Muslim Brotherhood in Germany: Everything began with a mosque in Munich…



Established in Germany since the late 1950s, the Muslim Brotherhood holds an almost total grip on Islamic places of worship and sociocultural associations. This is done through two branches of the Brotherhood : one is Arab, imported into Germany by a trio of leaders of the Tanzim al-Dawali (Saïd Ramadan, Ali Ghaleb Himmat and Youssef Nada), and the other Turkish, controlled by the Erbakan clan, one of the most influential families in the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Turkey.

The first prayer offered up in the European building of the Muslim Brotherhood was in Munich in 1958. In August of the same year, the leader of Tanzim al-Dawli, Saïd Ramadan, had settled in Switzerland. However, before founding his famous Islamic Centre of Geneva in 1961, he has already set his sights on the capital of Bavaria, by implementing the construction project of the first mosque of the Brotherhood in Europe. 

This choice is explained by the presence of a large Muslim community in Bavaria. Indeed, before the mass arrival of Muslim immigrant workers in Germany -mainly Turkish- in the 1960s and 70s, an initial Muslim community of Caucasian origin had settled in Germany in the mid-1940s. These were former Chechen, Azerbaijani and Dagestani soldiers mobilized by the Nazis to fight against the USSR during the Second World War. They remained in Germany following the defeat of the Third Reich, mainly in Bavaria. 

Anti-Soviet instrumentalization 

The choice of Munich as home to the first Muslim Brotherhood mosque was also related to other, less pious, reasons that aimed at instrumentalizing this Caucasian community against the Soviet bloc, within the context of the Cold War. This is what Pulitzer prize-winning American journalist Ian Johnson  revealed in 2011 in a book titled “A Mosque in Munich. Nazis, the CIA and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West”.

According to Johnson, as soon as Saïd Ramadan arrived in Europe he was “treated” by a CIA agent based in Munich who went under the name of Bob Dreher. The book also gives a detailed description of the trip made in July 1953 by a delegation of representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood, which included Saïd Ramadan, to the White House. Receiving the delegates of the Muslim Brotherhood, President Eisenhower offered them an unambiguous deal: “Our faith in God should give us a common objective: the fight against Communism and its Atheism”. 

To give the Munich project substance, Said Ramadan created the very first Muslim Brotherhood organisation in Europe in the form of a committee charged with the construction of the great mosque in Munich. Two years later, in 1960, this committee gave rise to an association called Islamische Gemeinschaft in Deutschland (IGD) [Islamic Community of Germany]. In 1968, following the relocation of Saïd Ramadan, who moved to Geneva after a long dispute with his Muslim Brotherhood companions (see our article When the ‘Brothers’ (warring) gutted each other in Munich, page 26), the IGD was taken over by two historic members of Tanzim al-Dawli: Ali Ghaleb Himmat and Youssef Nada (see page 16).

A “pretence non-violence” 

Currently affiliated to the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE), the IGD has become the main Muslim Brotherhood body in Germany. Headed by Samir Falah, it has a  youth branch known under the name of Muslimische Jugend in Deutschland (MJD), led by Sarwar Faraj. However, the core of the propaganda and preaching activities of the IGD involves outreach work through charitable associations, Koranic schools and Islamic sociocultural centres. To do this, it has a variety of Islamische Zentren (Islamic centres) in a number of German Länder, the best-known being the Islamic Centre of Munich, headed by Ahmad Von Denffer, which publishes the magazine al-Islam, and the one in Berlin, headed by Mohammed Taha Sabri, who runs the great mosque of Berlin-Neuköln. 

While enjoying legal recognition, the activities of the IGD are under close scrutiny from the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), the national intelligence service of Germany. In a report dated December 2018 on “legalistic Islamic organisations”, the BfV pinpointed the IGD for “non-conformity with the foundations of democracy”, denouncing its “pretence non-violence, which hides objectives that aim to strengthen a feeling of mistrust of Western values and discredit democracy”. According to the report, when the leaders of the IGD discuss things behind closed doors, they do not conceal their desire to “create Islamic states based on divine law, including in Germany sometime in the future”. 

The Turkish brothers

In parallel to the Arabic part of the Muslim Brotherhood, established in Germany thanks to the Ramadan-Himmat-Nada trio, there is a Turkish branch of the Brotherhood controlled by the Erbakan clan and organised within the Islamischen Gemeinschaft Millî Görüş (IGMG). It is the German branch of the Turkish Brotherhood Millî Görüş (monotheistic vision), founded in 1969 by Necmettin Erbakan, the leader of Refah Partisi, the forerunner of the present-day AKP, President Erdogan’s party. Currently headed by Kemal Ergün, Millî Görüş controls more than 300 mosques in Germany. 

These two branches of the German Muslim Brotherhood ignored each other for a long time. Family alliances were put in place later to help their rapprochement. As a consequence, the former head of the IGD Ibrahim el-Zayat married the daughter of Mehmet Erbakan, one of the founders of Millî Görüş. This alliance allows him to act as a go-between between the current leaders of the Arab branch -from which he came- and their ‘Brothers’ in the Turkish “family”.