Pioneer of Islam in Germany

Liberal Islamic theologian and imam Rabeya Mueller
Liberal Islamic theologian and imam Rabeya Müller died last week in Cologne at the age of 67. Islamic scholar and close friend Lamya Kaddor, honoured her as a "pioneer of Islam in Germany" (image: Arne List)

Lamya Kaddor, Islamic scholar and member of the German Bundestag, pays tribute to the late Islamic theologian and imam Rabeya Mueller

By Lamya Kaddor

What do you call a woman who, having left school at the end of the 1970s, travelled alone from the Eifel region to North Africa in her "Muffel" – an old red Mini? Curious, courageous? Self-confident, a little daring? Rabeya Mueller was all of these things – and much more.

As Rosel Mueller, she grew up with her single mother and grandparents who had suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Graduating from an arch-Catholic grammar school in Vallendar, she set off on a quest to find answers to life's central questions. It wasn't that many years ago, and yet it seems like a different era. Back then, interested contemporaries still had to be told what the Koran was and whom you meant if you mentioned "the Prophet".

Rosel becomes Rabeya Mueller

In these "grey, prehistoric times", Rosel Mueller became one of the few Germans familiar with the world religion of Islam. She learnt to appreciate the content of the faith. While the political conflicts surrounding Islam in Germany were still light years away, she embraced it – "out of pure reason", as she would later say – in London's Central Mosque, and Rosel became Rabeya Mueller.

Rabeya Mueller was a pioneer of Islam in Germany, one of the first female imams. A woman who took up the battle of the sexes within her religion – uncompromisingly, resolutely, but always with Rhenish lightness. She stood up to male dominance with courage, strength and esprit. With a keen sense of the inner values of her faith, she stood up for herself in the best feminist sense.

Rabeya Mueller (right) with Lamya Kaddor at a seminar on the prevention of Islamism in 2017
Rabeya Mueller (right) with Lamya Kaddor at a seminar on the prevention of Islamism in 2017 (image: Arne List)

A contemporary take on religion

Rabeya Mueller became an Islamic scholar under the renowned Professor Abdoldjavad Falaturi at the University of Cologne. From then on, she and her family lived between Cologne, India and Pakistan, while she studied Islamic theology. Yet she had no intention of keeping her findings to herself. She co-founded the Centre for Islamic Women's Studies and Women's Advancement in Cologne (ZIF). As head of the Institute for Interreligious Education and Didactics (IPD Cologne), she taught young people and adults contemporary concepts of religion, mutual appreciation and social cohesion. Thanks to her, an extensive IPD publication series was created.

One of her most notable publications was a short but groundbreaking essay entitled "Ein einziges Wort und seine große Wirkung" (2005). It deals with the Koranic formulation in Sura 4:34 about women: "... and beat them!" Together with other female authors, Rabeya Mueller revealed the many possible interpretations of a single verb in Arabic, which men generally only want to render as "beat". She demonstrated conclusively that this is a false, patriarchal understanding of the text.

Rabeya Mueller (left) during an iftar meal. Also at the table: Lamya Kaddor (centre)
Rabeya Mueller (left) during an iftar meal. Also at the table: Lamya Kaddor (centre) (image: Lutz Jaekel)

Giving a credible face to liberal Islam

Rabeya Mueller was authentic and open. She believed in interfaith dialogue. She didn't push to be in the limelight, she was pushed there. For her, it wasn't just about making headlines. She was interested in the cause. She was also concerned about people – selflessly and with compassion.

She stood by countless people who were unsettled and frightened by the often hostile discourse surrounding Islam. She married Muslim women and non-Muslims. Women and men gathered behind her to pray. She supported believers who were in difficult waters because of their queerness, their homosexuality and their trans identity.

Through her writings, speeches and seminars, Rabeya Mueller gave liberal Islam a credible face in Germany and around the world. Yet she always managed to do so without hostility or devaluing others. She celebrated carnival, went to "Kölle singt" as well as to the opera. She listened to Niedecken and the Stones, cheered and suffered with the local football club FC Koeln.

Rabeya Mueller was an inspiration to many in her life, including me. I had the honour of working with her on the first Koran for children in Germany and "Saphir", the first series of textbooks for teaching Islam in German schools. Together we were involved in founding the first university training centre for Islamic teachers and Islamic theologians, together we campaigned against extremism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and together with others we founded the Liberal-Islamic Alliance in 2010.

Last week, my beloved friend, mentor, colleague, companion and confidante passed away. My heart bleeds. At the age of 67, she lost the hardest battle of her life. Her work will remain. Rabeya Mueller has secured her place in the history of Islam in Germany.

"Inna lillah wa-inna ilyahi radschi'un". – "From God we come and to Him we return". Hold your head high, my dear!

Lamya Kaddor

© Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger/ 2024

Our author, born in 1978, is an Islamic scholar and religious educator. Lamya Kaddor worked as a teacher in Dinslaken for many years. She has been a member of the Bundestag for the Green Party since 2021