Germany has welcomed more than a million refugees and asylum seekers from Muslim-majority countries since 2015, more than any other European country. The issue of their integration has provided fodder for far-right voices in German politics, who used incidents like the 2016 attack at Berlin’s Christmas market and New Year’s sexual assaults in Cologne to suggest that Muslim newcomers are a threat to Western society. At the height of Europe’s refugee crisis, the extremist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) polled at 15 percent, drawing heavily on fear of refugees and rhetoric against the “Islamicization” of Germany.
But this isn’t the first time Germany has experienced a large Muslim influx. Before 2015, Germany was already home to some 4 million Muslims, mostly Turks who came 60 years ago to help rebuild the country after World War II. Many are poorly integrated into German society, living in social enclaves within big cities where they speak more Turkish than German and attend mosques run by the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), an organization linked directly to Turkey’s government authority for religious affairs.
The preexisting Muslim community has had limited contact with the wave of newcomers. Churches and secular organizations run most of the shelters and relief programs, while many refugees don’t even go to mosque, saying that those at Arab mosques are too conservative while those at Turkish mosques speak a different language. Refugees I’ve spoken to complain that preexisting mosques’ members are overbearing and that the teachings there are irrelevant to their concerns: integration, trauma, and finding footing in a new society. They say older Muslims in Germany focus too much on identity politics and self-victimization, perhaps because they’ve felt like alienated minorities for decades. Many newcomers haven’t abandoned their culture or their faith, but they don’t want to hear this talk when they’re busy trying to fit in.