The chairman of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DİTİB), Nevzat Yaşar Aşıkoğlu, has said that an ‘anti-Islamist' Terrorism demonstration held in the German city of Cologne last weekend was forcibly imposed on the Muslim community as the Bundestag and German media outlets heavily criticized the institution for not attending the event.
Commenting on the recent dispute to Daily Sabah, Yaşar said a call for Muslims to organize a rally against Islamist terrorism came without having any consultations with DİTİB, other Muslim institutions or nongovernmental organizations and was forced on the Muslim community.
"A positive response to attending such a rally was not deemed appropriate because it would make Muslims and Islamic institutions isolated and become targets in the community," Aşıkoğlu said.
The German government expressed frustration with DİTİB's refusal to attend the event, with government spokesman Stefan Seibert saying that "[i]t is simply a pity that DİTİB did not take part in the rally."
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere joined Seibert in criticizing DİTİB. Explaining that he would have hoped every Islamic organization in the country would attend, Maiziere said: "The demonstration is important because it shows the public that Muslims in society have nothing to do with terrorism or the abuse of religion that occurs at the hands of terrorists."
Aşıkoğlu responded to the German government's criticism of DİTİB as well, saying: "I wish the [German] government had said that they know how sensitive DİTİB is regarding this issue whether the institution attends the event or not," Aşıkoğlu said, expressing his disquiet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government.
Saying that Muslims have already been making statements in the face of groups that exploit religion such as Daesh, Aşıkoğlu said they attended rallies against terrorism and organized.
One of the reasons for the unwillingness of Muslims to attend the rally was its controversial name. Organizers of the rally opted to center the demonstration against Islamist terrorism, to which Islamic institutions and Muslims vehemently objected.
Aşıkoğlu said that use of the term Islamist terrorism is wrong from every angle. "We definitely do not accept using this term because including the word Islam in it, despite saying Islamist, means that Islam is being exploited," he said, adding that "Islam cannot be related to terrorism."
‘DİTİB not steered from Turkey'
There have been allegations for a long time that DİTİB is managed by the Turkish government. Germany has accused the institution of engaging in spying activities in the country with imams sent from Turkey. In February 2017, the German police raided the homes of four DİTİB imams.
Aşıkoğlu said allegations that the institution is under the influence of Ankara are "saddening and wrong". Calling the allegations prejudiced and partisan, he said DİTİB and Turkey's Presidency of Religious Affairs (DİB) have only moral and spiritual links.
"DİTİB is an institution formed in line with German laws and it serves a great number of Muslims living in Germany. It represents the ideology of Islam that has been accepted by the Muslim community for hundreds of years," he said.
The head of the Presidency of Religious Affairs (DİB), Mehmet Görmez, previously clarified the relationship between DİB and the DİTİB. Speaking with German journalists in Ankara in January 2017, Görmez said that DİB serves as merely a guide to DİTİB in terms of education and the principles of worship applied at their facilities, whereas mosques, associations and community centers were established with the efforts and support of German nationals of Turkish descent or Turkish nationals living in Germany.