Thursday, July 16, 2009

Muslims in Germany: Life in a Parallel Society

By Norbert F. Pötzl

In Germany, Islam is often equated with fundamentalism and fanaticism, a perception that imposes a heavy burden on the country's 3 million Muslims. Their relationship to Western society is divided between integration and sometimes self-imposed exclusion.

The name of the salon is German -- Goldene Finger (Golden Fingers) -- but the services it offers are listed in the window in Arabic and Turkish. In the front of the shop, 40-year-old Palestinian Toufic al-Rifae gives men haircuts and trims their beards. Veiled women disappear into a back section behind a curtain, where female hairdressers do their hair and, using thick lines of the traditional Middle Eastern cosmetic preparation known as kohl, apply their makeup in the Arab style.

Diagonally across the street, Ris A, a restaurant specializing in grilled meats, advertises its poultry as "halal," or slaughtered according to Islamic religious rules. The place is reminiscent of a McDonald's fast-food restaurant, with its colorful plastic tables and chairs and tiled floor. In an open kitchen in the corner, 72 chickens are being roasted over coals on a large rotating grate. The name of the restaurant, explains the owner, a 35-year-old Lebanese man, "means in Islam: 'What Allah has bestowed upon me'."

Al Sundus is a shop specializing in "Arab lingerie," Arab water pipes, known as shishas, are bubbling away in the El Salam café and neighborhood bakeries sell rectangular cakes coated in white cream or decorated with bright green pistachios. One Middle Eastern business after another lines the northern end of Sonnenallee, a prominent street in Berlin's Neukölln neighborhood.

For some, Sonnenallee is a colorful, quirky shopping street. Others refer to it derisively as the Gaza Strip.

(Full article on Spiegel Online- Part 1 and Part 2)