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Germany star Rüdiger slams Islamist gesture allegation

March 28, 2024

German international footballer Antonio Rüdiger says "third parties" have sought to spread division — portraying him as an Islamist over a Ramadan gesture that he posted online.

Antonio Rüdiger
Rüdiger featured in Germany's victory over the Netherlands on Tuesday eveningImage: Jürgen Kessler/Kessler-Sportfotografie/dpa/picture alliance

Germany and Real Madrid defender Antonio Rüdiger and the German Football Association (DFB) have launched legal proceedings against a former newspaper editor who accused the player of making a gesture of support for Islamic extremism in a Ramadan-related social media post.

On March 11, at the start of the Muslim month for fasting, prayer, community and reflection, Rüdiger posted an image of himself kneeling on a prayer map in a white robe with his right index finger pointing upwards, along with the caption: "Ramadan Mubarak to all Muslims around the world. May the almighty accept our fasting and prayers."

Two weeks later, when Rüdiger was named in the starting line-up for Germany's 2-0 win against France on March 24, journalist Julian Reichelt, the former editor of the German tabloid newspaper Bild, took to the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, claiming that Rüdiger's raised finger constituted an Islamist gesture.

"Islamism in the German starting eleven this evening," he wrote, following it up with a series of posts on the gesture and its supposedly extremist connotations.

Rüdiger and the DFB took action on Monday, the 31-year-old defender filing a complaint to Berlin prosecutors relating to defamation, inciting offense and incitement to hatred, and the DFB reporting the case to the Central Unit for the Suppression of Internet Crime (ZIT) in Frankfurt.

What the player said

Rüdiger said the gesture was called the "tawhid finger" — a symbol of the unity and uniqueness of God. The gesture is widespread among Muslims all over the world, the player told Bild.

Antonio Rüdiger's controversial Instagram post
Antonio Rüdiger's controversial Instagram postImage: instagram.com/toniruediger

Rüdiger's comments came after he featured in Germany's victory against the Netherlands on Tuesday night. 

"In the last few days, the photo has been used by individuals to make unfounded accusations," the player said. 

"As a devout Muslim, I practice my faith, but I firmly distance myself from any kind of extremism and accusations of Islamism. Violence and terrorism are absolutely unacceptable. I stand for peace and tolerance."

Rüdiger said his family members practiced various religions and would celebrate one another's festivals together. 

"Respect and tolerance are fundamental principles that we all represent in our family," said Rüdiger, while confessing to some naivety in making the post. 

"I also recognize that due to insufficient attention, I have given third parties the opportunity to deliberately misinterpret my posting in order to divide and polarize.

"I will not offer a platform for division and radicalization, which is why I have decided to make a clear statement after our two successful international matches. At the same time, I will not allow myself to be insulted and denigrated as an Islamist." 

Was Rüdiger's raised finger an extremist gesture?

Reichelt, who was fired by BILD in October 2021 amid allegations of bullying and abuse of female staff at the tabloid, doubled down, insisting: "This gesture has been completely co-opted by terrorists in the last two decades. It has unarguably become the gesture of ISIS [the so-called Islamic State, the ed.] and Islamist murderers around the world, of people who have also murdered in Berlin, and evil and suffering all over the world."

He said that Germany's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesverfassungsschutz or BfV) considers the gesture a symbol of Islamist radicalization and that the German interior minister, Nancy Faeser, has in the past called it unacceptable.

"Anyone who poses so publicly is intentionally displaying a gesture of fanaticism and not an innocent, spiritual gesture," he claimed.

Despite Faeser's previous comments, the German Interior Ministry has said it did not consider the gesture intrinsically problematic. "This applies regardless of the fact that Islamist groups are appropriating this symbol and misusing it for their own purposes," the ministry added. 

Rüdiger gesture 'definitely not extremist'

Politicians, experts and commentators have expressed varying interpretations. German lawmaker and Green Party spokeswoman Lamya Kaddor, herself an Islamic scholar, said: "This gesture belongs to Islamic practice. For instance, the right index finger can be raised in ritual prayer and also during confession of faith. In any case, it is definitely not an expression of Islamist ideas."

The award-winning German-Israeli-Arab extremism expert Ahmad Mansour told the portal t-online: "The tawhid finger is a deeply religious gesture, the roots of which have absolutely nothing to do with extremism. But we live in a time in which images play a much bigger role than before. IS terrorists have been using this gesture for many years, making it at executions and beheadings.

"Antonio Rüdiger can't do anything about that … but I would have expected some reflection on his part as to how it would be interpreted on social media. For many young people, this religion that they share with him is an important part of their identity … but this image doesn't distance itself from Islamism."

Antonio Rüdiger - Germany's Warrior

Previous Germany controversies

It's not the first time that Rüdiger or the DFB have been involved in controversies related to extreme interpretations of Islam.

In November 2020, Rüdiger apologized for "liking" an Instagram post in which Russian UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov had accused French President Emmanuel Macron of "insulting more than 1.5 billion devout Muslims" after condemning "Islamist terror attacks." Rüdiger, then playing for Chelsea, removed the "like" and said he hadn't understood the post, since it was written in Russian.

The post was also "liked" by former Germany international Mesut Özil, who quit the national team in 2018 amid the fallout from a controversial photograph with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

mf/lo (AP, KNA, dpa)