How do Muslims become active partners in society? How can dialog be created among religious faiths? It is the job of Dr. Hussein Hamdan to find answers to these questions. Germany’s first Islamic affairs consultant recounts the tasks and challenges that his extraordinary job entails.
Every day has something new in store. I travel a lot, as I generally provide on-site consultancy. Thus far, my primary clientele consists of community representatives. I’m surprised at how little knowledge the communities have about Islam and Muslims here. Sometimes it feels as if they have been living in this country for only three days. So many misgivings, clichés, so much misinformation has been disseminated in non-Muslim society. So I have my work cut out for me.
A PhD in Islamic and Religious Studies, he works at the Academy of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart as Head of the Department for Muslims in Germany. He also works as an Islam consultant for local institutions. He is known as the author and speaker of the column "Islam in Germany" on SWR. His main areas of expertise are Muslims in Germany, interreligious dialogue, humour in Islam and introductions to the foundations, sources and history of Islam. He is the director of the project "Muslims as Partners in Baden-Württemberg", funded by the Robert Bosch Foundation.
Sometimes I deal with simple matters: a mayor who is planning a city festival and who is looking to involve the Muslim community. But he or she has no idea whom to approach. And most of all how. Other times, the issues are more unique. A Sufi association wanted to offer support services for asylum seekers in a collective housing center. The community asked me to assess this particular group. Having studied Islamic and religious studies, I am also qualified to contextualize Sufism.
My job is frequently referred to as a “door opener” or “bridge builder.” I think that is only in part an adequate description. I also enable people to converse by educating them and imparting knowledge. Then it is up to them to decide how to use this knowledge. For example, I initiated a round table in a city together with city officials, churches and a mosque. Now, the mayor partakes in the fast-breaking of Ramadan as a matter of course. This builds a sense of closeness and trust. I still see so much unused potential in this country. I hope to change that.
But then there are also other moments, such as when I sense that my work has been futile and there is no dialog, which can be due to numerous reasons. At times, I wish the Muslim community would show more effort, commitment, and more professionalism in communicating. One time, a mayor welcomed me by asserting that we had only half an hour for the discussion, to then go on and explain ad nauseam how the world works. Eventually I had to put my foot down. I said “It is my turn to talk,” and I took over the conversation.
"On a day-to-day basis, I see a lot of gratitude, but also condescension and incomprehension. But I also have my own wealth of experience to draw from — a toolbox in these types of situations."
I came to Germany from Lebanon at the age of seven with my parents and grew up in Rhineland-Palatinate. I am very grateful to this country for many things, though I also know the feeling of being an outsider. When I was young, it was soccer that got me through this. Soccer teaches you how to win as a team and that each individual carries responsibility.
What does it mean to be part of a community? Hussein Hamdan learned about this partly through playing soccer.
One time, I was the last player to take a penalty in drizzling rain. Those unbearable seconds of placing the ball on the spot and taking the run-up while everyone holds their breath can truly influence you. And when I was in a difficult project phase and on the way to a meeting while wanting nothing more than to go home, I thought back on this penalty shoot-out. It helped me to take responsibility and win people over for my ideas, despite their initial resistance. Every meeting is unique. What they do have in common, though, is that I always need to be 100 percent prepared and focused.
I ring out many days with music, especially if they were demanding. I am a Beatles fan. Music helps me to unwind.