Photo: A "closed" sign during Germany's COVID-19 lockdown, seen at a store in Frankfurt on April 4, 2020. Shutterstock

Islamic Lifestyle

In Germany, a Muslim pastoral phone service is handling a spike in calls since COVID-19 lockdown

This week, Germany took its first steps to loosening its COVID-19 lockdown rules that were introduced about a month ago. During that month, a Muslim pastoral phone service had to step up to handle a spike in calls.

"Many people face a variety of challenges causing mental distress," Tarek Abdelalem, managing director of Islamic Relief Germany that runs MuTeS, or Muslimisches SeelsorgeTelefon, told Salaam Gateway.

"They are scared about what the future holds," he said.

There are around 5 million Muslims in Germany, making up around 6% of the population. The majority come from migrant backgrounds.

MuTeS managing director Mohammad Imran Sagir, a Berlin native with cultural roots in India, told Salaam Gateway the service receives 20 calls a day on average. This doesn’t sound like a huge volume of calls but it is 50% more than what the service is used to.

"People share with us their angst, concerns about losing their jobs, and their worry about the future," said Sagir.

80% of the callers are between 20 and 50 years old, with a concentration in the 30 to 40 age bracket. Two-thirds of them are women.

"We are running campaigns to encourage men, in general, to use pastoral services more," said Sadir.

The callers receive advice and help in mental and psycho-social emergencies and crises from a pool of about 60 skilled volunteers, all anonymously, of course.

"Our pastors are qualified according to national and international standards of pastoral care by telephone," Sagir said, pointing out that this makes the organisation unique within Europe, if not worldwide.

The volunteers are trained in an extra-occupational course, both theoretically and practically. Their education lasts about 160 hours.

Founded by Islamic Relief in 2009, the Berlin-based German-language service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Other languages such as Turkish, Arabic, and Urdu are facilitated on request.

The pastoral phone service is only one of Islamic Relief Germany’s services during the crisis.

Together with its worldwide humanitarian relief and development network, Islamic Relief Germany provides COVID-19 support amounting to $10 million to 20 vulnerable nations. 

"Education, support for health systems and food provision as well as financial support are measures we have taken to help people in this difficult time," said Tarek Abdelalem.

Founded in 1996, the Cologne-based non-profit organisation recorded donation revenues of 20 million euros ($21.6 million) in 2018, according to its annual report. The funds finance their humanitarian projects as well as initiatives of the entire network in over 40 countries worldwide. 

"The lesson we learn is that everyone can come into this situation and be confronted with a crisis," Abdelalem said referring to the COVID-19 situation. "Allah tests our solidarity and rewards us for our generosity."

"With this in mind, we have to learn to show solidarity with one another and to support each other." 

(Reporting by Petra Loho; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim

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