Islam in Germany
Newcomers to Germany may not realize that there is a significant Muslim population in the country. There are an estimated 4+ million Muslims in Germany, largely due to a massive labor migration in the 1960s and a subsequent political refugee influx since the 1970s. Germany's Turkish population numbers over 3 million people and this group alone has had a significant impact on the country's culture and politics. For example, you can thank Turkish immigrants for the beloved döner kabob.
While there are many outstanding issues with integration in Germany, the country is trying to marry its many different cultures under one black, red and gold roof. Tag der Deutschen Einheit (Germany Unity Day) is also Open Mosque Day in an attempt to promote understanding of the different religions and cultures that make up the modern nation of Germany.
The largest Islamic event of the year, Ramadan, is also being celebrated. While observations are not as apparent as in predominately Islamic nations, subtle signs that the blessed month of Ramadan is underway are everywhere.
Observing Ramadan in Germany
The ninth month of the Islamic calendar is a time of fasting, purification of the soul and prayer. Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, sexual intimacy and negative behaviors like swearing, lying or engaging in anger from Imsak (just before sunrise) until Maghrib (sunset). These practices are to cleanse the spirit and refocus attention on God. People wish each other "Ramadan Kareem" or "Ramadan Mubarak" for a successful, happy and blessed month.
In 2017, Ramadan runs from Friday, May 26th until Saturday, June 24th.
- Tarawih Prayers - In addition to daily prayers, many observers go to the mosque to perform extra prayers at night. Every night 1/30th of the Qu'ran is recited so that by the end of the month the entire Qu'ran has been read.
- Iftar - At sunset, the family will gather for a fast-breaking meal. The meal starts with the eating of dates, just as Muhammad did. Then it's time for the Maghrib prayer, after which the main meal is served.
- Laylat al-Qadr - Considered the most holy night of the year, this is the night the Qu'ran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims seek the Night of Power during the last ten days of Ramadan (particularly on the odd nights).
- Eid ul-Fitr - Eid marks the end of the fasting period of Ramadan (July 28th in 2014). This is a time to be charitable (Zakat) and celebrate the completion of a month of blessings.
How to Be Respectful to Ramadan Observers in Germany
While observing Muslims in Germany are under strict guidelines for conduct during Ramadan, most people in Germany won't notice many changes in their daily routine. Last year it took me about a week before I realized something was a little off in my Berlin kiez (neighborhood) of Wedding. The noisy streets around our flat were strangely quiet, but after dark people spilled out onto the streets in subdued celebration.
Because Ramadan is not an official holiday in Germany, work conditions do not usually allow people to participate as they would in Muslim dominant countries. Choosing to observe is an individual decision. Though some Muslim-operated shops and restaurants close or have reduced hours, the vast majority stay open. As the holiday has been in the summer in recent years, this is the perfect time for many Muslim immigrants to return to their home countries and observe the holiday in the traditional manner.
Even if you aren't a practicing Muslim, it is important to be respectful of those that that are during this holy time. To be positive, patient and charitable are sentiments everyone should be able to focus on.
- Celebrate the nightlife - Many establishments stay open late. Note differences in opening hours and engage in after dark activities when normal errands take on a festive air.
- Be patient - While Germany's temperatures (even in summer) rarely reach boiling temperatures, fasting can be very difficult. Be aware that observers may be a bit slower and irritable than usual and extend your patience and understanding.
- Don't swear - Part of being respectful at any time is to abstain from cursing, obscenities and rude gestures and this is particularly important during Ramadan.
- Be charitable - Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam and being charitable is something anyone can respect and engage in.
- Use the lingo - "Ramadan Kareem" can be said throughout Ramadan. It translates to "Ramadan is generous" and means that you wish the month to be full of blessings and spiritual rewards.
If you are looking for mosques or communities in your area, leave a comment below or find contacts in an expat forum in Germany.