of women wearing headscarves, while in the first one there weren't. The women participating in the Islamic Conference didn't wear headscarves, and yet the other women who came to listen as guests did (only the organized groups brought guests with them), so I think that dominated the picture a bit, and I didn't like that.
What are the most urgent issues for the integration of the Muslim community in Germany?
That is a very good question because last time the discussion of problems concerning integration was restricted to religion, and I think that it isn't religion that causes the problem. Rather it is our social and cultural problems, and the reality of children who come from migrant families and do not have equal opportunities because they do not get help from their families and their mothers when they have difficulties at school. That is why the German State and the whole of society must work together to help them have the same opportunities, for example by giving them more special support in order to learn German, to get better marks at school and have a better understanding of lessons. So there are many things to be done. I think the most important thing is that all children born in Germany should have the same chances as those who have German parents. They should grow up in this society and be a part of it, but they can only be a part of the society when they are socially integrated, and I think that is the main problem. After 9/11 in New York everything has been reduced to religion. And I do not like the idea of separating people into Muslims on the one side and good Christians at the other. One cannot say “These are Muslims and these are Christians”, because Muslims are not all the same. In order to achieve integration, we have to make much more effort, and we should not let those other Islamic organizations take these young people and educate them themselves. It should be the State which helps them, and not Islamic organizations, because there are a lot of Islamic organizations who fill this vacuum in order to support these children. Actually, they do support them but at the same time they also give them their own ideology, and this is the problem.
And who is doing more for the integration, the German State or the Muslim communities?
The German State is doing a lot. They understood that there is no other alternative: we have to succeed in promoting integration, because otherwise we will always have a parallel society – especially when you look at what the demographic development will be in ten or twenty years, when two thirds of the population of the young people at school will be people from migrant and Islamic families. What is perhaps also important is that all those who are taking part in this conference, including the organized Islamic groups, can arrive at some consensus on values which apply for everyone – universal values like those envisaged by liberal democratic systems – and the way an individual must behave in society. One of the problems has to do with school: they want to have different classes for boys and for girls in physical education, for example, and we do not like that. This has nothing to do with religion, because I am Islamic, too, I am also a Muslim, but I would never think of supporting single sex lessons.
So the Muslim community is not doing enough.
Not the Muslim community in general. I think that the majority of Turkish people or Muslim people are well-integrated, but they are not seen on the public stage, they are not distinguished from the rest of the society. But there is a group which causes a lot of problems because they are easily distinguished from the rest of the society, since they wear different clothes. So these become identified as Muslims.
And these are over-represented in the media?
Yes, they are over-represented. And they are not the majority because the organized groups they represent, as numbers show, account for 15 percent of the 3.3 million Muslims [living in Germany]. Most Muslims are not members of those organized groups, but these organizations are more vocal and want special treatment because they say “We are Muslims, we have to have some other values”.
So you say that the majority are moderate people.
Yes, I think so. But the moderate people have a problem: they are not organized.
Is there a special German model of integration that is different to the French or the British one?
The Germans are lucky, because most Muslims have Turkish origins, and in Turkey up until now religion and politics have been separated, as stated in the Constitution. So people are used to that situation. But Britain’s Muslims are not from Turkey, and in France they tend to come from Arabic countries, too. This is a very important point. The lastest developments in Turkey also cause a small problem, of course. We are worried that Turkey will not continue to separate religion and politics, because the new government is not very secular. And this might influence German Muslims too.
Journalist Jörg Lau wrote on Die Zeit that Schäuble is doing for the Muslims more than the red-green government did. Do you agree with him?
The red-green government did not succeed because it was too tolerant towards certain Muslim individuals or groups like – and this is a very good example – the Caliph of Cologne, who was supported by the red-green government and became so powerful so that he could get German citizenship. That man never integrated himself into European or modern German society, and yet he was given German citizenship, and was allowed to have his groups with this ideology of not accepting democratic and liberal principles. So I think the previous government was not very successful. We will have to wait. I am not sure yet whether Schäuble will succeed, but he has done a little more than the others. Nevertheless, we do not know yet what exactly the results will be. Another important thing to point out is that in Germany there is a very special relationship between the State and Church, which is different to that of France, for example, or of Great Britain. Muslim groups know this, and they want to have the same relationship, the same legal status as the other Churches because they know that the German kind of relationship between State and Church would be better for them too. But Islam is not organized like Christianity. We do not have a Pope, so normally Islam is much more liberal because between the Muslim individuals and Allah there shouldn't be anyone, no German State nor any organized Islamic institutions to tell us how we should live.
Why do they ask the same status, then?
Because they would get much more money. It is all about money, of course. And then they would also exert much more influence on their Muslim community. For example, they could also organize Islamic lessons at school. I also accept that religion lessons should be given in German schools, provided that they are given in German language and by teachers who are trained in Germany and not sent from Arab, Turkish or Muslim countries. They should be controlled by the German State and not from other institutions, because the Islamic organizations can only speak for their own members, they cannot speak for all of the Muslims.
Translation by Liz Longden