World Bulletin / News Desk
Speaking at a joint news conference with Swedish Premier Stefan Lofven in Berlin, Merkel underlined the significance of Christianity and Judaism in the country’s history, and highlighted that Islam too was part of the country’s culture.
“Our country is largely shaped by Christianity, and it continues to be so,” Merkel said, adding that Judaism had also been significant in the country’s history and culture.
“But now four million Muslims are living in Germany, and they are practicing their religion here.
"These Muslims belong to Germany, and also their religion of Islam belongs to Germany,” she said.
Her remarks contradicted remarks of Horst Seehofer, the country's new interior minister, who has chaired Merkel’s sister party, the CSU, for 10 years.
“Islam does not belong to Germany. Germany is characterized by Christianity,” Seehofer told German daily Bild on Friday.
“Muslims who are living here of course belong to Germany. But of course that doesn’t mean because of that we would make false considerations and give up our country-specific traditions and customs,” he said.
The conservative politician made the controversial remarks ahead of regional elections in Bavaria this coming fall, where his Christian Social Union (CSU) faces a tough challenge from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).
Germany, a country of 81.8 million people, has the second-largest Muslim population in Western Europe after France.
Among the country’s nearly 4.7 million Muslims, three million are of Turkish origin. Many of them are second or third-generations of Turkish families who migrated to Germany in the 1960s, and are said to be well integrated in the country.
EU’s largest economy witnessed growing Islamophobia in recent years triggered by a propaganda from far-right parties, which have exploited fears over the refugee crisis and terrorism.
Since 2015, Germany received more than one million refugees mostly from Syria and Iraq.