German TV helps Muslim refugees understand secular law, religious freedom

The first Arabic-language television talk show in Germany aims to help foster the integration of refugees from Arab countries with a simple message: “Follow the rules!”

Germany is bracing itself for more than one million asylum seekers this year, and integration is a hot topic in a country where many feel the influx of mainly Muslim migrants could undermine German culture.

Seeking to tackle such concerns, “Marhaba” (hello in Arabic) is a 40-minute programme that will air on the private cable channel n-tv starting on Thursday. It will be presented in flawless Arabic by Constantin Schreiber, a blue-eyed, fair-haired and casually dressed German man.

A five-minute programme has been available online since the end of September, and its popularity prompted n-tv to bring it onto the airwaves where it will feature pieces in both German and Arabic with corresponding subtitles.

“I also want to talk to you about small details like the use of mobile phones and the need to respect the rules, traffic lights, and road signs in our country,” Schreiber says in the first online episode called “We the Germans.”

“For example, we don’t use mobile phones while driving, we respect pedestrian lights and we do not cross when they’re red.”

Another piece of advice: don’t call Germans or send them text messages in the evening because this will most likely annoy them as they will be resting after a hard day at work.

Schreiber has received more than 6,000 emails since the programme’s online debut, almost half of those from Arabs in and outside Germany who praised his endeavour.

“I am a Syrian national and I want to thank you for your programme, Mr. Constantin,” a Syrian woman wrote in an email. “People who are older than 50 find it difficult to learn German and we ask you to continue providing information for them.”

Some emails included criticism from Germans who would prefer the programme to be aired in German with Arabic subtitles. Others warned it would encourage more migrants to come to Germany. Some emails contained death threats.

“There seems to be such huge demand for information, for dialogue, for discussion and we wanted to provide a platform for such discussions,” Schreiber told Reuters.


The second episode, entitled “German Basic Law and sharia”, tells Muslims that no law is above the German constitution. Sharia is Islam’s legal system, versions of which are applied in many Muslim countries.

“Freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly are just three of the main rights secured by the (German) Basic Law,” Schreiber tells viewers, with the Reichstag parliament building in the background.

The three fundamental rights are particularly sacred in Germany given that its history is scarred by the “horrors of dictatorship,” he continues. The Basic Law (Grundgesetz in German), Schreiber says, was the foundation of the new democratic Germany established after World War Two.

The episode is filmed in Berlin’s government quarter where Deputy Finance Minister Jens Spahn, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats, explains what freedom of expression looks like in Germany.

“Freedom of speech means everyone may say what they think. Freedom of the press means you may make jokes, even about religion,” Spahn says. “Even when jokes are made about the Koran, this must be tolerated.”

Satire and cartoons in Western states targeting Islam have drawn sometimes violent protests by Muslims in recent years.

Some four million Muslims live in Germany, making up almost 5 percent of the population. Three million of them are Turks who came in the 1960s and 1970s under the low-skilled “guest workers” programme and about half have struggled to integrate.

The new programme also features a “Love and Sex” episode that tells refugees that “sexual self-determination” is a sacred right in Germany, where women may have sex before marriage without having to face consequences from male guardians.

“For some first-generation migrants this will of course present a problem because some of them are used to this ideology from childhood,” Egyptian expatriate Hebatallah Ismail tells Schreiber in the episode shot outside the Cologne Cathedral.

She adds that the second generation of Muslim migrants in Germany tend to disagree with their parents’ views on sexuality, which “is why time and again we unfortunately hear about honour killings in Germany.”