Good Converts, Bad Converts

Although the right to renounce a religious affiliation must be protected, when people leave the faith as an organized campaign and turn their decision into a political issue, they foster neither dialogue nor coexistence, in the opinion of Peter Philipp

​​The media showed more interest than it has in a long time in the topics of "Islam" or "Muslims." But it was in fact no longer about "Muslims" in this case, but about "Ex-Muslims": "We've renounced Islam!" they announced at a press conference, having already united to form a new "Central Council of Ex-Muslims in Germany."

But that was not enough: the founding members also attacked German politics, which in its "boundless naïveté" was seeking a dialogue with Muslim associations, while in the process merely courting radical organizations with little respect for democratic values in Germany.

This was, among other things, a sideswipe at the "Conference on Islam" that Federal Minister of the Interior Wolfgang Schäuble organized last fall. The new association therefore announced at the outset that it in turn intended to call an "Islam-critical conference" into being to deal with Islam and its relations with the state.

There it was: the reason for the media's enthusiasm. Here were Muslims who not only renounce their religion, but also dare to openly criticize it. A field day for all those who had always said that Islam and democracy are irreconcilable.

Of course, there have always been and always will be Muslims – in Germany and elsewhere – who turn their backs on their religion. Just as there are Catholics, Protestants and Jews who leave the church.

For their own reasons, mind you. Because the renunciation of one's faith should be just as private an affair as belonging to a religion in the first place. Those who try to capitalize on this private decision politically or to help others do so are no better than those they are turning away from.

Arzu Toker (photo: &copy ZdE)
Arzu Toker is the deputy chairwoman of the new Central Council of Ex-Muslims

​​The separation of church and state is one of the undisputed fundamental principals of a free democracy such as Germany. And it's nobody's business who belongs to which faith, who has left his church or switched to a different religious affiliation.

At least that's the theory, and the letter of the law. Reality sometimes looks quite different. For example, Germany's Interior Minister, Schäuble, recently declared in an interview that he was concerned about the growing number of converts to Islam in Germany.

The same minister who had dedicated himself to promoting dialogue and understanding by holding the "Conference on Islam" was now warning of radical tendencies among Islamic converts. Similar warnings could also be heard coming from regional offices for the protection of the constitution, and even from the ranks of the police union (GdP).

And this despite the fact that no one could actually demonstrate that the percentage dangerous, violent persons was any higher among Islamic converts.

This was a textbook case of a general suspicion not founded in fact. And a lumping together of people as suspects based on their religious affiliation. Although we daily hear assurances that this is exactly what people are trying not to do.

The great interest sparked by the new "Central Council of Ex-Muslims" and the positive response with which it has been greeted belong in the same category – the only difference being that these are apparently the "good" converts: the ones who have turned away from Islam and are now criticizing their former faith.

Regardless of how justified the criticisms expressed by each of these individuals may be, and no matter how much their right to renounce their religion must be protected – as an organized campaign, this decision is transformed into a political issue that fosters neither dialogue nor coexistence.

Peter Philipp

© 2007

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor-Gaida

The Founding of the Central Council of Ex-Muslims
Mission of the Reformed
The recently founded Central Council of Ex-Muslims sees itself as a platform for anyone who wishes to officially renounce their Islam faith. The initiators also reportedly want to increase society's awareness of certain taboo subjects. Abdul-Ahmad Rashid reports

German Islam Converts
Islam as an Alternative?
The number of Germans converting Islam is on the rise. According to figures released by the Islam-Archive Central Institute, a record number of Christians have converted to Islam since September 11, 2001. Aslan Khassan and Rizki Nugraha report

"Conference on Islam" in Germany
An Experiment in Direct Dialogue
Last September Germany's Minister of the Interior invited representatives of Germany's Muslim community to a conference in order to institutionalise relations between the state and Germany's Muslims. This is a long overdue step, says Ülger Polat