The West would prosper without Christianity

Islam in Germany

Michael Borgolte

To person

Dr. phil., born 1948; Professor of Medieval History at the Humboldt University in Berlin, Institute for History; full member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences; Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin. [email protected]

Europe could be discovered and culturally permeated when the Arab conquests destroyed the ancient Mediterranean world. The Muslims imparted the achievements of ancient and oriental scholarship to the Christians.


Seven prisoners of war were the first Muslims in Germany. The King of Asturias captured them during his raid on Lisbon and sent them to Aachen together with their armor and mules as a gift of friendship to Charlemagne in 798. No history of Islam in Germany began with them, as the trail of forced migrants was immediately lost again. Otherwise, when Muslims came to the Carolingian courts as envoys or political negotiators, they only stayed briefly as travelers in places like Paderborn. The elephant that Harun ar-Raschid had brought to Charlemagne in 802 made a greater impression than she did. The caliph of Baghdad named the exotic animal Abu Abass after the uncle of the prophet and founder of his own dynasty. Hardly any Franconian will have understood these connections, but the representative of a foreign and distant culture was able to considerably increase the emperor's reputation and horror. In any case, Karl took the elephant with him on his campaigns. But before his army met the Danes in 810, Abu Abass died on the Lippe.

Only a large group of Muslim immigrants would have asked the Franks and later the Germans to solve the integration problem. But that never happened in the Middle Ages. The cultural or even ethnic interdependence was opposed by the fact that Berbers, Arabs and Syrians found life under the climatic conditions in the north of the Pyrenees and the Alps hardly attractive. Religious reservations about migration were even more important. Experiences made by the Prophet Mohammed himself and his first followers justified the prohibition for Muslims to live under rulers of another religion. Wherever they had to pass through Christian countries while traveling, they should leave them again quickly in order to avoid the danger of apostasy. Difficult to solve was the question of how Muslims should behave after they had been subjugated by foreign powers. Legal scholars argued about this, although it was always advisable to turn your back on the countries of the unbelievers.

A cultural balance, an adjustment of living conditions or even a joint further development of their own experiences and achievements were therefore only possible for Muslims and Christians where the believers of the Koran had won the rule and, ideally, also maintained it. This is where the Muslim-Christian symbiosis differs fundamentally from the coexistence of Jews with Christians or Muslims, because Jews were everywhere in the minority and politically dependent. Military conquests by oriental associations were directed against Christianized empires, regions and populations in Europe. Violence and subjugation, which in some cases were perceived as foreign rule and which were removed again after centuries, formed the prerequisites for cultural exchange processes that Europe still lives on today.