A German Muslim Asks His Compatriots: 'What Do You Want To Know?' | WYPR

A German Muslim Asks His Compatriots: 'What Do You Want To Know?'

Feb 28, 2015
Originally published on February 28, 2015 10:27 pm

Sadiqu al-Mousllie sees humor as a good way to fight growing anti-Islam sentiment in Germany.

He lives in Braunschweig, in western Germany. Earlier this month, he decided to go downtown and hold up a sign that read, "I am a Moslem. What would you like to know?"

"This is a bridge of communication," the Syrian-born German says. "Some people dared to ask, some others not, so we went to them and give them some chocolate and a say of our prophet to know what Muslims are thinking about."

Mousllie, 44, says he hopes to do it every other week.

Several members of his mosque — including his Danish wife, Camilla, and their 17-old daughter, Sarah — joined him on the first outing.

The teen says many passersby were curious about her and her mother's Islamic headscarves.

"The weirdest question I got was if I'm showering with my hijab," Sarah says. "And I'm just — no, I don't shower with hijab, how should I do that? No one showers with their clothes on."

Her mother, who converted to Islam, says many Germans are equally confused about her being Muslim.

"They don't know ... where do I belong," says Camilla Mousllie, 42. "Some are confused and ask: Are the Danish people Muslim?"

But Sarah says she doesn't mind answering strange questions if it can help put to rest any misconceptions about Muslims and open up a dialogue with non-Muslims.

Their community in Germany is under increasing scrutiny after several recent threats and fatal attacks linked to Islamic extremists in Europe. The scrutiny sparked criticism from German Muslim leaders, who say it's is unwarranted and alienates Muslim citizens who've worked hard to integrate into German society.

Misinformation and discrimination, the dentist says, often hit Muslim children — including his own — the hardest.

Born in Damascus, Mousllie came to Germany nearly a quarter century ago to study; he eventually settled here and became a German citizen.

His five children, who were born in Germany, are Danish citizens like their mother, but they largely identify as German, Mousllie says. So when his son was in fourth grade and was told he didn't belong, the boy was upset.

"A friend of his in the class, he told [my son]: 'You are not a real German because your name is not German,' " Mousllie recalls. "That was a very bad situation for him. I felt it was like a world falling down for himself because he felt, well, am I part of this country or not?"

In recent years, Mousllie says he's been asking himself the same question.

At his specialty dental practice, Mousllie says he is treated like any other German. Outside the office, it's another matter.

"It's getting more difficult because a lot of Islamophobic themes are coming, people now mixing Islam and terror, so we have to explain a lot," he says.

Also alarming, Mousllie says, is the rising number of incidents against Muslims and mosques around Germany, including an attack three months ago in Braunschweig on a Syrian-born woman wearing hijab whose foot was run over by a car.

"You keep thinking what about my children, what about my family, how it's going to be in two years," he says.

Mousllie says watching democracy in Germany inspired him to fight for similar freedoms in his native Syria, and he serves as the German representative of the opposition Syrian National Council.

At home in Germany, as the Lower Saxony spokesman for Germany's Central Council of Muslims, Mousllie says he's tried to get authorities to help reduce tensions, including by not using what he and others in the Muslim community view as inappropriate words — for example, Islamism — when talking about extremists.

His efforts suffered a setback on Feb. 15 when Braunschweig authorities canceled a famous annual Carnival because of what Police Chief Michael Pientka called an Islamist-related terror threat.

"We know we have an Islamist scene here," Pientka told reporters, adding that from now on, the authorities would be watching it more closely.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Muslims in Germany are under increased scrutiny after several recent threats and fatal attacks that have been linked to Islamic extremists in Europe. And that has sparked criticism from German Muslim leaders, who say that such scrutiny is unwarranted and it alienates Muslim citizens who've worked very hard to integrate into German society.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: One of Dr. Sadiqu al-Mousllie's favorite shows is a political satire called "Die Anstalt," or "The Institution." Like the dentist, the show views comedy as one way to overcome growing tensions over Islam in German society. In a recent episode, the non-Muslim cast members interrogate German-Moroccan comedian Abdelkarim about the Paris terror attack.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DIE ANSTALT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, speaking German).

NELSON: They demand he, quote, "distance himself from the incidents." At one point Abdelkarim replies, I live in the German city of Bielefeld, which is 700 kilometers away. Is that distant enough?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DIE ANSTALT")

ABDELKARIM: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Mousllie decided that kind of tongue-in-cheek approach could help start a dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims in his city of Braunschweig a hundred miles to the east. So on a recent Friday after prayers, the dentist, accompanied by his family and a few members of their mosque, went downtown and held up signs that read, I am a Muslim - What Would You Like to Know?

SADIQU MOUSLLIE: This is a bridge of communication. Some people dare to ask. Some other, not. So we went to them and gave them some chocolate and say of our prophet to know what Muslims are thinking about.

NELSON: His 17-year-old German-born daughter, Sarah, joined him on the first outing. She wears the Islamic headscarf, or hijab.

SARAH MOUSLLIE: The weirdest question I got was if I'm showering with my hijab. And no, I don't shower with my hijab. How should I do that? No one showers with their clothes on.

NELSON: But she says she doesn't mind strange questions if it can help put to rest any misconceptions about Muslims. Her father says misinformation and discrimination often hits Muslim children, including his own, the hardest. He was born in Damascus but came to Germany nearly a quarter-century ago to study, then settled here and became a German citizen. His Danish-born wife and their five children born in Germany are Danish citizens, but their kids largely identify as German, Mousllie says. So when his son was in fourth grade and was told he didn't belong, he became upset.

SADIQU MOUSLLIE: A friend of his in the class, he told him, you are not a real German because your name is not German. That was a very bad situation for him. I felt it was like a world falling down for himself because he felt, well, am I a part of this country or not?

NELSON: Mousllie says in recent years he's been asking himself the same question. At his dental practice, Mousllie says he's treated like any other German. Outside, it's another matter.

SADIQU MOUSLLIE: It's getting more difficult because a lot of Islamophobic themes are coming. People are now mixing Islam and terror. So we have to explain a lot.

NELSON: He says also alarming is the rising number of incidents against Muslims and mosques around Germany, including an attack three months ago in Braunschweig on a Syrian-born woman wearing hijab whose foot was run over by a car.

SADIQU MOUSLLIE: You keep thinking, what about my children, what about my family - how it's going to be in two years.

NELSON: As the Lower Saxony spokesman for Germany's Central Council of Muslims, Mousllie says he's tried to get authorities to help reduce tensions, including by not using what he and others view as inappropriate words, for example, Islamism when talking about extremists. But anti-Islam sentiment in Braunschweig may well increase following the last-minute cancellation on February 15 of its famous Carnival. The reason, the police chief told reporters, was an Islamist-related terror threat. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Braunschweig. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.