Former German President Christian Wulff spoke against growing anti-Islam sentiment in Germany, saying “contrary to what far-right parties claim, Islam belongs to Germany.”
“When 3 million Muslims live in our country, they belong together with their religion Islam to our country,“ Wulff said on Thursday in Berlin at the Foreign Correspondents' Association in Germany (VAP).
Wulff, who is a Christian Democrat politician, sharply criticised the draft party program of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany, AFD, Party.
In its draft party program, AFD warned against the “Islamisation of Germany” and called for a ban on symbols of Islam, including minarets.
The former president opposed the view and said Germany’s constitution guaranteed religious freedoms for all, including the right of Muslims to freely practice and teach their religion, and build mosques.
“Whoever says I do not want Islam in Germany, I do not want Islam in Europe, he or she stands against our constitution,” he said.
"Whoever says I do not want any Muslim in Europe, he or she also cannot campaign for the rights of Christians in other parts of the world, and should not be surprised if others there say they don’t want Christians (…) or Jews there."
The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany has adopted a stronger anti-Islam stance, as Islamophobia is on the rise in Europe.
The party has seen growing public support in recent months.
One of the party’s deputy leaders, Beatrix von Storch, told local media on Sunday that Islam was a “political ideology” that is not compatible with the constitution.
“Muslims belong to Germany but Islam does not belong to Germany. We are for a ban on minarets, on muezzins and on full body veils,” she told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.
Wulff served as president from 2010 to 2012. He was the first leading German politician to publicly acknowledge that Islam belongs to Germany, as much as Christianity and Judaism.
In a famous speech he made in 2010, he trigered the debate, and he was later supported by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Wulff underlined that contrary to the claims of right-populists and extremists, immigrants and Muslims have had significant economic and cultural contributions to the German society.
“We have many migrants, also many Muslims among our intellectuals, in the fields of media and culture, who are representing our country,” he said.
Germany took in 1.1 million refugees last year, most of them Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans who fled wars and conflicts. The numbers have put a strain on local authorities and triggered anti-refugee sentiments.
Germany has the second-largest Muslim population in Western Europe after France. Among the nearly 4 million Muslims in the country, 3 million are of Turkish origin. Many of them migrated to Germany in the 1960s.