What is the work of... D:ISLAM?

October 2023


Film "Project D:ISLAM" | Duration 2"06' | Production Ute Seitz | PRIF 2023


How are Muslim communities threatened by Islamists and how do they react? The project "D:Islam" addresses this question and explores to what extent a "German Islam" emerges as a reaction to Islamism. In the interview, Dr Özgür Özvatan explains the research methods of the project and underlines how discourses about a "German Islam" trigger social negotiation processes.


What is the D:Islam project about? 

Özgür Özvatan: We want to find out whether a "German Islam" is constituted in Germany and what shape it is taking. We try to understand this "German Islam" in the light of various pressures. On the one hand, we look at how pressure is exerted on Muslim people and communities by  Islamist extremists. On the other hand, there is pressure caused by anti-Muslim racism.

What is your definition of "German Islam"?

Özgür Özvatan: That is the big question: What can we identify and define as "German Islam"? In the project, we understand "German Islam" as a negotiation matter, as a social negotiation process around something that we consider to be Islam or "being Muslim" in Germany.

What is your approach?

Özgür Özvatan: On the one hand, we focus on the phishing strategies of Islamist actors, and on the other hand on community work, i.e. defense strategies against such threats. In the different modules we look at Muslim women's organisations and queer Muslim people and organisations. In our work we have noticed that there is already a scientific saturation in the offline area. That is why we are focusing on the online world, on new social media platforms and especially on TikTok.

Are there any research results regarding m TikTok yet?

Özgür Özvatan: We have been investigating Muslim content creators to understand the phishing on the one hand and the community building on TikTok on the other. In the process, we found out that "Generation Islam" as an Islamist extremist account does not try to convince people, but speaks to people who are already convinced. This is new knowledge, as many in the literature have assumed the former. But we could see that no persuasion is taking place on the linguistic and narrative level.

Where does the persuasion work take place then?

Özgür Özvatan: We have to try to look at different platforms jointly and understand cross-platform and cross-account communication. It is not just one account on one platform that drives radicalisation, but various accounts that may have a purposeful or non-purposeful joint effect on radicalisation.

What role does the nexus of offline and online realities play in the research project?

Özgür Özvatan: This nexus of online and offline is still a black box that makes it difficult for us to identify causal mechanisms. We have developed experimental designs to look at whether media consumption changes anything at the attitude level. It is important to note that these changes in attitude do not mean that any actions follow in the offline world.

What do these results mean regarding a "German Islam"?

Özgür Özvatan: As I said, we understand "German Islam" as a negotiation matter, that is, something that is not concluded. And we see that this negotiation space has become more complex and differentiated in recent years. Many new actors can use anti-Muslim racism to generate pressure and enter the political discourse. This is different from 20 years ago - today, the discussion about "German Islam" cannot be held without Muslims.

Can a German Islam be a reaction to radicalising currents of Islamism?

Özgür Özvatan: What we observe is that the major community players are yet too reluctant to actively shape their online presence on the new social media platforms as well as to intervene. Most Muslim content creators are not recognisably embedded in any organisational structures. They are random people who become influencers on TikTok and talk about everyday politics. This is where actual community actors could step in to frame everyday and also political aspects from the perspective of different Islamic traditions.

When we speak of "German Islam": What role does a sense of belonging to Germany play?

Özgür Özvatan: Questions of belonging pay into how susceptible a person is to radicalisation and to being phished by alternative identity options. We need to make sure that our identity offers are more pluralistic and that we minimise the prevalence of anti-Muslim experiences in this society. If we make better identity offers to these people, we deprive the Islamist actors of the basis for perverting anti-Muslim realities for their own extremist rhetoric.

The research project also looks at Muslim women's organisations. What are the key findings?

Özgür Özvatan: We have primarily dealt with the question of what role Muslim women's organisations play in German civil society. We observed that they are not only concerned with the question of being Muslim, but are also nationwide activists for gender equality and forge post-migrant alliances, which include non-Muslim organisations. In other words, they are crucial alliance partners with regard to issues affecting society as a whole and provide a range of services to civil society on the topics of equality, migration and discrimination, but also on general socio-political issues. With regard to "German Islam," we can say that the questions Muslim women's organisations deal with and, in general, the question: "What is 'German Islam'?" open up more doors towards questions of social coexistence in Germany.

More about the project D:ISLAM