BERLIN – In a sharp contrast to the newly inaugurated Interior minister, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made it clear that Islam is part of the German culture.
“These Muslims are part of Germany and with them, their religion, Islam, is just as much a part of Germany,” Merkel told reporters after talks with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, The Local.de reported.
Merkel comments followed controversy stirred by Germany’s new Interior Minister Horst Seehofer who told Bild newspaper on Friday that he doesn’t believe the Islamic faith is part of German culture.
“Islam does not belong to Germany. Germany is characterized by Christianity. These aspects include shops being closed on Sundays, church holidays and rituals such as Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas,” said the Christian Social Union (CSU) Bavarian leader.
“The Muslims who live with us obviously belong to Germany,” he stated, adding that “this does not mean we give up our country-specific traditions and customs out of a misplaced consideration for others.”
Seehofer was inaugurated only Wednesday after six months of talks on the formation of Germany’s new government.
Wednesday’s collation government followed a deal with Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), the CSU and the Social Democrats (SPD). Merkel was only narrowly elected by the Bundestag to a fourth term as Chancellor.
The premier of Lower Saxony, Stephan Weil of the SPD, dismissed Seehofer’s claim and accused him of sparking “a completely superfluous controversy” for Merkel.
The head of the Central Council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek, said a minister who started work with such a “lack of solidarity” with minorities in Germany had “immediately disqualified” himself and acted “extremely irresponsible.”
Jürgen Trittin of the opposition Greens also sharply criticized Seehofer, saying exclusion would be “catastrophic” for integration efforts and only benefit the anti-immigration, anti-Islam Alternative for Germany’s (AfD).
Germany has Europe’s second-biggest Muslim population after France, and Islam comes third in Germany after Protestant and Catholic Christianity.
It has between 3.8 and 4.3 million Muslims, making up some five percent of the total 82 million population, according to government-commissioned studies.