A German pastor has decided to hold a Muslim funeral for a 17-year-old who died fighting for Islamic State in Syria, leaving many outraged.
Pastor Sieghard Wilm of the protestant St. Pauli Church in Hamburg is stirring strong emotions after he made the choice to hold a Muslim funeral in his church for 17-year-old ‘Florent’, who died fighting for the Islamic state in Syria in July. The funeral will take place today.
It was confirmed that Florent had sent an audio message back to Germany shortly before his death, saying that he had become disillusioned with the terrorist group. This led to speculation that members of Islamic State had killed him themselves. Mr. Wilm said he has dealt with worse criticism in his life than holding a funeral for a terrorist and explained his motivations in an interview with SHZ.de.
“We cannot deny this is a difficult situation,” Mr. Wilm said in response to critics. “I can tell you as a pastor at St. Pauli, that I have also laid to rest more killers,” and claimed: “A man remains a man. Even a person who has offended against someone. Even such a man has relatives who mourn him.”
Mr. Wilm claims that he wanted to use the opportunity to create a “safe space” for the family of the slain terrorist so they are not forced to grieve in private. He mentioned that the Muslim service would be a good opportunity for “learning and respect among religions”.
Seventeen-year-old Florent immigrated to Germany from Cameroon and was raised as a Christian until he was converted to Islam at the age of 14 by Salafist preachers. Mr. Wilm said that since the mother of Florent was Christian it was more appropriate for her to be in a church to mourn his death, than a mosque.
The radicalisation of Florent did not go unnoticed to the pastor who said at first he observed Florent wearing baggy white clothes, and his suspicions were confirmed when Florent told him he had changed his name to Bilal. The young Muslim was said to have been influenced by Salafists, which led to him getting in trouble for abusing a young girl wearing an Islamic headscarf, according to Mr. Wilm.
Mr. Wilm fell out of contact with Florent soon after his conversion to Salafism, remarking that Salafists weren’t welcome in his youth centre because of the view they had on separating men and women. “I’d never see Florent alone on the road, but always in the group,” he said adding ” it was clear that he had been estranged from me and his former social environment”.
Florent was part of a growing list of young radicalised Muslims who have gone off to fight for Islamic State or attempted to make the journey to Syria. Sixty-five Muslims from Hamburg alone have travelled to Syria, and 15 have returned.
Nationwide the German police force fears the emergence of Islamic State sleeper cells consisting of both returned German nationals and foreign fighters who have crossed the then open borders early on in the migrant crisis. So far several high profile arrests have been made of Islamic State members and police fear the network may be larger than they had previously imagined.
Pastor Sieghard Wilm’s Protestant church is the same which hit headlines in 2013 after stripping out the pews and converting the nave into a migrant centre for newcomers from Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, and the Ivory Coast, according to a Deutsche Welle report at the time. The sub-Saharan Africans were economic migrants to Libya living as guest workers, but fled north to Europe rather than south to their own homes when the civil war broke out.
The church came to be known as “Lampedusa in Hamburg”, after the Italian island where many migrants landed from North Africa.