Muslims are well integrated into German society ,an international research project published on Thursday revealed. Most Muslims feel a connection to Germany, but they also experience Islamophobia, with nearly one in five Germans saying they would not want Muslim neighbors.
A new study by Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation looked into the level of education, employment, social engagement of Muslims in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France and the United Kingdom, and found that 96 percent of German Muslims – both first and following generations – felt connected to Germany. The study did not cover Muslims who arrived after 2010.
“The international comparison shows that it is not religious affiliation that determines the success of opportunities for integration, but the state and the economic framework,” said Stephan Vopel, an expert on social cohesion at the Bertelsmann Foundation.
“This study proves that the reality, when it comes to participation of Muslims in society, isn’t so bleak as it is often presented in the media,” said Ayse Demir, spokeswoman for the Berlin-based Turkish community organization TBB. “This study shows that a lot of Muslims feel integrated, but there is a lack of acceptance – and that’s also our perception. Participation isn’t a one-way street: It needs to come from both sides.”
Demir blamed the media for this disconnect. “We’re having a right-wing shift in Germany and in Europe,” she said. “At the moment a lot is being instrumentalized: Muslims are being presented as the ‘enemy’ – and of course that gets used by right-wing populists, and then people verbally attack Muslims.”
Education promotes integration
Seventy-three percent of children born to Muslim parents in Germany grow up with German as their first language. In France, however, Muslim immigrants tend to have a good knowledge of the language as many of them came from countries that used to be French colonies.
Though high school graduation rates are improving, there remains room for improvement. The study found that in France only 11 percent of Muslims do not graduate from high school, for instance, though in Germany, the number is 36 percent.
Researchers believe that this difference stems from the countries’ different school systems. Children in France learn together for a long time, before they are separated into different secondary schools.
“We can learn something from that,” said Demir. “The longer that children are together, the more successful they are – because they learn from one another.”
But Demir also warned that international comparisons were difficult, given the different economic circumstances in each country.
The higher graduation rate does not protect Muslims in France from an above-average unemployment rate. Meanwhile, the study found that the employment rate among Muslims in Germany has improved and is slowly approaching the national average.
For instance, when it comes to more devout Muslims, integration works much better in the UK. Yasmin El-Manouar, an Islam expert on behalf of Bertelsmannn and one of the study’s authors, said Britain had created a “level playing field” for pious Muslims, pointing out that female police officers in the UK had been able to wear a headscarf at work for the past 10 years.
“That’s a problem in Germany,” said Demir. “Because public authorities should represent the diversity of society. Also, it’s often the case that the headscarf is presented as a religious symbol in the public discussion – I’m not a theologian, but according to the Koran, it’s a religious precept, not a symbol.”
The study, titled “Muslims in Europe: Integrated but not accepted?”, also revealed views of Islamophobia across Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the UK andFrance. In all nations surveyed, more people said they would Muslims were their least preferred neighbors compared to any other demographic category – including foreigners, homosexuals, Jews, people of color, atheists, Christians and big families.
Only Britain was different: There, more people said they’d not want to live next to families with many children than living next to Muslims.