What did Tito think of Hitler?

Muslims in World War II: "Germany will win the war - Insch'Allah!"


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The following guest article is based on the book by the historian David Motadel "For Prophets and Leaders: The Islamic World and the Third Reich". It was recently published by Klett-Cotta-Verlag.

In the last days before his suicide in 1945, Hitler repeatedly spoke of the Islamic world in the Berlin bunker. "The Islamic world trembled in anticipation of our victories," he told his secretary Martin Bormann. "We should have done everything to help them, to strengthen their courage, as our benefit and duty required." Hitler's remarks were no accident.

At the height of the war, in the years 1941 to 1942 - when Hitler's troops invaded Muslim-populated areas in the Balkans, North Africa, Crimea and the Caucasus and were approaching the Middle East and Central Asia - the To perceive Islam as politically significant. The Nazi regime made increasing efforts to win Muslims as allies and incite them to fight against supposedly common enemies - against the British Empire, the Soviet Union, America and the Jews.

The reason for this policy, however, was not only that German troops were confronted with an Islamic population in many of the areas in which they fought, but also, and perhaps more crucially, that the military situation deteriorated at the same time. The Blitzkrieg strategy had failed in the Soviet Union. The German troops came under increasing pressure. Berlin therefore endeavored for short-term military considerations to win new allies.



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In Berlin, Islam had been increasingly concerned with as early as the late 19th century. The empire ruled over considerable Muslim population groups in the colonies - in Togo, Cameroon, and German East Africa. German colonial officials tried regularly to incorporate Islam into their colonial policy. They recognized Sharia courts, the pious foundations (Waqf) and Koran schools and ruled with the help of Islamic clergy who, in return for religious autonomy, gave the colonial state legitimacy. In addition, Islam in Berlin became increasingly relevant in the context of Wilhelmine world politics. This became particularly clear during Wilhelm II's trip to the Middle East in 1898, when, following a visit to Saladin's tomb in Damascus, he declared himself a "friend" of the world's "300 million Mohammedans" in a spectacular speech. This policy ultimately culminated in Berlin's attempts to mobilize Muslims in the British, French and Russian empires during the First World War. Although all attempts to incite Muslims to jihad had failed in 1914, German foreign policy makers and political experts also showed an interest in Islam in the interwar period.

Muslims should strengthen the front

After the outbreak of World War II and the invasion of German troops in Muslim-populated regions, Berlin began to discuss the strategic role of Islam again. A systematic instrumentalization of Islam was suggested for the first time at the end of 1941 in a memorandum by diplomat Eberhard von Stohrer, Hitler's former ambassador in Cairo. Stohrer proposed a "comprehensive German Islam program" which should also include a statement on the "general attitude of the Third Reich towards Islam". Between the end of 1941 and the end of 1942, the Foreign Office drafted a comprehensive Islamic policy, one of which was to recruit religious figures. The best known was the Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, who came to Berlin in late 1941. The Islamic Central Institute in Berlin was inaugurated on December 18, 1942. It was to become a center of German propaganda in the Islamic world. The Volkish observer headlined: "This war can bring freedom to Islam!" As the war expanded and German troops invaded Muslim areas in the Balkans and the Soviet Union, other parts of the regime followed suit.

The German authorities tended to summarize Muslim population groups as Islam. In fact, terms like "Islam" and "Muslims" became central bureaucratic categories in official and military German documents. In contrast to ethnic-national categories, the reference to Islam had the advantage that it enabled Berlin to avoid sensitive questions about national independence. In addition, religion appeared to be a useful policy and propaganda tool against ethnically, linguistically, and socially heterogeneous populations. Generally speaking, Islam was viewed as a source of authority that could be used to legitimize Muslim participation in war.