How Young Muslims in Germany Are Getting Involved

Whether playfully, critically, or ending a fast through fair trade - young Muslims in Germany want to help make a change and offer a positive example of Islam through their volunteer activities. The Robert Bosch Stiftung is funding this commitment through the Yallah! program. Along the way, the young people encounter not only the classic prejudices, but also - and above all - plenty of curiosity.

Lea Wagner | March 2017
Manuel Frauendorf

A tall, thin young man with an astute expression, straightens his shoulders, and clears his throat: "We have to talk more about Islam. Because there are problems." Yasser Haji, only 19 years old, has a surprisingly deep voice. He is from Aleppo, Syria, and hopes to study medicine in Germany. His German is fluent - nearly perfect, even though he has only been here for a year and two months.

Yasser misses Syria, and there he often went to the mosque with friends. "It was a meeting point for us, and religion was a part of our everyday life." This is something that is missing from his new home, the Swabian town of Mötzingen. "The spirit is different."

The Islam Quiz Awakens Curiosity

Yasser founded a "mobile dialog tent" with the help of his 15-year-old friend Mehmet Arslan. They receive funding from the FödeM organization in Herrenberg, which advocates for the use of the German language in mosques. The dialog tent affords Muslims the opportunity to talk about Islam in German. A quiz, whose questions were developed with the help of students of Islamic theology, allows non-Muslims to learn something about Islam - the winner is given a chocolate bar. Yasser is thrilled about the curiosity of the many visitors. "They want to know things like why we fast or what role women play." His goal is to "portray Islam in a more positive light than is currently being done in the media."

[DE Copy] Yallah_2017_Yasser_610
Manuel Frauendorf

Syrian student Yasser Haji Mohamad wants to portray Islam in a more positive light using his dialog tent.

German Muslims Talk about Their Volunteering Activities

The end of Yasser’s lecture is greeted by resounding applause. His audience consists of around 20 young Muslims from all over Germany. Like Yasser, they are all involved in society, not just for Muslims. "Doing something for the common good is part of our religion," says one participant. Everyone there is supported as part of the Yallah! Dedicated Young Muslims program of the Robert Bosch Stiftung. "Yallah" is Arabic and essentially means "here we go!" They have come together in Berlin for two days of discussions and to learn more about fundraising, press relations, and organizational development.

A Cup of Tea between Muslims and Non-Muslims

Yasser hands over the laser pointer to 24-year-old Hafssa El-Bouhamouchi, who has only recently earned her master’s degree in Islamic studies and history. Her parents moved from Morocco to Bielefeld, Germany. "Why is that important?" she asks. She does not want to be reduced to simply her immigrant background.

"Muslims have to take back control of the discourse," she says. Not only with regard to questions of Islam, but in general. "No one is going to give us the space; we have to take it." Her parents’ generation did not have the courage to do so. "They came as guest workers. But we have to say something and begin fighting prejudices." Even though she has not been attacked herself, she is aware of the prejudices in many people’s minds. "As a woman, a Muslim, and someone who wears a headscarf, I am a bull’s-eye, if you will, but in a more subtle way - in my environment, people are very aware of political correctness.

[DE Copy] Hafssa El-Bouhamouchi bei der Yallah Projektwerkstatt
Manuel Frauendorf

Hafssa El-Bouhamouchi recently earned her master’s degree in Islamic studies and calls for "Muslims to take back control of the discourse."

Hafssa hopes for a nuanced discussion about Islam. "To do that, we need a safe place." She and her team from the local Hanover branch of the Muslimische Jugend in Deutschland e.V.  association have organized a panel discussion: "Young Muslims between Radicalization and Exclusion." This discussion came at the end of the series of Tea Time events, during which Muslims invited non-Muslims for a cup of tea. The event series was funded by the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, among others.

Ending a Fast in a Modern Way: Local, Organic, and Fair Trade

Aysel Ceylan from Darmstadt also has a struggle – not necessarily with prejudices, but with incomprehension. "Many of my friends just aren’t able to understand Ramadan. They say, ‘Crazy, I would never make it.’" Once a year, Aysel and the Iman Bildungs- und Freizeitzentrum muslimischer Frauen e.V. association organize the "Open (f)air Fastenbrechen" event, which now takes place in several different cities.  "We are proud that we have laid the foundation in Darmstadt," says Aysel, who is studying to become a kindergarten teacher all while working as an attorney. A total of 3,000 people from more than 30 countries came to the last event. Local churches were involved, and some representatives even gave speeches. "The only thing we’re still missing is a Jewish speaker," she says, but the search continues.

[DE Copy] Juristin Aysel Ceylan bei der Yallah Projektwerkstatt
Manuel Frauendorf

Attorney Aysel Ceylan and her organization bring people from more than 30 different countries together to end their fast and provide them with locally sourced organic food that can boast of being fair trade.

"Only one more minute!" the organizer calls out. Aysel yells: "Brothers and sisters, I can do it!" She talks breathlessly about the food: "Locally sourced, organic, and fair trade." Her organization has only prepared the soup, and the rest was provided by others. "I advise against full-service catering - all that work will drive you crazy!"

Time is up. The group applauds. The noise of chairs scooting on the floor is quite loud. "Yallah!" - time for dinner.