I have thought of writing an article about this topic before. With the tense situation towards Muslims in Germany and other countries in Europe, mainly expressed through organizations such as PEGIDA (‘Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident’), I think the time is right to talk about religion and racism. Because discriminating another person for his/her religion is racism – don’t try to cover it up with some other ‘harmless’ word. My intention is not to write about life as a Muslim in Germany after PEGIDA has come to the scene. No. I want to show you how things have changed over time and what it feels like to live as a Muslim in Germany.
Before September 11th, hardly anyone had a clue who and what Islam was. At that time, as a Muslim, I was always accepted among my peer groups. I never had any issues regarding my religion (but for other reasons, which I explained in my very first article of this blog). Then came September 11th – I remember seeing the horrid pictures on TV. At first I thought it was a movie; when I realized it was real, I was totally shocked. And it came worse: I remember how it was stressed that so-called Muslim terrorists carried out the attack. Already as a kid and back then I was right with my feeling. I sensed that troubled times would be ahead for us Muslims. I remember how I asked my Mom if we would stay at home tomorrow? She said: Why? I feared that people would spit at us or even worse. My feeling didn’t betray me. From that day on, the perception of Muslims in Europe, if not in the world, changed entirely. And we all know into what direction.
Before September 11th, I cannot recall that I have seen much about Muslims on TV. Until that point, I also have never been asked about my religion and faced any issues because of it. After September 11th, the media coverage on Islam completely changed. I know this for a fact, because I used to be an eager reader of certain (German) news magazines. I stopped reading them when I realized that they were painting a very negative picture of Islam and also stated wrong ‘facts’ about our religion. It is easy to get the right facts, so why are these magazines, news shows and so on showing the few negative examples of a religion with more than 1,6 billion followers? Why is it, that each time a Muslim kills his wife in a fight he is called a terrorist or extremist? And why is it, that when a Christian kills his wife in a fight this incident is called a family tragedy and the murderers religion isn’t mentioned at all? This is just one example for the hypocritical media coverage. I have always been very eager to gain knowledge. This included following the news on TV. I have stopped that completely. Why? Because the media manipulates the viewers! Almost everyone bases his/her opinion on the news. And it is very hard to get prejudices out of people’s heads, once the seed is planted.
I am not a ‘visible’ Muslim. This means, I do not wear the hijab, the headscarf. Many people don’t know that I am a Muslim. They only get to know this if they stick around long enough. Usually, this means until we eat together. I eat strictly halal, which can be a big challenge if you don’t live in one of the bigger cities in Germany. In smaller cities there is no way of getting your hands on halal meat and this applies in particular to the East of Germany. When I used to study there, I remember that I lived as a vegetarian for weeks (at the beginning, it was quite a challenge for me) or ate fish. Also, you have to pay attention to other food items. My mom always reads the ingredients whenever she buys something. You will find pork fat even in cream cheese, chips and cakes. This might sound like a life of restrictions – but it isn’t. In fact, halal meat is much healthier and fresher than the meat available in supermarkets. The taste differs a lot. Also, since I eat halal and this type of meat isn’t available everywhere, it has become natural for me to eat Vegetarian for days, if not even weeks. I really enjoy leaving out the meat sometimes. Eating halal has taught me discipline. So when it comes to this point, many people are surprised when they get to know that I am Muslim. Most people approach me carefully with their questions. And I think that is totally ok. I rather have somebody asking a zillion questions from the source itself than keeping quiet and believing what the media shows. If I have to pick a number, I would say that for about 80% of the people who get to know me I am the first Muslim they have ever interacted with. I got used to this fact, even though I must admit that I was utterly shocked at the beginning. Out of a population of 80 million, Germany has roughly 5 million Muslims – almost half of them German citizens. This isn’t a small number. And yet many people here hate Islam – ‘hate’ is a strong word, but in my opinion it reflects appropriately what many Germans feel – even though they don’t know a single Muslim in person! For a person like me, who believes that every human being is the same and to whom neither race nor belief nor skin color plays a role, this is very disappointing. That is the reason why I welcome it when people are curious about my religion. I also studied it at university, so it is possible to have a decent discourse with me about it. It is very easy to judge other people – but to judge an entire religion based on the actions of less than one percent is not only very unscientific, but also flat out ridiculous.
Unfortunately, I sometimes don’t even get the chance to discuss this sensitive topic factually. More than once I have been insulted for my religion and this has partly also come from people who knew me for some time. Once it went like this: “As a person, I like you, but I hate your religion. It is misogynist and we don’t believe in the same god. All of you are terrorists.” So the person said that as a person I am ok but my religion isn’t? I am sorry to disappoint you, but my religion is what makes me who I am. It is the most important element of my life and I try to base my actions on it. So how could this person make a contradictory statement like that?
Something that I don’t get is the apologetic attitude of many fellow-Muslims, as I have seen on social media. The #notinmyname – campaign was launched to show that Muslims don’t support ISIS. Seriously??? Why do I have to apologize for what ISIS is doing? What has that got to do with me? Do I expect Christians to launch such a campaign to assure me that they don’t support the Ku Klux Klan? Am I under general suspicion, just because I am a Muslim? The sad answer is yes. I know people who live for decades in Germany and since the media coverage about the negative images of Islam seems to be hitting the ceiling at the moment, their neighbors have asked them if they are members of ISIS. How much worse can it get? I also have an answer to this: PEGIDA. Thousands of people demonstrating on the streets against an entire religious group. It seems like history does repeat. Because if this flame isn’t put out very soon, the whole situation here is going to escalate. I don’t feel safe here anymore. I don’t feel welcome anymore. How would you feel, if this happened to you? How would you feel if the country you were born in, grew up in and you identify yourself with, your home, shows such a hostile attitude towards you because of your religion? I am not saying that everyone in Germany has something against Muslims. But too many do and the worst part of it is, they don’t even know a single Muslim personally.
Now, if anybody wants to entirely blame the media for all of this, I have to disappoint you. And here is why: When my mom was a kid, her catholic parents would always warn her about the ‘evil Muslims’: They would tell her how bad they were and that she should stay away from them. She grew up with prejudices, fuelled by her parents. And yet she ended up marrying a Muslim and even converting to Islam. To me there is no better example to show that racism is a choice: It can be learned and un-learned. My mom was smart enough not to believe what her parents said, but to find out for herself. Now she is a practicing Muslim and just like me, people are more than surprised when they get to know that she is a keen follower of Islam. Yes: There are so many other sides to Islam than to that what is shown in the media and what people say about it. I ask you to re-evaluate what you know about it. Do you even know a Muslim personally? Do you even know what Islam is, in spite of that what the media tells you? Do you really think that more than 1,6 billion human beings on this earth support groups like ISIS? I don’t think so. Because I refuse to believe that 80 million Germans support groups like PEGIDA.