Con­tra­dic­tions and chal­lenges in the lives of Ger­man Mus­lims


In the wake of the Char­lie Hebdo ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Paris, the PEDIGA move­ment -- or Pa­tri­otic Euro­peans against the Is­lamiza­tion of the West -- held a rally in Dres­den against the grow­ing “Is­lamiza­tion” of Ger­many. A re­cent poll by the Ber­tels­mann Foun­da­tion also shows a ma­jor­ity (57 per­cent) of non-Mus­lim Ger­mans thought that Is­lam was threat­en­ing to Ger­man so­ci­ety. Yet, Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel echoed Chris­tian Demo­crat for­mer Pres­i­dent Chris­tian Wulff2 and said Is­lam be­longs to Ger­many, in a clear re­pu­di­a­tion of the pro­test­ers gath­er­ing in Dres­den and other cities. In this po­lit­i­cal con­text, Is­lam in Ger­many is mostly as­so­ci­ated with Mus­lim im­mi­grants, es­pe­cially with those from Turkey and Mid­dle Eastern coun­tries, while Ger­man con­verts to Is­lam not taken into con­sid­er­a­tion at all in public dis­cus­sions. This book by Esra Özyürek chal­lenges the eth­ni­cized con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of Is­lam in Ger­many by fo­cus­ing on the highly ig­nored re­al­ity of na­tive Ger­man Mus­lims who now num­ber in the tens of thou­sands (21). Özyürek ex­plores how con­verts em­brace Is­lam, which is seen as an ex­ter­nal reli­gion to Europe, and ac­com­mo­date be­com­ing Mus­lim to be­ing Ger­man in a so­ci­ety where Is­lam is in­creas­ingly marginal­ized and even crim­i­nal­ized. Be­ing treated as traitors to Euro­pean cul­ture, Ger­man con­verts to Is­lam pro­mote a “cul­ture-free Is­lam,” Özyürek ar­gues, that is stripped of its cul­tural and tra­di­tional bag­gage and thus be­comes more com­pat­i­ble with Ger­man and Euro­pean val­ues and men­tal­i­ties.

Dif­fer­ently from schol­ars who ex­plain the re­cent spread of Is­lam among Euro­peans by a glob­al­iza­tion and sec­u­lar­iza­tion which has con­trib­uted to a stan­dard­iza­tion and pu­rifi­ca­tion of Is­lam, Özyürek at­tributes agency to con­verts in break­ing the link be­tween cul­ture and reli­gion. She ar­gues that as a re­sponse to the marginal­iza­tion and racial­iza­tion of Is­lam, Euro­pean con­verts and na­tive Euro­pean Mus­lims aim to break the as­so­ci­a­tion of be­ing Turk­ish or Arab and be­ing Mus­lim. To do so they pro­mote a uni­ver­sal and tra­di­tion-free Is­lam, which fits Euro­pean val­ues more than Mid­dle Eastern men­tal­i­ties (p. 18). Nonethe­less, such an ap­proach re­pro­duces the Euro­cen­tric per­spec­tive that per­ceives the “Euro­pean mind” as truly ra­tio­nal and the “Ori­en­tal mind” as not and makes it harder for Ger­man con­verts to Is­lam to get a le­git­imized space in the global Mus­lim world -- the ummah. This book pro­vides a ju­di­cious and well thought-through con­sid­er­a­tion of such con­tra­dic­tions and chal­lenges in the lives of Ger­man Mus­lims and of­fers a fas­ci­nat­ing dis­cus­sion on blur­ring bound­aries be­tween Ger­mans and Mus­lim and the chang­ing re­al­i­ties of Euro­pean iden­tity.

The em­pir­i­cal data comes from ethno­graphic re­search that was con­ducted over three and a half years (2006-7, 2009-11 and half of 2013). Özyürek con­ducted semistruc­tured in­ter­views with con­verts, took part in their ev­ery­day ac­tiv­i­ties over an ex­tended amount of time


Esra Özyürek,

“Be­ing Ger­man, Be­com­ing Mus­lim: Race, Reli­gion, and Con­ver­sion

in the New Europe,”

(Prince­ton: Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity Press, 2015),

171 pp. ISBN: 9781400852710

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