Islam is a part of Germany, but many people have yet to realise this fact or are simply unwilling to accept it. This makes it more difficult to deal with the relevant issues and conflicts in a matter-of-fact manner at schools and in youth facilities. Conflicts are fed by ignorance, resentment, prejudice, and radical ideologies and naturally this can also result in the devaluation of and discrimination against those who live or think differently.
Our workshops offer opportunities for conversation and debate concerning questions pertaining to religion, identity, and ethnic affiliation, and they encourage the participation of young Muslims in society.
Topicality, reflection, and alternatives
Our goal is to promote an informed and thoughtful self-image and to foster the ability to deal constructively with religious and non-religious norms and values. We point out the alternatives to racist, Islamist, and self-ethnicised world views. Questions pertaining to religion, which preoccupy many young people, serve as the thematic anchor for our workshops, though it is important to note that we do not seek to offer religious education. As part of these workshops, the issues are “translated” into general ethical and social questions in which both religious and non-religious perspectives play a role.
At the moment we are working with eight modules focussing on the following themes:
- “Belief, Islam and me”
- “Images of men, images of women, and Islam”
- “What does sharia actually mean?”
- “Discrimination, Salafist propaganda, and empowerment”
- “Blind obedience?”
- “Divine law?”
- “Being Muslim and being Jewish”
- “What does jihad actually mean?”
The main focus of the workshops is a film series titled: “How do we want to live?” It was co-produced with the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (sponsored by the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees [BAMF]) and conceived as a means of combatting Islamism and promoting democracy.
The workshops are conducted by young so-called “teamers” in school classrooms and youth facilities. These peer-guides are between the ages of twenty and thirty and predominantly come from Muslim backgrounds. Their personalities and backgrounds help them to facilitate discussions with students raised in Muslim families concerning about questions that touch upon Islam, Islamophobia, and Islamism.
The workshop procedures and results are evaluated on an ongoing basis and taken into consideration as the project evolves. In this way we were able to develop the workshops both methodically and thematically based on prior experiences made in implementing the project. In addition to devising additional pedagogical methods, new topics were also integrated. These include topics such as “media competence”, “racism”, and “participation”. Furthermore, with a view to current developments, “jihadism” has also moved into the spectrum of issues that can be covered in the workshops.
Some 5,000 young people and young adults have already been reached in the 500 or so workshops conducted at schools and youth facilities thus far.
Food for thought and new perspectives
Workshop assessments prove that young people successfully can enter into a dialogue about religion and identity with one another. In doing so, new thoughts can be stimulated and new perspectives opened vis-à-vis religious, political, and social issues as well as general questions.
By empowering young people to think and speak on such topics, the workshops can immunise them against simplistic world views and concepts of “the enemy”. In the process, these conversations broaden into discussions about general social, religious, and political issues that are no longer limited to Islam itself. The end point of the workshops is then a debate the question of “How do we want to live?” Here young people can participate on the basis of familiar as well as their newly-discovered perspectives, regardless of their ethnicity or their religious views.
The success of this approach is reflected in the positive feedback that we receive not only from youths (“I could finally talk about everything here!” is one of the most frequent responses) but also from teaching staff (“The atmosphere in the classroom has changed completely”). On several occasions school faculties have described these discussions as “liberating”, for they strengthened a sense of recognition and fostered greater openness for non-religious perspectives and different lifestyles and orientations.
The workshops do in fact meet the needs that many young people have for lifeworld-related debates in the context of religion, their sense of belonging, and co-existence in a diverse society. They provide opportunities for developing one’s own ideas in conversation with others concerning, for instance, gender roles, or identity constructs. After all, espousing one’s own ideas bolsters a resistance to insidious influences; it helps prevents these spaces from being occupied by the offerings of who try to hook into the young peoples’ deepest needs and emotions. Our experiences with these discussions have shown that propagandists of radical positions lose their influence when confronted with groups. Non-Muslim youths learn to see Islam in a different light, and the climate in the classroom or group deescalates.
We currently offer workshops in seven cities and regions.
Nina Sedlak-Çınar: firstname.lastname@example.org