CAIRO - Germany's new President Joachim Gauck has sparked a storm of criticism by contradicting his predecessor's view that Islam is part of Germany, saying that Muslims are more definitely a part of the country than the religion of Islam, Deutsche Welle reported on Friday, June 1.
[I] cannot understand this differentiation between Islam and practicing Muslims, the co-leader of the Green Party, Cem Ãzdemir, said in the Ruhr Nachrichten newspaper on Friday.
He added that if Gauck considers Muslims a part of Germany, then of course Islam is part of Germany too.
Gauck triggered a controversy among Muslim groups following a recent newspaper interview in which he dismissed his predecessor's view that Islam now has roots in Germany.
When asked about a quote from the previous president, Christian Wulff - who had said that "Islam is now also a part of Germany" - Gauck told the newspaper Die Zeit that he would not have used this particular sentence, adding "but I do welcome the intent behind it."
"I would have simply said that the Muslims who are living here are a part of Germany," Gauck said in an interview published in the current edition of the weekly paper.
"Anybody who has come here and doesn't just pay their taxes, but also likes to be here, partly because there's a level of justice and freedom not available in their country of origin, they are all one of us; so long as they adhere to our basic rules," the retired Lutheran pastor who replaced Wulff in March added.
Last October 2010, German President Christian Wulff said that Islam is part and parcel of German society alongside the traditional faiths of Christianity and Judaism.
Germany has been gripped for weeks by a fierce debate over Muslim immigrants, which saw many mainstream politicians entering the fray.
The controversy was spurred by central banker Thilo Sarrazin, who accused Muslim immigrants of undermining the society which is becoming less intelligent because of them.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel weighed in, saying that multiculturalism has failed in Germany.
Germany's Muslim leaders slammed Gauck's controversial comments as falsifying the history.
"The European occident clearly has a Muslim, oriental basis. People who deny this falsify history," said Aiman Mayzek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, IRNA news agency reported on Friday.
He called on the president to "accept our pluralism," saying "such signals are extremely important for a president" to give at a time when an Islamophobic mood was spreading.
Mazyek's statements were echoed by the head of Germany's Turkish community, Kenan Kolat who urged Gauck "to read the history books."
"Islam belongs to the history of Europe and Germany. Among historians there is no doubt about this whatsoever," he added.
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.
The country is Europe's second-biggest Muslim population after France, and Islam comes third in Germany after Protestant and Catholic Christianity.
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.