Religion Study 'There Is Absolutely No Reason for Islamophobia'

Germany's Muslims are pious and yet more tolerant than most assume, a new study has found. Its authors are urging authorities to draw the country's Muslim children away from Koran schools by offering public religious instruction.

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A teacher in Bonn during a course on Islam. A new study by the Bertelsmann Stiftung provides an in-depth view of religiosity among Germany's Muslims.

A teacher in Bonn during a course on Islam. A new study by the Bertelsmann Stiftung provides an in-depth view of religiosity among Germany's Muslims.

Dr. Martin Rieger of the Bertelman Stiftung thinks Muslim children should have their own religion classes. Rieger was the director of the study "Muslim Religiosity in Germany," which was provided to SPIEGEL ONLINE ahead of its scheduled publication on Friday.

The study reveals that 90 percent of Muslims define themselves as religous. In contrast a separate survey by the nonprofit German think tank found that only 70 percent of the entire population admitted to being religous. "We need to get the younger Muslims out of the Koran schools," Rieger urges, "and offer them professionally taught classes on Islam."

Calls like that are welcome news to Yunus Ulusoy from the Center for Turkish Studies in Essen, which keeps track of the religiosity of Turkish Muslims. It's a demand, Ulusoy says, "that we've been making for decades because, for Muslims, faith is a very important part of their identity." In his opinion, if the school system doesn't pay any attention to this fact, it only hurts the chances of successfully integrating Muslims into German culture.

Even Robert Zollitsch, president of the German Bishops' Conference, the body responsible for the country's Catholic Churches, backs the plan. On Thursday, Zollitsch voiced his support for the call for Islamic religious instruction and the construction of "fitting Muslim houses of worship that are well-integrated into their respective urban plans."

According to Rieger, the majority of Germans only have preconceptions about the Muslims living in Germany. "Most of them know nothing about the Muslim faith," Rieger laments. "There is absolutely no reason for Islamophobia." Germany is home to approximately 3.5 million Muslims, roughly 2 million of whom have Turkish roots.

Rieger adds that the Bertelsmann study is the first comprehensive scholarly analysis of the beliefs of Muslims in Germany and that, previously, there had only been surveys carried out in large metropolitan areas or with individual groups, such as Turks. The report includes figures not only for groups speaking different languages -- such as Turkish, Arabic, Persian and Bosnian -- but also for groups from different religious denominations. The study is based on a survey of 2,000 Muslims over the age of 18.

According to the report, Sunni Muslims living in Germany are religious to an above-average degree; 92 percent identify themselves as being religious. Among Shiites in Germany, that number lies at 90 percent, and it is 77 percent for members of the Alevite community. "Islam in Germany is not a unified block," Rieger says. "It's very multifaceted."

Rieger also finds it "surprising" that religion only has a major influence on the political stance of a small group of Muslims. The study found that only 16 percent of the Muslims surveyed said that their faith had an effect on their political attitudes and that two-thirds of them would say no to having their own Islamic political party.

Rieger also makes a point of stressing the high degree of tolerance shown by Muslims in Germany. Sixty-seven percent said that they agreed that every religion has a "core of truth," and 86 percent said that people should have "an open mind to all religions." "This value is equally high for all of the groups studied," Rieger says, "regardless of gender, age, denomination or ancestry."

The Bertelsmann study also speaks about German Muslims having a "rather pragmatic approach" to Islam. Over half of those surveyed were against the wearing of headscarves, while only 33 percent are for it. "However, these results do not mean that the headscarf will really be worn," says Ulusoy. From what he has learned, it's really more of an issue of "reconciling religiosity with everyday life." For Ulusoy, it's also a sign that Muslims are not sealing themselves off from society.


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