By Paul Hockenos | 02 July 2010
For decades, no one in Germany took much notice of the imported Islamic holy men in their midst. Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs sent imams inconspicuously, on four-year postings, to minister to the spiritual needs of West Germany’s Turkish migrant workers and their families — while keeping them in line with Turkish cultural norms.
But today, Germany’s Turkish imams find themselves square in the public spotlight. Berlin and Ankara are wrapped up in a fierce battle — and it’s not just about religion. Both countries are vying for the allegiance of the 3-million-strong Turkish diaspora in Germany, a population that represents two-thirds of the country’s Muslims. And both sides see the imams as the lynchpin to Germany’s Turkish community. The imams are uniquely trusted authority figures among the Deutschtürken(German Turks) who first came to Germany as Gastarbeiter — cheap, imported labor — in the 1960s.
There are three directions the imams could take with Germany’s diaspora Turks, each with huge consequences for the future of Islam in Germany and Europe: Do the preachers encourage diaspora Turks to integrate into secular Germany, do they push them in a radical extremist direction, or do they keep the majority of Germany’s large Muslim population an essentially foreign community for as long as they can?
In a book recently published in Germany, religious scholar Rauf Ceylan, himself the son of Kurdish labor migrants from Anatolia, offers the most explicit, penetrating examination to date of Germany’s foreign-born imams, showing exactly how crucial they are to Europe’s fate. “Ultimately,” he writes, “they determine whether young Muslims will endorse a liberal, conservative, or extremist Islam.” His book, however, Die Prediger des Islam: Imame — Wer Sie Sind und Was Sie Wirklich Wollen (The Preachers of Islam: Imams — Who They Are and What They Really Want) is not optimistic.
Excerpt reproduced with permission from Foreign Policy, www.foreignpolicy.com. Copyright 2009 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive LLC. Read the full article at [http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/07/02/the_war_over_germanys_imams]