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
THE BOOK IS ORGANIZED IN SIX CHAPTERS AND IS FLUENTLY AND ELOQUENTLY WRITTEN
“Being German, Becoming Muslim: Race, Religion, and Conversion
in the New Europe,”
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015),
171 pp. ISBN: 9781400852710