Wulff's call for the integration of Muslims comes as the country's views towards the faith is split [Reuters]

The German president has urged his people to recognise that the religion of Islam and its followers have a legitimate place in Germany after a recent spike in anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.

Christian Wulff, who as president is considered a moral authority for the country, issued the statement on Sunday during a speech celebrating two decades of the country's reunification.

"Christianity doubtless belongs in Germany. Judaism belongs doubtless in Germany. That is our Judeo-Christian history. But by now, Islam also belongs in Germany," Wulff told an audience in the northern city of Bremen. 

"First and foremost, we need adopt a clear stance: an understanding that for Germany, belonging is not restricted to a passport, a family history, or a religion," he said.

Wulff's speech was part of nationwide festivities marking reunification of the country's east and west in 1990, after Germany spent a half-century divided into two countries following defeat in the Second World War.

Islamophobia rises

The president's call for more integration of the third largest religion in the country comes amid heightened tension over controversial remarks made by Thilo Sarrazin, a board member of Bundesbank, the country's central bank. He accused Muslim immigrants of leeching off the socialist state, refusing to integrate, and making Germany a "dumber" country. 

After publishing his ideas in a book called "Germany Abolishes Itself," which became a bestseller and sparked both widespread outrage and Islamophobia throughout the country, Sarrazin had to quit his post under government pressure. His anti-Muslim views polarised Germany and tested the country's tolerance level.

Public opinion towards Muslims had already been tottering for years as citizenship laws gave little recognition to the country's more than four million Muslims. Although most had migrated to the country decades ago, only 20 per cent have German citizenship.  

Mainly due to labour migrations from Turkey in the 1960s and several waves of political refugees in the 1970s, Islam has long been Germany's largest minority faith.

Wulff's supportive rhetoric for Muslims is consistent with Chancellor Angela Merkel's earlier statement, following the Sarrazin row, that "mosques will be a somewhat larger part of our cityscape than before".

Source: Agencies