"May I ask you a question? Are you German?
And are you Muslim?"
"Yes, I am German, and yes, I am Muslim."
"You mean to say, you do have a German passport. But from what country are you originally? From where are your parents? And your grandparents?"
"I do have a German passport. I am from
Sauerland county in Westfalia, as
well as my parents and my grandparents. Only my great-grandfather was
"Ahh." The puzzled expression on the face in front of me makes room for an understanding smile.
"My great-grandfather was Dutch."
"Dutch?" The smile vanishes as fast as it appeared.
Actually I am not Islamic predisposed.
I was born in Germany, grew
up in a German country town and also attended school there. After
receiving my high school diploma I went
on to complete my studies at a
German university and even took my Master's Degree.
And I am Muslima. At some time in my life I chose Islam as my religion. In my file of important papers there is besides my German passport, my marriage license and my diplomas also a certificate, that states, that I
am Muslima. For a few years I am covering, even on the pictures in my official papers, pray five times a day and fulfill to my best knowledge my Islamic duties. My husband is Muslim, and, God willing, my children
will be as well.
"Your husband is Turkish?"
"No, my husband is Egyptian."
"Ahhhhhh." The understanding smile brightens the face again, just for a second, before it vanishes again to make room for a rather pitying expression.
"And now you have to cover, you poor girl?"
Now the world is back in
order. My case is solved, the file closed. My husband is the reason
for me being Muslim. Or, rather, for me
having to be Muslim. As free
will is not what goes with women in Islam. German women tend to fall for the oriental charisma. Once married to a foreigner, they are trapped. Everybody knows, that the life of women in Islam is determined by men.
As in Islam men decide. Headcover, children, domestic violence. The Muslims are known through newspaper and T.V. documentations. People are informed.
In Germany about 3% of the population
is Muslim. On the whole world there
are nearly a billion Muslims.
And everywhere they are an annoyance. Terrorists, dealers
for weapons and drugs, warlords. That
Islam still didn't loose attraction is based on unfortunate
circumstances. German women find themselves
under the influence of
Muslim men. Turks living in Germany come back to their Islamic roots as they don't feel accepted in the German society. And in the Third World the people are so poor, that fundamentalists without conscience talk them - in lack of other alternatives - into Islaam as the solution for their problems.
Menem, a good friend, used to tell such people: "If you search long enough, you will find for every Muslim on the world some kind of psychological reason for him being Muslim." Well, at least in this way you spare yourself any thoughts about Islam itself. The parts of Good and Bad have been given away for centuries. In reality of life this view of the world turns out to be an illusion. The direct confrontation with the other opens questions, that we don't like to hear. Are really the others on the wrong way? Or might we be ourselves?
For sure we have to learn to live together.
We have to put aside our arrogance
and to start to perceive our counterpart as a grown-up person,
who as well as we lives in the 20th century.
If we look closely, we can
learn a lot from each other.
Don't let this chance pass!
"… This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed my favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion…" (5:3)
I was born 1967 in a small town in Sauerland county, Germany. My younger brother and I grew up in the country, where my parents and grandparents live in a two-family house. My grandfather used to be principal of a primary school. My father would have liked to become forester. Instead he only became a teacher in secondary school. He still does love nature very much. But throughout the years he seems to have lost His love for Jesus Christ. Which is quite disappointing for my grandmother, who has always been a firm believer. She is member of a small church. All her life she participated actively at church work and tried hard to set a true Christian example for her children. My grandfather on the other hand can hardly be called a believer. A fact, that my grandmother was to find out only after the wedding. Steady church attendance turned out to be no proof of faith. Up to today after church service my grandparents engage in heated discussions about Christian belief in general and the contents of the last sermon in particular. This situation did affect their three sons. Today only one of the them is a church member.
My mother on the other side comes from
a family, where piety was taken for as granted as the daily bread and the
daily sleep. Belief was never subject of discussion. Actually nothing ever
was subject of discussion. Especially my mother, the youngest child and
only daughter was never asked for her opinion. It was also taken for granted
that she became shop assistant in her father's shop, a bakery. What
else could be the use of a daughter? Up to today she regrets that she wasn't
allowed to learn another profession.
And again it was taken for granted, that my mother married my father. As son of a teacher he was a good match in the church Youth group. The shared faith would guarantee a happy marriage. Build on rock!
But it was exactly that rock, that began to shake first during the years to come. While my grandmother was elected as first woman into the church's council of elders, my parents one at a time left the church. And there came a day, when they didn't have anything in common anymore. So after 20 years of marriage and uncountable tries to get along, both agreed on throwing in the towel. 1986 their marriage was dissolved.
At that time my brother and I weren't too attached to religion and such adding to my Grandma's disappointment. We did join Christian Youth groups and take Bible classes, but neither of us became church member. Actually we haven't even been baptized. The church my family belonged to doesn't baptize children, but rather grown up people, who consciously make a decision for Christ. When we reached necessary age, we both decided against being baptized.
Not that I wouldn't have been interested
in religion. Religion always had something fascinating for me, giving sense
to things. Christianity offers an acceptable approach, the belief in one
God, who contacted mankind by sending prophets. In this way God taught
the people who they are and how they should interact with each other and
But I was soon to notice, that Christian values can so easily be adjusted. What does Christian theology teach? Every human being is full of sin, original sin is burdening us from birth. God sent his son into the world to suffer and die on the cross and save us from this burden of guilt. God's son, who is true man and true God. To whom did he pray so ardently? His life became the turning point of history, which divides people in "before" and "after" Christ. Belief in him is the only way to be saved. Didn't he say himself: "I am the way, the truth and the life. Nobody comes to the Father but through me." (John 14, 6)
With Jesus' death the Hereafter lost
its terror. God is Love, how can there be hell? The devil, who used to
be a mean of oppression to keep church members in order, has been pensioned.
The values of contemporary Christianity are pretty much limited to "Love
your Neighbor". As long as I don't hurt anybody, everything goes. Jesus
says: "You shouldn't think, I have come to dissolve the law or the prophets.
I didn't come to dissolve, but to fulfill." (Matthew 5:17) The difference
doesn't seem to be too big in modern Christianity. Commandments are out.
Church goes with time. Though not fast enough for some of its members.
The Bible does hardly have any weight anymore. Probably some truth can be found in the book. But what? Who decides on what is truth and what isn't? Who decides, what is valid and what isn't? The church? The theologists? Or everybody for himself? Doesn't everybody according to best knowledge and conscience fabricate his own belief? Let's be truthful and no longer call the result Christianity. Let's rather call it "Brianity", "Susanity" or what so ever the person's name should be.
Believing Christians will of course protest by now. They will say, the common basis is there. Well, where is it? The true revelation, the words God told Jesus from Nazareth, where are they? In the Bible there wasn't even one chapter dedicated to them.
Central sentences of Faith , that divide the church, have been derived from historical reports and letters, decided on during theological conferences or just called out as State doctrine.
And how many times did I hear: "You can't understand this. You just have to believe it!"
I believe, God gave us our brains, so that we might use it. And I believe, that a message of God, when it is questioned, has to offer more answers than that.
That's what I told my religious instructor, when my high school class spend a weekend in a monastery shortly before graduation. "Days of reflection" that's what they called it. The teacher surprised me with his answer. He said: "God won't let you go. You'll see."
At the end he turned out to be right. Though he probably imagined it a little differently.
My interest in God and religion again
caught up with me, when I came across Islam. After taking my high school
diploma I moved to a city, to take up studies of economy at university.
At that time I still thought, to study economy would be a reasonable decision
in regard of future job opportunities. I wasn't too interested in the subject,
but I thought, the time of studies would be passing soon. Actually already
the first days were depressing. Crowded stuffy audition rooms, boring lectures
by bored professors - "Please open my book on page 17. Here we read …"
for as bored students "Did you see, what the tall blonde in the third row
is wearing today?" - "Do you have fire?"
Student life on the other hand was fascinating from the very beginning. I had up to now lived in a small town. Even during my year as an exchange student in the U.S.A. I had stayed in a small country town. With an obligatory church visit on Sundays!
Now at university there seemed to be a new world opening up for me. I got to know so many different people and I loved to discuss God and the world. Among my new acquaintances were a few foreign students, who were born Muslims. So the subject Islam came up.
Generally I was quite amused by the thought, that actually there are still people around, who seriously follow a law from the Middle Ages. But in reality everything looked quite different from what I knew. The life of foreign students in Germany doesn't have anything in common with the tales of Thousand and One Night. In the beginning I had still asked my Muslim neighbors in the student homes kiddingly, why tomatoes don't have to be ritually cut? Or why a Muslim, who remembers God before he eats and thanks God after the meal, doesn't do the same thing when drinking his beer in the pub?
But the more I learned about Islam, the less funny those jokes became for me. Actually the Islamic religion wasn't that strange to me, as I had always thought. I rediscovered a lot of those components, that I had always liked in Christianity. For one of course the belief in God. Islam is strictly monotheistic. There is only one God. God is in Arabic "Allah". The expression really doesn't mean anything else but "the God" and is also used in the Arabic language version of the Bible.
A Muslim believes - like a Christian - that God has sent prophets, to lead mankinnd on the right path. Names turned up, that sounded so familiar: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jonah, and also Zachary, John and Jesus.
I learned, that Muhammad, the son on Abdullah, who lived in the 7th century A.D. on the Arabic Peninsula, was believed to have been the last prophet. He had proclaimed the Qur'an. This book is the foundation for all Islamic teachings, the whole Islamic law, the whole Islamic life.
I had a look at that book, the Qur'an. "This is the book: in it is guidance sure, without doubt..." (2:2) That is noted there about the Qur'an itself.
Without doubt, also acknowledged by Western scientists, is at least the authenticity of Qur'an. It contains actually the words, that Muhammad because of his own illiteracy dictated his companions. In regard to language use it is called a miracle. The religious contents were proclaimed in an artistic poetic form. Up to today the Qur'an sets measures for the classical Arabic.
The contents of Qur'an are at least as remarkable as the form. It's in no way a simple "Arabic History book", as a well known orientalist likes to describe it in the media. To the contrary, it reveals an astonishing knowledge on nature, on society and generally everything that concerns human life.
Already in the first revelation it states: "Read, and thy Lord is Most Bountiful, He, who …taught man that which he knew not." (96:3-5)
Did you know for example, that whereas the Qur'an in the story of Joseph talks about a King, in the story of Moses it talks about a Pharaoh? The reason for this was only known, when the French Historian Jean Francois Champollion with the help of the stone of Rosette succeeded in dechivrating the old Egyptian Hieroglyphic letters and such made old Egyptian writings accessible for modern science.
It turned out that about the end of the Middle Empire the Hyksos, tribes originating in Asia, occupied the Northern part of today's Egypt. That area was reigned by a king. So this would be the time of Joseph. Under the rule of the Hyksos he raised to become the advisor of the King. And under the reign of the Hyksos the people of Israel migrated to Egypt, where they were friendly welcomed.
In the 16th Century B.C. , during the reign of Pharaoh Ahmose, the Egyptians managed to retake the country. The people of Israel as people who had been closely cooperating with the hated occupational powers weren't loved as well. That explains why the people of Israel at the times of Moses were oppressed and enslaved.
Qur'an distinguishes between the terms "King" of the Hyksos and "Pharaoh" of the Egyptians.
Farther we read on the Pharaoh of the Moses Story: "This day shall we save thee in thy body, that thou mayest be a sign to those who come after thee! But verily, many among mankind are heedless of Our Signs!" (10:92) Hinting on the later mummification of that Pharaoh.
Or do have a look at the statements of Qur'an in relation to creation. "Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together before We clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?" (21:30) That exactly corresponds with the newest findings of science.
And did you know, that according to Qur'an we do not live "on" earth, but rather "in" earth? A hint on the atmosphere, which obviously is part of the earth. Without it we couldn't exist. Just think about the high speed with which we are traveling through space due to the rotation of the earth. Try to imagine the wind resulting from the movement speed, which we would have to cope with if it wouldn't be for the atmosphere.
Qur'an describes phenomenons of nature as different as building up of clouds, embryo development, chemistry of digestion or the expansion of the universe. Up to now there haven't been any scientific findings contradicting Qur'an statements. To the contrary, some Qur'an statements can only be fully understood and appreciated with the help of contemporary science. Again and again Qur'an asks the reader to see, to hear and to understand.
With the help of the Qur'an Arab beduins and traders managed to build a society, in which not only science but also fine arts were blooming. And that at a time, where Europe still was stuck in the darkest Middle Ages.
On belief itself we read in Qur'an: "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error: whoever rejects Tagut and believes in Allah hath grasped the most truthworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things." (2:256)
Actually Islamic theology is as clear as the testimony: "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His prophet."
Originate sin? Islam doesn't know anything comparable: "…Every soul draws the meed of its acts on none but itself: no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another…" (6:164) After Adam and Eve fall for sin, God taught them repentance. Repenting man or woman meet the merciful God. There is no need for any substitute sacrifice.
God's son? "Say: He is God, the One; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; and there is none like unto Him." (112) Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet, not more and not less.
A turning point in history? Absolutely no. To the contrary, history proves an unbroken continuity. From the very beginning there was only this one religion, the submittance to the one God, in Arabic: "Islam". This religion was proclaimed by all prophets, including Abraham, Moses and Jesus. The Prophet Muhammad has been the last of them, but still he was a human being like you and me. The speech held by his friend Abu Bakr Siddiq on the occasion of his death has been preserved till today: "So, who among you worshipped Muhammad, God's peace and blessing be upon him, should know, that Muhammad, God's peace and blessing be upon him, is dead. But who worshipped God, truly, God is alive and will never die." And then he reminded the people of the following verse of Qur'an: "Muhammad is no more than a messenger: many were the messengers that passed away before him. If he died or were slain. will ye turn back on your heels? If any did turn back on his heels, not the least harm he will do to God; but God will swiftly reward those who are grateful" (3:144)
The church? There isn't any. No organization, no hierarchy, no sacraments. Every Muslim can preach. Or contract a marriage. Or pray the death prayer for a deceased.
Interpretation of Scriptures? As far as central sentences of belief are concerned, Muslims are united. God is God and the prophets were human. Qur'an is the word of God, as well as the books revealed to other prophets. Angel are a reality and the resurrection is a reality.
Islamic scholars are - in contrast to their Christian colleagues - more concerned with the practical appliance of religious principles. They announce religious opinions on the basis of Qur'an and Sunnah, which is the example of the Prophet Muhammad. Such an expert opinion is called "fatwa". As no scholar has in any form any God given authority, a fatwa always does reflect the personal opinion of the scholar concerned and has no binding character. You can take it or leave it.
About 1 billion people all over the world testify this belief. And up to today Islam hasn't lost its attraction. The Arabic word "Islam" has the same letter root as the word "Salaam", peace. So the meaning of the word Islam implies also to find peace, peace with God, the world and oneself.
I learned and understood. But still
I wouldn't accept the truth. Islam is not exactly a comfortable religion.
I guess I was just too lazy to become Muslim. It looked much to hard for
me. Islam is reality, something that enters into every fiber of life, interlaces
and changes it. Christianity on the other hand tends to be a little bit
ignorant of reality these days. Well measured piety, that is worn for the
church service like the Sunday dress and then stored in the closet for
the rest of the week.
Nevertheless I began to try out Islam in praxis. I joined my Muslim neighbors in the fasting of the month of Ramadan. That means I didn't eat or drink between dawn and sunset. And every evening we met to break the fast together. Sometimes we even cooked together. Especially an Egyptian student with the name Mohamed turned out to be an excellent cook. The same Mohamed took me aside some time in the middle of the month. He had raised the courage - in religious questions there is no shame - and explained to me, that women don't fast during that special time of month… Finally I realized, that he was talking abut the menses. Well, for this Ramadan the enlightenment had come a little late. I didn't mind.
In those Ramadan nights I also got the opportunity to watch the prayers. And I tried those as well. I practiced in my room, prayed as I had seen it, bowed and prostrated. As I didn't know the words that are said, I improvised with "Our heavenly father…". I also began to reduce my consumption of alcohol and pork. And once I even went for a walk in the city wearing a scarf over my hair, just to try out, how it feels to be a covered woman. Finally I even learned, why the Palestinians in the student homes store a bottle of water in the bathrooms. For Muslims it is normal to wash after using the toilet. In Germany there are usually no hand showers or the like installed in the bathrooms as there are in Muslim countries. So a bottle of water had to do. How ridiculous must it sound for those students, when a famous German company advertises with the slogan: "Like freshly washed!" for their wet towels…
Still most Muslims around me were wondering
about my interest in Islam. Actually many of them weren't too concerned
with the Islamic regulations themselves. Again and again I heard: "Of course
I am Muslim. If I would be living in my country, I would live according
to Qur'an. But here in Europe everything is different. I am still young.
I will have time enough to be pious sometime in the future."
On the other hand there were also few people, that were trying hard to live their faith consequently. One of my neighbors in the student homes belongs to this category. The same Mohamed, that was such an excellent cook and had taken me aside in Ramadan. Mohamed had taken a Bachelors degree in Biophysics in Egypt and had come to Germany to do his doctor. When I got to know him he had been in Germany for 6 months only and was still attending German language classes at university.
His religion, Islam, meant everything to him. He had already acquired a broad knowledge on Islamic matters. Among the Arabs in the student homes he was known as an exception. They called him their "Sheik". A title usally applied to an elderly religious man. And a nick name, that didn't seem to be fitting for a 24 year old, sportive young man with curly black hair. Mohamed himself didn't like the name. Once he told me, the responsibility of it was to big for him.
Actually everybody, who needed advice or help, came to the "Sheik". May it be, that a student needs a room, someone needs to go to hospital or just wanted to sell his used books. Everyone came to Mohamed.
In the beginning our acquaintance developed kind of slowly, as Mohamed tried hard to stand up to his image as practicing Muslim. He stayed away from any possible temptation. And for a Muslim, women definitely belong in that category. But soon his religious responsibility took over. Is it possible to send someone away who is interested in Islam?
To me he was indeed an interesting person
to talk to. Rarely I had met someone as open minded as him. We spent our
time discussing religion, Islam and the world. Of course only at "neutral"
places, that is Mohamed's room with the door widely open. So that nobody
would get any wrong ideas about what kind of relationship we were having.
We learned a lot from each other in that time. We began to see the world with each other's eyes. Mohamed became one of my most reliable friends.
In the meanwhile I had completely lost
my interest in my economics studies. Due to my poor efforts the last exams
hadn't turned out all too well and so I decided, to make my favorite hobby
my carrier. I began to study Oriental Studies. I figured a good grade
in this subject would be more useful than a bad one in economics.
As I didn't really leave my father any choice, he finally also agreed in
the change of major. And all of a sudden the studies were going a lot smoother.
Some credits from my economic studies could be transferred for my new minor
sociology. And the new classes were so interesting to me. They offered
a whole lot of new subjects for discussions with Mohamed. He turned out
to be quite interested in Oriental Studies: "I might have a look at what
they teach you here in Germany. It will help me with my language as well."
For me undoubtedly his interest was very useful. He helped me with my Arabic homework and explained historical contexts to me. Actually it turned out, that politics and history always had been his hobby. I myself am not too much interest in these matters. Up to today Mohamed sometimes wonders about the many things I don't know.
During this time I finally began to back the Muslims. At university I was more and more annoyed by the ironical way in which Muslims were treated by Non Muslim Stuff. Still I couldn't even imagine to become Muslim myself. What is good for Arab man isn't necessarily good for German women. I am from a completely different world than Arabs, Turks or Iranians. How can a German woman live as Muslima? I did hear of such women, but had never met anyone personally. At least that is what I thought. Till shortly before spring break I found out by chance, that one of the students in my Arabic class was a German Muslima.
It was still winter and cold outside. Every time this woman left the classroom, she pulled her long woolen scarf up over her head. One day I asked her, if that had any other reasons but the cold. It had.
Heide was a teacher, married to a Muslim from the Lebanon. When she became Muslim, she took the Islamic name Khadija. She participated at the Arabic class to collect credits for a graduate course in teaching foreigners.
From her I learned, that in our city there was an organization for German speaking Muslim women. I accepted her invitation to accompany her to one of the group meetings. And from there on everything began to change at high pace.
We agreed on a day to go and Heide offered
to give me a ride. So we met in the city. This time Heide was wearing a
"real" headscarf, that she had wrapped quite elegant around her head. On
the forehead it was decorated with pearl embroidery. I had taken a scarf
as well. In my purse. I was getting a little nervous. How would I be welcomed
as a Non Muslim? What kind of women was I about to meet?
Heide reassured me. Guest were always welcome and there really wasn't any need for me to wear a scarf.
Heide herself was still a quite new Muslim. Nevertheless she did already know her way around the Islamic community in our City. She used to do everything with full heart and power. She was already being considered as a teacher for an Islamic school. On our way to the meeting she told me, what I had to expect:
"The group consists of about 30 women of German and Turkish origin. They meet once a week in the facilities of a Turkish Islamic organization. The group leader, Maryam, is a German Muslima of about 50 years of age. She has lived some years with her husband in Turkey, where they both participated in a lot of Islamic activities. Maryam, who by now is widowed, does engage in Islamic activities in Germany as well. She holds speeches on Islamic subjects and has founded this women's group. During the meeting Maryam will held a lesson on Islam, and then those women, who feel like it, stay a little longer to chat. We bring tea and cake along. "
This week the cake was Heide's turn. It took its time in the oven and Heide had been a little late. So she was speeding up. "Maryam isn't all too happy with people coming late."
Unfortunately we didn't find any free parking space close to the building. So Heide just drove into the yard. We were lucky. One of the parking cars was just about to leave and a friendly man with Turkish appearance gave us signals to help her get the car into that free space.
The crowd was fascinating for me. "All are going to the meeting?" Heide laughed: "That would be nice." Of course not everyone was going to the meeting. Heide explained to me, that every weekend the place was that crowded, as the Turkish organization held its own activities.
The German language meeting was held
in a separate part of the building. When we entered the hall, we were already
greeted tumultuous: "Hi, Khadija!" "How are you today?" "Oh, did you bring
one of your delicious cakes?" "The others are in the kitchen!" "Maryam
is about to start the lesson!" Women with covered hair and long dresses
passed us. And again and again I heard the Islamic greeting: "As-Salaamu
Alaykum!" - "Peace be upon you!"
I was included in the friendly welcome and kissed on both cheeks. Guests were welcome! The women thought it was great that someone dared to enter the "lion's den" to see for herself, what the Muslims are like. This meeting appeared to be not only for German speaking Muslim women, but also a contact group for women interested in Islam. So I seemed to be at the right place.
We really were late. The lesson started
right away. Heide-Khadija placed the cake in the kitchen, and then we entered
the lecture room. The long room was covered with gray fitted carpet. There
wasn't any furniture but a little bookshelf at the wall. The women were
sitting in a circle on the floor. They had left their shoes outside, as
it is customary in mosques and Muslim homes.
Maryam, the group leader, had placed several books in front of her. She was a corpulent lady with bright blue eyes, that glanced friendly from under the simple white scarf. This day she talked about the continuity of history as documented in Qur'an. About the different prophets, that all brought the same message over and over. The lesson didn't contain too much news for me. Islam recognizes most prophets of the Old and New Testament. Some of the details of the stories differ, but the basis thought is always the same. God sends prophets to remind the people of his message.
More interesting to me than the lesson were the listeners, that more or less concentrated followed the lecture. "Isn't it surprising, that the message of God again and again was forgotten?" For some of the women the information seemed to be new. What surprised me. "In Qur'an there is a chapter, that puts the stories of the prophets into an overall context. Who knows, what chapter I am talking about?" There were women of every age, many of German origin, some Turkish girls, obviously still at school, that whispered in each others ears and kept leaving and reentering the room. Which distracted Maryam: "If you don't want to listen, just stay outside!" All women were covered. They were wearing scarfs in all colors and shades, simply tied or elaborately wrapped, or decorated with lace. Some had pulled the scarf down on the forehead. Other were showing their hair. "Always when the people had problems, they turned to God, and later they figured, they wouldn't need Him anymore." Some women had brought small children. One discovered the light switch as a fun game and didn't want to play with anything else. "Please, could someone take the child away from that light switch?" Finally the mother took the loudly protesting child into the kitchen, where he discovered the cake, which kept him busy at least a quarter hour. But when there came some phone calls for several of the women and a Turkish girl wanted to know how many cups tea and coffee she should prepare and how long it would take till we'd finish, Maryam had had enough. "We'll go on from here next week, and now we'll have tea."
So finally I got a chance to talk to the women. They right away took me in. "After all, we are all sisters." "Do you drink coffee or tea?" "Have some cake!" "So, how did you like it?"
Soon we were in the middle of a lively conversation. Of course everybody wanted to know, who I was, and what brought me here to a Muslim meeting. Maryam talked about how long it had taken her faith to grow. "But I never have regretted my decision for Islam." Heide-Khadija on the other hand hadn't known so much about Islam when she became Muslim. But: "Till today I have been only positively surprised." What had attracted her was the "healthy Islamic way of life". Abstinence of all kinds of drugs. Prayer and fasting as exercise for body, mind and soul. Hygienic commands. All this made sense to her as a teacher for biology and sport.
Maryam confirmed, that the regular prayers had done her back a lot of good. And then she talked about her time in Turkey and tried to explain to me Turkish history. A subject I still don't know much about. At that time I was hopelessly lost.
On this day I got to know quite a few women. And all told me their personal stories about how they came to Islam.
Hamida after her divorce had become friends with a Turkish couple and on that way got to know and love Islam. Her 15 year old daughter Nina had kept her Christian religion, though not really practicing. She had accompanied her mother to the meeting.
Fatima-Elizabeth, in her mid twenties, studying to become a teacher, had some years ago worked on a vacation job. She had worked in a factory side by side with a German Muslima. Fatima-Elizabeth's family was catholic, both parents religious instructors. They were quite shocked when they learned that her daughter embraced Islam. The shock had faded away during the last years and with goodwill on both sides the living together worked out fine.
Fatima-Elizabeth's friend Sabine, a nurse, who came to Islam through her husband, wasn't that lucky. Her father rebuked her from the house because of her head scarf.
There were mothers, housekeepers, students, a secretary, a dental laboratory assistant. The women were single, married, divorced. Husbands if existent, came from Turkey, the Lebanon, Yemen, Morocco and other countries. Some women had taken an Islamic name, others hadn't. Actually the women had only one thing in common. And that was their religion, Islam. But that seemed to fulfill them, yes, to be the guiding line in their lives. "Islam is the frame, in which we live."
That day I learned two things. For one
I discovered, that the frame Islam sets isn't so narrow as I had expected.
There is no standardized Muslim. A Muslim is just a person, who took a
decision for God. These women had embraced Islam. But they had stayed themselves.
The uniformity and boredom, the head cover had reflected on me, now dissolved
itself in Schwabisch and Koelsch dialect. On close glance it turned out
to be a big variety of thoughts, ideas and personal histories.
And secondly I realized for the first time, that you never finish learning, not even in regard to the own religion. Up to now I had always thought, to become Muslim, one should know everything about Islam that there is to know. And I was far from that. Now I had met all these women that were so faithful, though they didn't know "everything" there is to know. Knowledge isn't all. Important is belief. Important is faith in the truthfulness and Godly origin of the message, that was proclaimed by the prophet Muhammad on the Arabic peninsula. Important is after all the decision itself. The decision for or against God. The decision for or against Islam.
"It was We Who created man, and We know what suggestions his soul makes to him: for we are nearer to him than (his) jugular vein." (50:16)
Some weeks later I took my personal
decision for God and Islam. After 2 ½ year of learning I embraced
Islam. What finally led me to this step was the thought: "If I die right
now and stand before God, how can I explain to Him, why I haven't become
Muslim?" When I couldn't come up with a reasonable answer any more, I decided
on the only logic consequence of my grown faith and testified: "There is
no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet."
As Islam doesn't know any form of church like organization there was no need to register anywhere. With testifying my belief I began my life as Muslima.
“Ye shall certainly be tried and tested in your possessions and in yourselves; and ye shall certainly hear much that will grieve you, from those who received the Book before you and from those who worship partners besides God. But if you persevere patiently and guard against evil, then that indeed is a matter of great resolution.” (3:186)When I embraced Islam on the 10th of March 1989, for me it was the last step after a long development. 2 ½ years was the time I spend learning on Islam, until my faith had become so strong, that I decided to finally testify my belief. I felt kind of proud, to have taken that step. The last months I had been just putting off this final consequence of my grown conviction.
I had spoken my testimony alone in my
room. To change a religion is something quite personal, it is between oneself
and God. And it is nobody else's business. So at night I had taken a shower
as I had read it in my books. A ritual cleansing precedes the conversion.
Then I testified my belief with the following Arabic words: “La ilaha illa
Allah, Muhammad al rasul Allah.” “There is no God but God, and Muhammad
is his prophet.”
And then I prayed my first obligatory prayer, the evening prayer. I did have memorized before some short passages from the Qur'an to say in the prayer. And now I was about to step for the first time in my live before God in prayer as a Muslim. I faced Mecca, said the beginning words and than recited: ”In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Praise be to God, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds: Most Gracious, Most Merciful; Master of the Day of Judgment. Thee do we worship and Thine aid do we seek. Show us the straight way, the way of those on whom Thou has bestowed Thy Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath and who go not astray.” (1) Amen.
These words in the language of the Qur'an, Arabic, are recited five times a day by every Muslim throughout the world. Everywhere the obligatory prayer is observed to the same rules. This prayer has so little in common with the Western idea of individualism. Still prayer is a very personal experience, a wholly worship in the truest sense of the word. Man prays with body, mind and soul. He bows and prostrates before God. He praises God in the morning and at night, recites verses from the Qur'an and also talks to Him in his own words. This night I had a lot to say. It turned out to be a long prayer. Somehow it was a new start.
The first one to learn the next day,
that I had finally embraced Islam, was Mohamed, my Egyptian neighbor. First
he didn’t understand. But then, when he realized that I had really become
Muslima, he was very happy.
Not so my mother. By chance she called me the very same day in the student homes. It wasn't so much a surprise for her, as I had never made a secret out of my interest for Islam, but still. She commented: “Everybody has to know for himself, what is good for him. I just hope you didn’t get into something, that you can't get out of again.”
Soon all Arab students in the student
homes were informed of my conversion – thanks to Mohamed. And all supported
me. In this warm atmosphere even my last doubts about my decision faded
away. My new “brothers and sisters” were so friendly. They greeted me on
the streets, congratulated me to my decision and welcomed me among the
Though sometimes I also sensed a kind of unbelieving wonder in the comments I heard. It doesn't happen every day that a German woman becomes Muslim. So I was asked: “Do you observe the prayer?” Or: “Did you ever read in Qur'an?” But also: “Why aren't you covering with a scarf?”
The scarf! That had to be expected.
I had become Muslima. I prayed regularly five times a day according to
Islamic rules, didn’t eat any pork or drink alcohol anymore. But with the
scarf I had some problems. In Qur'an it states: “O Prophet! Tell thy wives
and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer
garments over their persons: that is most convenient, that they should
be known and not molested. And God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (33:59)
And: ”Say to the believing men, that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And God is well acquainted with all that they do.
And say to the believing women, that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms …” (24:30f.)
According to a tradition going back on the prophet Muhammad, in the presence of not directly related men there shouldn't be seen anything else of a grown woman but her face and hands. That tradition goes back on the following occasion:
(“Does anybody have the hadeeth on Asma’ in English? I don't seem to be finding it ...” )
Directly related men are according to Islamic definition those, to whom there is in Islam an absolute marriage prohibition. This includes mainly the direct blood relatives, as father, grandfather, brother, son, uncle, but also some other relatives, as e.g. stepson or father in law.
Loose clothing, that covers the body, was acceptable for me. Long sleeves and pants. After all, it was still cold outside. To cover my hair with a scarf on the other hand, seemed to be quite embarrassing. Isn't the scarf even provoking “molestation” in Germany? And is it really necessary, to show off for everybody, to which religion we belong? Important is after all the inner conviction, not the outer appearance. What difference would a piece of cloth make in my new relationship to God?
Still, there was a bad aftertaste. The feeling, not yet to have taken the last consequence.
For the time to be the question of the
scarf got thrust into the background by daily life. I was still in spring
break and had, as so many students, a job. This year I was working with
a big reinsurance company. At noon time I observed my prayers in a little
Turkish mosque close to the office. And again I sensed the warm atmosphere
among the Muslims. I was welcome in the community. For the first time in
my life I prayed my prayers in congregation. Rows of believers, shoulder-to-shoulder,
in devotion before God.
It is not surprising, that Islam promotes the congregational prayer. And it isn't surprising, that this prayer appears in every TV report on Muslims. It seems to be a symbol for the unity and strength of the Muslim community. How much sense it makes, that every Muslim all over the world is praying in the same way using the same language. So every Muslim feels right away at home in every mosque.
I nearly felt regrets, when the spring
break was over and I had to return to class. But on the other hand I was
hoping to get to know some more Muslim students. After all, now I was one
But somehow I seemed to be the only one, who had noticed the change. For all the others I was still the same. They couldn't make me out as a practicing Muslim, and I couldn't make out any practicing Muslims either. There were many students around with Oriental looks, but how should I know, if they were concerned with Islam at all? Should I just walk up to somebody and ask: “Are you a practicing Muslim?”
Well, so I decided, to rather attend
the women's meeting one more time. And again arose the question of the
missing scarf. I choose to wear it this time. I wouldn't loose anything
by adjusting to the environment.
Consequently here the change was noticed immediately: “Hey, you have become Muslima? Well, that's a fast development…” “And already covering?” Ehmmm. Well, usually not, only today and here.
That didn’t minder the enthusiasm of the women. “Never mind. That's not so important at the beginning. Don't let anybody push you.”
That was what I thought … till I realized what I just had heard. What was “at the beginning” supposed to mean? It wasn't that evident to me, that I would ever cover at all.
After the lesson while sitting together with tea and cake the subject of this troublesome piece of cloth was reopened. Heide-Khadija explained to me, what the scarf meant to her: “The covering for women is a protection for them in society. Actually in German society, women base their self-confidence greatly on her body looks. Beauties as e.g. famous Models are taken as role models, women spend their time dieting, styling their hair to complicated looks and dressing according to the newest fashion. Fashion, that is of course designed to underline the beauties of the female body.
But who can reach the ideal? It is a shame that especially young girls often can't stand this kind of pressure and end up being ill with all kinds of eating disturbances like bulimia, that have become so common in Western societies.
Is a woman covering according to Islamic rules, she isn't exposed anymore to the appraising glance of every person walking by. Neither will she be compared to all those ever-present shining beauties of the commercial world, smiling down on us from the advertisement boards.
Islamic dress of women doesn't only protect the dignity and psyche of women, but also protects the stability of society. Unfortunately the values of “marriage” and “family” aren't that important anymore in the West. Just have a look at our German society. The high divorce rates. What do think, how many pupils in my class were raised by a divorced parent? And the reason for the divorce in many cases still is a third person. What really shouldn't be a surprise. The working man is day in day out in the job surrounded by dressed up women with a nice hair looks and decent make-ups. On the other hand his wife at home, to exaggerate a little, welcomes him in jogging pants and curlers. At home we relax.
In Islam everything is different. “Beautiful” is a woman at home with her husband. Outside there is no necessity for her, to coquet with her body charms.
Because the constant comparison with other women is missing in Islam, also the often observed thinking of competition between women becomes less important. So after all, the Islamic dress code makes a lot of sense.”
I was stunned. I had never regarded it this way. My first reaction to this speech was obvious. I asked Heide: “So why aren't you covering?”
“Well. I try. In winter I always pulled my scarf over my hair, you know that. But it is not so easy. To tell you the truth, I don't have the courage. What would the neighbors say? And my family?”
I addressed the women with scarf: “How about you? Do you experience discrimination?”
Nadja, the daughter of Maryam, the group leader, answered me first: “It is not all that bad. But sometimes unpleasant things happen. I am studying medicine. At my first day at university I was standing in the hall, kind of lost, trying to figure out, where to go. A man walked up to me and said: “Hey, you. Bucket and broom back there.” I later learned, that this happened to be my professor for anatomy.”
Fatima-Elizabeth, the German student to become a teacher, said: “When I once parked the car in the city, an elderly man remarked to his wife: ‘Look, now they are even given drivers licenses to Turks!’”
Gulsen, a Turkish student of law described a visit at the municipal office: “And when the lady gave me my forms, she had already filled in the field for occupation: ‘worker’.”
Nadja commented bitterly: “The problem is, that people think, scarf on the head is like a board of wood in front of the head. (German saying: "Kopftuch auf dem Kopf ist wie Brett vorm Kopf." "Brett vorm Kopf" means, to be a little limited in matter of intelligence…)
Rukaya, a German secretary, said: “But seriously, it is exactly as Khadija has described. In the modern enlightened society only that counts, what you see. Nobody observes, what stands behind. Education or character is secondary. And that's what should be different in Islam. Women should be regarded as personage.”
I was surprised that in spite of all the negative experiences these women were fully supportive of the scarf. I just couldn't understand.
So I began my retreat: “At the moment the scarf is out of question for me anyhow. I am living in student homes. Every time I would need to go to the shared kitchen or bathroom I would have to cover.” Laughter broke out. “And I” smiled Ayscha, housekeeper and mother, “and I have to cover, when I water the flowers on my balcony.”
Sabine, the nurse, whose father had thrown her out of the house because of the scarf, remarked: “You as a student shouldn't have too many problems in the first place. You are living alone and nobody puts his nose in your life. Living with parents it would be much harder. Or at work.”
The discussion became more and more unpleasant for me. So it was a nice turn, that finally the subject was changed when Ayscha asked: “What about Ahmed's class. When is the next meeting?” Rukaya answered: “It'll start again this week. Wouldn't you like to come as well, Anja? But I have to warn you. It is highly scientific.”
I was told, that Ahmed was a German Muslim, who was studying Oriental Studies at the university, just like me. But he was already quite advanced in his studies. And he held a class on Islamic theological questions for these women. I was curious to learn what he might be teaching them. In regard to my studies it could be useful. So I asked for the exact time of class.
On time I arrived at the lecture room
of the Turkish Islamic organization. Because of the class I again had decided
to wear a scarf. Though I still wasn't even close to being convinced of
its use. Here at class this was a different story. All women, about
20 were there, were covering. Also it was a sign of considerateness for
the Gentleman teaching us.
We sat down again on the floor, this time forming the letter "U". Then our teacher, announced as “brother Ahmed” entered the room. So that was him. A German Muslim, in his mid twenties. He was wearing a reddish beard and dressed with long wide pants, sweatshirt and on his head a little handcrafted cap. Later I learned, that he was always wearing a cap. The rumor was going, the reason for this would be solidarity with the covering “sisters”. He took his place a little above the opening of the U, but, for me quite unexpected, not facing us, the listeners, but rather the wall at the side. As if that wouldn't be sufficient, he then placed his case between us and himself. A consequent application of the Qur'an verse: “Say to the believing men, that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them....” (24:30) For me it was quite unusual. Isn't it even considered unpolite not to look the person, you are talking to, into the eyes? That seemed to become quite a lecture.
Actually the lecture turned out somewhat different from what I had expected. This young man had acquired an astonishing knowledge. It seemed, that he could reproduce whole scientific books out of memory. This day he lectured on science of Hadeeth. A Hadeeth, that is a report of what the prophet said, did or tolerated. And that is of importance for Muslims, as the example of the prophet Muhammad, his “Sunnah”, is recommended as example for the believers.
The science of Hadeeth is more correctly a critic of Hadeeth. It features a historic critical outlook on the authenticity of Hadeethes. Every Hadeeth consists of a text and a chain of transmitters. “X heard from X heard from X…, that the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, has said:…” A scientist of Hadeeth will examine the credibility of each and every one of the transmitters according to different criteria as biography, reputation, ability to memorize, and the like. The text itself is among other criteria examined for use of language, which needs to be fitting to the time of origin.
Bukhari, to take an example, who is one of the most important collectors of hadeeth in Muslim history, collected throughout his journeys more than 600.000 reports. After close examination he included only 7.400 of them into his famous collection of Hadeeth. “Sahih al-Bukhari” is up to today one of the major works, on which Islamic theology and law base. “Sahih” (healthy) is the Arabic term for a Hadeeth, of which the authenticity is regarded as near certain.
For each degree of certainty as well as for every criteria of examination there are of course different Arabic terms. Ahmed had everything prepared on handouts. Also he had brought - of course - lots of historical examples for the appliance of the different criteria and added the biographies of some of the best known transmitters.
And then he surprised us with an exam. “After all, I want to see, if you are learning something in class.” He smiled.
Obviously I wasn't he only one who was overwhelmed by the amount of information we got. So the exam soon turned into a session of questions about what we had heard. After a little while the subject broadened. with some of the women using the chance to ask other questions: “That doesn't really belong to the subject, but I have always wanted to ask this…” The questions related to our daily life: “When I participate at the swimming for Muslim women, what am I supposed to wear?” – “May I take medication that contains alcohol?” – “How is this with perfume?” That were subjects, which were of interest for all of us. So soon a lively discussion evolved: On the adequate swimming dress, that women should wear in front of other women. According to Islam she should cover the body only from the navel (!) to the knee. But who enters a swimming pool with bare breasts? And on the possibility to substitute necessary medication in liquid form, that contain alcohol, with medication in form of tablets and pills. Shouldn't there be any such alternative, the consumption of the medication is of course allowed. And also the prohibition of alcohol in context with perfume was discussed. Quote Ahmed: “Well, do you intend to drink it?”
Ahmed seemed to be a never ending source of information. Though he sometimes voiced a desperate: “Sisters, please, let us get back to our subject.” He still readily answered every question.
All taken together, this class left quite an impression with me. That was mostly due to the lecturer, whom I soon was to meet again.
In the meantime at university classes
had started as well. And still, with the exception of Heide, hardly anybody
knew that I now was Muslima. But that should soon change. Claudia, a friend
at university, had taken the news of my conversion without too many comments.
She herself was a practicing Christian, but tolerant enough to let other
This term we were both attending a class in calligraphy. The teacher was an artist. Some of his Arabic calligraphic work had been displayed at exhibitions. He tried to teach not only the right way to use the pen while doing the letters, but also how to divide the space, so that the complete calligraphy forms an esthetic unit. In the first session he himself had carved pens for us out of bamboo, which he had gotten from the zoo. In the second session we started the practical work. Claudia and I had our ink in front of us and began to practice. At the beginning we just tried easy letters, but it was a lot of fun.
Suddenly the door opened and Ahmed entered. He talked a little with the teacher and then came up to us to have a look at our work. Obviously he also was quite firm in questions of calligraphy. Claudia asked him over at our table to show her, how to handle the bamboo pen correctly. He readily offered his help, got himself a chair and opened a pencil case, in which he was carrying about 5 bamboo pens in different sizes. He mentioned that he also was making his pens himself. At home he had some more, but those sizes here were the absolute minimum. Then he asked permission, to use our ink, and began to show us some things.
After a while he addressed me saying: “I do know Claudia already. But I think we haven't met yet. What is your name?” He hadn't recognized me without the scarf.
So I introduced myself and said: “But I know you. I attended your class in the Turkish center.”
“How? You are saying you are Muslima?” His chair flew back about a meter. I was speechless. He on the other hand seemed to have regained his speech immediately: “How could I have ever guessed. You are not covering.” I replied, that I had just converted a short while ago. Ahmed thought, this was great, but: “A Muslima who is not covering of course doesn't have the same value as a Muslima who does cover.”
Slowly anger arose in me. How arrogant! And I had always thought, Muslims don't judge on the outer appearance.
After class I ran into Mohamed, my Egyptian neighbor, who was with one of his friends. Still angry I told them, what had happened in class. At first they didn’t say anything. Then one of them said: “Well, he shouldn't have told you so directly.”
I exploded: “Is that supposed to mean, he is right?”
This day I said a lot more about Muslim men, that I can't and won't repeat here. The gentlemen remained silent. Arab culture teaches, in cases like this to hold one's tongue is better then to engage in a fight.
After a while I calmed down. I took this incident as my first encounter with Muslim chauvinism. And I planned, not to have men order me around in my new religion either.
On the next day in between two classes
I had some spare time and was standing in the hallway of the Oriental institute
talking with Claudia and Nurten. Nurten was a Turkish girl from our Arabic
class. She was a friend of Heide.
Another girl joined us. She was studying Oriental Studies at the Hamburg university. She was waiting for our director to ask with him about the possibilities to complete her studies at our University. Caroline, that was her name, had seen us and taken the opportunity to ask us about our classes. We told her about the contents, the professors and teachers. After a while Claudia and Nurten had to go to the library. And now it was my turn to ask Karolin about the Studies program in Hamburg. While she was talking, Ahmed entered the hallway. Because of his cap he could as usual be easily made out as a Muslim. When Karolin noticed him, she turned towards me and whispered: “Do you also have these annoying converts around? In Hamburg they are always making problems.”
In spite of my anger of the day before suddenly I felt a kind of solidarity with Ahmed. “I am myself one of those “annoying” converts at our university.” Karolin glanced at me with surprise: “No, I am talking about those Germans, that become Muslim. Those awfully pious people.”
“I did understand you quite well. I also have become Muslima.”
In this moment the door in front of us opened and out came the director she had been waiting for. So with a last haughty glance on me she turned around to talk to him and left me standing there without even greeting.
This term I was for the first time enrolled
in a series of lectures by professor Falaturi, Iranian and Muslim. He was
actually the only practicing Muslim teaching at the institute. And he probably
only got to teach, as he had already been hired a long time ago.
Originally he had studied Philosophy. During all the years of teaching
Islamic studies he had achieved a high reputation in this subject. He was
dreaming of tolerance and a peaceful coexistence of religions. In his lectures
he covered subjects like interreligious dialogue or Islam in his cultural
appearance all over the world. He always invited lots of guest lecturers,
professors, ladies and gentlemen, from diverse institutes and nationalities
as well as theology professors from diverse convictions. There was always
great interest in his lectures. Many listeners came from different majors
or even from outside the university. Journalists, Preachers, and Muslims,
who wanted to educate themselves. I was sitting beside Denise, another
student from my Arabic class. Some “sisters” from the Muslim women's
group were attending the lecture. Heide, Sabine and Maryam, later
was generally noticed because of her high age among all the students. And
of course Ahmed was there, who as me was studying Oriental Studies.
Shortly before the lecture ended, Maryam got up and left the room. Denise looked at her with a disapproving glance. She asked me: “Did you know, that she is German? I just can't get it how any woman who isn't out of her mind can do anything like that.” I asked: “Like what?” “Well, like becoming Muslim!” she replied. “Doesn't everybody know how bad this religion is for women?”
And again I testified my faith: “I can understand her quite well. Actually I have also become Muslima.”
“Youuuuu?” And then came a for me completely unexpected remark: “And why aren't you wearing a scarf? You are not even standing up for your religion! You are not consequent. I think that is not right.”
This critic from an unexpected side hit the point. Again I began to think about the covering, After the experiences of the last week I began to understand, how the covering is making sense. The sense that is already noted in the Qur'an: ”… that they should be known and not molested. …” (33:59)
“Known”, that was the word, I had never really noticed. Denise was right. I wasn't consequent. I had become Muslima, but I didn't want to bear the consequences. I wanted to look like the others. But I wasn't like the others anymore. Suddenly I didn’t want to hide my faith anymore. I wanted to openly stand up for my religion.
Ahmed was right. A Muslima without scarf isn't of as much value for Islam as a Muslima with scarf. As the Muslima, who is not known as such, is shirking her responsibilities in society. She doesn't stand up for her faith. Not to mention, that she sweeps the Islamic commandment to cover under the carpet. “It is not fitting for a believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by God and His messenger, to have any option about their decision: If anyone disobeys God and His messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong path.” (33:36)
As believers we trust in God's wisdom. Take e.g. the prohibition to consume pork. For a long time Western science taught, this prohibition was to be understood in the context of trichinas in pork. Especially in the climatic conditions of the Orient the consumption of pork was dangerous. But in Europe of today the prohibition doesn't make any sense anymore.
Till scientists began to discover other factors that make pork not too healthy. Who knows, what there still is to be found out in the future? Today pork vanishes more and more from the menus of the West. A late move, if you consider that the first known Godly prohibition of the consumption of pork goes back on Moses and the Jewish law.
The same applies by the way for circumcision of men that is also highly recommended in Islam. Modern medicine acknowledges positive effects of circumcision. Did you know for example, that the risk to get a certain form of cancer is lower for circumcised men as well as for their female sexual partners? God's commandments generally are explainable, even if it will take us some more time to really understand the sense they make. Actually in this way God's commandments are a great challenge for science. That is for those scientists, who want to confirm commandments through scientific knowledge as well as those scientists, who are looking for contradictions between Qur'an text and scientific knowledge. Up to now there haven't been any contradictions found. What speaks against trust in God so long?
So again there was only one logical consequence for me. I trusted in God's wisdom and about six weeks after my decision to become Muslim started to cover according to the Islamic commandment. According to my brother the worst thing that ever happened in our family.
Bad. That was the scarf indeed for my
family. My becoming Muslim had been an invisible stain. But a scarf can't
be hid that easily. Only my father stood up to his motto of life right
from the beginning: “I am not interested in what other people say.”
My grandma didn’t know about my conversion at all till I began to wear the scarf. I called her the morning before my first visit with the scarf to prepare her for my different looks. And I told her of my conversion to Islam. Immediately my grandmother began to cry, and I heard her sob through the phone: “Now you are going to hell” before she put down the receiver.
Till the visit in the afternoon she had calmed down noticeably. Right away she started a discussion on Islam and Christianity, the first of many to follow. She took the fight on.
My mother, who once had left the church because she considered its views as to narrow, had the most problems to handle my new life. “How can one choose a religion, that limits the personal freedom in such a way?” The scarf was to her like the bitter pill that made her shortcomings in my raising visible for everybody. Still she left me my freedom: “Do, what you think is right. To handle this is my problem, not yours.”
With the rest of my family the rumor went, as I soon learned from my grandmother, the scarf would be a phase, that would certainly soon be over. So nobody talked to me on the subject. I was treated completely normal, as if nothing had happened at all. And I thank God, that this attitude hasn't changed. Though the “phase” is already lasting 9 years and there isn't an end in sight.
With the scarf my religion now really
became visible for everyone. And again, as on becoming Muslim, I was a
little bit proud to have found the courage for this step. I believed myself
to be on the best way to perfect my religion. Today it surprises me, how
narrow my own view of Islam still was at that time. The real meaning of
being Muslim I wasn't to understand until much later.
But back then I wasn't only feeling pride. I also was still very excited about the scarf. When I decided to cover, the same evening I had a long conversation on the phone with Heide. I told her about my intention, to go to university covered the following day. Spontaneously she decided to use the opportunity to make it two. We could begin to cover together. I thought this to be a great idea.
The next morning, full of new self-confidence I put on my scarf. At the beginning my Islamic dress still looked kind of adventurous. Jeans, long shirt and a scarf, shortly tied up, and decorated with pearl embroidery. This scarf I had brought home as a souvenir from my holidays in Egypt. Well, from where was I supposed to get so sudden a completely new wardrobe?
Still that morning I spent more than half an hour in front of the mirror. Somehow I wasn't too pleased with my reflection. I tried several ways to tie the scarf. I corrected a little on one side and pushed some hair under it from the other side. But still the scarf looked crooked. Some time in between I nearly gave up. But then I didn’t have any more time. So the scarf stayed as it was at that moment, and I left the building.
Already in the tram I observed the first reaction to my scarf. A young woman looked at me for quite a while and then turned to her companion, asking: ”Did you see the report on Turkish families that was on TV yesterday? Isn't it depressing, how they live?”
Once at the university it went surprisingly smooth. Heide didn’t come, but Denise, the girl, that had sat beside me during the lecture. She smiled at me: “I think, that's great!”
That day I was also attending a class at the geographical institute. Heidrun, the girl, with whom I was doing my term paper that term, asked me really worried, what had happened. The news, that I had become Muslim, calmed her down. “Ahhh. And I was afraid you might have trouble with your ears.”
The next morning I already managed to tie the scarf a little quicker. I slowly got used to wearing the scarf. To or three times I forgot to put in on, when I left my room in the student homes. But that was no problem. Actually I did hardly have any problems with covering. Even the environment didn’t seem so hostile, as I had expected. Everywhere I met interest in my new religion. I answered questions and discussed my faith with people on the streets, in the tram or the waiting room at my doctor's.
What I still didn’t know at that time was, that the real problem with the scarf does develop gradually through time in the minds of the women covering. When the first weeks are over, when the scarf ceases being new and exciting, when it has become a normal part of life, but the comments don't stop. In the tram, on the street, while shopping or visiting offices. No matter where you are. No matter whom you meet. Again and again you hear the same questions and give the same answers.
Some contemporaries just display a harmless curiosity: "Are you a nun?” Well. I guess that is the first association to a German woman covering. Children associate differently: “Have you become Turkish?”
Actually you are quite frequently mistaken for a foreigner. The janitor of the student homes asked me to translate Turkish for him. Heide was asked at the ice cream parlor with raised fingers, how many balls she'd like: “Two or Three?” Has one noticed, that the woman with scarf speaks German, there comes the obligatory next question: “Where have you learned to speak German that well?”
Another standard comment I hear especially during the summertime is: “Isn't it too hot under the scarf?”
Other people are a little more educated. They tell me: “A scarf does really belong only in the Orient with the hot desert climate” That makes me wonder if it is less hot for the women in the desert than for those in our moderate latitudes? Others know: “Muslim women don't need to wear a scarf in the first place!” The proof? “The wife of the King of Jordan isn't wearing one either.” For this group it is incomprehensive how a German woman can become Muslim: “Haven't you read Betty Mahmoody?”
Other people are less interested in the question “How could she …”, but rather observe the scarf as a disturbing factor. So I was greeted on the street while shopping with a forward hold hand and : “Heil Hitler!” When standing at the tram station somebody shouted: “Here is Europe! Go home!” And when I was on a picnic with some friends, a passant commented: “Look at that “trash”. One friend was asked at the register office of her city after she married a Moroccan man, how long she still intended to stay in Germany.
There comes a time where you get tired of all the silly comments. Yes, even the few positive remarks, as: “I think you are courageous to wear a scarf.” start to get on your nerves. In time you develop a kind of paranoia. You feel, you are not recognized as person anymore, but rather as scarf. All negative, that might happen while interacting with other people, is immediately put in context to the scarf.
If at the bakery customers, who came in later, are first served, the reason is of course the scarf: “Certainly the shop attendant didn’t serve me right away, because I am wearing a scarf.” The same when in the tram the controller asks for your ticket first: “Muslims are considered potential fare dodgers.” Or when the bad tempered office clerk doesn't even show the slightest hint of a smile. Would you be dressed “normally”, he certainly would have been friendlier.
Some Reader might have recognized himself in the list of remarks and will say right now: “But I meant well. If you are wearing the scarf, you have to expect, that people are interested.”
That's right. I completely agree with you. The problem isn't the interest. The problem is that most people I meet, believe to know more on Islam than I do. The faith in media is so big, that a statement of an “expert” in TV generally is more true than my daily experiences. After all, he is allowed to appear on TV, and I am not.
Islam is seen as a threat, Muslim women as oppressed and the scarf as a symbol for their oppression. The woman, wearing it, is seen as limited – in every regard. A poor creature, that has to be taken by the hand and led into the 20th century.
Actually mostly people talk about Muslim women, and not with them. If they should ever be asked anything, certainly on the subject of the role of women. The Muslim woman is not considered to have anything to say about other subjects as e.g. politics or economy.
Actually this is the kind of incapacitation, that Muslim women in Germany complain about: They are denied the ability to think for themselves.
But in those first days, when I wore my new scarf at university, I was still full of optimism. The beat remedy against prejudices is to contradict them through our actions. Muslim women shouldn't let themselves categorize. They should prove that there is more in them, than German society presumes. Just the presence of scarves at university or the general existence of German Muslimas should be thought provoking. I planned, to become a self-confident covered woman and as such to find my place in society.
"And among His signs is this, that He created for You mates from among Yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between Your (hearts)..." (30:21)
In the meanwhile at university daily life was going on. That very first day, when I went to class wearing the scarf, Heide had called me at night at the student homes. She had excused herself for not coming to class in the morning and asked right away: “Well? Did you wear the scarf? Tell me all about it.” I told her, that hardly anything had happened at all. She was content. And indeed she showed up in the same week at Arabic class wearing also a scarf. So we were already two.
After a short while the scarf became
a normal part of life. My studies became more important again. I studied,
studied and studied. Especially the Arabic class turned out to be quite
time intensive. Unfortunately the results were rather disappointing. If
we ever had hoped, soon to be able to talk Arabic, we had to accept that
the university education is much too theoretical to achieve this goal.
More interesting were the weekly lectures of Professor Falaturi, which I still frequented. And while time was passing by, I finally did get to know other Muslim students.
But most of my time I still spend with
Mohamed, my Egyptian neighbor. In Mohamed I had found someone, who showed
a great interest in my life as Muslima. We were getting along very well.
Actually soon I could hardly imagine life without him. And I didn’t want
to miss him anymore. I had fallen in love. This seemed to have been reciprocal,
as some time around the end of summer Mohamed asked me to marry him.
The question was no surprise for me. It was a predictable development that our friendship over short or long would end up in a marriage. No believing Muslim will become friends with a woman, no matter how innocent the friendship may be, without the wish to legalize the relationship before God. I am Muslima. So I accepted the proposal. We decided to marry as soon as possible.
Mohamed insisted though on first asking
my father permission to the marriage. So we both traveled into the country.
It became a relaxed afternoon, but somehow we didn’t seem to get the right
opportunity to open the subject of marriage. So we had some cake, talked
and enjoyed the nice atmosphere at my parent's house. The real reason for
the visit came up, when we were already standing in the driveway, to say
good bye. There Mohamed asked my father: “I would like to marry Anja. I
am asking you for the hand of your daughter.” My father was speechless.
After a while he said: “Well, I guess, here you are at the wrong address.
You have to ask Anja for herself. “
Slowly he realized, that the question hadn't been really a question, but rather a fact. A fact, that gave the whole story a surprising turn, at least for my family. My family had known about Mohamed and had seen him several times before. A friendship with a foreigner. Well, my parents are tolerant. And Mohamed is a nice guy. But to think about marriage changed the situation completely. Marriage is binding. It has consequences. Probably more than young people in love can imagine. My parents looked back on a lot of experience out of their own failed marriage.
That I now was about to marry, a foreigner, a Muslim, was frightening my family: “You hardly know each other.” – And Anja is still quite young with her 21 years of age.” – "Maybe you should at first live together without marrying right away.”
This reaction was quite astonishing
for Mohamed. He had the best and most serious intentions, but somehow everything
was different in Germany. Even the thought to live with me without us being
married was chilling him. Pre married intercourse is completely forbidden
in Islam. “How can German parents offer her daughter for anything like
That German daughters are not offered, but generally are leaving themselves, did seem to make even less sense to him.
But the main worry of my family were the children, that might arise from this union. “The children don't belong anywhere.” – “And what happens to the children in case of a divorce?” The magazines are full of stories of unhappy marriages and fathers that take their children abroad.
But that didn’t change our mind either. It might be a little too much asked of a couple in love to think about what might happen in case of divorce with the not yet existent children. Regarded from the Islamic point of view the mother takes care for them at least till puberty. The father pays. Of course he has the right to visit. That's what Islam says. What else needs to be said?
Mohamed's family wasn't too happy about
our plans to marry either. That the son studies abroad is acceptable, but
is it necessary to bring a wife from Germany? And who guarantees, that
she'll ever come to Egypt at all? Probably she wants to stay with the beloved
son in Europe. European women don't have the best reputation in Egypt anyhow.
American and European movies and T.V. serials show an unpleasant picture.
The Western woman is egocentric. She loves money and diversion. Adultery
and divorce are normal. At least that is what shows day in day out on the
And also Mohamed's family was worried about the not yet existent children: “And what happens to the children in case of a divorce?” The magazines are full of stories of unhappy marriages and mothers that take their children abroad.
A little comfort: “At least the bride has become Muslim.”
But both families rendered in the inevitable.
And so we began to plan the wedding. Mohamed's parents would have liked,
to have the wedding in Egypt. After all, Mohamed is not only the eldest
of three children, but also the only son. But a joint trip to Egypt
wasn't planed before the next summer. And Mohamed and I weren't too thrilled
of the idea to wait all that time before tasting the fruits of married
Marriage in Islam is actually no sacrament, but rather a civil contract between the bride and the groom which is made in accordance with Qur'an and the Sunnah, the example of the prophet Muhammad, in attendance of two witnesses. This contract isn't legally recognized in Germany, what implies the necessity to remarry at the marriage license bureau. For us it was important in the first place, to marry before God. The official marriage still had time.
We agreed to marry in Germany before God and in Egypt officially in the next summer. And over there we wanted to have the big wedding party.
But first we had to think about the
preparations for the Islamic wedding. We decided to marry in a mosque to
have a little more ceremony. But the location wasn't the major subject
at this time. More important was to design a marriage contract we both
would be satisfied with.
I didn't have any idea what to put into a marriage contract. So I consulted Muslim acquaintances as well as the Society for Bicultural Partnerships about what would be adequate. I learned that the only element that is essential for an Islamic marriage contract is the mahr, the bride gift. It is a marriage present, that the bridegroom gives to the bride. This present enters the private possession of the woman and serves mainly as financial security for her. The value of the bride gift should be set in accordance with the bridegroom's wealth.
Traditionally the present consists of gold jewelry. First of all gold is keeping its value, and secondly most women like jewelry. But every other present is permissible as well under the condition, that the woman agrees to it.
Farther it is usually fixed in the contract, what the bride should get in case of divorce. Generally it is an indemnity, or the amount of the support payments. At the Society for Bicultural partnerships they advised me, not to put a too high value for indemnity. They knew of cases, where a couple couldn't get a divorce, though both wanted it, because the man couldn't raise the necessary sum of money to pay the set indemnity.
The general right of the woman to receive adequate support payments is already present in Qur'an (2:241). So it doesn't have to be put down in the marriage contract. Separation of property in marriage is also a component of general Islamic marriage legislation. It is the husband's duty to support the household financially. That is even valid, when the wife is working outside the house or owns much more property then her husband. The woman decides all by herself, what to spend her money on, and be it her 20th designer dress.
So what else could be agreed on? That is left for the imagination of the couple. A couple we know put into their contract, that the woman could stay in her job during the marriage. Others have in their contract what kind of family planing they will use - attested by a notary. But that is rather rare.
I thought, this kind of things were private and I didn’t see any need, to put them down in written form. Also I thought, if we wouldn't be able to agree on such questions later, maybe we shouldn't marry at all.
So we decided to just put down the bride gift and the indemnity for the – in my eyes improbable – case of divorce.
Now Mohamed wanted to know, what I would like to have for a bride gift.
Really I didn't want to have any big gift. Back then both of us were students. And Mohamed of course intended to support our household by himself after the wedding. I believed that to be more than enough of a financial burden on him. He was only earning money with vacation jobs. Of course he earned as a male student some more in German companies, than I did, but still it wasn't that much.
So I said: ”Nothing. I don't need any gift.”
Well, Mohamed didn’t like this answer of course. After all the bride gift was my right and his Islamic duty. And his new wife shouldn't make herself too cheap either. So he didn’t stop asking. And after a while I got tired of all this questioning and said: “So give me ten bars of Kinderschokolade." That's a delicious German kind of chocolate, which I really love. After that he gave me a rest.
Finally the day of our wedding arrived.
The ceremony was held in an Arabic mosque. The mosque is the ground
floor apartment in a five story house, that has been rented by an Arabic
society. The apartment has a separate entrance, a small entrance room,
two other rooms, one for men, one for women, as well as two bathrooms,
again one for men, one for women. The floors are covered with carpet. In
the men's room there is a bookshelf, in the entrance room a telephone and
in the women's room some desks and chairs, which could be rearranged to
transform the room into a classroom. In the weekend the Arabic children
were taught their mother language. On Fridays people met in the mosque
for the weekly congregational prayer, the Gumma Prayer, and in the evening
they read Qur'an together. Most of the time the mosque was closed. But
for special occasions – as a wedding – the Imam was always ready to open
the mosque. On this Tuesday afternoon he came especially for us.
And we made him wait. We actually were late for our own wedding. That was because we were in the middle of moving. Two days before the wedding Muslim friends had found a small basement flat for us. “After all you want to marry.” So during those two days we had found two students to take our rooms in the student homes, and had packed and transported all our belongings across the city to the new apartment. Till noon we had carried cartons. Then we had been shopping. An Islamic wedding should be celebrated if possible. At least a little. So we had bought fruits, sweets and soft drinks for our guests. We had hardly managed to clean ourselves up a little and change clothes before the set time arrived. Mohamed wore a dark suit, I a long dress, that Mohamed had brought for me as a present from his last trip to Egypt. Of course the dress was fully covering me and I was wearing the necessary scarf.
Once we arrived at the mosque, Mohamed immediately went through to the Imam, to talk with him about the details of our wedding ceremony. I went into the women's room, where our female guests had seated themselves. Actually we had hardly invited anybody. Everything had been organized in such a short time. So there were only four of my friends there. Heide of course. We were seeing each other a lot these days. After all we were attending the same university classes. That day she was accompanied by Hamida and her daughter Nina, whom I recalled quite well from the women's meeting. And Fatima-Elizabeth was there. We had become good friends in the meanwhile. She had just returned from a trip to England, where she had spent her vacation. With all her luggage she had come right from the station to the mosque.
In the men's room there were present the Imam and our two witnesses – friends of Mohamed – and about twenty Arabic students. Nearly all of them were living at the student homes, but I hardly knew them by name.
Also my mother and brother had come. Of course I had told them about our intentions to have an Islamic wedding. I had explained, that this kind of marriage wouldn't have any legal consequences. So from a Western point of view it would rather equal an engagement than a marriage. So my father decided that it wasn't important enough to miss a teacher's conference, that was held the same afternoon. He was quite offended, when my brother told him afterwards, that he had missed my wedding.
When I entered the women's room my mother
and Heide were in the middle of a discussion. The subject was of course
the scarf. How could it have been any different. My mother had brought
a scarf. It was her first time to visit a mosque. In Heide's opinion it
was completely unnecessary for my mother to wear that scarf. After all
she wasn't Muslim and everybody was aware of that fact. And a mosque is
far from being a holy place, but rather a simple place of meeting. When
I entered I was greeted enthusiastically. And now we all were waiting for
the ceremony to start.
The Imam was also delighted that we had finally arrived. He wanted to start right away. Please, men in the men's room and women in the women's room. How this is supposed to work out with the bride being a woman? Quite easy. She appoints a representative, a “guardian”, who participates in her place at the wedding ceremony. And after all, isn't there a loudspeaker system installed in the mosque? So we women would be able to hear everything, that would be said.
Heide –Khadija thought this was nonsense. We could held the wedding ceremony together in the entrance room. She had married without appointing a representative.
The Imam of the mosque was an Egyptian. A bearded man about 40 years of age, that had been nicknamed by the friends of his children “Bud Spencer”. He had studied Economics, but had made his major interest, theology, his profession. We got to know him later as a committed and open-minded person. This very day though he didn’t show any sensibility. To have a representative for the bride wasn't absolutely necessary according to Islam, but it was custom in Egypt, and the bridegroom was after all Egyptian. So everything was correct in his eyes.
I was shocked. So I should experience my own wedding only by listening to the loudspeakers? To make it even worse, the loudspeaker system turned out to be not working. In the women's room nothing could be heard but a loud rustle. But soon that turned out to be a lucky turn of events, as now we women were allowed to participate at the ceremony in the men's room.
But still the Imam wouldn't drop the idea of the representative of the bride. After a while Mohamed gave up the try to change his mind and explained to me the situation. According to custom a bride is represented at her wedding ceremony by her father. Well, that was out of question for me. So I appointed one of the present Arabic students as my representative. Gamal was Egyptian, as Mohamed. A friendly, helpful young man. We had assisted each other with the preparation for our exams, Arabic and German. Gamal accepted it as a honor to be my representative.
Both of them, Mohamed and Gamal, were seated to the right and left of the Imam. We women were seated way back behind the men. And then the Imam started to talk. Arabic! No one of us women did even understand what he was talking about at all. But he talked, and talked, and talked. Later I learned, that he had simply taken the opportunity to held a sermon for these Arabic students. The subject had been “good Islamic behavior” and had nothing at all to do with the wedding.
Well, my mood was already not the best after that hectic day and the story with the representative. But this flood of Arabic words even made it worse.
When the Imam finally - in my eyes after a much too long time - finished his address, suddenly everything went really fast. Our witnesses, two Arabic students as well, were called. Mohamed and Gamal took each other's hand and the Imam covered the hands with a handkerchief. Then he spoke – again in Arabic – the ceremonial words: “I marry you according to Qur'an and the Sunnah of the prophet.” And that was it.
The voices of Heide and my mother behind me hardly got to me: “That's it?” – “So now who has married whom?” I myself was too fascinated by the picture in front of me. All participants and guest had raised, to congratulate the groom. Gamal as my “representative” of course stood closest to Mohamed. So he gave the bridegroom a big hug and kissed him wholeheartedly – as customary among Muslims – on both cheeks. The association to the church wedding came to my mind: “Now you may kiss the bride.”
In this second the whole tension of the last days resolved. I started laughing loudly. What earned me some very unfriendly glances. A bride is not supposed to laugh at such a time.
But soon I was also in the middle of congratulations and good wishes. The snacks and drinks we had brought were distributed. Heide and Hamida presented us a “gift basket”. Actually this time it was a plastic tub. Heide explained: “That is a lot more useful for a new household than a basket.” But the contents were really something. Fruit juice directly from a farm, honey from a bee farm, fruits from biological farms and a lot more. Heide's fondness for natural foods had even left room for my beloved chocolate.
Also the tub turned out to be useful indeed. Since then we have transported many things in it, laundry, large quantities of cooked Basmati rice for a Ramadan Buffet, and even parts of the motor of our car.
Elizabeth had brought her wedding present from England. A commented English Qur'an Translation as well as a wall picture with an Islamic calligraphy. Some of the students gave money. What we accepted gratefully.
The gathering went on for some more time. We were eating, drinking and talking. Our small party was no elaborate feast, but it fulfilled its purpose. In the nice and friendly atmosphere even my mother and brother, who in the beginning had been a little shy, enjoyed the conversation with our friends. All together it was a good start for our marriage.
So now Mohamed and I were a married couple. We had married according to the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the prophet. As bride gift I received a golden necklace and the 10 bars of Kinderschokolade. With which I was happy.
This day Mohamed and I moved together and started our wedded life.
The legal marriage followed as planned in the next summer in Egypt. This time my whole family attended the wedding, that's my parents, my brother and the new partner of my father.
The first thing to do in Egypt was the
paperwork. And that was quite a bit. To have an Egyptian wedding certificate
recognized in Germany, many conditions have to be fulfilled. Already in
beforehand the German partner needs to get a certificate from the German
municipal council, that nothing stands in the way of this marriage according
to German right. Papers have to be translated back and forth and the Egyptian
wedding certificate has to be authenticated by several Egyptian ministries
as well as the German embassy. So we had to stand in line, drive all across
Cairo, just to stand in line again somewhere else in the burning Egyptian
summer heat. For the necessary official translation there was only one
translator available, who was recognized by the German embassy. He translated
“Physicist” with “Chemist” and mixed up the wedding date. Fortunately
Mohamed and I stayed a whole month in Egypt. The paperwork really took
The celebration on the other hand took “only” a week. 42 kg flour had been used by my mother in law and her sisters to prepare customary wedding cookies. There was white sugared “Kahk” filled with honey, “Urass”, a cookie filled with mashed dates, that in color and form resembles a miniature sand dune, and “Rurayibba”, which reminded me a lot of a German Christmas cookie. And there were additional two kinds of cookies. Everything had been prepared shortly before our arrival and was ready for consumption.
Aunts and cousins were visiting daily to sing, dance, and beat the drums for us. 700 invitation cards had been printed and were now distributed to 700 families. It was July. Midsummer. Coke and other soft drinks were fetched in large amounts, cooled and drunk.
Mohamed and I hardly spend time at the house. In addition to the many official tasks we were also quite busy shopping. Exciting was especially the purchase of my bride gown. My Parents in Law had insisted on a white dress. My mother in law had offered to order one for me. So we had given her my size on the phone and described, what we were looking for. A long dress, closed up to the neck, not too tight and not too transparent. Just Islamic. In Egypt that isn't so easy to find. Many brides, among them women covering, dress as brides in European style. Just once can't hurt. And after all it is a very special day. So the bride is going to the hairdresser, puts on make-up and wears a deep décolleté.
But after some looking around my mother in Law did find a dress, that was matching with my ideas. She had ordered it for me. Unfortunately upon my arrival a week before the wedding day it wasn't finished. In the shop they put us off from day to day. Well, at least Mohamed got his new cloth: a classical black suit with a dark red tie.
And then his parents brought a hairdresser for him to the house. His beautiful curly hair fell on the floor and made room for a much more boring, according to my father in law "tidier" short hair cut. Then on Tuesday, two days before the wedding, when my mother in law and I were close to a panic about the dress and already considering, to just go and buy another one, it finally arrived. And there it was, a dream in white satin, closed to the neck and falling down to the ground, decorated with beads and paillets. And it turned out to be the right size! Mohamed's aunt created a fitting head cover for me: a little white cap with a short veil, that fell over the back of my head covering the white headscarf. The headscarf's corners disappeared under the dress.
But Wednesday night, the night before
the wedding day, there still was another party to come. I had the chance
to experience a Henna Eve. Traditionally the bride's hands and feet are
decorated with Henna drawings. In Turkey and Morocco this is occasionally
done up to today. In Egypt the custom has changed. Just the name remains.
Today the Henna Eve is rather a farewell party for the bride. A social
event for women only!
Relatives, friends and neighbors of every age had come to get a good look at the new bride, sing together or show their art of belly dance. This night Mohamed's cousins with their drums were giving their best. My mother and my father's partner joined the party, while my father and brother were entertained at some other place.
Then inmidst the highest bustle suddenly the arrival of the groom was announced. In the next second it was so silent, that you could have heard a needle drop on the floor. In the presence of men it is not appropriate to sing and dance. And then Mohamed entered to give me officially in front of all the guest my bridal jewelry. Cameras flashed to conserve this memorable event. Everybody wanted to get a picture with the bride and the groom.
Mohamed was relieved, when he finally could leave again. As soon as the door was closed behind him, the party went on and didn't come to an end before late night.
Then finally Thursday arrived, the day
of the wedding. Most marriages in Egypt take place on Thursday. That's
because the Friday is the Islamic day of rest, comparable to our Sunday.
The celebrations began in the afternoon with a recital of Qur'an in the mosque. Congratulates out of the nearly 700 invited families came by to pay their respects to the bride's and groom's families. Mohamed was standing at the door of the mosque, shaking hands for about an hour. So did my father. A true trial of patience on his first day in Egypt.
At this time I was at Mohamed's sister's getting dressed. In spite of protests by my in-laws I abstained from wearing make-up (unislamic in public) but insisted on wearing my glasses. After all I wanted to see my own wedding! Everything went fine. Only the headcover turned out to be a bit tricky to fasten. Mohamed's aunt finally fixed it with a few stitches. So when Mohamed came, to take his bride home, I was ready. In front of the house waited a Mercedes, that a relative had lend to Mohamed for this special occasion. It had been decorated with ribbons to take the couple to Mohamed's parent's house. In our absence the street in front of the house had been transformed into a festivity place. Colorful "paravans" had been put up to form an open room. At the closed side I noticed two chairs on a wooden platform.
We were greeted by a group of 30 traditional musicians, lined up in two rows. The men were dressed in traditional dress and carrying drums. In real life they were students, thus earning their living. Nonetheless they presented a great show. Ethnic dances and songs, traditional wedding rites with lots of incense and a blanket over our heads. Accompanied by one hour, or rather two hours, of deafening noise, the drums, their sound manifold echoed by the house fronts along the street. The Video Camera buzzed. Say "cheese". Two steps closer, please. The flower girls have to be in the picture. And another big smile. Can't anybody keep these neighbor kids out of the way? Now come three steps closer. And people, people, people. Later I learned, my family had in the meanwhile escaped the crowd temporarily and relaxed with a cup of Arabic Mocca on the roof of the house.When Mohamed and I finally reached the platform and sat down on the chairs, the guests stood in line to congratulate us. On an occasion like this nearly the whole town stops by for a while to congratulate. So now we both shook hands. With a smile on our lips. Bride and groom do always smile.
And then there was the big surprise.
Suddenly there seemed to be no time. The closest relatives got into three
cars. And accompanied by the rhythmic sound of the car horns tut-tut-tut
- - tut-tut-tut - - tut-tut-tut we reachedd Cairo Down Town. Close to the
Nile river the cars stopped, and there she was, the Nile Pharaoh, a beautiful
two story ship rebuild in the Pharaohnic style. She hosts a first class
restaurant. Together with other guests we went aboard. Soon the ship took
of, moved slowly into the middle of the dark river and began, to shove
itself up stream through the ink like water. Slowly we left the lights
of Cairo behind. At the banks shadowy outlines of palms appeared. There
chirping of the crickets was only occasionally interrupted by the cry of
a donkey. The whole country seemed to lay fast asleep, while the ship passed
by accompanied by the sounds of the Arabic band.
As bride and groom we were asked to open the buffet. What we did. The food was really great. And when I discovered some Mousse au Chocolat it was really perfect.
Then a young lady in a glittering costume entered the deck and began to swing her body to the music. The obligatory belly dancer. What Arabic restaurant could do without her? During the dance performance Mohamed consequently lowered his gaze - which turned out to be quite displeasing to the young dancer. Then the three story wedding cake was brought in. While we were cutting the cake, the lights of Cairo slowly reappeared at the river banks. Unnoticed by us the ship had turned and the trip was coming to an end.
Once off the ship we drove again through Cairo. Tut-tut-tut - - tut-tut-tut - - tut-tut-tut. The passing cars joined into the chorus. Everybody was happy for the couple. This time we drove out and up to the cliff, the mountain right across the famous Citadel of Mohamed Ali. Two a clock at night we had the city of 15 mil. at our feet. An ocean of lights. Up there at this late hour we met three other wedding parties, couples, who had found their way out of the noisy city up here onto this majestic heights. If they hoped as well, this night would never end?
Of course our night did end shortly
after. And reality caught up with us. On Friday, the Islamic day of rest,
offices, banks and factories close down. So the congratulates had all the
time of the world to drop in and congratulate the young couple. Actually
the first guests came already in the morning hours, after a much too short
night for us. For three days we were busy with visitors. They entered,
congratulated, drank a soft drink, tasted some of the delicious cookies
my mother in law had prepared for them, and then they left again. But not
without leaving the obligatory envelope. Wedding gifts in cash, that were
taken right away by my parents in law. Every amount is written down, as
some day they have to be returned to the giver at similar occasions. An
ingenious system of giving and taking.
So Mohamed and I welcomed guests, smiled friendly and made conversation. Actually the last applies more to Mohamed. As my Arabic didn't enable me to hold any conversations. So I concentrated on smiling for three more days.
Then finally we had some time for us. We spend a few days at the sea. But this trip passed much too fast.
Back "home" in Germany my cousin nagged
so long, till we agreed to another wedding party for my relatives. My parents
wanted to help us with this party. But already the planning turned out
to be more difficult then expected. This party would be a dinner as it
is my family's tradition. Mohamed and I had expected, that no alcohol would
be served, in respect to our belief. After all it was our wedding that
was going to be celebrated.
This idea wasn't taken all too well by my family. My grandma complained, a party without a glass of wine wasn't a party at all. Also my father was of the opinion, we should respect the guest's wishes, not the host's. "With what are we supposed to do a toast on the couple?" But we didn't give in. So to avoid any farther problems my father asked us to put the remark "no alcoholic beverages" on the invitation cards. What we agreed to. We invited my family to a "non-alcoholic" celebration of our wedding.
The second problem turned out to be the choice of location. Regarding the number of the expected guests - about 30 persons - a private apartment was out of question. A festivity hall of a restaurant would have been appropriate for the occasion. But with a bar right in the next room? What would have happened to the "no alcoholic beverages"?
At last my mother found the solution. We rented the festivity hall of the local protestant church. We were catering ourselves. With the help of my Mum we filled the buffet with occidental and oriental specialties. And we served all kinds of soft drinks, juices and punch. And of course tea and coffee with the cakes. In the end everybody was happy. Only one uncle commented, the party was a little "dry".
After all these weddings I still have to say that for us our wedded life has already started with our first marriage, the one in the mosque, when we married before God. From that day on we had shared an apartment, and later we had that date, the 3rd of October 1989, engraved into our wedding rings, that we are wearing, as it is European custom. Even the German government was kind enough to declare this date one year later as public holiday. Of course that had nothing to do with our marriage, but still it was nice to have the wedding anniversary from now on on a holiday.
With my wedding I moved up into a complete new category of women. At least in the eyes of the people around me. A German woman married to a Muslim man. Everybody claims to know what the life of a Muslim wife is like, it is determined by her husband. As in Islam the husband is in command. Nobody was surprised anymore by my headscarf. The surprise was rather that I was still allowed to study, took a job in the summertime and didn't seem to be oppressed. Everywhere I was pitied. "Now she has been caught by the charm of an Arab, and has to deal with the bad ending."
I have been asked many times by concerned
people: "Did you have to take the religion of your husband when you married?"
"Does your husband force you to cover?" Once a shop assistant asked me:"
Does your husband beat you up?" And
over and over I patiently answer:" No, my husband doesn't beat me up, and
he doesn't force me to cover either. I did already become Muslim before
Actually with the marriage I didn't take anything from my husband. I even kept my maiden name. We don't use the same family name. The system of separate family names, that is still quite new in Germany, is the normal way in Islam from the very beginning. Each partner has the right on his or her own name. I also kept my nationality. I am nothing but German. Even the Third World doesn't give their passports away for free.
"You have been Muslim before your marriage?
But at that time you did already know your husband, didn't you?"
That's correct. I did know Mohamed, and I also liked him a lot. And I did learn much on Islam from him. Still he wasn't the reason for my decision to become a Muslim. Believe me, no man is worth a change of religion. Not even Mohamed. Becoming Muslim has much too many consequences to take it that easily. Not only for one's own life. Just think about the children. My parents don't cease to think about my children and ask themselves, what their future will be like.
I have become Muslim because I am convinced of the truth of the message. And I choose Mohamed as my husband as he is sharing that conviction with me. In case anything should go wrong in our marriage, I would want a Muslim again.
Part of what makes Mohamed attractive for me is his belief. Mohamed without Islam wouldn't be the same person. A Muslim believes, that God will judge us according to our deeds. This belief does form the character. It teaches a sense of responsibility, but also patience and indulgence with our fellow men. God is the final judge, and mercy we are hoping for, we should also practice.
A practicing Muslim is an ideal partner for a woman. What do women wish for? Security? A responsible partner? No alcoholic, no gambler, no women lover? A man who has other priorities than himself? A man, who doesn't only have feelings, but also shows them?
Do read Qur'an and Sunnah!Alcohol, drugs and gambling are not allowed anyhow for a Muslim. We also know already that he is supposed to lower his gaze and guard their modesty. And to show his feelings is normal for a Muslim man. Muslims ask God for a soft heart, a praising tongue and an eye full of tears. Men might cry even in public, being sad or just touched. It happens, that an Imam leading a congregational prayer suddenly starts to cry in the conscience of the closeness of God.
Also tenderness is common. The prophet Muhammad once kissed his grandson Hassan in the presence of Al-Aqra' Ibn Habis At-Tamimi. Al-Aqra' said: "I have ten children, but I never kissed one of them." The messenger of God looked at him and said:" Who isn't loving and caring to others, won't receive love and care."
Now as far as responsibility is concerned,
the man is responsible for his wife and family before God. "Men are the
protectors and maintainers of women, because God has given the one more
(strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means
"... but he (the father) shall bear the cost of their food and clothing on equitable terms ..."(2:233)
"The man protects his family. He stands up for them."
But that doesn't mean, the woman doesn't have any kind of responsibility: "Everybody is responsible ... The woman takes care of the house of her husband ..." 'House' in this context isn't a building. It is rather the domestic and familiar affairs all together.
Decisions should be made by the couple, after they have consulted each other - the normal proceeding in Islam. Qur'an names the example of breast feeding. "The mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two whole years. That's for those who want to complete the term ... If they both decide on weaning by mutual consent, and after due consultation, there is no blame on them, if you decide on a foster mother for your offspring there is no blame on you, provide you pay what you offered on equitable terms. But fear God and know God sees well what you do." (2:233)
God sees what we do. He also sees, how
we handle our responsibilities. So the men are manifold advised: "Who believe
in God and the Day of Judgment, doesn't hurt his neighbor. And treat the
women with care and love."
"... and those are the best among you, who are the best towards their wives."
" ...live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them it may be that you dislike a thing and God brings about through it a great deal of good." (4:19)
Partnership in this sense has nothing to do with perfection of the partner, but rather with responsibility, respect and love. Husband and wife are to one another as a "garment" (2:187). This image of Qur'an hints at the bodily closeness of the couple, but also at the covering up of the partner's nakedness in public. " It is He Who created you from a single person. And made his mate of like nature, in order that he might dwell with her (in love). ..." (7:189)
I would always want to marry a Muslim.
And I am not alone with this wish. Of
course not every marriage with a Muslim will turn out happy ever after.
If you read the newspapers, it looks like bad experiences are the normal
case. But on the other hand, what could they print on happy marriages that
would raise their circulation?
Anyhow, there are also bad examples among my friends. But these marriage didn't break up because of Islam, they broke up because of cultural differences.
You think Islam and culture is the same? It isn't that easy. Just think about my three wedding parties: in the little mosque in a German city, in big style in Egypt, and as a dinner in the rooms of a protestant community church. They couldn't be more different. Still all the parties were Islamic in the sense of being in consent with Islamic law - with the exception of the presence of the belly dancer in the swimming restaurant. And here it is. The only classical oriental part is classical unislamic.
The rumor, Islam and Orient are unseparatable
is already geographically falsified. The state with the greatest number
of Muslims is Indonesia. There we have nearly 170 million Muslims. In Saudi
Arabia there are only 14 million. And the Maldives are listed as one of
the very few countries with all Muslim population.
Or think about Mauritania, Tunis, Syria, the Yemen, about Turkey, Pakistan, the Iran, but also about Gambia, Niger or the Comoros. All those states have a Muslim population of more than 90%.Do you really think, that all these countries live the same culture? Do you think, a Muslim raised in China has the same cultural background as a Muslim from Nigeria? Or a Muslim from the Fiji Island has grown up in the same culture as your Turkish hairdresser?Islam is not culture. It is religion. We Germans tend to be exact. So we shouldn't simplify this matter as well.
To come back to marriages, especially
in gender relations it happens quite frequently, that old regional structures
take over. The woman is deprived of her most basic rights. And that doesn't
have anything to do with Islam.
In case you should hear, women belong in the house and don't have anything to do with business life, that is Islamic not correct. The woman owns, as we already know, her own property. Of course she can do business with it.
Khadija for example, the first wife of the prophet Muhammad, was quite wealthy. The prophet used to be one of her employees taking care of her trading caravans.
Another wife of the prophet, Zeinab Bint Djahsch, earned some money with handcrafts like tanning, spinning and weaving. Her income she split up into three parts. One part she gave to the poor, one part she spend for the house, and the last part she used to buy new materials for her work. In the reign of Umar Ibn Al-Khattab he appointed for the market of Medina a woman as arbitrator for the traders. And women have always been active in research and teaching and have never been restricted to any specific area of science. Aysha, also one of the prophet's wives, was among other things famous for her knowledge in astronomy. And in questions of religious law she was still an authority long after the prophet's death.Why should Islamic society do without the the contributions of the women, who account for half of the population?
Don't the Muslim women cover in the first place to be able to go out in public and not to stay at home?
But who is going to do the house work? It is reported from the prophet Muhammad, who is the ideal for every Muslim, that he helped his wives with the house work when he had the time.
Another common example for a widely spread custom that is the girl, that has to wait till a man comes and proposes to her. That is not Islamic founded. To the contrary. Already in the story of Moses his wife was the first to notice him. Her father suggested the marriage to Moses. And also Khadija, the first wife of the prophet Muhammad, initiated the proposal to Muhammad. A woman can pick out her future husband and suggest a marriage. That is supported in many Hadeethes.
Unfortunately many Muslims seem to be
more conscious of the cultural tradition than the example of the prophet.
People are more concerned with the gossip of the neighbors than with the
Islamic teachings. Often they don't even try to rectify their cultural
behavior with Islam anymore.
A Lebanese man among our acquaintances for example asked from his Western wife: "It isn't enough that you are Muslim. You have to become Lebanese." On the other hand some women are easy to take advantage of. They enter marriage with their Christian raising. Love your neighbor no matter how much you have to sacrifice. They are exploited by their husbands, financially as well as emotionally. They completely neglect the rights Islam guarantees them. In the meanwhile the marriage of that Lebanese man has been divorced. The woman has remarried. Her second husband is a Muslim, of course. But this time a little more serious about his belief, please!
What ticks off most Western women is
the male chauvinism of the Mediterranean Area, from where many Muslims
living in Germany originate. Patriarchal family structures predominate
on all coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, including the European side. Think
about Sicily or Greece. There the family is everything. The individual
is subordinate. The man is clearly the head of the family. He is used to
obedience and respect from the female members of the family as well as
to being served by them. An exception might be the mother, who has kind
of a special status. These structures leave men with so many demands, that
they are hardly bearable for German women.
But also many German women are spoiled by their mothers. The mother has never gotten the chance to make something out of their life. Always the family has come first. Now the daughter should have it easier. She doesn't need to help with the housework. And later her mother will of course take her grandkids to help her daughter pursue her career. If there are any grandkids. Not every live plan includes children anymore. After all to be a housekeeper is not exactly "in". Children take a lot of time and money. And with babies you can't travel far.
Let's be honest. The readiness for compromise isn't that big on both sides. Here actually two cultures meet, that are hardly compatible. That both partners are Muslim doesn't change this fact. Islam offers only a frame for life. Not every area of living together is covered. In between allowed and forbidden, in between preferred and hated, there is a large category of actions, that are irrelevant in the religious sense. What the woman is going to do, keep the house or take a job? Where to live, in Germany or rather in the home country of the husband? What kind of furniture to get, traditional or modern? No marriage is thinkable without a minimum of consent and compromise.
Qur'an describes marriage in this way:
"And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among
yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put
love and mercy between you ..." (30:21)
Without this tranquility, without love and mercy, no marriage can exist. And for such cases Islam allows divorce - unlike the catholic church.
In spite of different statements, divorce can't only be initiated by the husband, but also by the wife. An often told example for this is the story of Habiba Bint Sahl, who divorced from her husband Thabit Ibn Qais in the times of the prophet Muhammad. She said: "Oh messenger of God, I can't complain about Thabit in regard to his character or belief, but I fear I might violate the laws of Islam, if I stay his wife." She was divorced under the condition, that she returned the bride gift she had received from Thabit.
A divorce in Islam is easy. Still from all allowed actions in Islam it is said to be the one most hated by God. So a divorce is always a very serious matter. As well as a marriage is a very serious matter.
Mohamed and I did take our decision to marry serious. We are well aware of the difficulties in a bicultural marriage. Common basis for both of us is Islam, that's Qur'an and the Sunnah of the prophet. Culture on the other hand is open for discussion. The Egyptian culture as well as the German culture.
We see our marriage as a chance to learn from one another. We try to combine the good from both cultures. Bicultural marriage can build a bridge between different cultures and help to combat racist tendencies in society. Already in Qur'an we find the following statement: "O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other..." (49:13)
In spite of good and bad times, Mohamed and I would marry each other again.
"Now then, for that call (them to the faith), and stand steadfast as thou art commanded. Nor follow thou their vain desires; but say: 'I believe in the book which God has sent down ...' " (42:15)
With our marriage Mohamed had become
a part of my family. He was welcome and also himself began to feel at home
with my family. In line with the Qur'an "We have enjoined on man kindness
to parents..." (29:8) he introduced a politeness into our family, that
hadn't been there before. Soon my father began to refer to Mohamed when
talking to me: "Listen to your husband! You have to respect your father!"
So did my grandmother when talking to him: "Listen to your son in law!
You have to respect your mother!" At first he was even too polite for them.
My father complained: "He never says, what he really thinks!" But still
everybody liked him and was glad to welcome us as guests. For our sake
my family even adjusted to all the changes, that come about with Islam.
Though they were not all too thrilled about it: "That you always have to
take everything so seriously..." Still they prepared special food for us.
As we don't eat meat, that hasn't been killed the Islamic way, they served
fish or vegetarian food. They left alcohol out of their cooking. And my
mother brought some aluminum forks and spoons, as Muslims don't eat with
silver. At birthday dinners my grandmother prepared dishes with and without
pork and tableware with and without silver: "That's your seat with your
forks and spoons. Here is your food. This salad contains meat, everything
else you can eat." They really
went through a lot of trouble. Even the dog was tied up, as dog saliva
is considered impure in Islam.
And the matter of the headscarf was accepted as well, though to my family it is absurd, how I dress "normal" in front of "my" family - that's my grandfather, father, brother and uncles - but rush away to cover when my cousin's husbands arrive. In Islam those don't belong to my direct family.
Once my cousin's little daughter asked me: "Please, show me your hair, just once." So I took her upstairs into one of the bedrooms and took my scarf off. She looked at me for a while,then she said: "Your hair is not pretty!" Well, how is hair supposed to look, after it has been crushed under the scarf all evening. But at least she had seen, that I do have hair.
What makes all this easy for me, is the knowledge, that I am serving God. And I am grateful, that my family is accepting this as it is. The art of getting along has a lot to do with not being judgmental.
My grandmother was the only one still
concerned about our souls. She began to fight the evil that had come over
me, and she decided to start at its roots. The root, that was in her opinion
Mohamed, my husband: "Mohamed, listen! We Christians do believe in salvation
through Jesus Christ. What do Muslims believe in?" After all it was he,
who had taught me Islam. And I just repeated, what I had heard from him.
"You do have Christians in Egypt, don't you? Did you ever read the Bible?"
To my dismay she also was convinced, that my conversion had a whole lot
to do with my interest in Mohamed.
Mohamed had read the Bible. So the two began to discuss Islam and Christianity. Soon it became obvious, that Mohamed was much closer to her opinions of morals and adequate behavior than the rest of my "disbelieving" family. "Under my roof I wouldn't allow any unmarried couple to stay overnight in one room. I don't care if they are my grandson's friends and are allowed to do so at home!" Belief unites. Later she started to discuss death and the trust in God it needs to approach it without fear. Up to now she tells us: "I am praying for you, children." I think that is really nice of her.
Unfortunately society doesn't show as
much tolerance as my family. Islam and Muslims are not really appreciated
in Germany. Mohamed and I decided, to do something against this negative
image. My mother commented: "There we have the right couple. Two dreamers,
who believe they can change the world." Actually I did still believe at
that time, that with an open Muslim approach towards German society, Germans
would eventually get used to us Muslims. After all they got used to Italian
Pizza and Turkish Pide bread. Once they would understand, what Islam really
Actually church people - as my grandmother - show the most interest for their "colleaagues", or rather "competitors". Muslim presence is noticeable especially in the cities, where some church youth meetings have to deal with an attendance of nearly 90% Muslim youth. The staff has problems handling this situation. And the financiers are not all too happy to pay for the entertainment of the mosque youth.
So the churches try to get into contact with the Muslim communities. Church people visit mosques and organize lectures on Islam by Muslim speakers. The participants get to know each other and hopefully loose some prejudices. The protestant church even employs a pastor only for Islamic matters.
Mohamed and I began to participate at church organized events on Islam. If we don't talk about our religion, who will? We talked about God, the prophets and Qur'an. About the creation of man out of earth. We consist of the same chemical substances as the earth. Our bodies will eventually fall apart to earth. And the colors of earth reflect in our skin colors.We talked about our belief in angel, created by God out of light and serving Him. (I wonder if they travel with the speed of light?) And we talked about our belief in the Day of Judgment, where we all will meet God.
But we also talked about our daily life, the prayers, the fasting of the month of Ramadan and the problems we have in German society. We used the chance to give some correct information on Islam and build up sympathy. Once after a lecture on Islam Mohamed and I had given in a Baptist church an old gentleman said: "I will pray for you, that God may guide you." He was meaning well. As well as Mohamed, when he friendly replied: "And I will pray for you, that God may guide you."
We never try to play down the differences between the religions. No matter how many common aspects we find, Christianity and Islam is not the same. After all both beliefs base on revealed scriptures, that can't be neglected.
But that shouldn't hinder us to cooperate, for example in social projects, joined prayers for peace or charity work, as is seen in practice once in a while. Both sides are working to improve the situation. Especially the personal contact and first-hand information are important, as for example Muslim lecturers for school classes or school field trips into the local mosque. Of course in cooperation with the local Muslim communities. Once I participated at a series of lectures, where school kids were taught the basics of Islam in a 90 minute session. Children are a good audience. At an early age they are less prejudiced. They ask: "Where do all the pilgrims stay in Mecca?" Or: "Do you have to purify yourself for prayer after playing soccer?"
Teenagers ask different questions: "What is your opinion on Khomeini?" Or: "What would you say about human rights in Islam?" Actually the older the children, the more questions refer to the media coverage of Islam. And we all know, what the media is covering to raise their quotes... as sensational, as exotic, as provocative as possible. Facts are turned around, distorted or left out. A demonstration of a labor union in Algeria is presented as proof for the enthusiasm, with which the Algerians support Saddam Hussein's war in the Gulf region. Nobody can read the transparents... A Muslim couple squeezing through a small space next to a parking car is commented with: "The Muslim woman has to walk behind the man." In the educational channel the "germ" Islam is swapping over from Sudan to Egypt. And "Der Spiegel", which is a German magazine equivalent to "The Times", publishes an article on Turkish women in Germany under the title: "Club in the back , child in the belly."
There are of course some positive exemptions.
Especially the radio tries to offer neutral reports and first hand information.
They let Muslims talk. The WDR (West German Broadcasting) once even offered
a three parts program of Qur'an recitation - in cooperation with
professor Falaturi. And once
I was invited into a German TV talk show: "Ilona Christen". The talk show
format was still quite new in Germany at that time and the subject "Women
and Islam" was quite an experience for the team. That was obvious. Already
in the dressing room the first problems occurred. How do you put a microphone
on a covered woman? Can a male technician fasten the cable under her blouse?
That is out of question. So the technician was just giving the orders to
a female assistant: "A little higher. A little more to the right. When
it falls you have to take some more tape!" And how do you fasten the microphone
itself so that there is no rustle because of the scarf? But after a while
even that problem was solved. At least make-up was saved that day. Muslim
women don't wear make-up in public.
And then the show began. Ilona Christen was very friendly. Though she had some trouble knowing us from each other: "You all look the same." There were four other women: a Syrian gynecologist, a Turkish owner of a boutique, a Turkish law student and a Turkish high school student. The doctor and the shop owner were covering as well as me. Mrs. Christen and her team tried to show, that believing Muslim women can be independent, when they free themselves from cultural oppression. So the first two women were interviewed about being in professional life.
The law student shared her experiences with her traditional oriented parents. To her the "Muslim" customs in her family had been oppressive and discriminating. Ilona Christen tried to point out the differences between the woman's personal experience and Islam. For example a woman in Islam can't be married against her will, but the student's parents had tried it anyhow. Once they had invited a candidate for marriage, but the young woman had managed to get rid of him right away, by putting salt in his tea instead of sugar. The other Turkish girl had been raised in a modern Western way. Islam didn't have any importance in her life. And I was of course asked about my conversion.
The time you have in a show lie that is by far to short to give a complete picture on a complex subject as Islam. Still, what stays in mind is the atmosphere of the discussion, which was quite positive that day.
Another time the WDR did a program on
Mohamed and me for a TV series on religion "God and the World". We had
always been critical about media reports. Now all of a sudden we had the
chance to do it better. Fortunately the journalists were also planning
to do a good program. We needed hours and hours for preparation.
For a change we wanted to show daily Muslim life. So they took shots in our apartment. Mohamed and I were interviewed about our life and opinions on Islam. Later the interview was underlayed with video pictures of our wedding party in Egypt. Mohamed and I are standing in the street in front of my in laws' house, surrounded by the drummers and our guests.
As it was Ramadan the journalists also wanted to take pictures of a fast breaking dinner party with our friends. Actually they even took a shot of the shoes that the guests had left in front of the door. Where the TV team had left their shoes as well. And everybody liked Mohamed's food. He still is a better cook than I. The fact that he as the man had prepared the food was later mentioned in the program. "According to reports already the prophet Muhammad used to help his wives with the housework."
The journalists also took shots at the university. First they wanted to have pictures from my arrival at the campus. As we had met at the campus we had to fake the arrival. Quite easy for a TV team. They prepared the camera at the tram station and had the driver of the next incoming train close the door behind me and reopen it, so that they could get a picture of me getting off the train. "We are shooting!" People stopped, to witness the scene. I felt like a movie star. That feeling disappeared soon after, when pictures were taken in my Arabic class. While the camera was running the teacher asked me for the new vocabulary. Which I busy as I was with the T.V. program hadn't prepared yet...
And the last location was the mosque, where Sabine and I were interviewed about our experiences with German society.
Mohamed and I did get along very well with the journalists. Still, when the program was about to be broadcasted, we were worried. We didn't know yet, what of the material they had used for the five-minutes program. Of course we didn't have any influence on cutting or comments. But the program turned out to be good. Quiet, normal and a lot more honest than the usual programs. And even years after the broadcast I was still occasionally recognized by strangers.
In spite of positive examples the majority
of media coverage of Islam is negative and always ends with the same old
prejudices: Backwardness, oppression of women, violence and war. And always
the same names appear: Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, Sudan. Don't
think I am naive and not seeing the reality. To be Muslim doesn't mean
to loose one's ability to criticize. I don't think everything is good,
that is done throughout the world in the name of Islam. We all know, how
much corruption and terror there is in "Islamic" countries.
But people have been persecuted, tortured and killed for centuries in the name of Christianity as well, haven't they? Throughout raids, slavery and oppression? Just remember the crusades, the colonization and the inquisition. And what about Northern Ireland, corrupt "Christian" politicians or "Christian" warlords?
Dear reader, are you Christian? How can you call yourself Christian and support all this?
A silly question. You are right. We all know, that one has nothing to do with the other. Not everything labeled "Christian" is actually Christian motivated or even in correspondence with the Christian doctrines.
Why then are Turkish children in German schools asked about the Turkish policy towards the Kurdish minority? Or about Saddam Hussein's war? What do the children have to do with this? What do I have to do with this? Do I have to justify the actors just because they have the same creed on their lips as I do? Not everything labeled "Islamic" is actually Islamic motivated or even in correspondence with the Islamic doctrines.
Please, do look closely. It is extremely flattering for us, that you think all Muslims are self-sacrificing, pious people with no other motive than Islam. But that is not reality. Muslims are human. And too many of them Islam is no more than an innate attribute like one's nationality. Ask Turkish teenagers for their religion. Many will tell you: "My passport states Muslim." Besides that passport entry there is not much to see of Islam in their lives. There are "Muslim" communists, socialists, nationalists, secularists. There are even "Muslim" atheists. At least according to the entry in their passports. An "Islamic" state is also no more than a state with a population majority of Muslims. Don't blame Islam for the injustice in some of these countries. Usually it's all about politics and power. Every kind of opposition questioning the privileges of the upper class is oppressed there, including the Islamic opposition.
Of course there are also Muslims, who
wish for an Islamic state with "Islamic" laws, according to Qur'an and
Sunnah of the prophet Muhammad. The logic behind this wish my husband explains
like this: "If you'd own a Mercedes car and it would break down, what would
you turn to for the repair? A handbook for this type of Mercedes or rather
one by Ford or Opel? Of course you would choose the handbook of the manufacturer.
After all nobody knows his product as well as he does.
If you want to improve the world, you also turn to the manufacturer's handbook. God has created the world and added the guidelines, how to live in it: Qur'an."
My mother complains about this view:
"That Muslims always have to mix religion and politics..."
We do not mix religion and politics. Religion is from God, but politics is made by man. Islam is religion. It is submittance to the one and only God. He created us and to Him we will return. I believe in all prophets, who were sent by the merciful God, to guide us humans again and again: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, to name only a few of them. I believe in the scriptures, that were revealed to the prophets.
And I believe, that religion should be part of our daily life. We live to serve God (51:56). Service to a Muslim is more than prayer, fasting, giving alms and doing the pilgrimage. It also includes learning, working, being friendly. "The deeds are according to the intentions, and every man will earn, what he intends..." The one who does good deeds will be rewarded in this world and the Hereafter.
I believe in the responsibility of every human being, for himself and in society, may he be professor of theology, farmer, sales-person or politician. To be engaged in religion and politics doesn't exclude each other. On the contrary, it supplements each other. A person, who is aware of his responsibility towards God and man, can't neglect his political responsibility in society. By voting, by acting, or even by keeping silent and leaving the decisions to others.
We don't mix religion and politics.
We just see reality. Every politician and every voter has a belief - may
it be religious or not - that of course reflects on his political opinion
and behavior. That is a fact easily observed in the West. Just think about
Christian motivated political programs, as in the asylum or abortion debate.
In the same way practicing Muslims wish to enter their belief into politics. Qur'an and the Sunnah of the prophet Muhammad do offer - as well as the Old Testament - more precise guidelines than the New Testament. And where a Muslim doesn't find any guidelines, he looks for a leading case or analogies and uses reason.
A man by the name of Muadh was sent to Yemen as governor. The prophet asked him, what he wanted to base his rule on. Muadh answered: "On the ruling of Qur'an" "And what if you don't find any rules there?" asked the prophet. "Then I'll rule according to the Sunnah of the prophet." "And what if you can't find any rules in the Sunnah, too?" "Then I'll try to come up with an own judgment." Muadh answered. Here the prophet raised his hands and said: "Praise to God, who guided the messenger of the prophet." In this sense Islamic politics are absolutely imaginable. And also an Islamic state with an Islamic government is imaginable. Why shouldn't Muslims rule where they are in the majority?
You ask about the minorities under a
Muslim government? What kind of minorities are you thinking of? Thank God
Islam doesn't have any problems with racism. Muhammad, the prophet, expressed
an opinion that was revolutionary in Arabian society of his time: all humans
have the same value. Qur'an states: "O mankind! We created you from a single
(pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that
ye may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of
God is the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well
acquainted (with all things)." (49:13)
Neither race, nor descend, nor origin, nor wealth, nor strength, nor gender are important. The best before God is the most righteous. So it became possible for an African, a former slave, to be the first person to call the believers to prayer in Medina, and for a woman to become arbitrator on a market or a teacher of religion. The prophet Muhammad said: "Listen to your commander and obey, and should he be an Abbessinian slave who looks like a dried grape." What a potential there is in this attitude. Everybody, no matter who he is, shares his abilities and contributes to the well-being of society.
But what about religious minorities? What about non Muslims? The Islamic state is a constitutional state. The prophet Muhammad said: "A command should only be followed, if it is in accordance with right and law." Religious minorities are protected. Qur'an is guaranteeing them respect, a limited autonomy in jurisdiction and else equality before the law. Non Muslim citizens of an Islamic state are of course free from the Islamic Zakat, the obligatory payment, that every Muslim man or woman owning a minimum amount of wealth has to pay. And they are also free from military service. They may serve in the army, but they don't have to. The thought behind this is simple. The Islamic army defends per definition the ideals of the Islamic state. It can't be expected from non Muslims to die for these ideals. On the other hand all citizens of the Islamic state, including the non Muslims, are of course entitled to be protected by this army. As well as all are entitled to state benefits, as infrastructure, schooling and in case of necessity state welfare. To balance these payments male non Muslim men in service age, that decide, not to serve in the army, do have to pay a compensatory payment, if they are financially able to do so. The amount is - as with the Islamic obligatory payment - set in relation to the wealth of the individual, but does stay under the Zakat rate.
In the professional area non Muslims have the same opportunities as Muslims. They may even become minister or Secretary of an Islamic State. Only to become Head of State is not possible. What is not really surprising. After all the Head of State is representing the people. Because of that in Argentina for example only a member of the Catholic church can be elected as president or vice president. And also kings don't have a free choice of religion. The King of Sweden has to be protestant, the King of Greece member of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the King of Thailand Buddhist, to name just a few examples.
Everybody's religious feelings have to be respected. In Qur'an we can read: "Revile not ye those whom they call upon besides God, lest they out of spite revile God in their ignorance..." (6:108) Respect for the "People of the Book", the believers in revealed religions, is anyhow inherent in Islam as the believe in all prophets and the revelations they received is as binding as the belief in God Himself. "Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians - any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve." (2:62) That's in Qur'an. So the same standard applies to all human beings: Believe and do good! Judge is and will always be God alone.
Free religious practice is also guaranteed.
That is among others important for the Jewish or Christian wife of a Muslim
man. He even has to enable her, to attend the congregational service, and
if he would have to take her there himself. A marriage between a Muslim
woman and a non Muslim man on the other hand is not permitted. As a non
Muslim he is not subject to the Islamic law. So he is not obliged to respect
his wives religion. The consequence would be that a Muslim woman in a marriage
with a non Muslim man would constantly have to fear for her religious freedom.
She wouldn't have any juridical security. The wife would be dependent on
her husband's good will.
Non Muslims are generally not obliged to follow Islamic rules, as far as they deal with personal matters. So Christian citizens in an Islamic state are allowed to consume alcohol, not so the Muslim citizens. Christians are allowed to break the fast in the month of Ramadan, Christian women can dress as they like. But please, not in public.
You believe that to be a limitation
of personal freedom? It is the right of every state to limit the personal
freedom of its citizens where the general feelings of the people about
right and wrong are concerned. Dress code? Well, try to go shopping at
your local supermarket without wearing any clothes. What do you think will
happen? In Germany that is called causing public annoyance. What exactly
is offending the public feelings is defined by a legitimate representation
of the people. That isn't any different in an Islamic state with an Islamic
majority government. Every country has the right to set the line between
allowed and forbidden according to their peoples feelings.
Alcohol? In the U.S. at the beginning of this century there has been a majority supporting prohibition. Right now there is a law against smoking in public buildings. And so called "hard" drugs are forbidden nearly everywhere in the world. But even here, countries have the freedom of setting their laws individually, as is shown with the example of the liberal Netherlands.
To respect the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in public? Did you know, that the German state as well asks his citizens, no matter what religion they are, to respect the Christian holidays? For example on Sundays and holidays it is not permitted to run a video shop or a car wash. And on "silent holidays" from 5 am to 1 pm respectively from 5 am to 6 pm it is not permitted to run a market, an industrial exhibition, a sports event, a public festival, etc. Breeders of small animals are allowed to hold exhibitions but are restricted not to play entertaining music. It is even forbidden to move. Churches in Germany are considered to be landmarks. Did you know, that it is not allowed to construct a building next to a church, that would be higher than the steeple? And have you ever considered, why Church bells in Germany are less disturbing than e.g. the Islamic call to prayer?
Every state has the right to protect
the religious feelings of its citizens. So does the Islamic state.
But as long as public interest is not touched, Jews and Christians fall under the Qur'anic rule, that every community has to follow the scripture revealed to them (5:43ff). Based on this rule a limited autonomy in jurisdiction is derived, that especially includes family law and inheritance law. For example Christian men in Islamic countries are not allowed to marry four wives, but only one, as is the church rule.
Germany does also grant religious communities some autonomy. Article 137, sentence 3 of the of the Weimar Constitution (This is incorporated into the Basic law for the Federal Republic of Germany. The Basic Law is the German equivalent to a constitution.) states: "Each religious body regulates and administers its affairs independently within the limits of general laws. It appoints its officials without the cooperation of the Land, or of the civil community." Christian churches in Germany generally have the freedom to freely decide on questions of membership, recognition of marriages and divorces or about the usage of the church tax that is collected for them by the state. The church employs officials and worker. Religious instructors at public schools are paid for by the state but employed or fired by the church. As in the case of a Catholic instructor, who did not observe church law by marrying a divorced man. The Federal Employment Court ruled in this case in favor of the church.
The idea of religious autonomy is even more evident in the case of the Jewish "Beth Din". The "Beth Din" is a religious court, that is ruling independently of state law in questions concerning the Jewish community itself, for example the decision on who is a Jew and who isn't, or the validity of marriages. Also conflicts between members of the Jewish community, e.g. in business matters, can come to court. The jurisdiction is based on traditional Jewish law. Right now Jewish communities have "Beth Din" in several European countries. In Germany we have a Jewish court since 1994, which can be found in Munich. Of course state courts do still have jurisdiction in cases involving non-members of the Jewish community. Actually the function of the "Beth Din" in Germany is a good example for the idea of religious autonomy in an Islamic state. Community matters are solved by the community according to their own law. The general jurisdiction is available for everyone. There is equality in court for all citizens, no matter what belief they have.
The system of Islamic tolerance towards
religious minorities has succeeded in history. The best known example is
Spain. In the deepest European Middle Ages Muslim Spain was experiencing
a boom of science and art, that was to enrich the culture all over Europe.
Only the peaceful coexistence and cooperation of Jews, Christians and Muslims
under Muslim rule enabled this development. 800 years of Islam in Spain.
800 years erased by the Christian reconquista, in shortest time. What did
happen to all the Muslim people?
On the other hand Christian and Jewish minorities in the Orient have survived 1500 years of Islam. In Morocco you can find up to today the descendants of those Jews, that had fled the ethnic cleansing of the Spanish reconquista and come to Muslim North Africa. In Egypt there has always been the residence of the head of the Coptic church, and in Jerusalem the head of the orthodox church. Church buildings have survived centuries of Muslim dominance without any damage. And church construction sites prove the vividness of Christian communities in the Orient. Christians are a part of society. Muslim children go to school with Christian children, Muslim mothers buy their groceries at the Christian shop just around the corner, and Muslim fathers discuss with their Christian neighbors local politics.
In spite of reconquista, crusades and conflicts with Christian colonialisators Christians and Muslim are leaving together in peace, where the strive for power of different political groups didn't cover up the religious tolerance.
You think in an Islamic state nobody would be allowed to complain anyhow? How did you get that idea? Of course an Islamic state has the basic right of freedom of speech. Just whoever abuses freedom of opinion, in particular freedom of the press, freedom of teaching, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, the secrecy of mail posts and telecommunications, property, or the right of asylum in order to attack the free democratic basic order, forfeits these basic rights. Freedom of teaching does not absolve from loyalty to the constitution. You can check this in the German Basic Law in Article 18 (Forfeiture of basic rights) and Article 5 (Freedom of expression).
In an Islamic state Qur'an has a place
equivalent to the constitution of a Western state. In the same way as the
German people decided on the Basic Law, a people, that in free democratic
elections elect an Islamic government, do vote for Qur'an and the Sunnah
of the prophet Muhammad as state constitution. And that is, what the law
is based on. The legislation is subject to the constitutional order; the
executive and the judiciary are bound by the law. To be found by the letter
in Article 20 (Basic principles of state order) Paragraph 3.
The Islamic law, civil law, criminal law, trade law and the like is bound by the borders Qur'an and Sunnah set, but is flexible in practice. A law has to be like that to be applicable.
Generally the rights of each individual have to be evaluated against the rights of society. We Westerners tend to overestimate the importance of individual rights. A German Doctor - non Muslima - told me once: "Freedom is always relative. In Germany I can't even go by myself for a walk in the park at night."
Actually personal freedom without law and order is not possible. Everyone has the right of free development of his personality insofar as he does not violate the rights of others or offend against the constitutional order or the moral code. As stated in the German Basic Law, Article 2 (Rights of liberty), Paragraph 1. The moral code in an Islamic state may be a little more explicit than in Germany, where nearly nothing offends the moral code anymore. But that doesn't mean that such regulations are against human rights.
What exactly is wrong with our human
rights? That they are not defined by men? That they can't be adjusted in
time? Like in Nazi Germany or in Arpardheid's South Africa? Our human rights
can't be abolished with a majority of two thirds. Our right of asylum is
unalterable laid down in Qur'an: "If one among the Pagans asks thee for
asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of God; and then
escort him to where he can be secure..." (9:6)
As unalterable is the freedom of belief: "Let there be no compulsion in religion." (2:256)
The equality before the law: "O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for God can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily God is well acquainted with all that ye do." (4:135)
The right of life: "Take not life, which God has made sacred, except by way of justice and law." (6:151)
The equivalent in the German Basic Law is Article 2, Paragraph 2 is: "Everyone has the right to life and to inviolability of his person. The freedom of the individual is inviolable. These rights may
only be encroached upon pursuant to a law."
You ask about criminal law? Of course Islamic states do have criminal law. We live in reality. There are also thefts, frauds and murders among Muslims. Qur'an states: "... Did not God check one set of people by means of another there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of God is commemorated..." (22:40) It is the duty of the state to protect its citizens and their rights. Criminals are persecuted by the state and do have the right of a court trial.
You believe some punishments are exaggerated
and old fashioned? Like what? The death penalty? Death penalty is common
in a lot of states, including some of the states of the U.S. that is often
set as an example for the Western world. And also the German Basic Law
theoretically sees the possibility to forfeit one's right of life "upon
pursuant to a law." But to kill a man can never be taken easy. "... if
anyone slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief
in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people; and if anyone
saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people..."
(5:32) Sunnah defines only three cases, for which a court can sentence
death penalty. These are cases that endanger the essential order of an
Islamic state: 1st: Life against life. Intentional murder doesn't only
endanger the right of life of each citizen, but could even result in a
blood feud endangering the peace of the country. Intentional murder is
punished with death penalty (2:178+179). 2nd: The leaving of the Islamic
religion. In case the person leaving Islam is openly rebelling against
Islam, which is the elected constitution in an Islamic state, depending
on the circumstances this might be called at least disloyalty to the constitution
if not treason. In case there is not any regret shown by the rebel, this
offense may lead to a death sentence. 3rd: adultery committed by married
persons. Adultery destroys families and endangers the basis of society.
Marriage and family enjoy the special protection of the state. As the German
Basic Law states in Article 6, Paragraph 1. In an Islamic state adultery
is persecuted in case there are four dependable witnesses with good reputation,
that have clearly seen the act of adultery itself. What will hardly ever
happen, unless it has taken place in public, what would be an additional
offense against the moral code. If there are only three witnesses, those
three are persecuted for slander. And punishments for slander are high.
Even the spouse, who happens to find his partner engaged in the act of
adultery, can only initiate a divorce, but no persecution. I guess sentences
are in practice only possible in case of confession. That happens, as Muslims
believe, to receive a punishment in this life will spare them a punishment
in the Hereafter.
By the way, according to DER SPIEGEL magazine fornication will be also persecuted in Idaho again. An old states law from 1921 is supposed to be reapplied, which suggests for sexual intercourse between unmarried persons up to 6 months of prison.
Cutting off of a hand in case of theft? The logic of this punishment is of course a warning for others. It is hardly ever executed. It doesn't apply to any little thief. To get this sentence there have to be high values involved, that the thief takes repetitive without any necessity. The second Caliph Omar is reported to have suspended this punishment temporarily because of a famine. And theft out of state funds is completely excluded from this punishment. State property is people's property. And the thief is one of the people. So in a way he is stealing from himself. At least he has part in the ownership. Anyhow, that doesn't touch his duty though, to repay the amount he has taken. If ever applied, the cutting off of a hand - if nothing else - is a protection from turning criminal again. It doesn't only protect society from criminals but also the criminal from himself. One advantage is, that the thief will not be isolated and locked away for years, but rather stays with his loved ones. So he gets the chance to start his new life right away.
And civil law? Men are allowed to beat
up women? The often quoted passage in Qur'an is the following: "Men are
the protectors and maintainers of women, because God has given the one
more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their
means. Therefor the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in
(the husband's) absence what God would have them guard. As to those women
on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill conduct, admonish them (first),
(next) refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly); but
if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance):
For God is most high, Great (above you all).
If Ye fear a breach between them twain, appoint (two) arbiters, one from his family and the other from hers; if they wish for peace God will cause their reconciliation: for God has full knowledge, and is acquainted with all things." (4:34+35)
Actually this verse is characteristic for marriage in Islam. The man is responsible for his wife and family and their material support. In return he expects from his wife loyalty. The ideal case.
But what should be done in case the marriage is not an ideal one? Even couples of the best families might get into a fight. And all around the world such a fight might end in a crying wife and a regretting husband, who in a moment of helplessness and anger has let out his aggressions and beat his wife. Modern psychologist will point out ways, how to handle such aggressions: "Talk about your problems." and "Do try to get a little distance from each other for a while." Exactly that and nothing else is the advice of Qur'an, when we read "admonish them" and "refuse to share their beds". Aggressions are directed into calm water. It shouldn't even get to the beating in the first place. The prophet Muhammad said: "A number of women came to the members of my family and complained about their husband's ill treating them. Those (men) don't belong to the good ones among you." And: "... and those are the best among you, who treat there wives in the best way."And: "Strong is not that one, who throws someone to the ground, but that one, who keeps in control of himself, when he is angry."
In case the couple is not able to solve their problems, arbiters are appointed from both sides. Still the fight stays in the family and isn't out in public. The most important goal is to save the marriage and family. That aim is also addressed by the three months waiting period before an announced divorce has full validity.
But if there is really no way to come to terms, Qur'an supports a clear finishing line. "Thus when they fulfill their term appointed, either take them back on equitable terms or part with them on equitable terms; and take for witness two persons from among you, endued with justice, and establish the evidence before God. Such is the admonition given to him who believes in God and the Last Day. And for those who fear God, He (ever) prepares a way out." (65:2)
Muslims may marry four women at the
same time? That's also no command, but rather a situation based permission.
Qur'an states: "If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with
the orphans, marry women of your choice, two, or three, or four; but if
ye fear you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one
... that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice." (4:3)
So the Qur'an does rather discourage men to marry more than one woman.
And the prophet Muhammad asked his son in law Ali in public, to not marry
a second wife besides his daughter Fatima, please.
But do have a look at reality. How many men do actually have two "wives" and want to keep both of them. At least the second "wife", the one without marriage license, usually does know the situation quite well and does accept it as it is. A second "wife" without any legal rights. Very convenient for the man. But not for the woman.
And do think about the children of such exmarital affairs. Sure, the German law guarantees them the same rights as legitimate children. But what is there to be done, when the mother just doesn't want to name the father? How can in such a case the Basic Law guarantee in Article 6, Paragraph 5: "the same opportunities for their physical and spiritual development"?
In summer 1990 the German constitutional court discussed the rights of a child to know his father. The case had been brought before the court by mothers, that were fearing an intrusion into their privacy. How about the rights of the child? How about the rights of the father, who might not know, that he is a father? Please, isn't it a better solution to give people the chance to legalize a second relationship?
Laws have to be oriented at reality to stay practicable. Problems don't disappear by denying their existence. We do need practicable solutions. That's what the Islamic law offers.
Maybe you have heard somewhere, that
Islam doesn't forbid slavery. In theory that is even correct. At the times
of the prophet Muhammad slavery was the general practice in Arabia as well
as everywhere else in the world. So there were slaves. Islam guaranteed
them a status, that didn't abolish slavery by name, but de facto changed
the status of slaves by giving them rights. Slaves became famous educators,
artists or even rose into high positions with the government. They had
the right to free themselves through work. Generally the freeing of slaves
was highly recommended as a good deed and prescribed as atonement. According
to Qur'an even the collected money of Zakat can be spend on freeing slaves
(9:60). As on the other hand enslaving of free people is not permitted,
slavery early lost its importance in Islamic societies.
On the contrary to e.g. the U.S. Only in the last century the U.S. have tried to abolish slavery. It turned out that a bitter war had to be fought. And the results of the abolition are still felt in today's society. The former slaves, the African Americans, largely belong to lower social classes, have less education and less opportunities on the labor market. They are not even close to having equal starting conditions.
You may also have heard, Islam is a
religion of war? Islam does support the right of self defense: "To those
against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they
are wronged - and verily, God is most powerful for their aid." (22:39)
Everybody has the right to defend himself, his family and his property.
Is the existence of Islam on stake, this right becomes a duty. Total mobilization.
"Fighting is prescribed upon you and you dislike it. But it is possible
that you dislike a thing which is good for you. And that you love a thing,
that is bad for you. But God knows and you know not." (2:216) In the West
you will also have trouble finding people who when hit on the right cheek
will hold out the left cheek as well. Or the high spending for the defense
household would hardly be necessary.
Of course the right of self defense isn't a green card for crimes of war. Qur'an is very clear on that matter: "Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits. For God loves not transgressors." (2:190) Aim is always to reestablish justice, order and peace. Revenge or feuds are not Islamic: "But if they cease, God is oft forgiving, most merciful. And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God. But if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those, who practice oppression.." (2:192+193) "But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace and trust in God: for He is the one that hears and knows (all things)." (8:61) "If one among the Pagans asks thee for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of God; and then escort him to where he can be secure. That is because they are men without knowledge." (9:6)
And the often mentioned term "Jihad" refers to all kinds of efforts to please God. It has more to do with fighting ones own laziness than with military confrontations.
In Islam there is also no mission by force. "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error: Whoever rejects evil and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy handhold, that never breaks. And God hears and knows all things." (2:256) Of course we wish our fellow humans all the very best. And that is in our opinion Islam. But "mission" in Islam is "dawa", the invitation to faith. We tell you about God and Islam. But you should think for yourself. We don't believe in brain-washing. Consequently -to my knowledge - there aren't any groups of anonymous ex Muslims around.Nobody tries to force something upon you, that you don't want. Also with a Muslim share of only 3 % of Germany's population a Muslim government is out of question. We just ask you, to use the brains, that have been given to you. Beware of quickly condemning people. Think about it! Do take on the challenge of Islam. And do get first hand information, before you make up you mind.
The biggest reproach against Islamic law is always its age. But not everything older needs to be worse. The Roman Law, the "Corpus Juris Civilis", on which our Western Law bases, also goes back to the 6th century A.D. And Moses' Ten Commandments are even dated back to the second millennium B.C. Nevertheless they are still up-to-date. The human nature doesn't seem to have developed so much throughout the last few thousand years, as we'd like to make believe. Please, do also consider this some time.
"And hold fast, all together by the rope which God (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude God's favor on you; for you were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His grace you became brethren; and you were on the brink of the pit of fire, and He saved you from it. Thus does God make His signs clear to you: that you may be guided." (3:103)
The Arabic word "Islam" has the same
root as the Arabic word "Salaam", which means peace. Really Islam does
offer a good way to a peaceful coexistence. Unfortunately at present not
much of this can be seen in practice.
Even I sometimes get tired of explaining over and over how Islam really is. Because over and over I get the same reply: "But my Moroccan neighbor does this entirely different." Or : "The Turkish students in my class tell me something else." And how can I refute this? The Islamic theory is quite clear and written down. But the Muslim practice is always good for a surprise. "They live here in the same way as back in their Anatolian village." It is true, that many times Muslim behavior rather reflects village customs than Islam. Just as not every Christian knows the contents of the Bible, also not every Muslim knows the contents of Qur'an. And just as Christian teachings throughout time have been mixed with cultural tradition, that don't have much to do with the Bible, also Qur'an teachings have been mixed throughout the centuries with cultural traditions, that today believers often describe as part of Islam, though in the sense of the revelation they are really not.
Take for example Christmas. We all like
to remember the festive days, the cookies and the gifts brought by Santa
Claus. It is almost impossible to imagine December without Christmas. It
has its solid place in the church year, even though it is not mentioned
in the Bible at all. The birthday of Jesus was neither celebrated in his
lifetime nor by the early Christian communities. Who cares? We still enjoy
the festivities. Even the churches put up Christmas trees and hand out
Easter bunnies and Easter eggs stay also unmentioned in the Bible. And still we do decorate eggs every year with the nicest colors and paintings. By the way: eggs symbolize the fertile time of spring. That goes back long before Christianity. Up to the present days eggs have their place in Persian spring celebrations. Next to fresh green and other spring symbols.
And it's exactly the same way when Muslims
celebrate the "Birthday of the Prophet Muhammad" in the mosque and hand
out sweets to the children, or when a bride decorates her hands with henna
paintings the night before the wedding. In principle, such traditions do
not hurt anyone. It does become unpleasant though if for example a Turkish
family mourns because the newborn child is "only" a girl. The prophet himself
was left with "only" daughters after his sons had died in infancy. And
he loved this daughters very much.
It also makes me mad when people talk naive students into spending a lot of money on lucky charms, that are supposed to protect them from evil. On sale are things like blue stones or pendants in the shape of the "Hand of Fatima", the youngest daughter of the prophet. All nonsense! Every muslim prays five times a day : "Thee do we worship and Thine aid we seek" (1:5) Lucky charms aren't a part of Islamic teachings. Neither are horoscopes, fortune tellers or worship of "Saints". God alone is worthy of our worship. And even the prophet Muhammad is commanded in Qur'an:"Say: I have no power over any good or harm to myself except as God willeth. If I had knowledge of the unseen, I should have multiplied all good, and no evil should have touched me: I am but a warner, and a bringer of glad tidings to those who have faith." (7:188)
The Muslims in Germany come from all
over the world. And from all over the world they have brought their traditional
ideas. Mostly they don't even realize that these ideas have nothing to
do with Islam. After all, it is taught also in the mosques.A mosque is
for a foreign muslim a piece of home. While the Muslim feels not at home
in the German environment, which is often perceived as hostile, the mosque
is a place of peace. Here people speak the same language. Here people think
in the same way. Arabs have their mosques, just as Turks, Bosnian Muslims
or Iranians. The "owners" of the mosques are "cultural" associations. They
are named "cultural" by the founders, as the term "Islamic" does still
ring an alarm bell with German officials. But the term "cultural" actually
is fitting for most of them.
One of my first experiences with mosques was, that people don't understand me. Especially the elder generation does hardly speak any German. Many times it is just enough for the question: "You husband Muslim?" Supported by a finger pointing at my wedding ring. What follows is the even here compulsory "Oh, I see..." Though it is a lot friendlier here, than I am used to, when hearing it from Non Muslims. In the Arabic mosque I am now "Egyptian", in the Turkish mosque "Turkish", or maybe still "Arabic"? After all, my husband is an Arab. Or... Well, in any case I am not "real" German anymore. Or am I ...? The fact, that I don't have an "Islamic" name confuses.
I myself don't feel Egyptian at all. And I don't feel like becoming Turkish, Arabic or anything else. And why should I change my name? It is true, that the prophet Muhammad in his times did rename some new Muslims. But that was mainly relevant for names, that have a bad or anti Islamic meaning. My name is neither anti Islamic nor does it have a bad meaning. So why shouldn't there be a Muslima named Anja?
Actually German Muslims usually are not easily integrated in existing Muslim communities. They are inconvenient, these Germans! Always they insist on Qur'an and Sunnah. One hundred and fifty percent Muslims! And everything they want to change. In the mosques they do German language Qur'an classes, help children with their home work and encourage girls to educate themselves instead of doing their domestic chores. In this way German influence enters even the last refuge. As if there were not enough Germans outside.
The reaction of German Muslims is often seclusion. They don't want to have anything to do with traditional or national clubs. But at the same time they do not really fit in with the German society anymore. So they come up with own clubs. Some revive the old Orient, men wearing wide pants, long shirt and turban, women crafting beduin tents and accessories as toys for their children, to teach them in this way about their "ancestors". Really the first Muslims were from Mecca, which was at that time a lively trade center, and not a beduin camp, but well, we don't have to be that accurate, do we?
So slowly the German Muslim community is forming an equivalent to the oriental communities, discusses Goethe and Islam, rewrites the lyrics of German folk songs and crafts "Ramadan Calendar" for the children, following the example of the Advent Calendar, where the child opens one little present every day.
These clubs all may have there justification. The framework of Islam is wide. And everybody has the right to speak his own language and live his own culture. But unfortunately in this way the idea of Islamic unity, of the "Ummah", gets somewhat lost.
The Qur'an says: "And hold fast, all together by the rope which God (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude God's favor on you; for you were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His grace you became brethren; and you were on the brink of the pit of fire, and He saved you from it. Thus does God make His signs clear to you: that you may be guided." (3:103)
Islam is a religion constituting society. The goal is not, to be as exclusive as possible. Quite to the contrary. The goal is to reach the greatest possible consensus. Muslims have to work with each other, not against each other. God has clearly warned us in Qur'an: "be not like those who are divided among themselves and fall into disputations after receiving clear signs. ..." (3:105)
Of course, not every Muslim is the same. Not everybody dresses the same, cooks the same dishes or speaks the same language. And it should be this way! How could we otherwise learn from each other? Doesn't it say in Qur'an: "O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)." (49:13)
There has always been variety in Islam. And we can learn so much from each other. Without new impulses, without discussions, every intellectual or social development comes to a standstill. This is also valid for the political discourse. The task of the Islamic community is to integrate the different opinions into society for the good of all.
Again the prophet Muhammad is an example for us. He learned from his companions and allowed discussions.
Muhammad Hussein Haikal describes in his book " The life of Muhammad (saaw)" an incident that has taken place during the famous Battle at Badr, where it came to an open confrontation between the Muslims and a Meccan army, that was by far outnumbering the Muslims. The following happened when choosing a place for the camp: "When the Muslims reached the first well of Badr, Muhammad paused. Al Hubab Ibn Al Mundhir Ibn Al Dschamuh was familiar with the place; when he saw, where the prophet wanted to stay he asked: " O messenger of Allah, is this the place where Allah lets you get down to stay, so that we can not deviate from it forward or backward, or is it simply a question of personal opinion and war tactics?" Muhammad answered: "It is a question of personal opinion and war tactic." Then he said: "O messenger of Allah, this is not a campsite; move on with your men until you come to the well closest to the Quraish (the Meccans). There we will stop, then we will fill up the wells behind and build a reservoir which we fill with water. When we then fight the people, we can drink and they can not." Muhammad realized that the advice of Al Hubab was right. He got up together with his men and followed the suggestions of his companion. Through this behavior he made his people understand that he was just a man, like themselves, and that they should consult each other before coming to an opinion. Without hearing them he wouldn't make a decision. Yes, he even needed the advice of one of them."
In fact, even prominent representatives of the early Islamic community did not always agree with each other. The prophet once compared Abu Bakr Siddiq because of his gentleness and his readiness to forgive with the prophets Abraham and Jesus, and he compared Omar Ibn Al-Khattab because of his severity and consequent behavior with the prophets Noah and Moses. Despite of their different character Abu Bakr Siddiq as well as Omar Ibn Al-Khattab both hold outstanding positions in the Islamic community. And after the death of the prophet Muhammad both were the first to become Khalifa. This means, they followed after him in leading the Ummah, the Muslim community.
Back then when Muslims disagreed with each other, the problem was discussed, pros and cons brought up, and once a decision had been made, this decision was put into practice by all. Nobody would feel offended and withdraw himself, because the others didn't follow his opinion.
But nowadays villagers insist on a specific way to fold the hands in prayer or on a specific color for headscarfs and set up one club after the other. As if there wouldn't be any more important matters.
At the university we wanted to do this
better. So we set up our own club...
It all started with the obligatory noon time prayer, which - obviously - is performed at noon time and consequently fell into class times at university. Of course, theoretically you can pray everywhere. But a little privacy couldn't hurt. So usually I picked out an empty lecture hall or prayed at the back side of the library. Always hoping, nobody would pass by. And so did the others. Until Ahmed and Yuksel solved the problem for all of us. Our institute was located in the top floor of an old building. From there the stairs led up to the elevator shaft. The two students had with permission of the director of our institute, equipped the almost never used landing at half level with two prayer rugs and performed their prayers there.
Soon the word spread and other students began to frequent the place. We prayed there alone or sometimes after lectures also in congregation - shoulder to shoulder, foot to foot. While we had to wait before prayer till the last one of us had finished his ritual washing, we got to know each other. Most Muslims at the institute were of Turkish origin. With some I became friends. Nurten had started her studies together with Heide and me. When we showed up in class with headscarfs, she was very pleased. She didn't wear a headscarf herself, but would have liked to change that: "I don't know, how to start. In my family this is not common. Not even my mother wears one. If I start to cover now, it is like telling her, she doesn't live Islam correctly." Nurten's parents had come to Germany a long time ago. All three children were born in Germany. The parents took religion seriously, but a headscarf was out of question. Except occasionally when visiting a mosque.
Nadja and Selda on the other hand did cover. They came from the mathematics and archeology department to hear the lectures of Professor Falaturi. Heide and I did already know Nadja from the Muslim women meetings. And Hulya had transferred to our institute. She appeared to be very modern. Sometimes her headscarf seemed to be out of place next to the carefully balanced cigarette between her fingers.
Then there was another German Muslim. Menem came from the Ruhr Valley, an old industrial area in Germany. He was dressed with combat boots and wore his hair really short. And he lived at the same student housings as Mohamed and me. And Ali, of course, who had as a teenager migrated from Turkey to Germany. He started his studies a year after me. He was engaged in his local Turkish community, playing soccer with the boys.
Though on the first glance we were all very different from each other, we still had a lot in common. We were about the same age and met each other nearly every day at university. We spoke the same language, and lived in the same world. It seemed that we had found a niche where "domestic" Muslims could exist. And this was including the foreign students as well, that had been living in Germany for such a long time, that they just couldn't identify themselves anymore with their original culture.
Actually these young migrants find themselves in a kind of vacuum in between the cultures - much like the German Muslims. The parent generation has tried hard to conserve the values of the "Islamic" home culture in the family. They used to retreat into their own world, meet only muslim compatriots, and avoid all kind of Western "temptations". Already the poor or missing knowledge of the German language made the interaction with the German environment difficult, if not impossible. That might have been a good strategy for the first generation. After all hardly anyone intended to spend the rest of his life in Germany. All planned to return back home.
But that is different in the second and third generation. Many teenagers spend more time at school than at home. They read German newspapers, watch German television and have German friends. They speak German better than their "home" language and don't even think about "returning" in a country, they don't know but from short vacation trips. These teenagers live in a world, that after all these years still is new to their parents. Symptomatic is the Arab father, who so proudly announced in the mosque, that his son had gotten an A in religious instructions. Until somebody told him, that that particular school doesn't even offer Islamic instructions as a subject. The child had participated at the Catholic class. And symptomatic is the Turkish girl, who in conformance with her parent's wish every morning leaves the house with headscarf, just to let it disappear in her bag at the bus stop. Or the Arab teenager, who once in a while smokes a cigarette with his friends, but would out of respect for his parents never dare to touch one at home.
Parents and children lack a common basis for communication. Parents just don't want to hear anything of the "outside" world. And "outside" the life of the parents seems so strange. So children start to separate their "German" world from the parent's world. They learn a "Two-World-Pattern". "At home" they speak different than "outside". And "at home" they think different than "outside". Islam in this pattern belongs clearly to the "home" world. Many times the children are not able, to describe even the simplest facts of their belief in the German language. That isn't really surprising, taken into consideration, that everything these children have ever learned about Islam, they have learned in their parent's language. And the teachers in the mosques often come right away from abroad. They don't have any idea of life in Europe. And they can't connect between Islam and the teenager's daily life in Germany. Yet Islam has never been meant for just one culture. It does come from the Orient, but so does Christianity, and its believers obviously also claim universal validity.
It is true that in the meanwhile German schools have started to offer Muslim religious classes besides the Christian classes. But these classes are also held in the "home" language of most of the Muslim students, and that's Turkish. And many times the teacher do also come right from Turkey. One or two Arabic children in the class, who don't understand a word, that doesn't really bother anyone. After all it has to come clearly across, what these classes are aiming at. That's to prepare the children for an easy return into their home country. That's where these children with their religion really belong.Would we be realistic, we would have to realize, that only an insignificant small percentage of those children will ever leave Germany. We are bringing up a whole new generation of European Muslims. And it is up to us, how they will turn out.
I have met teenagers, who have set up German language computer programs for Qur'an and Hadeeth with several search functions. From the U.K. we received the English language "Islamic Quiz", illustrated and in different levels covering subjects as religion, history and geography. During a youth meeting children presented German TV commercials on video, changed to Islamic contents: "My Islam, your Islam, Islam is for all of us!" They acted, sang and even a rap was presented. Those children are full of creativity and talent. For them Islam is not a flaw. Nor do they see it as a drag on their way in the future.
Unfortunately there are few German language events for Muslim children and teenager that help them to develop self confidence. Most children spend their life isolated in an environment, that believes Islam to be unnecessary and backward. So we Muslim students decided to do some German language Muslim Youth work in our community. We wanted to bring the children and teenagers together in the mosque. They should not have to experience the feeling, not to belong anywhere. The Imam of "our" mosque, the gentleman that had married Mohamed and me, did support us right away. He also had teenage children.
So we offered weekly meetings. We talked
with the children, played, did little craft projects and of course also
prayed together. And we offered help with the home work. The last point
was gladly welcomed by the board of the mosque. That's a way German students
can really be useful. Other than that the project was viewed in a rather
skeptic way. But the fact, that along with Heide, Elizabeth, Ahmed and
me, also Mohamed was involved in the project, did reassure the board quite
a bit. At least one Arab taking part in the project! And after a firm invitation
by the Imam the first children showed up at the weekly meetings. Not as
many, as we had hoped, but at least they attended happily and regularly.
Soon we became friends with "our" children. Heide took care of all kinds
of school matters. As teacher she was predestinated for this job. Soon
she was in contact with the teachers and principals of various schools.
Naima started to wear a headscarf in class. Karima wanted to be excused
from her swimming class. Yasmin, new in Germany, had difficulties with
her 8th grade English class. At home in Morocco she had only studied French,
which she spoke fluently. Her younger brother did even have problems to
read his German history book or understand the tasks in his math book.
It is so sad, how these children are deprived of the chance to successfully
complete an education, on which they could base their future.
Fausia on the other hand just entered primary school that year. She didn't have any problems. And her younger brother would accompany her to mosque, sit next to her and copy her exercises. Rachida, 4th grader, once brought a "Bravo" magazine (a German teen's magazine). Her parents didn't even know of the existence of such a magazine, not to talk about the magazine belonging to their little daughter. ("Rachida is much too young to understand what is the 'period'.") We students tried to mediate for the children between home and school life. And the children themselves began to share and befriend each other. Then we started to get games, yes, even a table tennis set. Heide set up a small library, and her Christian mother held a sewing class during vacation time. Sometimes we took the children on trips, visited a museum, or an amusement park. And that year the mosque managed for the first time to rent a public swimming hall for two hours a week. So every other week Muslim women respectively men could go for a swim. And again it was Heide as sports teacher, who was in charge of swimming classes for the women and girls. She even managed to get recognition for her classes at schools so that some of the girls could get their obligatory credits with her instead of participating at the gender mixed school swimming.
The whole project turned out to be more and more time consuming, not only for Heide, but for all of us. There was hardly any time left for our studies, not even to think about our private lives. Heide, who had taken thing a little slower during her exams, once again got new life into the project, when she managed to get a state sponsorship as an unemployed teacher for her work in the mosque. This was granted for two years. So we had a full time worker. Heide started to offer additional German classes for housewives and the children now were able to get individual and qualified help with their studies. Heide recruited a couple of additional students to help for a few hours a week and even convinced the board to compensate some of them financially for their time. Unfortunately the group feeling got lost a little in the new system. Success at school was from the parents point of view of course more important than playing together. "The children can play at home. They don't need to go to the mosque to do this." So after a while the weekly meetings were given up. And when the two years period of Heide's sponsorship was over, also the classes came to an end.
In the meanwhile the Muslim students
had become more active at university. Turkish Muslimas e.g. took turns
in inviting the female Muslim students home. About twenty to thirty girls
came to such meetings. We hardly got around to hold the planned lessons,
but I got to know more and more Muslims. Girls from other cities came to
visit, and also young women joined the group, that didn't have anything
to do with the university. A nurse, an office clerk, a kindergarten teacher.
Though we hadn't much else in common, we were joined by the fact that we
all belonged to the Muslim minority. As a result of these meetings a lot
of personal friendships developed. "Sisters" helped each other with their
class assignments, met to ride their bikes along the river or even traveled
together in vacation time. And one morning Nurten showed up in class wearing
a headscarf. "When I left the house this morning, I suddenly remembered
the headscarf. So I just put it on." Since that day I have never seen her
again uncovered in public. As expected in the beginning some discussions
on this matter took place in her family and among the neighbors. Dilek,
Nurten's younger sister, told me later: "The neighbors right away thought,
Nurten had married. They couldn't imagine, she would do this herself."
The relatives on the other hand, as well in Germany as in Turkey, thought,
the 22 years old Nurten was way too young for a headscarf. Dilek's comment:
"They all think, they have plenty time for this later. When they are forty.
Who tells them, that they will ever get that old?" Dilek herself does not
wear a scarf, but her mother shortly after followed Nurten's example.
At university the Turkish girls had come up with the idea, to set up an own prayer room for women, as the stair's landing at the institute was just not sufficient. There was hardly room for more than 4 persons. So in crowded times as after the lectures of Professor Falaturi this caused some waiting in the corridor. What didn't really cause happiness in the institute. Standard question: "Do you all have to stand around in the corridor?"
At the end of the stairs half a floor up from the prayer landing was another landing. There was the entrance to the elevator shaft and a window to the roof. Nobody came up but the elevator service men. And when do those ever come? Soon the necessary steps had been discussed. So one day Nurten, Hulya, Selda and Nadja brought white paint and started work. The result was quite something. A pretty little corner with Islamic graphics put up at white walls. The floor covered with some carpet; prayer rugs carefully folded and stored, ready for use; And the girls even installed a lamp with the help of a long cable connecting to the institute electricity. Soon there were to be found some Islamic magazines to entertain oneself up there. And we began, to spend our free time on this "former" stair's landing. I wrote one of my assignments there. Other students met in Ramadan to break the fast together with German potato salad and Turkish Borek. But mostly we did actually come to pray. As well as the "brothers". Many time we prayed in congregation on the two landings, men and women.
But the joy of having our own corner didn't last long. Soon we were told by the director of the institute, that the usage of the landing in this form couldn't be allowed anymore. Why? We had become the subject of gossip. Among other matters we were told, our institute was getting famous in all of Germany for being a "mosque with an institute", a student had been forced, to cover (Nurten!), and the women had been secluded by fundamentalist men and sent into the last corner (our women's corner!). Non regarding of all these accusations we were told, that it was unacceptable that right in front of the institute foreigners meet, loudly talk in their languages and laugh. Nobody knows why. The professor suspected they might be laughing about him. Of course we protested. So the director told us, that we didn't have any rights to have a prayer location at the institute in the first place. Otherwise anybody could ask for the same, e.g. Buddhists of Hindus or some other group. He added with a glance towards the secretary, who seemed to have been one of the complainers about our prayer place: "But to be realistic, I don't expect anyone else but you to ask for a prayer place." Still he insisted, that our "activities" had to stop immediately and our "furniture" had to disappear. The first landing though, that Ahmed and Yuksel had gotten the permission to use, should still be used as a place for prayer. On a trial basis. And only for prayer.
In the times of our work with the children
and our congregational prayers at university the idea had come up to found
a student association. A multinational, independent, democratic, German
language and - most important - Islamic student association. We designed
a nice invitation. "MUSLIMS" was spelled in bold letters. After all, this
was the common element of the prospective members. Though there should
be also Non Muslims accepted. Other than that the invitation was rather
simple, business-like and not too pious. We mentioned, when and where we
were going to meet to get to know each other and discuss the foundation
of a Muslim student association. These invitations were copied and posted
around the campus. During the next three days we kept posting, as the invitations
were over and over torn down or covered up by other announcements.
The first meeting at the Arabic mosque was attended by about 60 people. The Imam had come as well. To my great surprise I learned, that he was still signed up as a student. I had never seen him at campus. He told us of a former Muslims student association, in "his times". They had even observed the congregational Friday prayer together. But that association had been given up once the active Muslim students had left the university. He offered to organize the new association for us or at least help us to do so. After all, he had some experience. And he did already have a quite explicit idea of what could be done.
This was not exactly what we had in mind, that the alumni would be in charge of creating the new association. But how can you tell this to an Imam in a nice way in "his" mosque? Menem, the German Muslim, who was the chairman of the meeting, gave me an example. He said: "Thank you brother for your good advice. We will surely take it into consideration. Does anybody else have anything to say?"
Thus that subject was closed. We did appoint on that day a committee to work out the statutes of the association. The statutes should protect our basic aims like independence, German language, and of course Islamic foundation. We also tried to exclude a possible future take-over by any other group. Mohamed thought the explicit paragraphs to be rather unnecessary. The association had to have statutes to be registered at the university, but: "The Germans always spend so much time thinking about problems, that probably won't ever occur." He isn't that wrong. "But what in case, let's just consider the theoretically possibility,..." is actually the beginning of a typical German questions. As well as we Germans like to repeat opinions, that have been stated already three times, a fourth time in our own words. A peculiarity, that probably goes back on the German grading system at school, where participation in class is accounted highly into the grades. But a peculiarity, that is rather time consuming and not really effective in discussions. Arabs are different. In their schools they don't discuss anything anyhow So they learn to keep their mouths shut unless they have something really important to say. But in spite of German participation we did finally come up with a draft for our statutes. Even Menem was satisfied: "And if the association should ever be taken over by atheists, I'd just have to leave and found a new association."
And then finally the big day of the official foundation of the association came up. We took suggestions for a name for the association and all three parts of the name were put separately to vote. And we elected our first board of five directors. Everybody could write down up to five persons of the present members. Then we counted. Elected were - some even with nearly all votes - the initiators of the association: Mohamed, Ahmed, Menem, Ali and I.
Afterwards we registered at university. The statutes had been changed twice due to the wish of some members. And the protocol of the founding meeting had been signed by about 30 founding members. So we became an official university association.
After the foundation of the student association the statutes did disappear in some drawer, as Mohamed had predicted. And also some of the members disappeared never to be seen again. Still we started our work.
The association met once a week on campus. We used a room of the "Akademisches Auslandsamt", the university institution responsible for foreign students and student exchange. They had a room reserved for events of foreign students. In this case it turned out an advantage, that so many of our members were foreigners. Mohamed and Ali went to the room schedule meeting, and secured us the room once a week. It was a large basement room with dirty white walls, furnished with some tables and chairs. Usually it was used as a party room. In comparison to the nice prayer room at the mosque it was really ugly. But it was sufficient.
The weekly meetings were attended regularly by about thirty students. We offered lectures on Islamic subjects as "Islam in Indonesia" (based on the Masters paper of one of the members), "Malcolm X" (inspired by the film) or "Islamic behavior" (very practical oriented according to Qur'an and Sunnah). Sometimes we had guest lecturers. Members of mosque associations introduced their work. German students presented their class assignments on the subject "foreign minorities in Germany". And students lectured on their home countries or vacation trips into Muslim countries. Over some snacks and juice we exchanged the latest news. We informed each other where to get affordable Muslim clothing, which mosque organized Muslim swimming at what times, or where one could attend a free Arabic class. Temporarily the association itself offered an Arabic class as well as a class on silk painting.We organized Muslim picnics, beneficial bazaars and the like. Up to one hundred people attended such events. Association members began to print our new logo on T-shirts "Yes, we are Muslims!" and sold them by auction to donate the proceeds for charity. Tasnim, my little daughter did as a baby own one of these T-shirts.
At the beginning of each term we set up an information desk to inform new students of our existence. And for a larger audience we organized in cooperation with another Muslim association a "Week of Islam" on campus. In the entrance hall of the lecture building we presented an exhibition on Islamic history in Germany, that we rented from the Islam Archives at Soest. And we held evening lectures or showed a movie ("The Message"). The public interest was surprisingly high. Our information desk was as well frequented as the exhibition and the other events. Vivid open discussions followed the scheduled lectures. Generally it was welcomed, to have a forum for Muslims and Non Muslims to meet and exchange ideas. Even the university administration sent us a letter... Asking us, to please stress the name of the organizing association a little more the next time. Some people had figured the Week of Islam to be an official university event.
From the very beginning we had tried to be not another association to be added to the long list of those who compete for the honor to be the "true" representative of Islam. So we had welcomed members from diverse Muslims organizations and views. We were "Islamic neutral". Maybe for the open-minded German the stress was a little too much on "Islamic". "We don't go out in the streets with covered women. We expected you to be more open-minded." That's what we were told by the representatives of several women's and human right's organizations, when they excluded us from their women's demonstration for the right's of Bosnian women.
But we were neutral enough, to be contacted by church people looking for lecturers on Islam or participants for discussions. Radio journalists in need of Muslim opinions came to us as well as student representatives of the Oriental Studies department, who wanted to organize a mosque visit. And we also got another chance to do something for the Bosnian refugees. In cooperation with a Bosnian humanitarian organization we collected clothes and money for the refugee program.
We were also neutral enough, to attract Muslim students from all over the world. Turks, Arabs, Germans, an Indonesian, an U.S. American and a Swiss girl, an Iranian, to name only a few coming to our meetings. Germans helped foreigners to find their way in German bureaucracy, and made the experience, that it isn't always easy to be a foreigner in Germany. And students born into a Muslim family for the first time thought about, what it might be like, to have a family, that - in the best case - isn't interested in Islam at all. Slowly we began to broaden our views.
Of course the cooperation of different
people was a challenge for the members. From the beginning we had a persistent
disagreement of representatives of the rather strict view of Islamic rules
("Why should I burden myself unnecessarily with doubts and temptation?")
and the representatives of the liberal wing ("After all, the most important
is to have Islam in one's heart.").
In Qur'an Muslims are expected to be far from all extremes: "Thus have We made of you an Ummah justly balanced..." (2:143) But in some cases it isn't all that easy to find a balance in between different legitimate interests. For example the seat order turned out to be a problem: Should men and women sit together or separate? And if separate, what would be the appropriate distance? Or male students asked female students, to please dress decent. "Is this a Muslim association, or what?".
Of course we did want to be open for everyone. But on the other hand we were a Muslim association and wanted to show this as well. So we agreed, to sit in the same room, but at separate tables. And the women dressed as they liked.
Not everybody was happy with that solution.
But nothing goes without compromise. That has to be accepted by those,
who love their freedom more than anything else and have never learned to
respect the feelings of others. And it has to be accepted by those, who
set the borders of Islam rather narrow for themselves and others and see
it as their duty to remind others to lead a more Islamic life. "Sisters"
forbid "sisters" to have a short "male" hair cut and give recommendations
for the daily life: "But you can't greet another sister on the streets
with a kiss on her cheek! What if a brother sees you doing this?" And especially
Arabs urge to learn Arabic: "Every Muslim has to learn Arabic. Or he can't
even read Qur'an. Really, we should be speaking Arabic in the association.
After all we are Muslims. And Arabic is the language of Muslims." They
call for voluntary service: "The five daily prayers are only the absolute
minimum. Of course you have to pray some more!" Also to observe the fast
in the month of Ramadan is in some people's opinion not sufficient: "You
actually don't fast every Monday and Thursday as the prophet did?"Always
there is an accusation included - intended or not - of not living Islam
properly. These people put an enormous pressure on themselves and others.
Is that, what God meant, when he asked the believers: "Let there arise
out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what
is right, and forbidding what is wrong: they are the ones to attain felicity."
In Qur'an we also find: "... God intends every facility for you: He does not want to put you to difficulties. ..." (2:185) And the prophet Muhammad advised the Muslims accordingly: "Do make it easy for the people, don't make it hard for them." - "Only that has been prescribed on you, that you are able to fulfill. By God, you will get tired of the endless praying, before God does. The regular and moderate religious practice is the best before God."
Maybe we should lower our expectations a little bit. As long as we stay inside the Islamic frame work, there is no reason to make our lives hard. It isn't our task, to judge other people. No two fingers are alike, nor two persons. Qur'an reminds us: "And swell not thy cheek (for pride) at men, nor walk in insolence through the earth: for God loveth not any arrogant boaster." (31:18)
Islam proved to be a good basis. In
spite of all our differences we learned to get along. Menem once explained
to me, how he can bear even the greatest nuisances: "You just have to imagine
them, how they prostrate in prayer and what else they do to serve God."
He was right. In principal we all wanted the same. So in spite of our differences
a group feeling soon developed. We began to understand, what Qur'an seems
to mean with: "... and remember with gratitude God's favor on you; for
you were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His grace
you became brethren; ..." (3:103) I think that here lies the key for getting
along. "Love" in this sense has nothing to do with friendship or agreement,
yes, not even with sympathy. It is just the old new wisdom: "None of you
is a believer, unless he wishes for his brother the same, as he wishes
for himself." As the prophet put it.
So a truly caring atmosphere developed. Every Muslim was considered a brother, every Muslima a sister. And that was taken seriously. Once serving at our information desk I sent a Turkish student, whom I didn't know at that time, to Menem with the words: "Menem, this brother has a question." Years later, when that Turkish student was on the board of our association he told me, that I had been the first person ever to call him brother. Except his natural siblings, of course. That had left a great impression with him.
So really the "trivial" things, as choice of words, reach the hearts? Don't we need to be much more conscious and careful about what we say? "God, give us a remembering tongue!" a Muslim asks, knowing how fast gossip, insults and slander come over our tongues. And once it has been said it can't be taken back.
That's something I learned from Nurten's elder brother Yilmaz. I have never heard him talk in a negative way about anybody. He always said: "Everybody is responsible for his actions before God. If I talk about other people's mistakes, I will be hold responsible for my words. So why should I do so?" So Yilmaz didn't intermingle in other people's affairs. He was always friendly and got along with everyone. His friendliness didn't even come to a hold when a dirty tramp turned up at our nice Ramadan buffet on campus. Along with two other students I had asked Yilmaz to take care of the problem and try to get rid of him. Yilmaz looked really surprised and asked: "Why? We do have enough food, don't we?" Then he walked over to the tramp, invited him to stay, and even handed him a plate and a fork and helped him at the buffet. I have rarely in my life felt that embarrassed.
Slowly I began to understand, what it
means to be Muslim. In Qur'an we find: "It is not righteousness that you
turn your faces towards east or west; but it is righteousness to believe
in God and the Last Day, and the angels, and the book, and the messengers;
to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans,
for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom
of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity, to
fulfill the contracts which you have made; and to be firm and patient,
in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic.
Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing." (2:177)
And in another verse the prophet Muhammad is asked to tell some Muslim desert dwelling Arabs: "You have no faith; but you (only) say, 'We have submitted our wills to God' for not yet has faith entered your hearts ... " (49:14)
I am not a believer because I pray, observe the fasting and wear a headscarf. Isn't God closer to me than my jugular vein? Doesn't He see, what is in my heart? "Verily, God knows (all) the hidden things of the heavens and the earth. Verily, He has full knowledge of all that is in (men's) hearts." (35:38) And the prophet Muhammad said: "None of you is a believer until your will is in accordance with the message I brought." "Iman", the faith, is a more than Islam. But Islam is the believing actions, resulting out of Iman. One is hardly thinkable without the other. You are either a true believer or non at all. But still God is most gracious, most merciful.
One of the contemporaries of the prophet, Anas Ibn Malik, reports: "I and the prophet just left the mosque when a man walked up to us and said: 'O messenger of God, when is the hour of judgment' The prophet asked him: 'How have you prepared yourself for that hour?' It looked to me, as if the man was alarmed. Then he said: 'O messenger of God, I haven't often fasted, and I have rarely prayed and given little alms. But I love God and His messenger.' The prophet said: 'You will be with those, whom you love.' "
FAREWELL"... Nor does anyone know what it is that he will earn on the morrow, nor does anyone know in what land he is to die. Verily with God is all knowledge and He is acquainted (with all things)." (31:34)
Time went by. Everything changed. And
one day we found ourselves to be the "old" ones in the student club. The
board consisted of young people, that hadn't even started university when
we founded the club. Another lesson: Everybody is replaceable. But we were
happy, that the community stayed alive.
And it was true, we did all grow older. We graduated and started families. Everybody went his way and we hardly saw each other anymore. Mohamed and I had in the meanwhile become parents of two daughters. Tasnim ("Tasneem") and Yusra turned our life upside down. When Tasnim was born - after some waiting and a miscarriage - Mohamed and I were grateful and happy. Right after her birth, an experience that Mohamed had shared with me, he whispered the Azzan, the Muslim call for prayer, into Tasnims ear: "God is greater, God is greater, I testify that there is no God but God, I testify that Muhammad is His messenger, come to prayer, come to success, God is greater, there is no God but God."
The name "Tasnim" is taken from Qur'an. It is the name of a spring, out of which the believers will drink in paradise.
Soon after I was pregnant "again". My family was shocked. Yet the age difference between my daughters is one and a half years. Exactly the same as between me and my brother. But obviously the times have changed.
And again it was a girl, who Mohamed tenderly welcomed with Azzan. We named her Yusra. That name is taken from Qur'an as well. It means something like :making easy or light". God lightens our burden.
Mohamed and I were happy with our two
daughters. But my mother turned out to be quite disappointed, that it was
another girl. "Girls will have more problems than boys. You probably want
them to wear a head scarf when they grow up?" Generally with the birth
of my daughters I found myself in the crossfire of critics. When I became
Muslim, I had been told: "That's your life. Do with it, what you like."
Now I heard: "You don't want to cause hardship in your children's life,
Of course neither me nor Mohamed wanted to cause hardship in our children's lives. Actually we hadn't thought much before about what it means to have children. I had never intended to leave my Masters certificates in the drawer and spend my time with house keeping. And now all of a sudden we were responsible for these two little girls. So we began to ask ourselves, what the future of our children would look like.
Would they one day freely testify: "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His messenger."? Or would they be "normal" Germans once out of the house? Would they grow up to teenagers, that don't belong anywhere, as my parents had prophesied before I married? Like so many other children I had met in the mosques?
Thanks God I am able to take care of
my children. I decided to stay at home with my daughters. Which didn't
please my father at all. He thinks, I am wasting my abilities. Actually
I am asked a lot why I am not working. To be a housekeeper and mother is
not appropriate for an educate young European woman. A career is considered
by women an essential part of living. The micro census of April 1994 shows
for Germany, that 40.4 percent of married and 44.1 percent of unmarried
mothers of a child less than three years of age do have a job. The motherly
type isn't asked for anymore in our society. For years the psychologist
by the name of Ute Erhardt is on top of the bestseller list with
the title: "Gute Maedchen kommen in den Himmel, boese ueberall hin" (Good
girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere). And the radio plays "Girls
just wanna have fun!"
Family is loosing its place as "normal" way of life. Relationships have ceased to be about offspring. In German relationships "Love" and "Care" are rated higher than "Family". Should the relationship unexpectedly not turn out to be harmonic but rather generate stress, it is dissolved. In the U.S.A. already every second marriage is divorced. About half of the U.S children will experience the divorce of their parents while they are still minors. Those children will be more likely to divorce than children who have grown up in healthy marriages, when they grow up. So numbers are spiraling up. But who cares? We have become flexible. Even the complete abolishment of marriage itself is discussed in some places. Alternative ways of life are propagated. In France about 35% of the children are already born out of wedlock. In the U.S.A. more than a third of the adults are unmarried. The group of homosexuals e.g. is big enough to be a high value customer group aimed at by advertisement experts. An estimated 10 percent of U.S. men and 6 percent of U.S. women is leading a homosexual life. A kind of belief in fate. Educated people do believe - without any plausible scientific reason - to be biological predestinated for a certain sexual desire. "That's how I am. It's not my fault!" Thanks to the media, sex has become a public affair. Fetishists, transvestites, everybody articulates himself in uncountable talk shows, where the How?, When?, Where?, With whom? and Why? is discussed. Before you die, you should have seen and tried everything there is. The more exotic, the better. We have learned to view naked human skin as something completely natural. So we need some more to get excited about. Attractiveness is everything in society. People showing their body are more accepted than "buttoned-up" fellows.
How can you raise a child in an Islamic
way in such en environment?
A good question! But the question I am asked over and over is put slightly differently: "How can you want to raise your child in such an environment in an Islamic way?"Isn't it the children, who suffer the most of our crumbling social structures? German therapists label children growing up without father as "risk and problem group". Children from one-parent-families more often show psychological disorders, get bad grades at school or take drugs. Girls are more often molested and there are more teenage pregnancies. In the U.S.A. nearly two thirds of rapists, three quarters of teenage murderers and a comparable high percentage of young incarcerates grew up without a father.
I do think about my children. I don't want my daughters to grow up to become part of the 20 percent of Germans, who feel lonely in this world without stability, where everybody depends only on himself. I want them to feel accepted as they are. Without having to undress for this. The over stressing of sexuality in our society causes a lot of women to feel sexually exploited, while looking for love and acceptance. More important than an attractive body should be the development of a healthy personality. I don't say we have to deny our bodies, but I do not support Western exhibitionism. We don't need unlimited sexual freedom, but rather community with other people. A hug as sign of friendship is becoming rare in society. You can hardly kiss a child without making people think about child abuse. And a man hugging another man is right away labeled "gay".
In a social science study a British convert to Islam is quoted. He complains about the lack of human relations in British society. Bodily contact is only possible with one's girlfriend. Muslims on the other hand view the whole subject a lot more natural. They pray side by side, shoulders and feet touching. And they greet each other with handshakes and hugs. Even men.
I wish for my daughters that they might develop self-confidence as a woman, independent of the expectations of Western performance oriented society. That they grow up to become responsible persons, who are aware of their environment and show interest for other things but their personal advantages.
For me Islam is the better alternative.
Of course my mother also has a point
in prophesying, that an Islamic education in Germany will cause problems
for us and our children. It is true that the situation for Muslims in Germany
- actually all over Europe - isn't too easyy.
It starts already with the choice of name. According to Hadeeth it is the duty of parents, to pick a nice name for their children. Unfortunately German officials hardly ever share the parent's opinion about the beauty of a name. As well for Tasnim as for Yusra we had to bring a certificate from the Egyptian embassy stating that these are names. With Yusra I was advised to choose a less exotic name or at least pick a German middle name. After all, so many marriages with foreigners are divorced, and then the poor children have to live with their exotic names all their life. At least the state accepted our choice of names. That is not always so. Among our acquaintances a boy was named Tarek after the historical general Tarek. A common Arabic name, that wasn't accepted by the German officials. Only the court allowed the name. And a little girl was allowed the name Manal only under the condition that the Middle name would clearly show the gender of the child. Names, that according to German law fulfill this condition, are e.g. written down in the list of Common First Names in our Family Book (An official German collection of family papers like marriage or birth certificates.) Among the names listed there are e.g. Urte, Gesche, Fokke or Huschke, all "common" and "clear" in gender matters. (For those that don't know German, these names are all but "common" or "clear" :-) )
Then we have the problem of kindergarten and school. Motivated teachers try, to teach Muslim children the Western way of life. Neutrality of school in regard to the religious up-bringing of the children by the parents doesn't work with Islam. The education bases on the Western ideas and values. Over and over Muslim parents have to go to German court to have it confirm that Muslim children at least can't be forced to participate at mixed gender swimming classes and that Muslim girls can wear their headscarf in class.
And after graduation professional life starts off. In regard to jobs the perspectives of Muslim girls are really bad. A Turkish girl was rejected as nurse with the argument, she couldn't work with scarf for hygienic reasons. The same hospital did of course employ nuns in their attire. A German Muslima didn't get unemployment money because by wearing the scarf she herself made it difficult to find a job for her. She had to go to court to prove her right of receiving unemployment money. Even shop assistants with scarf are considered to drive away customers. Well, at least a career in cleaning offices will be open to my daughters, once they finish college.
But my mother is wrong to think, this kind of discrimination is only concerning women. A German Muslim student was kicked out of his job as guard because of his belief. He was considered a security risk. A German Muslim university graduate, was considered "hard to employ" by German officials. He was asked instead, if he wouldn't like to spy on his fellow believers. And an Arabic scientist was denied an assistant job and a chance to get a Ph.D. at a German university. The professor told him: "If you would be from Tel Aviv or Boston, there wouldn't be any problem. But you have to understand. This kind of research might be used in weapon technology."
Then there are all the additional problems
of Muslim daily life in Germany. For example the problem of slaughtering.
Islam prescribes - as well as Judaism - that during slaughtering the name
of God has to be called upon and the blood has to leave the animal. Of
course the Jewish community is allowed to slaughter according to Mosaic
law in Germany. And of course in summer 1996 a German court in Munich has
denied the Muslim community a comparable permit. The judge argued, it wasn't
necessary to torture animals out of religious reasons. Rather believers
could forgo meat at all. And again of course this ruling only applies to
Muslims, not to Jews. As if it would make a difference for the animal,
if the name of God is called upon in Hebrew or Arabic.
But Islamic communities in Germany just don't have any other juridical status than bowling clubs, as Ahmed puts it Muslim kindergarten and schools are not financially supported by the German state. Similar Christian or Jewish institutions are. And its the same with hospitals or elderly homes. In some places it is complicated to even get a Muslim funeral.
The acceptance of the Muslim community as a corporations with public rights - comparable to the Christian and Jewish communities - would surely help to solve many problems of Muslims in German society. But the German state is far from granting Muslims such a status. It would have to accept officially, that Islam is no longer temporary in Germany, but there to stay. And what politician would want to tell his voters, that they have to get used to headscarves and mosques in their neighborhood?
Mosques are a complex subject for themselves. Every Friday the neighbors of our mosque call the police around noon time, as there are so many foreigners around. Of course those come to the Friday prayers, what the police already knows. Only the neighbors don't seem to have realized that yet. And once, when we picked up our car, that had been removed from before another mosque, we were told by the pick-up service: "Don't leave your car in front of the mosque again. Police always controls there in Ramadan."
Mosques are hardly existing but in back yards. You rarely get a construction permit. In Aachen when an Islamic center was planned, a "Citizens movement against Islamic Violence and Terror" spread flyers: "Important information for all Aachen citizens! Stop the beginnings!"
In Soest the "Christian Center" (a small political party) did do a poll on the same subject: "An Islamic Center in Soest? The Islamization is marching ahead!"
Single cases? Unfortunately not. The research committee "Racism and hostility towards foreigners" of the European Parliament 1991 published an interesting report. It describes an "Islamophobie" in Belgium, "broad opposition against the construction of mosques in France" and "rejection, yes hostility" towards Islam in the United Kingdom. The mayor of Ishoj in Denmark 1987 wanted to stop any farther immigration of foreigners to Ishoj, under the assertion, the Turkish people were trying to "Khomeinisize" Ishoj.
"DIE WELT" (a famous German newspaper)
published on March 19th, 1994 a preview of a new book on Islam. The author
discusses Islamic fundamentalism in Europe. He talks about the "darkness
of fanatic shady characters, the night of prohibitions to think and compulsion
in belief, the hostility towards life and the denial of the world by black
disguised women." He mentions the "right of home" of the "inborn population
majority", who necessarily has to "defend" its rights against an "uncontrolled
mass immigration" that is "anyhow only peaceful in the beginning". Quote:
"Who would think, that a religion insisting from the very beginning on
reigning and not on being reigned, on the long run will be satisfied with
being the eternal number two?"
The prosecutors office comments this on May 17th: "The text discusses in a critical way the fundamentalist wing of Islam, which is neither part of the population as defined in paragraph 130 of the criminal law, neither a racial entity as defined in paragraph 131 of the criminal law. It is not calling to violent actions ...
The criminal law can't take the danger of misinterpretation as the measure to define the borderline between right and wrong."
Only one week later, on May 24th, the Protestant Academy in Iserlohn made the following announcement to the press: "Today we have to announce, that the Protestant Academy Iserlohn sees itself forced to call off the Chritian-Islamic Forum on the subjects 'State Theory - Human Rights - Economic Order', intended to take place from June 3rd-5th 1994, because of security problems. For about two weeks we have been receiving daily threats from different origin and quality - beginning with demonstration announcements and ending with references to violent actions. Some of them could be verified as serious, while with others there still remains a factor of uncertainty in regard to their seriousness."
The Germans don't like to be provoked.
And isn't it provocation, when we Germans out of pure love for our fellow
people allow those Muslims, to live in our country, and then those narrow-minded
stubborn Muslims, instead of gratefully accepting our modern way of life,
insist on their backwardness? One of my professors at university said to
me: "If a woman wears a headscarf, she wants to set a signal, that she
is better than me."
And how can that be? Isn't Europe undoubtedly the queen of civilizations?
Now you are probably saying, what I
have heard many times: "The Muslims are to blame themselves. After all
they could adjust."
I ask you, what kind of logic is this supposed to be? To blame is not society, which excludes the stranger? To blame is the stranger himself, as he has the impudence to exist here? What do you tell the other minorities? The Jews? The coloreds? The handicapped?
What do you tell my children? Germany
offers them the freedom to be as the others? How could they - with an Egyptian
father? With an Arabic name? Even if they - as my family still hopes -
should one day decide against being Muslim - may God prevent this from
happening - still they won't ever be the same as the others. But
here I am to blame as well. Why did I marry a foreigner in the first place?
Why did I get children with him? And then even chose an exotic name? Wasn't
I already warned at the municipal office when naming the children?
Germany is a democratic country. The people determinate, who has a place here and who hasn't. Right now "foreigners" are not all too popular - as in the rest of Europe. Over and over they become victims of racist violence. "People coming from Third World countries are more likely to become victims, as they are the most easy identified."
The report of the research committee "Racism and hostility towards foreigners" of the European Parliament has some interesting data. In the years 1987-1990 in France 19 North Africans and one Romanian were murdered. "For at least half of the murders there is no other reason but the desire to kill foreigners. In one case, where six teenagers kicked a Tunisian father of six to death, one of the arresting officers said: 'It shocked me the most, that they completely lack the understanding of having done wrong.' ... In another incident, where a Moroccan teenager just happened to be at the wrong place in the wrong time, the murderer admitted a 'mistake'. He had believed to shoot a Chinese."
1996 German detectives find the same lack of understanding with the mostly teenage racist violent criminals: "They just have fun, beating people up."
Also the politicians lack understanding. After all, in Germany the right of "Equality before the Law" is valid for foreigners as well. And "should any person's right be violated by public authority, recourse to the court shall be open to him". (Basic Law, Article 19, Paragraph 4) Besides that, the police can't be everywhere at the same time.
In France there is at least an anti racism law. But this law is interpreted in court in a restrictive way. "It is supposed to protect "groups" of people against discrimination. The courts reached a definition of "group", that excludes foreigners from being such a group." "Law suits because of racist comments are turned down, as the comments are in the limits of polemic or express a political opinion. It is difficult, if not impossible, to prove a police officer guilty of racist comments. On the other hand foreigners, who dare to insult a police officer by calling him a "racist" or a "sale Francais" (dirty Frenchman) are easily sentenced for racism."
"The difficulties of proof in cases of racism are illustrated by the case of three North Africans, who wanted to show, that two night clubs in Moulkins (Central France) choose their guests according to racist criteria. A helpful journalist entered the clubs wearing blue jeans and tie. The three young Arabs followed him wearing elegant suits and ties, but were rejected. The prosecutor condemned their behavior saying: 'You didn't do a research, but rather tried to provoke. But in France provocateurs are thrown out of court.' "
Foreigners provoke by their bare existence.
They provoke, because they are different. A German Skinhead once stated
in a TV interview: "They just don't have 'Germanity'. " What that is supposed
to be? Who knows? Didn't German culture develop out of diverse influences?
Otherwise, wouldn't we still be living in caves, wearing fur and solve
disagreements with a bat? Well, at least in respect to the last point the
German Skinheads seem to have already returned to their roots...
But seriously, two sociologists, Lutz Hoffmann and Herbert Even, have defined hatred of foreigners as "stubborn insistence on the image of an ethnic and cultural homogeneous society in Germany" and as a "refusal to learn". Cultural change in society, that of cause is also initiated by foreign influences, can't be stopped at some time in history to say: "That's it. That's German culture."
But not only Germany, all Europe starts,
to seclude itself. "Foreigners? That isn't discussed in the European Parliament.
All are foreigners there anyhow." That's what I was told at the election
campaign booth of the Christian Democratic Union party, when I asked for
brochures on the foreigner question. Poor Europe. The borders disappear,
but beyond Europe the world ends.
I didn't become Muslima, because I don't like the developments in Western society. But the longer I am Muslim, the clearer I see, how different things could be. I always have plead to stay. When we leave, we give the chance away, to obtain a change. And this I don't only regret as Muslima, but even more so as German. After all it is my country shoveling her grave. Standstill is death!
But how do you explain this to a child? How do you explain, why people insult him in the streets? How do you explain, why the other children don't want to play with him? Why he isn't welcome here? Do I have the right, to withhold the future from my children? I have seen the children, who are sent from country to country, from language to language, from school to school. That isn't a solution. Children need a place, where they belong.
So we left, as long as we still had
the chance to do so. As long as the children were still young and hadn't
started school yet. As long as we can still get used to a new environment.
As long as Mohamed hadn't lost his last ties to his home country. Nine
years Germany is a long time!
One day we have packed our belongings and moved to Egypt, the land of the pyramids, the land of the deserts and of the dust. Here is where my children belong. My husband is Egyptian. So are my children. As they are defined in Egypt through their father. That they have a slightly lighter taint and hair, than the other children, is considered pretty.
So what about me? Of course I am missing my family, my friends, my language. And I am missing the green Sauerland county, the cold winters and the clean streets. Egypt is Third World. Nobody can deny that. But I think, Germany has already ceased to be my home, when I became Muslima.
When we left Germany, my grandmother said: "Your place is with your husband." She was the only one, considering it natural for me to go. She was right. I belong, where my family belongs. And my family belongs to Egypt. Here I am the mother of Tasnim and Yusra. Many call me "Umm Tasnim" after my eldest child. Nobody cares, where I am from. And as Muslima I am a sister in belief. I do have a place in society. So I did finally turn Egyptian. Or maybe I still didn't...?
I think, it was for me the right decision as well, to leave Germany and move to Egypt. But only God alone knows that for sure.
I take refuge with God from the stoned
Last updated: Wednesday, December 29, 2010
In the name of God, most gracious, most merciful.
"By (the Token of) time (through the ages),
verily, man is in loss,
except such as have faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of truth, and of patience and constancy." (103)
Saddak Allahu Azeem
Last updated: Wednesday, December 29, 2010