"We Need an Organized Structure"

In the former capital Bonn, the Muslim community has launched the "Bonn Council of Muslims". It's the first time that all the different Muslim groups in a single city have come together under an umbrella organization able to speak to the local government with a single voice. Wilhelmina Lyffyt reports

Press conference of the main Islamic associations in Germany (photo: dpa)
Should the "Council of Muslims" in Bonn prove a success, then others may follow its example in cities elsewhere

​​Few could have missed the controversy that erupted after Pope Benedict XVI held a lecture at the University of Regensburg in his native Germany. There were a number of reactions from Muslim communities in Germany, including one from the "Central Council of Muslims", which urged the Vatican to establish an inter-religious dialogue with Muslim leaders.

No umbrella organization for German Muslims

But while this group was able to speak for its members, it did not speak for all the 3.3 million Muslims who live in Germany. That is because it is one of many Muslim groups in Germany. Unlike other major religious groups, there is no umbrella organization to represent the interests of all Muslims in Germany.

That makes it difficult to gauge the opinion of Muslims in Germany not just on this topic, but also on other issues that affect them. And the German government is interested in addressing topics that affect Muslims, such as religious teachings.

Despite local organizations, such as the "Central Council of Muslims", the "Islamic Council" or the "DITIB" most Muslim groups have little to do with each other. It's not unusual to find Muslim communities in a single city who do not even know that the others exist. In the former Capital Bonn, that's about to change. The city's 12 Muslim groups have formed the "Bonn Council of Muslims ".

"We need an organized structure," Haluk Yildiz, spokesman of the Council, explains, "otherwise we will never achieve anything much, for example in important areas such as religious education – that's something that affects all Muslims. No one organization can bring about change by itself."

Yildiz says that the "Council of Muslims" in Bonn can bring about change. There are 28,000 Muslims in the former German capital from Turkey, the Arab countries and Bosnia. Some are migrants, while others are fourth generation Muslims. For them, the council is a totally new concept.

It's the first time that all the different Muslim groups in a single city have come together under an umbrella organization able to speak to the local government with a single voice.

Haluk Yildiz says dealing with the Bonn local government will in future be much easier. "The council welcomes the different opinions, the different communities, but it also welcomes the fact that Muslim communities can achieve consensus, and can meet in the middle, even when they are negotiating from quite different perspectives," Yildiz says.

Council members under investigation

A number of the council's twelve members however are under investigation for possible breaches of the constitution: Yildiz says the council is taking this seriously, and stresses that all members have signed a founding document agreeing to respect the German constitution. He says any group that breaks the law must leave the council.

For Muslims to acquire the same rights as other religions in Germany is an issue that needs to be dealt with at the federal level and for now, not something that can be achieved: at the local level however, the council has some solid ideas – and Yildiz says many hands make light work:

"We want to get involved in youth work, senior citizen projects, mental health assistance. There are many Turkish, Arab, Bosnian or even German Muslim pensioners who would be more than happy to do their bit to help society. Some could visit young people in prison, or visit sick, elderly people."

The "Council of Muslims" in Bonn is eager to see how other Muslim groups will react. Yildiz expects it will take time for some to get used to this, especially those groups that are still run from Istanbul. Other groups that have a big influence locally may fear losing power if they join a council. Should however the "Bonn Council of Muslims" prove a success, then others may follow its example in cities elsewhere.

Wilhelmina Lyffyt



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