Germany hosts its first-ever "Conference on Islam" in Berlin on Wednesday and aims to improve interaction with Muslims living in Germany. But some Muslim groups have been critical in the run-up.
How well-integrated are Germany's Muslims?
Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble will welcome delegates from Germany's Muslim communities, as well as representatives from federal, state and communal levels to Berlin's historic Charlottenburg Palace on Wednesday.
"Three million Muslims live in Germany. They are a part of Germany's present and future, just as Islam is, after all, a part of Europe," Schäuble said in an interview published Tuesday in the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. "We have to and want to take note of this."
Over the next two to three years, the 30 participants taking part in the conference are supposed to address the major issues that affect the coexistence of Muslims and non-Muslims in Germany.
Schäuble said the conference also aimed to find better solutions for integrating Muslims into German society, adding that he wanted Muslims in Germany to become "German Muslims," according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Dialogue can foster a sound relationship
Schäuble said any Muslims living in Germany have to accept the country's basic laws, norms and values, and that Germany's constitutional law could not be negotiated.
Islam instruction is available at some German schools already
"We want open-minded Muslims in our open-minded country," Schäuble said. "That is why the state has to enter into a sound relationship with the members of this religious community. This is why we are trying to usher in a dialogue."
The conference will work "as concretely as possible," Schäuble said. One major aim of the working groups is to develop curricula for Islam instruction at German public schools.
"I also want to get to the point where we can educate imams in Germany and that prayers are conducted in German in the mosques," the minister said.
But Schäuble said criticism was also part of the work.
"We're not opening an event where we solely exchange niceties," he said.
Expectations are high
Representatives from the four major Muslim organizations said in a joint statement they were going into the conference "with high expectations."
"We expressly welcome the German government's efforts to lastingly address the complex of Islam and Muslims in Germany," said the statement, issued on Sunday by the Turkish Directorate for Religious Affairs (DITIB), the Islamic Council, the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers (VIKZ) and the Central Council of Muslims (ZDM).
Muslim groups want to be considered equal to Christian churches
They said the integration of Islam into the German state system and the integration of Muslims into society were the top priorities.
But they criticized that they couldn't recognize the concrete goal of the conference yet. Ali Kizilkaya, chairman of the Islamic Council for Germany, said Muslim organizations had been inadequately informed about the meeting's contents.
"Most of what is to take place at the conference we found out through the media," Kizilkaya told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. But he said he welcomed that such an event was finally taking place, albeit late.
Muslim groups critical of conference organization
The organizations also said the hosts did not consider the self-organization of Germany's Muslims. The mosques, as the central unit of Islamic religion, always have to be the starting point for proper representation and the legal integration of Muslims, the groups said.
The country's approximately 2,500 mosque communities "which attend to all Muslims and thus mold the life of Islam in Germany" should therefore be considered accordingly in the conference's composition, the groups added.
Germany's Muslim community is very diverse
"The composition of the Islam conference does not represent the correct proportional representation," ZDM's general secretary Aiman Mazyek told the daily Frankfurter Rundschau.
Mazyek said that the four major Muslim umbrella organizations should be the main contacts and criticized the invitation of 10 individuals who represent a more secular Islam.
Mazyek said he had the impression that Germany wanted to "open up a state-sanctioned debate club."
Germany needs representative partners in the Muslim community
Schäuble said he had invited representatives form Muslim organizations, as well as personalities who had shaped the debate on Islam.
"I didn't become an Islamic censor while making invitations," he said.
In view of the many different communities in Germany, Schäuble said that Muslims should organize themselves so that the government had "representative partners."
"Muslims want the government to treat them the same as the Christian churches. Then they have to create the organizational requirements for this," he added.
The delegates from Germany's Muslim communities said they are open to the debate.
"We have decided to participate in the conference's launch as a sign of our underlying will to constructively co-operate," the major Muslim organizations said in their statement.
According to Schäuble, the work is not just one-sided, either.
"Of course, one of the effects of this conference is that our society takes more note of the fact that Muslims are part of this society," Schäuble said.