“If I said ‘German,’ they wouldn’t accept the answer. They will see me as a foreigner, even though I’m a German citizen.”
people, or 6.1 percent of the German population, were Muslim. But less than half of those pray regularly, and even fewer regularly attend a mosque, according to the latest government surveys.
The country’s leaders have expressed an ambivalent view of Islam, at best. Seehofer’s statement that “Islam does not belong to Germany” came just months after the Islambashing AFD, or Alternative for Germany, entered parliament. Merkel denounced the statement and ruled out sharing power with the AFD. Nevertheless, the AFD has steadily gained support over the past two years: On Oct. 14, it scored the biggest electoral gains of any party in Bavaria, Germany’s most populous state.
Last year, the AFD hung campaign posters in Dortmund featuring women in burqas and the slogan “Stop Islamization.” This year’s poster bore the words “Islam-free schools!” under an image of five beaming, lightskinned children.
Seddiqzai, who was born to Afghan parents in the German city of Bochum and who wears a full beard and Nikes to school, said he worries about the effect on his students. “These posters tell them, ‘We don’t want you here,’ “he said.
“They are not accepted in Germany, they are not accepted in the countries of their parents, and that produces this craving for a group to belong to,” he continued. “And then an Islamist comes to you and says, ‘Yeah, you don’t belong to anyone. Therefore just be Muslim.’ They offer them a third way.”
Seddiqzai sees it as part of his job to make his students more informed in their consumption of such appeals.
Earlier this year, when local politicians were discussing a ban on headscarves, a group calling itself Reality Islam launched a social media campaign to protest the proposal and recruit students. Seddiqzai showed his students how to trace Reality’s Islam’s links to Hizb ut-tahrir, an extremist group banned in Germany since 2003. He also encouraged them to question the group’s stance on the headscarf, which it claimed the Koran mandates for women.
“I show them the Koranic verses about the headscarf, and we discuss it and we see there is no clear rule that a woman or girl has to wear a headscarf,” he said. “Most of them think the Koran itself has no contradictions, and even that is wrong. There are many contradictions in the Koran.”
Some German politicians are pushing for an expansion of Islam classes in public schools as a way to encourage the cultural integration of Muslim students and to promote an interpretation of Islam that highlights German values.
“We need more religious education,” Kerstin Griese, a lawmaker from the governing center-left Social Democratic Party, wrote in an op-ed, “because it’s the only way to start a dialogue about our own traditions and values and to understand those of others.”
Such advocates generally don’t envision non-muslim students taking these classes to gain a better appreciation of Islam. While a few German school systems offer religion classes that include multiple faiths or ethics classes that touch on religion, religion as taught in public high schools and supported by Germany’s Basic Law is generally targeted at specific denominations.
A further rationale for Islam classes is to “immunize” Muslim students from fundamentalism, as Protestant leader Heinrich Bedford-strohm put it.
Of particular concern is radicalization that might lead to violence. Since 2013, more than 1,000 people have left Germany to fight with or support the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations, most of them under 30.