How Islam and integration can go hand in hand is a difficult question to answer. To get closer to an answer, we interviewed two Syrian refugees and two Germans helping refugees in Bavaria.
Mana* fled with her family from Aleppo to Germany and has been living in Bayreuth for a while now.
“First of all I want to talk about the Germans’ humanness. We were shocked about the prevailing humanness and treatment that we've received. In terms of integration, it doesn't really align with our Syrian identity. To the contrary: We as Syrians lived through a time in which different religions lived together in harmony. As Syrian Muslims we’re able to live through integration – even if there are certain rules to adhere to”.
“As Syrians we’ll have integrated ourselves within a short amount of time. Integration does not conflict with our existence as Muslims. We want everyone to know that Islam is a religion of tolerance, morality, and respect”.
Doninik Sirtl, a volunteer who helps refugees in Waldsassen, has a similar view.
“Integration means people living together who come from different cultures and who belong to different religions. An understanding can be reached without having to leave behind one’s own religion or forcing one’s views on others. Integration, in other words, is a mutual collaboration between refugees and German citizens”.
“It's important to divorce oneself of the concept of ghettoisation, because in some cities it’s the case that certain groups of people of certain nationalities are relegated to specific districts. There it can be difficult for women to take part in social life effectively”.
Yahia Mahmud, an Islamic studies scholar from Syria, has been living in Bavaria for eight months and emphasises the importance of adapting.
“Integration is the process of refugees having to adapt to the laws of a new country. It's important that no one commit acts that go against the laws of that country and that ruin the reputation of refugees. It's especially important that refugees – Muslims in particular – who are still coming here know to be humble and to understand the laws of this country in their entirety”.
“The things we’ve learned about the Germans’ sense of morals and ethics aligns perfectly well with the core of Islamic morality. The morals of the Germans are ethical ones – they accept others openly. That’s why refugees have to repay the Germans’ kind actions with kind actions of their own. Ultimately Islam needs people who can put its inherent goodness on display. As Muslim refugees we are beholden to the law and are willing to create a mutual future in Germany”.
Even Markus Scharnagel, an integration case worker hired by the city of Waldsassen, is convinced of the possibility of being able to integrate Islam into German society.
“In terms of the city of Waldsassen, integration means that those arriving here take part in cultural, social, and working life here in Germany. Integration is a mutual process between our society and those who are coming here. Those coming here need to be mindful of our way of life and our culture”.
“No, I believe moreso that Islam is adapting to the way of life here in Germany and that an understanding is being reached between both sides. Without a doubt there are many people who have concerns that Islam will cause problems. But I have firsthand experience working with refugees, and I don't think that Islam is the problem. The problem is the fundamentalists within this belief system”.
*Names changed by the editors.
Translation from the Arabic into German: Inga Dreyer
Translation from the German into English: Daniel Stächelin
You can read here about the roles that mosques can play for the integration of Muslim refugees.