Open Society Report – Muslims in Berlin

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Muslims in Berlin
At Home in Europe Project
New York: Open Society Institute, 2010

[Read the report]

The second of 11 city reports to be produced this year by the Open Society Institute At Home in Europe Project, based on research undertaken on the integration of Muslims in cities across Europe.

Muslims in Berlin examines the political, social, and economic participation of Muslim communities living in Berlin, focusing on the district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. The 212-page report examines the experiences of Muslims in a broad range of areas including education, employment, health, housing and social protection, political participation, policing and security, and media.

From the Executive Summary:

  • The inhabitants of Kreuzberg in Berlin perceive their neighbourhood as a place in which the people living there have very diverse sets of values. Yet it is also a place in which people get on well together, work to improve the neighbourhood, and help each other. This important finding runs counter to the dominant belief that shared values are necessary for successful integration.
  • The overwhelming majority of Muslim and non-Muslim respondents said that Kreuzberg is an enjoyable and safe place to live. The study of the district of Kreuzberg highlights the success of an integrated structure and approach by citizens and policymakers to create a socially diverse environment. It is a part of Berlin in which individuals of differing ethnic and religious affiliations are able to successfully live together. The district’s experiences offer lessons to European cities with large minority groups on how to meaningfully adapt and accommodate the needs and concerns of their inhabitants. For a long time, Kreuzberg has perceived its multicultural character as an asset, and has encouraged the participation in public life of all different social groups, including Muslims from various ethnic backgrounds and communities.
  • For many Muslim respondents, Kreuzberg offers not only safety, but also refuge from other parts of the city (as well as the country as a whole), where they often feel alienated and excluded. The attribute that gives their district this safe character is its highly diverse nature. This creates a more welcoming feeling of multiculturalism and belonging than monocultural environments elsewhere. In Kreuzberg, unlike in other districts of Berlin, Muslim organisations have a strong presence within various political bodies. Local-government funding is distributed to Muslim groups, and district authorities and religious associations cooperate on local projects. This is particularly encouraging given the widely perceived stigmatisation and marginalisation of many religious Muslim associations in Germany.
  • Muslim inhabitants of Kreuzberg are not immune from discrimination. Respondents report difficulties in finding housing outside the district, gaining meaningful employment and apprenticeships, and, at times, obtaining culturally sensitive health care. The perception of unequal treatment is by no means restricted to religious affiliation. Muslims often perceive the multicausal experience of exclusion as anti-Muslim. Being labelled a Muslim does not only affect those who identify with Islam and are visible Muslims. It also affects those who may be non-religious and non-Muslim, yet whose skin colour, ethnic background, and perceived origin are viewed as signs of belonging to the Islamic faith.
  • The strategies and policies deployed in Kreuzberg offer an inspiring example that could help transform other cities even as Kreuzberg continues to learn from positive practices initiated elsewhere.

Download the full report, which includes recommendations and a comprehensive bibliography.