A former top-tier member of Alternative for Germany’s regional branch – once a hard-line critic of Islam and “an engaged Christian” – is now a Muslim convert. He says it is a private issue.
The 48-year-old Arthur Wagner “resigned on January 11 from the state board on his own volition. Only afterwards was it known that he had converted to Islam,” his spokesperson confirmed to Reuters.
The news seems particularly surreal given the fact that Wagner said in July last year – a month before the 2017 general election – that Chancellor Angela Merkel had made “a giant mistake” to open Germany’s border to migrants from Muslim-majority countries, according to Tagesspiegel newspaper.
As the result of Merkel’s ‘open-door policy’, Germany “mutates into another country,” Wagner alleged at the time.
Now Wagner says the conversion has been a decision he took on his own, and refuses to explain what led him to become a Muslim.
“This is my private issue,” he briefly told Tagesspiegel.
Bild speculated about possible reasons for him to convert to Islam. Wagner, a Russian German, occasionally helped translate testimonies of Chechen refugees, the newspaper wrote. The tabloid also cited an intelligence source, who said of Wagner: “Either interactions with Muslim refugees have encouraged him [to convert], or he simply wanted to maintain closer contacts to them.”
The AfD has confirmed Wagner is now a Muslim neophyte, and underlined that it tolerates his decision.
“Religion is a private issue,” party spokesman Daniel Friese told Berliner Zeitung, adding the AfD stands for religious freedoms. “Mr. Wagner could choose any other religion.”
Meanwhile, Wagner himself says there has been no attempt by his party to pressure him. “Nothing has changed,” he told Tagesspiegel. Friese, however, said Wagner has resigned from the board of AfD’s regional branch “over private reasons.”