16. February 2024

Conference ‘Liberal Islam’

Regenbogenfarben am Nachthimmel mit Symbolen des Islams.

Islamic religious life is diverse and is organised in different institutions in Germany. Demands for a liberal Islam are being voiced from very different directions. At the same time, the number of voices claiming this attribute for themselves is growing, as are those on whom it is imposed. But which groups and initiatives are meant by this? How is this term defined in more detail? What corresponds to this in the religious practice of Muslims? How are interpretations and practices of faith that see themselves as ‘liberal’ perceived by the public and in the field of inner-Islamic diversity?

At the ‘Liberal Islam’ conference organised by the Global Ethic Foundation and the Academy of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart on 6 February 2024, around 40 stakeholders from various fields of social action examined and discussed these and many other questions.




In her introductory lecture, religious scholar Leyla Jagiella, a member of the Liberal-Islamic Alliance (LIB) and active at the Muslim Academy in Heidelberg, critically analysed the highly controversial term ‘liberal’ and its various dimensions. Especially in English-speaking countries, ‘liberal’ is often used in a derogatory way. In the Muslim context, the term is used almost exclusively in German, while in other languages terms such as ‘progressive’ or ‘inclusive’ are more common.

The term ‘liberal’ triggers very different reactions. Jagiella explained how ‘liberal’ is used as an anti-Muslim fighting term to stigmatise Muslims by calling for liberal Islam. This can be found in statements by Ayaan Hirsi Ali as well as in the social discourse following the terrorist attack of 7 October 2023, in which anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism are played off against each other. As a result, many Muslims distanced themselves from the term ‘liberal’.



Amina Wadud is a key figure in the development of liberal Islam: she became famous for leading the prayer of a mixed-gender group as a woman in 2005. Leyla Jagiella presented the Verein Säkularer Islam Hamburg (VSI) around Necla Kelek as well as the Ibn-Rushd-Goethe-Mosque founded by Seyran Ateş, which is one of the most successful initiatives alongside the LIB. There were also many other initiatives, but these disappeared again after a short time. Rabeya Müller (Islamic scholar and imam) was of decisive importance for the development of liberal Muslim voices in Germany and also the LIB, as she introduced key ideas into the discourse early on after her conversion to Islam in the 1970s. Together with Lamya Kaddor (Member of the Bundestag), she was also involved in the founding of the LIB in 2010.



In 2010, the ‘Liberal-Islamic Federation (LIB)’ was founded, to which 7 communities with around 300 members belong. Despite conflicting ideas and positions within the LIB, the members share a number of basic principles of a liberal and progressive understanding of Islam, says Leyla Jagiella. These included an unbiased interpretation of religious scriptures that takes into account the historical and social context, comprehensive gender justice, the rejection of violence and a commitment to the persecuted and against all forms of group-based misanthropy. The movement is inspired by liberal Judaism, which dates back to the 19th century.

With its liberal orientation, the LIB is important for Muslims. The liberal Islamic organisations are small: Islamic scholar Dr Hussein Hamdan, Academy of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, believes they have the potential to influence Muslim life in Germany.

Liberal Islam would pose major political and social challenges for the much larger, established Islamic organisations. ‘The major organisations must provide answers to the questions raised by liberal Islam,’ says Hamdan. For example, if a Muslim woman wants to be married to a non-Muslim in a religious ceremony.

Eine Frau und ein Mann sitzen an einem Tisch und diskutieren miteinander.



Among other things, the conference centred on the question of the relationship between liberal Islam and other Islamic orientations and society. The ZDF journalist and Islamic scholar Abdul-Ahmad Rashid, known as the presenter of the ‘Forum am Freitag’ and an excellent expert on the Islamic landscape in Germany, spoke in conclusion about liberal Islam in politics, the media and the public. His original hope that the LIB would develop into a mass movement was disappointed, which he also attributes to the reluctance of liberal Muslims to become involved in associations. His original hope that the LIB would develop into a mass movement was disappointed, which he also attributes to the reluctance of liberal Muslims to become involved in associations. This means that the LIB will remain just one voice among many in Muslim Germany. The establishment of a mosque of its own, on the other hand, is not foreseeable, although such spaces and structures would be crucial for development. As a result, the Ibn Rushd Goethe Mosque, which was founded by Seyran Ateş and was closed until further notice at the time of the conference, had received much more media attention than the LIB in the recent past. In addition to differences in content, personal reasons were also responsible for the lack of cooperation between the two initiatives. Rashid described the view of the other Islamic organisations towards the LIB as distanced or even hostile. However, the initial concern about new competition has given way to a certain indifference over time. He does not expect the LIB to develop significantly in the future. Rashid also criticised the fact that many Muslims are now quickly and wrongly labelled ‘liberal’ by the media, for example simply because they have left a conservative association.


  • Dr Mahmoud Abdallah, Centre for Islamic Theology, University of Tübingen
  • Leyla Jagiella, Liberal-Islamic Federation e.V., Muslim Academy Heidelberg
  • Annika Mehmeti, Liberal-Islamic Federation e.V.
  • Abdul-Ahmad Rashid Journalist, Editorial Office Church and Life, ZDF

Conference management:

  • Dr Christian Ströbele, Department of Interreligious Dialogue, Academy of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart
  • Dr Hussein Hamdan, Department of Muslims in Germany, Academy of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart
  • Dr Theresa Beilschmidt, Interfaith and Society Division, Global Ethic Foundation

The conference is a cooperation between the Global Ethic Foundation and the Academy of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart as part of the series of events on inner-Islamic diversity and Islamic minorities and minorities of Islamic origin. The following conferences have already taken place in this series:

  • 2020 Alevis in Germany

  • 2022 Ahmadiyya in Germany

  • 2023 Sufism in Germany

Contact person


Dr. Theresa Beilschmidt

Interfaith and society
Tel.: +49 (0)7071 400 53 - 13
e-mail: beilschmidt@weltethos.org