Berlin state government appoints Islamists to commission combating anti-Muslim racism

Flyer of the Palestinian Community in Germany. Hajjaj was a speaker at this protest – Source: Screenshot PGD

On February the 26th, the “Expert Commission on Anti-Muslim Racism” set up by the State of Berlin began its work. The committee is to develop “recommendations for the further development of prevention work on anti-Muslim racism” by spring 2022, the responsible Senate Department for Justice, Consumer Protection and Anti-Discrimination of Senator Dirk Behrendt (Greens) announced at the time.

Two of the six members were sent by the Islam Forum of the Integration Commissioner: Lydia Nofal and Mohamad Hajjaj, the chairperson and managing director of the Islamic association Inssan.

Research published by the newspaper WELT shows that Inssan and the persons named have links to Islamist organisations, some of which have been or are being monitored by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Nevertheless, Inssan has been funded for years with large amounts of federal and state money. The Berlin-based association was founded in 2002. According to its own statements, its aim is “to promote the development of a German-language Islam”.

Nofal and Hajjaj are active in numerous committees and organisations. Both are members of the regional board of the Central Council of Muslims in Berlin, both are members of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) working group of Muslim Social Democrats. Nofal was also appointed by the Berlin Senate Chancellery to the advisory board of the Institute for Islamic Theology at the Humboldt University in Berlin.

However, there were and are also activities in other associations. In 2014, Hajjaj was quoted in an interview with the internet portal as the head of the capital city office of the Palestinian Community in Germany (PGD). Regarding this association, the Berlin Interior Administration informed in autumn 2014 that it was considered an organisation of supporters of the Islamist terror organisation Hamas. Hamas is represented in Germany by the PGD, according to the Hamburg report on the protection of the constitution from 2016.

When asked, Hajjaj denied having been active with the Palestinian Community in Germany. “I am not and have not been associated with this association in any way,” he informed. The journalist of the text had misquoted his stance in a student group. WELT has an email from Hajjaj in which he authorised his statements from the interview to the journalist. It was written from an email address belonging to the PGD homepage.

The Turkish news agency Anadolu also quoted Hajjaj in January 2014 with a different spelling of his first name as belonging to the PGD, on the occasion of a demonstration against the siege of the Palestinian refugee camp Yarmouk in Syria. The article was not about him personally, Hajjaj said. “I actually know the Muhammad Hajjaj mentioned there. However, I am Mohamad Hajjaj.”

When WELT subsequently confronted him with a photo of exactly this demonstration from January 2014, which was posted by the PGD on Facebook and in which Hajjaj can be seen, he informed them that the rally had not been organised by the PGD and that he had taken part as a spokesperson for a student group. WELT is in possession of a PGD flyer calling for the rally on the day in question.

When asked if Hajjaj was still vice-chairman of the Teiba Cultural Centre, he did not answer. A recent search of the register of associations at the Charlottenburg district court shows that Hajjaj still holds this position. In a handout as well as in the report of the Berlin Office for the Protection of the Constitution from 2016, the Teiba Cultural Centre is mentioned under the items “Islamist mosque associations and aid organisations” and “Connections of Berlin associations to the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Community in Germany”, respectively.

In September 2010, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle interviewed an activist of the “German Initiative to Break the Gaza Blockade”, once referred to as Mohamed Hajjaj and once as Mohammed Hajja. When asked, Hajjaj stated that he had not participated in the initiative, but that it had been ” monitored via the media” by his student group. He did not answer the question whether he denied having given the interview to Deutsche Welle in 2010.

The Islamforum Berlin, which sent Hajjaj and Nofal to the “Expert Commission on Anti-Muslim Racism”, is responsible for the Integration Commissioner of the Berlin Senate. A spokeswoman said: “The decision to send experts to the expert commission on anti-Muslim racism was made by the Muslim representatives. She did not give any details on the content of the appointments. The justice administration, which is responsible for the entire commission, only referred to the integration commissioner.

“The importance of Inssan cannot be overlooked,” said Sigrid Herrmann-Marschall, an expert on Islamism. The association has built up a large network in recent years. “Lydia Nofal is the incorporated double strategy and acts as a mediator between the majority society and the Muslim Brotherhood’s network of campaigns,” Herrmann-Marschall continued.

Nofal did not respond to a request for an assessment of these allegations. It already distanced itself from the Muslim Brotherhood in 2007. “It is important to us that we remain independent of any ideology or movement,” Mohamad Hajjaj said about the accusations.

Inssan itself has also been under observation by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. From 2007 to 2009, the association was listed in the Berlin report as being close to the Muslim Brotherhood. In April 2018, Berlin’s interior administration announced that individual Inssan members had “personal connections” to the Islamic Culture and Education Centre Berlin (IKEZ) – according to Berlin’s 2017 report on the protection of the constitution, a “Berlin meeting place of Hamas supporters”. Both the IKEZ and Inssan and the Teiba Cultural Centre belong to the Islamforum Berlin, which was founded in 2005 on the initiative of the then Berlin Integration Commissioner.

The association Inssan, which belongs to the umbrella organisation Zentralrat der Muslime (Central Council of Muslims), has received large amounts of state funding since 2010. For example, the Inssan project “Network against Discrimination and Islamophobia” received funding from the Berlin state programme “Democracy. Diversity. Respect” received a total of 589,922 euros from 2010 to 2020. Since 2013, the annual payments have been increasing. For 2021, the planned sum is 116,599 euros, a spokesperson for the responsible justice administration announced.

The Inssan project “Mentors for Refugees” was funded by the Senate Commissioner for Integration between 2016 and 2019 with a total of 220,770 euros. Since 2020, the Commissioner has been funding the Inssan project “Active Strengthening of Muslim Activists”, so far with a total of 164,540 euros.

In July 2019, the judicial administration announced that Inssan had made it clear that the association was “committed to the values and norms of the Basic Law and the free democratic basic order”. Between 2017 and 2019, federal funding also flowed: the Inssan project “Not without my faith!”, which according to the federal government was about “empowering young Muslim women and men to deal with experiences of discrimination when accessing the labour market”, was funded by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs with a total of 284,104 euros. In total, Inssan has been funded by the government to the tune of 1,375,935 euros.

Inssan is also a co-founder of the Claim Alliance against Islamophobia and Muslimophobia. Claim was funded by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs with a total of 727,984 euros from 2017 to 2019. In addition, Claim was granted a total of 959,998 euros in 2020 and 2021 as part of the Competence Network Islamophobia and Muslimophobia, also by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs. Thanks to Nina Mühe, Claim is also represented in the Independent Circle of Experts on Muslimophobia, which was established in September 2020 by Federal Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer ( Christian Social Union, CSU).

Carsten Frerk, head of the research group Weltanschauungen in Deutschland, has been observing Inssan for a long time. “It is impressive how successful the association is with its lobbying and how it can keep expanding state funding,” he told WELT. “The state should take the issue of discrimination seriously. To do so, however, it should not approach lobbying associations of political Islam.” Inssan should not continue to appear with a state seal of approval, he said.

The latest publication by Inssan was released last week. The association presented the “2020 case figures on anti-Muslim racism in Berlin”. With 228 incidents, a “dangerous development” was documented. The reports are submitted to the association in writing or online via a reporting form. When asked how the reports are checked, project manager Zeynep Çetin said that those affected have to provide an email address. “The reports are validated by us.”

When asked, the network presented six examples of reports. These clearly show discriminatory incidents, but four of the cases refer to the ethnic origin of those affected, only two explicitly to religious affiliation.

Katharina Eggers from the Islamism Competence Centre of Aktion 3. Welt Saar criticised that the documentation did not meet scientific standards and was tendentious. In a press conference, Inssan explained that the slight decrease in the number of cases last year was due to the fact that the Corona pandemic limited the number of empowerment workshops that could be held. Many of those affected were not sufficiently educated to recognise discrimination as such.

Eggers criticises: “Potentially affected people are being turned into immature children who first have to be taught by pedagogical means when they should feel discriminated against. Inssan also equates emancipatory criticism of Islam “with the agitation of right-wing Muslim haters”.

5 thoughts on “Berlin state government appoints Islamists to commission combating anti-Muslim racism

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