As Muslim in the Christian Democratic Party

Bülent Arslan is a politician with a Turkish background, a practicing Muslim, and a member of a party whose program includes an appeal to Christian values. Peter Philipp spoke with him about this apparent paradox.

Bülent Arslan (photo: CDU NRW)
Bülent Arslan

​​Bülent Arslan is a determined man. Born in 1975 in Turkey, he came to Germany with his parents as a child, and applied for German citizenship at 22. Since then, he has enjoyed a successful career in German politics.

The fit and dynamic "City Manager" for economic promotion in Langenfeld's city government is also chairman of the "Turkish Forum in the CDU" and a member of the state board of the North Rhine-Westphalia CDU.

A Muslim as active member of a party whose name includes the description "Christian"? Arslan doesn't see this as a paradox.

A party not only for Christians

"In its party program, the CDU says that it is a party based on values derived from Christianity. But it deliberately states that it is not a party exclusively for Christians, but instead consciously reaches out to non-Christians as well," explains Arslan.

"And if you take a look at the values contained in the CDU party program, these are the same values that an enlightened Muslim can also find in Islam: justice, freedom, the importance of family - and I think that in this respect I am no exception in Germany.

Surveys show that some 50 to 60 percent of the Turks living in Germany are conservative in their political views, meaning they are religious, value-oriented people. In my opinion, there is plenty of potential there for the CDU."

Even if he himself does not have a problem with this seeming contradiction – what do others think? How do other Muslims, and non-Muslims as well, react to the fact that non-Christians are now playing an active role in a "Christian" party?

"This question about what the "C" stands for and the fact that I'm Muslim comes almost exclusively from the German side. Among the Turks it seems not to be a problem and is not even a matter for discussion. When they talk about the party, then it's more about the party platform, such as its policies on Turkey or integration."

The Token Muslim?

Arslan's only regret is that within the party his scope of influence is still being restricted for the most part to integration issues and he has not yet been able to unfold his full talents in the field in which he's really interested: economic policy.

He doesn't say it in so many words, but he seems to sense it: the party needs people like him to attract votes from naturalized Muslims. Does this mean he is still relegated to the role of "Token Muslim"?

"That's probably still the case, yes. One must keep in mind that there are as yet very few active Muslims in any of the parties, and the first ones to venture into politics will naturally be expected to set an example. But I think this is completely normal. The important thing is that progress is being made.

"And that more people become active in the party as a result. As far as the CDU is concerned, on the national level, there are now 2,000 CDU members of Turkish origin. This is of course still much too few in comparison with their share of the population – but one can no longer speak here of rare exceptions. And the number is growing steadily."

Emergence of a "German Islam"

According to Arslan, the growing participation of Muslims in German politics will surely one day lead to something like a "German Islam," when the Muslims will be fully integrated into German society and will take on the same jobs and functions as members of the non-Muslim majority.

At the same time, he believes that Muslims in Germany could represent an important bridge to the Islamic world and contribute to breaking down prejudices and calming fears on both sides:

"What's important here is to give Muslim societies the freedom to develop and unfold in their own way," says Arslan. "And not to try to impose an understanding of democracy on them from the outside. What then actually comes through to the Islamic world, whether an understanding of life, a political understanding 'from the West' – as they say in the Islamic world – comes through there, is in my opinion very, very important for gaining acceptance there."

Peter Philipp


Translation from German: Jennifer Taylor-Gaida