Owing to labour migration in the 1960s and several waves of political refugees since the 1970s, Islam has become a visible religion in Germany. As of 2009, there are 4.3 million Muslims (5.4% of the population). Of these, 1.9 million are German citizens (2.4%). As of 2006, about 15,000 are converts of German ancestry.
Islam is the largest minority religion in the country, with the Protestant and Roman Catholic confessions being the majority religions. The large majority of Muslims in Germany is of Turkish origin (63,2%), followed by smaller groups from Pakistan, countries of the former Yugoslavia, Arab countries, Iran and Afghanistan. Most Muslims live in Berlin and the larger cities of former West Germany. However, unlike in most other European countries, sizeable Muslim communities exist in some rural regions of Germany, especially Baden-Württemberg, Hesse and parts of Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia. Owing to the lack of labour immigration before 1989, there are only very few Muslims in the former East Germany.
The majority of Muslims in Germany are Sunnis, at 75%. There are some members of the Shia (7%), mostly from Iran. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is also present. Most Turkish Muslims are Sunnis, but between a fifth and a quarter are believed to be Alevis. The Alevis are a heterodox Muslim sect with few if any outward religious characteristics, who account for between a fifth and a quarter of the population in their native Turkey.
Muslims first came to Germany as part of the diplomatic, military and economic relations between Germany and the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century. Twenty Muslim soldiers served under Frederick William I of Prussia, at the beginning of the 18th century. In 1745, Frederick II of Prussia established a unit of Muslims in the Prussian army called the “Muslim Riders” and consisting mainly of Bosniaks, Albanians and Tatars. In 1760 the Bosniakcorps was established with about 1000 men.
In 1798 a Muslim cemetery was established in Berlin. The cemetery, which moved in 1866, still exists today. By 1900, there were over 10,000 Muslims in Germany, mostly Slavs and European Turks.
In World War I about 15,000 Muslim prisoners of war were interned in Berlin. The first mosque was established in Berlin in 1915 for these prisoners, though it was closed in 1930. After the war, a small number of Muslims stayed in Berlin.
At this time there were 3,000 Muslims in Germany, 300 of whom were of German descent. The rise of Nazism in the country did not specifically target Muslims at all, but German Muslims lived in an atmosphere of suspicion as a religious minority and were subjected to xenophobia and racism against “non-Aryans”. By the end of World War II there were only a few hundred Muslims living in Germany.
After the West German government inviting foreign workers (g: “Gastarbeiter”) this figure sharply rose to currently 4.3 Million within 2 decades (most of them Turkish from the rural region of Anatolia in Southeast Turkey), sometimes called a “parallel society” within ethnic Germans.
Only a minority of the Muslims residing in Germany are members of religious associations. The ones with the highest numerical strength are:
- Diyanet İşleri Türk İslam Birliği (DİTİB): German branch of the Turkish Presidency for Religious Affairs, Cologne
- Islamische Gemeinschaft Milli Görüş: close to the Islamist Saadet Partisi in Turkey, Kerpen near Cologne
- Islamische Gemeinschaft Jamaat un-Nur: German branch of the Risale-i Nur Society (Said Nursi)
- Verband der islamischen Kulturzentren: German branch of the conservative Süleymancı sect in Turkey, Cologne
- Islamische Gemeinschaft in Deutschland organization of Arab Muslims close to the Muslim Brotherhood, Frankfurt
- Verband der Islamischen Gemeinden der Bosniaken: Bosnian Muslims, Kamp-Lintfort near Duisburg
Furthermore there are the following umbrella organisations:
- Zentralrat der Muslime in Deutschland, domimated by the “Islamische Gemeinschaft in Deutschland” and the “Islamisches Zentrum Aachen”
- Islamrat in Deutschland, dominated by Islamische Gemeinschaft Milli Görüş and its suborganisations
In addition there are numerous local associations without affiliation to any of these organisations. Two organisations have been banned in 2002 because their programme was judged as contrary to the constitution: The “Hizb ut-Tahrir” and the so called “Caliphate State” founded by Cemalettin Kaplan and later lead by his son Metin Kaplan.
According to German TV reports, over 4,000 Germans converted to Islam in 2006.
There are some disputes about the role of Islam in the German state and society today.
One such issue concerns the wearing of the head-scarf by teachers in schools and universities. The right to practice one’s religion, claimed by the teachers in question, contradicts in the view of many the neutral stance of the state towards religion; many people also regard the head-scarf as a political symbol of the oppression of women, even though many Muslim women reject this view. As of 2006, many of the German federal states have introduced legislation banning head-scarves for teachers. It is almost certain that in 2006 these laws will be validated as constitutional. However, unlike in France, there are no laws against the wearing of head-scarves by students.
In the German federal states with the exception of Bremen, Berlin and Brandenburg, lessons of religious education overseen by the respective religious communities are taught as an elective subject in state schools. It is being discussed whether apart from the Catholic and Protestant (and in a few schools, Jewish) religious education that currently exists, a comparable subject of Islamic religious education should be introduced. However, efforts to resolve this issue in cooperation with existing Islamic organisations are hampered by the fact that none of them can be considered as representative of the whole Muslim community.
The construction of mosques occasionally arouses hostile reactions in the neighbourhoods concerned. For example, in 2007 an attempt by Muslims to build a large mosque in Cologne sparked a controversy.
Fears of Islamic fundamentalism came to the fore after September 11, 2001, especially with respect to Islamic fundamentalism among second- and third-generation Muslims in Germany. Also the various confrontations between Islamic religious law (Sharia) and the norms of German Grundgesetz and culture are the subject of intense debate. German critics include both liberals and Christian groups. The former claim that Islamic fundamentalism violates basic fundamental rights whereas the latter maintain that Germany is a state and society grounded in the Christian tradition.
Several prominent figures of German-language intellectual life are known for their positive attitude to Islam:
- Friedrich Rückert (1788–1866) translated the Qur’an into German.