Anyone who complains about foreign influences on Germany's mosques must ensure their financial independence. Therefore, it is right to consider the concept of a mosque tax in Germany. Money from Turkey or Saudi Arabia means participation and demands from Ankara and Riyadh, and that is a hindrance for Islam in Germany or even a German Islam.
Successful or not, the topic of Muslim integration in Germany has become a never-ending topic of discussion. The federal government has dedicated itself to the subject for the past 12 years with its German Islam Conference. When opening the fourth installment of the conference in late November, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer surprised everyone by calling for an "Islam for Germany, an Islam of the Germans," adding, "Of course Muslims have the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else in Germany."
A question of constitutional rights
Yet creating a mosque tax would not mean that the state is caving in to a religious community. Rather, it would be a matter of abiding by Germany's laws regulating freedom of religion as outlined in the Basic Law. At its core, that means religious communities are recognized as corporations under public law. Germany's larger churches were granted this status early on, and it is available to other religious communities if they meet the necessary requirements as well. Thus, a number of Jewish communities in Germany, or Jehovah's Witnesses and sundry free churches have been granted similar status and treated accordingly by state governments. Such communities can tax their members, and if they remunerate the government, they receive tax money in return.
Thus, one might say there is a certain give and take — perhaps even a tug-of-war — between various interest groups when it comes to the legal status of religious communities and the issue of religious taxes. The issue of a mosque tax has made that glaringly clear. The law expects religious communities and their members will be faithful and law-abiding, and in return the state will make things easier by, for instance, collecting and redistributing tax money. That posture shows that the state is interested in religious and societal cohesion, in bringing people together and offering believers a place to call home and also in doing a service to society at large.
Seehofer made clear that Muslim communities and associations in Germany must organize themselves in a way that conforms to the country's religious freedom laws. One aspect thereof is the severance of ties to foreign donors — and, as far as possible, to personnel that cannot speak German.
Integration and outside influence
Every blustering speech given by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a German mosque, every new report of spying by the Turkish-Islamic umbrella organization DITIB, every unconstitutional statement uttered by a traveling imam will increase pressure on mosque associations. For the integration of Muslims in Germany does not mean one has to accept outside influences.
And that is exactly why the debate over a possible mosque tax is right, necessary and urgent. One can debate the exact terminology of such a tax or how exactly it should be implemented. One could even consider a culture tax like that levied in Italy; nevertheless, one must be cognizant of the reality of the German political landscape and realize that such debates will not lead to results.
If the current German Islam Conference actually leads to a mosque tax that results in "Islam in Germany" becoming a corporation under public law, it would be a sensational success — and a long overdue step.