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By Matthias Kamann
BERLIN - After more than 300,000 copies of the Muslim holy book were reportedly distributed in German cities during Christian holy week, major political parties have announced that they will push for closer monitoring of Salafist groups advocating fundamentalist Islam.
The Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union, known as the Union parties, and Alliance ‘90/The Greens, have all declared their concern about the massive free distribution of the Koran launched by Ibrahim Abou Nagie, a Cologne-based businessman and preacher with Palastinian roots. According to Abou Nagie, the 300,000 copies were distributed at information booths and over the Internet, with the purchase of one copy entitling the buyer to another Koran free.
The timing of the action is thought to be a particular provocation for Christians, as thousands of the copies of the Koran were distributed around Good Friday and Easter.
Abou Nagie -- one of Germany's most influential Salafist leaders -- has been charged in Cologne with inciting the public to commit illegal acts and disturbing the “religious peace.” The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has been monitoring Salafist groups, which is why this distribution of religious literature – normally not a cause for concern – is being seen in another light.
“I view the distribution campaign of free copies of the Koran by Salafists with great concern,” Kerstin Griese, a spokesperson for the Social Democratic Party (SPD) parliamentary group, told Die Welt. She said she had “fundamentally nothing against the distribution of religious literature as long as this is not associated with encouraging criminal acts or defamation.”
But Griese said in this case, “the ideas and motives of the people behind this action are highly alarming,” adding that their notable financial resources was also of great concern.
Josef Winkler, a spokesman for the Greens, went even further, calling on the police to investigate the campaign. “Distributing the Koran is certainly not forbidden by the law, but this should be monitored very carefully by the police," Winkler said. "An open question is whether the areas around schools should be generally closed off to any type of religious propaganda.”
Moderate Muslims speak up
Winkler added the Koran campaign was “very worrisome, because calls to violence and terror have repeatedly risen from these radical Muslim splinter groups, which is why it is entirely justified for them to be watched by security authorities.”
Peter Uhl (CSU), a spokesman for the Union faction, urged that “an urgent stop” be put to the “machinations of the growing radical Salafist movement in Germany.”
The SPD party's Christine Lambrecht, however, disagreed with the Union position, saying that “there is no legal prohibition against distributing the Koran,” and that “such actions are covered by the right for freedom of opinion and religion.”
Legal issues aside, the SPD, Union and Greens are unanimously alarmed by the Salafist missionary campaign. The group has more than 100 info booths in cities particularly in the states of Nordrhein-Westfalen, Niedersachsen, Hessen and Hamburg. The campaign’s long-term goal is to bring 25 million copies of the Koran into German homes.
Large Muslim associations in German were also critical of the initiative. “The Koran is not some PR flyer to be handed out like mass merchandise,” Ayman Mazyek, the chair of the Central Council of Muslims, told the Catholic News Agency. Kenan Kolat, the chair of Germany’s Turkish community, said the action reminded him of Jehovah’s Witnesses. While it was not forbidden to distribute the Koran, Kolat told Die Welt that “the question to be asked are: Are the Salafists acting aggressively? Are they disturbing people?”
Green politician Cem Özdemir, who for years has been fighting to keep Muslims living in Germany away from the reach of fundamentalists, said: “I have a problem with any religious group that puts their vision of the world above basic law, the Constitution and human rights. So that also goes for the Salafists, who do encourage violence, and whose ideology is a front for Islamic terrorism.”
It was apparent, he said, “that the strategy underlying this campaign is to represent themselves as the mouthpiece of Muslims and to propagate what they would claim is the true Islam. The Salafists can’t be allowed to get away with this.”
Özdemir pointed out that members of the sect also agitated against moderate Muslims. Muslims “who couldn’t care less about fundamentalism” are “also called infidels by the Salafists if they don’t measure up to the sect’s radical standard of devoutness.”
The Christian churches are maintaining a low profile about the controversy, in order to avoid having the entire issue of distributing religious literature, including the Bible, come into question. “Fortunately, in Germany it is not forbidden to distribute religious literature,” said prelate Bernhard Felmberg, speaking for the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). “Of course I hope that in countries where Islam is the religion of the majority that the distribution of Bibles were allowed.”
For the Catholics, the head of the German Bishops’ Conference Christian-Islamic group, Timo Güzelmansur, speaking on Cologne Cathedral radio, said that the Salafists are not interested in dialogue, and view tolerance and any form of integration for Muslims as toxic.