A German Muslim Asks His Compatriots: 'What Do You Want To Know?'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Muslims in Germany are under increased scrutiny after several recent threats and fatal attacks that have been linked to Islamic extremists in Europe. And that has sparked criticism from German Muslim leaders, who say that such scrutiny is unwarranted and it alienates Muslim citizens who've worked very hard to integrate into German society.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: One of Dr. Sadiqu al-Mousllie's favorite shows is a political satire called "Die Anstalt," or "The Institution." Like the dentist, the show views comedy as one way to overcome growing tensions over Islam in German society. In a recent episode, the non-Muslim cast members interrogate German-Moroccan comedian Abdelkarim about the Paris terror attack.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DIE ANSTALT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, speaking German).

NELSON: They demand he, quote, "distance himself from the incidents." At one point Abdelkarim replies, I live in the German city of Bielefeld, which is 700 kilometers away. Is that distant enough?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DIE ANSTALT")

ABDELKARIM: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Mousllie decided that kind of tongue-in-cheek approach could help start a dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims in his city of Braunschweig a hundred miles to the east. So on a recent Friday after prayers, the dentist, accompanied by his family and a few members of their mosque, went downtown and held up signs that read, I am a Muslim - What Would You Like to Know?

SADIQU MOUSLLIE: This is a bridge of communication. Some people dare to ask. Some other, not. So we went to them and gave them some chocolate and say of our prophet to know what Muslims are thinking about.

NELSON: His 17-year-old German-born daughter, Sarah, joined him on the first outing. She wears the Islamic headscarf, or hijab.

SARAH MOUSLLIE: The weirdest question I got was if I'm showering with my hijab. And no, I don't shower with my hijab. How should I do that? No one showers with their clothes on.

NELSON: But she says she doesn't mind strange questions if it can help put to rest any misconceptions about Muslims. Her father says misinformation and discrimination often hits Muslim children, including his own, the hardest. He was born in Damascus but came to Germany nearly a quarter-century ago to study, then settled here and became a German citizen. His Danish-born wife and their five children born in Germany are Danish citizens, but their kids largely identify as German, Mousllie says. So when his son was in fourth grade and was told he didn't belong, he became upset.

SADIQU MOUSLLIE: A friend of his in the class, he told him, you are not a real German because your name is not German. That was a very bad situation for him. I felt it was like a world falling down for himself because he felt, well, am I a part of this country or not?

NELSON: Mousllie says in recent years he's been asking himself the same question. At his dental practice, Mousllie says he's treated like any other German. Outside, it's another matter.

SADIQU MOUSLLIE: It's getting more difficult because a lot of Islamophobic themes are coming. People are now mixing Islam and terror. So we have to explain a lot.

NELSON: He says also alarming is the rising number of incidents against Muslims and mosques around Germany, including an attack three months ago in Braunschweig on a Syrian-born woman wearing hijab whose foot was run over by a car.

SADIQU MOUSLLIE: You keep thinking, what about my children, what about my family - how it's going to be in two years.

NELSON: As the Lower Saxony spokesman for Germany's Central Council of Muslims, Mousllie says he's tried to get authorities to help reduce tensions, including by not using what he and others view as inappropriate words, for example, Islamism when talking about extremists. But anti-Islam sentiment in Braunschweig may well increase following the last-minute cancellation on February 15 of its famous Carnival. The reason, the police chief told reporters, was an Islamist-related terror threat. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Braunschweig.

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