Muslims in Interwar Europe

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Lecture-cum-seminar with Dr.Gerdien Jonker

On the 1st of December our team had the pleasure to receive Dr. Gerdien Jonker for our second session of the Lecture-cum-Seminar series. Dr. Jonker’s upcoming book Missionising Europe. The Ahmadiyya Quest for Religious Progress 1900- 1965 was scrutinized for a fresh view of the Ahmadiyya mission in the Europe of the interwar and beyond. Our discussions led us from missionaries to converts, from colonial India to Europe, but above all it led us to the interwoven histories of religious change in different contexts. Thus, while Indians sought religious progress as a means to counter colonial oppression but also to invigorate their traditions, Europeans and pursued individual development and ‘modernity’ through a progress of the self. In this respect Weimar Berlin proved to be to be a rather suitable medium for such encounters. The economic crisis of the interwar and the political instability among other factors made it a stage for contemplating religion for all: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Germans, Arabs etc. The Ahmadiyya movement found room to engage in peace-through-religion congresses in that environment and had indeed reshaped the cultural and religious landscape of the time and space.

Naturally, the movement had to adapt to society and politics and it was interesting to discover the effects of this constant acclimatization, especially after the rise to power of the National Socialists. The idea of “Germanness” with its signification, its ‘ingredients’ and how it was integrated to the “mission” and “movement” represented a point of debate. Within it, one factor which proved to be rather ‘delicate’ in that respect concerned the problem of Jewish converts to Islam, of which various instances and individuals were covered.

The Ahmadiyya movement was by no means universally tolerated and in some cases it was outright rejected especially by some Muslims. The Moslemische Gemeinschaft later named Deutsch-Muslimische Gesellschaft (established by the Ahmadis as the official organization of the Wilmersdorf mosque) was viewed with suspicion for the way it communicated Islam was “unrecognizable” to Sunni Muslims and was thus rejected. The Islamische Gemeinde zu Berlin, founded by Abdul Jabbar Kheiri, was on direction from which such criticism stemmed. Some of our time was dedicated to significant figures, intellectuals which embraced Islam for reasons which one will find remarkable. Their conversion narratives, motives and limits of religious adaptation raised some interesting questions and notable answers. Of those examined it is enough to mention Hugo ‘Hamid’ Marcus, Muhammad Assad (Leopold Weiss) and Mohammad Essad Bey (Lev Nussimbaum). The last topic to be included in this short summary of our session relates to the Berlin Mosque Library collections. This library is a suitable place to encounter Media influences on the mission, their interests and even “obligations”, and an element from which to analyze the ongoing process of globalization which became apparent above all through the West-East media transfer but also through East-West. The titles present on the lists and shelves reveal some fascinating elements of the history of this mission, but so do the titles that were missing and finally the way in which they were arranged. Herewith we wish to thank Dr. Jonker for sharing her knowledge and enhancing our understanding of the Ahmadiyya mission in the first part of the 20th century with its dynamics, difficulties and the grades of accomplishment.

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