Salafist radicalisation raises fears in Germany
LONDON - The number of Salafists in Germany has sharply increased in the past decade, Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) said, raising fears of radicalisation at a time when authorities are seeking to shut down extremist preachers.
Government figures indicate there were an estimated 3,800 Salafists in Germany in 2011. This figure almost doubled to 7,500 in 2015. Two years later, there are more than 10,000 Salafists in the country, local media reported.
“In Germany, as well as at the international level, Salafism is currently being regarded as the most dynamic Islamist movement,” the BfV said.
Salafism is an ultra-orthodox interpretation of Islam that gained prominence in the 18th century. It advocates what it describes as a return to the traditions of early years of Islam and prizes a restrictive interpretation of the teachings of the Quran. The term “Salaf” relates to the Arabic term al-salaf al-saliheen — the “pious predecessors”, otherwise known as the first three generations of Muslims.
A 2015 report by the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) said there were 4.4 million-4.7 million Muslims living in Germany, meaning that, despite the rising number of Salafists, they make up a tiny fraction of the Muslim community.
While most Muslims in Germany — particularly those who are German citizens — are thought to be of Turkish background and follow a secular understanding of the religion, it is understood that an increasing number of mosques and Muslim community centres are promoting Salafist views about Islam.
Although the BfV was at pains to draw a distinction between the “majority of Salafists”, who have nothing to do with terrorism, it did accept the presence of an “opposing minority of jihadist Salafists who use violence to pursue their aims”. The BfV added that all Islamist terrorists identified in Germany had some ties to “Salafism or the Salafist milieu”.
While most adherents to the ultra-conservative strain of Islam are not considered politically radical and traditionally view political involvement as un-Islamic, a desire for the implementation of Islamic Sharia law and an Islamic caliphate leaves some members at risk of radicalisation.
German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who leads the country’s Social Democratic Party, last year called for a ban on Salafist mosques after an ISIS-inspired terrorist attack. “Salafist mosques must be banned, the communities dissolved and the preachers should be expelled as soon as possible,” he said.
Despite their comparative small number, German’s Salafists are thought to be much more organised than followers of other Islamic schools of thought in the country. German authorities have begun a series of measures targeting Salafist groups, most recently against the German-speaking Islamic Circle group in Hildesheim.
“Banning the association has crushed a hotspot for the radical Salafist scene in Germany,” Lower Saxony Interior Minister Boris Pistorius said.
In November 2016, Germany carried out raids in 60 cities targeting 190 mosques, apartments and offices believed to be linked to a Salafist missionary network known as “The True Religion”. The group had been operating in Germany for more than ten years and was popularly known for a nationwide campaign distributing translations of the Quran to ordinary people.
The group was banned by the government in 2016 after facing accusations that it sought to radicalise young people and encourage them to travel to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State (ISIS) and other jihadist groups.
The German Interior Ministry said the ban had nothing to do with its distribution of Qurans and was tied to the fact that as many as 140 youths left Germany to join extremist groups in the Middle East after becoming involved with the group. “The ban is directed against the abuse of religion by people propagating extremist ideologies and supporting terrorist organisations under the pretext of Islam,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said.
“We don’t want terrorism in Germany and we don’t want to export terrorism,” he added.
With additional reporting by news services.