Dis/trusted partners: Local Mosque activism during the German refugee crisis

Arndt Emmerich

This project investigates the role of local mosques, their outreach strategies, and promotion of shared, democratic and “German” values during the refugee crisis in Germany; thereby contributing to the academic debate regarding the trajectories, challenges and potentials of religious actors in democratic processes. During the height of the refugee crisis between 2015 and 2016, Germany’s approximately 3000 Imams and 2500 mosque communities became important stakeholders for public engagement, social services and emotional support. Many mosques successfully cooperated with state departments and civil society groups. However, German politicians and local city councils fear that mosques will use public funds to pass on a conservative understanding of Islam, being at odds with German values and counterproductive for the integration of the new Muslims. Often ignored in these debates and academic scholarship is the involvement of orthodox Islamic authorities, using a theological language, advocating for civil participation and creating a sense of belonging. Through qualitative fieldwork in mosque communities within local neighbourhoods, this project contributes to a better understanding 1) how new migrant groups situate themselves in different Islamic traditions, 2) whether the arrival of refugees has led to an increase in mosque competition/cooperation of various Turkish, Arab, Bosnian, as well as Sufi, Salafist and convert groups; and 3) the ways such competition/cooperation impacts the wellbeing and sense of belonging of the newcomers. The research situates the development of these mosques within the broader shifts being witnessed in the traditional structures of Islamic authority in response to the changing demography and profile of young Muslims in the West. A further contribution of this research is an analysis of the impact of state-led Islamic authorities in Turkey on the management of the German refugee crisis.  The Turkish state still trains the majority of Imams in Germany, while the country has received more than 2.5 million refugees since 2014.  I will investigate how the Turkey-based training facilities for Imams engage with the changing demographic and political context in Germany. So far, the Turkish perspective is largely missing from the academic debate, but could potentially inform current scholarship in Germany and Western Europe, due to Turkey’s historical experience of building democratic institutions along well-established Islamic traditions. The aim is to explore political techniques, responding to religious diversity in Turkey, and its impact on the refugee situation in Germany and Western Europe.

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