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Then I Became Muslim

After German reunification, Annett became involved with Muslims for the first time. The 40 year old teacher grew up in the German Democratic Republic where religion didn't play a role for her. Thirteen years ago in Cairo, she converted to Islam. Soon after this, she decided to wear the headscarf - a large step that wasn't without consequences for her career.In the four-part documentary series "Then I Became a Muslim", photographer Michael Hauri portrays Germans who came to Islam.

Then I Became a Muslim

by Michael Hauri

Germany - Then I Became a Muslim

Since the beginning of the 21st century, Islam has become a hotly debated topic worldwide, regardless of whether it is about the politics of countries with an islamic culture,  or  the life of Muslims in our society. While the history of Islam in Germany is older then the immigration of so-called Gastarbeiter (‘guestworker’) from former Jugoslavia, Turkey, and Northern Afrtica, it wasn’t until recently that Islam as a religon has been covered more thoroughly in Western Europe. Without doubt, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in the USA have been the cause for an increased interest in the world’s second largest religion. Additionally, also the increasing number of Muslims in the ‘Western World’, be it via immigration or conversion, are a reason to get interested in this topic.

Many publications on Islam, a religion and culture that is as diverse as the different branches of Chrstianity throughout the world, are characterized by an outside view. This view will often be coloured by the preconceptions or prejudices of the authors or journalists. Nowadays, Muslims and the media demand that the view of Islam be covered by more Muslim authors and journalists. The point shopuld bet hat Muslims talk abiout htemselves and not others about them. Of course, it should not be forgotten taht there is not “the Muslim”, just like a single Christian, Jew, or Atheist cannot be considered to represent their whole belief or world view.

Muslims in Germany are very diverse in denomination, social background or ethnicity. There is not just the Turkish ‘Gastarbeiter’ from a peasant family in eastern Anatolia, even when most Turkish Muslims make up the largest part of Muslims in Germany. A special focus is on the so-called converts. These are people with a diverse background who did not grow up with Islam as their religion and came to the faith in their youth or as adults. The “re-conversion” of non-religious people from Islamic countries to Islam is ususally not subsumed under the title “converts”.

In Germany, among the nearly 4 million Muslims, there are between 20,000 and 100,000 converts, that is, people who grew up in religions other than Islam or with no faith. There are no exact number, because other than Catholics or Lutherans in Germany, Muslims are not registered for church taxt, and most Muslims are not organized in an islamic organization. Islam is considered to be the fastest growing religion in the world and there is no doubt that Muslims in Germany and from Germany will play a larger role in our society in the future. What kind of people are those who decide to turn to Islam?

A rising interest of the media for converts to Islam certainly exists because of the few cases of German Muslims who join radical branches of Islam and even don’t shy away from terrorist activities, like the so called Sauerland Group and Eric Breiniger who died at the Afghan-Pakistani border in April 2010. Also, famous converts from Western Countries like Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Clay) or Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) frequented the headlines, especially with the question “Why?”. The latest examples from Germany are the former MTV host Kristiane Backer and her autobiography “Von MTV nach Mecca” (‘From MTV to Mecca’) or the  travelogue of the pilgrimage to Mecca by the German-Bulgarian author Ilija Trojanow with the title “Zu den heiligen Quellen des Islam” (‘To the Holy Sources of Islam’). The journalist Cornelia Filter from the feminist magazine Emma has written a report called “Mein Gott heißt jetzt Allah und ich befolge seine Gesetze gern” (‘My God is now called Allah and I follow his Laws gladly’) in which she tries to showcase the whole bandwidth of converts to Islam.

New Muslims live among us, go to work, have various interests or hobbies, and pray to Allah. In the following work, four Germans who came to Islam or are considering become a Muslim, are portraied in different situations in their lives. They are telling us why they have become a Muslim, what kind of reactions they face in Germany, and what they are hoping for the future.

Text by Moritz Botts

The series was awarded with the “Axel Springer Preis für junge Journalisten 2011″, 1st prize for Online Journalism