Nadeem Elyas, till recently chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany
Nadeem Elyas was the chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany for 12 years. The Central Council is one of the three biggest Islamic organizations in Germany. The man who succeeded Elyas as chairman of the Central Council on February 5, 2006 is Axel Ayyub Köhler, a German who converted to Islam in 1963. Peter Philipp of the Deutsche Welle had occasion to talk to Elyas about the Central Council’s – and his – achievements.
Nadeem Elyas is a gynaecologist by profession, and comes from Mecca in Saudi Arabia. He came to Germany in the ‘60s.
Elyas is proud of the fact that the Central Council of Muslims in Germany has proved that an association of Muslims of different origins is entirely feasible. In contrast to the larger organizations of Turkish Muslims, the Central Council combines Muslims of different races, religious denominations and even language. That’s why, though there’s no umbrella organization for Muslims in Germany, people look to the Central Council as a talking partner. As Elyas says:
“We have gained the trust of the general public – with the political parties, with the politicians, with the church, everywhere. And we want to continue that.”
As regards the “dialogue”, a favourite word with German politicians as well as publicists, Elyas feels less happy:
“The dialogue is yet to bear fruit, though we now have defined tracks. But we don’t have any systematic dialogue as yet, which would be goal-oriented, where the institutions involved would have the necessary competence and powers.”
That could be the whole problem of the ‘dialogue’ between different faiths, for example. Representatives of the church and the Muslims do talk to each other, but without producing any concrete agreements. Elyas wants them to cooperate on various social and political issues to find a common position and then start common initiatives: the Central Council would welcome such a step.
Authorities as well as the church often use the excuse that there’s no single unified representation for the Muslims in Germany. Elyas argues:
“Talking about the size (of such an organization), some people consider only the number of registered members. But we don’t have any compulsory registration of the faithful in Islam. We don’t know ourselves, how many members we have. It’s just some fictive figure which some institute or other has cooked up. But perhaps one can guess the size when we say that we look after so many and so many mosques, let’s say 400 or 500 among the 2000 in Germany. That would mean a quarter of the Muslims living in Germany. That’s something concrete.”
Elyas does not consider the Council’s work to be limited to its own membership, but sees it as its task to serve all Muslims in Germany – especially the “silent majority”:
“When we demand the teaching of religion in school and put forward a curriculum, then it’s for all (Muslim) families. The contents (of such a curriculum) are Islamic in general, not for the Central Council alone. And all the other interests – like Halal or Chador et cetera – are such that each Muslim can profit from them, whether he is a member or not.”
The other standard accusation, that the Muslims in Germany don’t want to be ‘integrated’, is again anathema to Elyas:
“We belong to Germany. Our self-definition, our religious belief is based on Islamic principles – but it has a German face. Take the Islamic Charter (created by the Council): it shows that we see these principles in the context of German reality. And that took some courage, because the Islamic world rubbed their eyes and said: ‘What do these Muslims in Germany want with such a Charter?’ We hope that Germany really becomes the focal point of all the interests and activity of the various Islamic organizations (here in Germany). But also that Germany grows into the focal point of every Muslim man and woman in Germany. And it’s a long way till there.”