German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said that “Islam belongs to Germany” in a rare positive statement amid growing racism and Islamophobia in the country fuelled by politicians, media and far-right groups that have attempted to stoke fear of immigrants.
“Islam, the Muslim religion, Muslim life, Muslim culture have taken root in our country,” Steinmeier said at the celebration of the 50th founding anniversary of the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers (VIKZ) in Cologne.
“Today the diversity of Islam, the diversity of over 5 million Muslims, is also part of our country,” he said.
Steinmeier pointed out that freedom of religion meant also protecting the rights of all believers.
“Germany is an ideologically neutral state. But religious freedom does not mean that our country is free of religion. No, it means giving religions space and protecting the freedom of believers, all believers.”
His remarks came in the wake of a recent report which said racism and Islamophobia have become part of everyday life in Germany.
A total of 898 anti-Muslim incidents were recorded in Germany in 2022, while the number of unreported cases remains high, according to a situation report released in June by the Berlin-based non-governmental organisation, the Alliance Against Islamophobia and Muslim Hostility.
Racism is part of everyday life for Muslims in Germany, with many recorded cases involving women, according to the study.
Among the documented cases were 500 verbal attacks, including inflammatory statements, insults, threats and coercion. Eleven threatening letters to mosques with “often excessive threats of violence and death” were recorded. The letters contained Nazi symbols or references to the Nazi era.
The report noted 190 cases of discrimination and 167 of “injurious behaviour.” The latter category included 71 cases of bodily harm, 44 cases of property damage, three arson attacks and 49 other acts of violence.
In addition, racially motivated attacks on young people and children are increasing, it said. There are cases where women were attacked in the presence of their children and pregnant women kicked or hit in the stomach.
The authors of the study assume that the number of unreported cases is high because there is no broad media coverage.
The first situation report included data from 10 advice centres in five German states as well as reports via the “I-Report” portal, statistics for politically motivated violence, and police and press reports.
Anti-Muslim crimes are often not recognised as such or those affected did not report them due to a lack of trust in authorities, said the report. The report calls urges, among other things, the expansion of reporting structures and raising awareness of the topic by authorities, schools and the health sector.
A country of more than 84 million, Germany has the second-largest Muslim population in Western Europe after France. It is home to more than 5 million Muslims, according to official figures.