BERLIN - A German politician infuriated the Muslim minority on Thursday, April 19, by saying that Islam does not belong to the European country.
"Islam is not part of our tradition and identity in Germany and so does not belong in Germany," Volker Kauder, head of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives in parliament, told the Passauer Neue Presse.
"But Muslims do belong in Germany.
As state citizens, of course, they enjoy their full rights," he said.
The politician's remarks came as Germany opened an annual government-sponsored conference to discuss integration of German Muslims.
The event, attended by delegates from Muslim groups and federal and state governments, was overshadowed by a debate over a campaign by a Muslim group to distribute free copies of the Noble Qur'an to teach Germans about Islam.
"Religion must not be abused in an ideological bid for power," Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said on the eve of the conference.
The Salafist Muslim Group The True Religion has launched a campaign to hand out free translated copies of the Qur'an to Germans.
Organizers say the initiative aims to educate Germans about the Islamic teachings.
The campaign, titled Read, has already distributed more than 300,000 Qur'an copies.
"We (the conference) agree that Salafist extremism is not acceptable and does not fit in a free society as we have in Germany," said Friedrich.
Germany has between 3.8 and 4.3 million Muslims, making up some 5 percent of the total 82 million population, according to government-commissioned studies.
German Muslims were quick to criticize the remarks as part of anti-Islam hysteria in Germany.
"Volker Kauder is the last crusader for the conservatives, senior opposition Social Democrat (SPD) lawmaker Thomas Oppermann was quoted as saying by Reuters.
He is putting a bomb in the Islam conference.
"(He).. is denigrating and marginalizing all Muslims in Germany. That course is utterly wrong," he said.
Kenan Kolat, the head of Turkish Communities in Germany, also warned against anti-Islam hysteria.
"If there is a glorification of violence or an infringement of free, democratic basic values, then there are police measures that can be used," said Kolat.
In 2010, former German president Christian Wulff said Islam is part and parcel of the society alongside the traditional faiths of Christianity and Judaism.
Germans have grown hostile to the Muslim presence recently, with a heated debate on the Muslim immigration into the country.
A recent poll by the Munster University found that Germans view Muslims more negatively than their European neighbors.
Germany's daily Der Spiegel had warned last August that the country is becoming intolerant towards its Muslim minority.According to a 2010 nationwide poll by the research institute Infratest-dimap, more than one third of the respondents would prefer "a Germany without Islam."