Berlin: Arthur Wagner, a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, known for its anti-Muslim rhetoric who surprised observers by converting to Islam was working with Muslim immigrants which actually changed his views of Islam.
Though Arthur Wagner himself did not cite any reason for his surprise decision and termed it a "private matter", media reports said the 48-year-old father of two attracted towards Islam after working with Chechan refugees.
Wagner has been spending his free time doing volunteer work with Muslim immigrants, including providing translation help to Chechen immigrants, since he speaks Russian and is of Russian descent. That personal interaction seems to have been the catalyst for his change of heart, Vox Media reported citing German media.
On the party's Brandenburg state committee, Wagner's work focused on churches and faith communities, according to Deutsche Welle.
The AfD, which is now the third-largest political party in Germany after its stunning success in last September’s elections, has tried to ban the construction of mosques in Germany, called on the country’s border police to shoot refugees and migrants if necessary to stop them from entering the country, and run ads reminiscent of World War II-era Nazi propaganda warning of the threat posed by Muslims coming into Germany.
The party has also sought to ban the construction of mosques in Germany.
In March 2016, the party's Bavaria branch published a policy statement calling for an end to the "construction and operation" of mosques in the region, Deutsche Welle reported at the time.
Wagner himself in the past has accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of making a “huge mistake” by allowing so many Muslim refugees into the country and warned that “Germany is mutating into a different country,” according to German media.
This is why Wagner's decision to embrace Islam has surprised many.
Meanwhile, Wagner while confirming to a Berlin daily that he had converted to Islam also said that he had renounced his party membership on 11 January.
Wagner decided to renounce AfD even though the party in itself said that it did not have any problem with its former leader despite his conversion to Islam.
“The party has no problem with it,” said Daniel Friese, a spokesman for the Brandenburg branch of the AfD.
"Being a Muslim was no barrier to being a member of the party", he added, despite the fact that among the party’s campaign slogans before September’s general election were “Islam has no place in Germany” and “Against the Islamisation of Germany”.
Campaigning against refugees and migrants, the AfD had garnered 12.6% of the vote in federal elections in September 2017, entering the Bundestag for the first time.
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