German Muslims Defend Religious Freedom, Support Constitution

Muslims in Germany have launched a petition calling on all citizens of Germany to support the German legal system, especially the German Constitution, including its protection for religious freedom.

This comes at a time when an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim right-wing populist party, Alternative for Germany, appears to be in ascendance. Alternative for Germany is known by its German acronym AfD, i.e. Alternative für Deutschland. The more AfD argues against treating Muslims as equal citizens before the law, the more support it gains from non-Muslims (a trend familiar to those watching Trump in the U.S. today).

At the recent AfD party convention, AfD supporter Hans-Thomas Tillschneider proclaimed, “Islam is foreign to us and for that reason it cannot invoke the principle of religious freedom to the same degree as Christianity”; this resulted in loud applause.

In the May 2016 AfD Party Platform, the intention of the AfD to exclude Muslims in Germany from religious freedom protection is explicit.

Section 7.6.1 is titled, “Islam Does Not Belong in Germany.” (Bizarrely, this section goes on to proclaim, “The AfD espouses unrestricted freedom of belief, conscience, and religion, but…” with a “but” so vast as to make this unrecognizable as having any relation whatsoever to freedom of belief, conscience, and religion.)

Section 7.6.3 states, “The AfD rejects minarets, and along with this the call to prayer, as a symbol of Islamic supremacy, according to which there is no deity other than the Islamic Allah.” (If exclusivity is so problematic, it is then entirely unclear how the exclusive claims of Christians and Jews that God is one, and the exclusive claim of atheists that God does not exist, pass Constitutional muster in Germany while a parallel Muslim belief poses a “threat” to the Constitution.)

Section 7.6.5 calls for banning facial veils and banning the wearing of headscarves by government employees at work, including those employed at public schools.

Section 8.2.7 calls for “closure of Quran schools” and replacing Islamic religious education in public schools with generic ethics classes (whereas apparently Christians would still be allowed to hold religious education in public schools). Section 8.2.7 concludes,”So long as Islam has not gone through a true reformation, we demand the closure of Quran schools due to the uncontrollable danger of radical indoctrination hostile to the Constitution.”

The irony of this is stark. Muslims are the ones standing up in public for constitutional democracy at a time when some non-Muslims are beginning to abandon constitutional democracy because, they claim, Muslims are a threat to constitutional democracy.

One cannot help but question who the real threat to constitutional democracy is, and where the true “danger of radical indoctrination hostile to the Constitution” lies.

I see the title of this petition, “Today We, Tomorrow You” (#HeuteWirMorgenDu) as a reminder that once a society abandons equality of citizens before the law, subsequent exclusion of one group before the law seldom ends with just that one group. Once it is O.K. to exclude people group by group, other groups will follow, one minority after the next. Thus warn Muslims of Germany, in effect, today we are the ones being threatened with exclusion, tomorrow it could be you.

What is the “alternative” (so to say)? These Muslims remind us the real alternative is to maintain and protect the great innovation of constitutional democracy, with its core principle of religious freedom, protecting all of us — all of us equally before the law.

Below is my own (unofficial) translation of this petition.

Today We, Tomorrow You

Together for the Constitution and against Political Instrumentalization of Islam by the AfD

This is not about Islam, this is about Germany: 

An open letter regarding the AfD Party Platform

With the populist proclamations of the AfD, the debates in Germany about Islam have reached a low point. Discreet as well as public resentment against Muslims has become a political agenda.

Islam, however, is the religion of many citizens, women and men, who, out of a sense of ethical responsibility, are engaged for the well being of our society. We live in an open, tolerant society, in which the multiplicity of opinions and lifestyles is and must remain a core achievement. We commit ourselves to this with all our energy, because there can be no alternative to a Germany like this.

As citizens we must therefore raise our voices. As for the propagandists, it is not a matter of an Islam which is transforming Germany. Rather, cloaked under a supposed critique of Islam, what this is actually about is transforming Germany at its foundations.

It must be the case for all — including the AfD — that the binding framework of our lives together in society is the German legal system. In this all people, with their own convictions and their own lifestyles, can give full expression to who they are. It is precisely this which distinguishes our country.

Religious freedom is a basic right in this legal system, granted to each person without exception. Those, however, who begin to speak of “foreign bodies,” in order to deprive people on a selective basis of their basic rights, have turned themselves against our Constitution itself. Those who, moreover, pretend that they are doing this for the well-being of democracy and of our country, understand neither democracy nor the democratic and free legal system of our country.

Only when all, without regard to their belief or absence of belief, or heritage, are equal before the law, can the freedom of each individual flourish.

We, as the Muslim signatories initiating this, call on all citizens to engage actively on behalf of these principles. We must stand together in opposition to all those who seek through populism to define some people in a way which excludes them from the scope of protection of our legal system. We are not going to surrender the core achievement of enlightened democratic culture to the self-proclaimed “Saviors of the West.” In the end this is not about Islam. This is about Germany.

And this is about constitutional democracy and religious freedom, not only in Germany, but everywhere else too.

About the author

Jennifer S. Bryson

© Daniel Philpott The views expressed in this forum are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent those of Daniel Philpott, CCHR, or the University of Notre Dame.