Germany’s new interior minister has said that he believes “Islam does not belong to the country”.
Horst Seehofer has been an ardent critic of Angela Merkel’s immigration policies but has now taken up a prominent role within her new coalition.
His statements have been perceived as an effort to regain support from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
The German chancellor was prompt in distancing herself from the controversial remarks.
In his interview with the Bild newspaper, Mr Seehofer said Germany had been “shaped by Christianity” and that the country should not give up its own religious traditions and values.
He said: “No. Islam does not belong to Germany. Germany is shaped by Christianity.
“The Muslims who live among us naturally belong to Germany. That of course does not mean that we should, out of a false consideration for others, give up our traditions and customs.
“Muslims need to live with us, not next to us or against us.”
Mr Seehofer, who leads Mrs Merkel’s Bavarian sister party the CSU, also promised to increase deportations of rejected asylum-seekers.
The chancellor made it clear in 2015 that she believed Islam was part of Germany in response to a rise in anti-immigration protests.
Last Friday she stressed the need for coexistence between different religions.
She said: “Our country is heavily influenced by Christianity – and a Jewish influence – but in the meantime four million Muslims are living in Germany and they also practise their religion here and these Muslims also belong to Germany and so their religion, Islam, also belongs to Germany.”