A conference aimed at furthering Muslim integration in Germany on Thursday condemned forced marriages and voiced concern over stepped-up recruiting by an ultra-conservative Islamic group, as a leading conservative politician said that Islam did not belong in Germany.
Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told the one-day forum that extremism by Salafis had no place in Germany after a recent drive by the group to distribute 25 million German-language copies of the Quran.
“We all agree that Salafist extremism is not acceptable and does not work in a free society, as we have in Germany,” he said in opening remarks, according to AFP.
The move by a group of Salafis called “The True Religion” this month to hand out the Quran on the streets of Germany, Austria and Switzerland and via the Internet in a bid to convert non-Muslims provoked uproar in Germany.
Domestic violence and forced marriage were also singled out by the forum, set up in 2006 and attended by federal, state and local officials as well as Muslim groups representing more than half of Germany’s mosque congregations.
It stated that everyone has the right to “freedom from physical and mental harm, as well as the right to enter a marriage or to refrain from it by their own decision and in the framework of the applicable laws.”
More than 3,000 women and girls in Germany, most from Muslim families and many of them minors, were forced to wed or threatened with forced marriage in 2008 -- the most recent year with sufficient data, according to official research released in November.
Germany passed legislation in 2010 against forced marriages, making it a criminal act punishable by up to five years in prison and providing means for victims taken abroad to return to Germany.
The country counts some three million Turks or Germans of Turkish origin among its 82-million-strong population but the issue of integration remains a matter of politically-charged debate.
The domestic intelligence service estimates there are about 2,500 Salafis, who espouse an austere form of Sunni Islam, in Germany and says it has them under official observation.
The agency has described Ibrahim Abu Nagie, who launched the campaign, as a prominent exponent of Salafism and German authorities view his website as a hub for radical Islamists.
Meanwhile, a leading conservative politician said on Thursday that Islam did not belong in Germany, fuelling further tension.
“Islam is not part of our tradition and identity in Germany and so does not belong in Germany,” Volker Kauder, head of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in parliament, told the Passauer Neue Presse.
“But Muslims do belong in Germany. As state citizens, of course, they enjoy their full rights,” he added, according to Reuters.
In response to concern about radicalization and aware of the stimulus a well-qualified cohort of young Muslims could give to Europe’s biggest economy, Merkel set up forums, or conferences, six years ago to improve integration.
Kauder’s comments quickly drew fire.
“Volker Kauder is the last crusader for the conservatives. He is putting a bomb in the Islam conference,” said senior opposition Social Democrat (SPD) lawmaker Thomas Oppermann.
“(He).. is denigrating and marginalizing all Muslims in Germany. That course is utterly wrong,” he said.
Participants at Thursday’s Islam conference comprised delegates from the federal and state governments and Islamic groups in Germany.
Critics, many from Merkel’s traditionally Catholic party, say the campaign is ideological, aimed at recruiting supporters.
Some Muslim groups have also criticized the Quran handouts, though for a different reason. The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany has said the Quran is not a PR pamphlet for mass distribution.
The campaign poses a dilemma as any move to stop the distribution of the Koran - a perfectly legal activity - could be seen as anti-Islamic.
Kenan Kolat, the head of Turkish Communities in Germany, warned against hysteria. “If there is a glorification of violence or an infringement of free, democratic basic values, then there are police measures that can be used,” said Kolat.