Jassim Mohamad, Researcher on terror and intelligence in Bonn
The Muslim Brotherhood first established itself in Germany in 1960 through Said Ramadan. At that time Said, a close confidant and son-in-law of the Brotherhood’s founder Hasan al-Banna, took control at the Islamic Center in Munich (Islamisches Zentrum München). Ramadan had left Egypt after the Free Officers’ government crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in 1954, and Arab students in Munich who wanted to build a new mosque had contacted him in Geneva, where he was then-based, in 1958. It was from this post in Munich that he would lay down the foundations for the emergence of the Brotherhood network in Europe.
The Islamic Center is Munich filled the void left by other groups, and focused on advocacy activities to attract Muslims, while convincing authorities that its activity was not incompatible with the culture of the country and its laws.
The Organization of Islamic Assembly in Germany is one of the oldest and largest Brotherhood organizations there, with about 1,300 members, who seek to establish an Islamic state. Another important Brotherhood affiliate is the Islamic Community of Germany (ICG).
The Germans have become aware, especially since the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS), of the Brotherhood’s effort to reposition itself as a non-threatening alternative to the jihadists like ISIS and Al-Qaeda—and German intelligence is also well-aware of the problems that the Brotherhood in reality poses to society. In the case of ICG, for example, the leaders pay lip service to moderation, while privately supporting the transformation of Germany into an Islamic state “in the medium term,” German journalist Axel Spilcker wrote in a widely circulated German magazine, The Focus.
A leaked document suggested that the Brethren in Germany has had assistance from the current Turkish government. There was some scepticism about the report because it was a confidential answer by the Interior Ministry to a question posed by Die Linke (the Left Party), the Stalinist leftover of the East German tyranny, a party deeply sympathetic to the anti-Turkish Stalinist terrorists of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Still, Berlin is convinced that at least some of the problem comes from abroad.
When the former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, died in the custody of the current Egyptian government, more than 300 mosques throughout Germany called for prayers for the deceased, the majority affiliated with ICG, and Germany believes the group to be funded by Turkey through the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB).
The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) documented the inroads being made by “non-violent” Islamists within Muslim communities, for example exerting ever-greater control over the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), which in turn collaborated with the Cologne-based DİTİB. There are 900 DITIB-run mosques in Germany, about 10% of them believed to be closely overseen by Turkish intelligence, serving a population of about three million Turkish Muslims.
Another interesting institution is the Cultural Dialogue Center. Established in 2004 in Berlin, it seems to be dominated by Brotherhood sympathizers.
Its activities on the ground focus on language teaching – both of German and Arabic – and religious lessons.
One method of tackling the burgeoning extremism that is threatening societal cohesion is to insist on locally-trained imams. This would particularly apply to sensitive areas like the military, where the German Defence Ministry will insist that Islamic preachers are fluent in German and have graduated from theology courses at state-recognized universities.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has also increased its monitoring of the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities due to this increased concern that legal, non-violent Islamist groups are posing a threat to the country’s democracy, German state-run Deutsche Welle (Turkish) reported.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s political-religious project is to establish a shari’a system that is incompatible with Germany’s free, democratic system. The Brotherhood does this through various educational means, for people from all age groups. The Brotherhood’s willingness to implement its Islamist agenda through politics and to play the long game means it falls below the threshold required to attract attention from national security officials. But the parallel society the Brotherhood is trying to built and its long-term plans are a menace that German authorities should take more seriously, recognizing and moving to constrain the activities of the group.
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.