Germany's leading Muslim organisation has likened the populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) to the Nazis for demanding a total ban on burkas, mosque minarets and muezzin calls to prayer.
Ahead of a conference in Stuttgart, Islam-critical passages in the AfD's draft party programme suggest the party is facing its third transformation in its three-year history, after starting life as a bailout critical party before launching a staunch anti-immigration line.
"Islam is not a religion like Catholic or Protestant Christianity, but rather always associated intellectually with the takeover of a state," said Alexander Gauland, head of the AfD in Brandenburg to the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.
Echoing that line was party deputy leader and MEP Beatrix von Storch. ¨ "Islam is a political ideology that is not compatible with the constitution," said Ms von Storch, who recently left her EU parliamentary group when threatened with expulsion for backing a proposal to shoot refugees entering Germany illegally.
Aiman Mazyek, head of the Central Committee of Muslims in Germany, lead the critical reaction to the AfD proposals, which he said "abused" Islam to tap into fears stirred up by recent Islamist terrorist attacks in Europe.
For the first time since the Nazi era, he said, a political party in Germany was “once against discrediting an entire religious group and threatening their existence”.
Mr Gauland's warning of an "Islamisation of Germany" chimes with the main concern of extremist right-wing group Pegida. The two groups have met but, to date, the AfD has declined offers of formal co-operation.
The AfD’s more open Islam-critical position comes a month after three state election wins – including 24 per cent support in one eastern German poll – that now puts the AfD in half of Germany’s state parliaments.
The party's push puts chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union in a difficult position.
Many CDU members, particularly in the party’s conservative camp, are wary of burkas, the full veil worn by some Muslim women, and critical of new mosques in German cities. But senior party officials insist that Islam is part of German life.
CDU deputy leader Armin Laschet accused the AfD of trying to provoke and incite people, while religious affairs spokesman Franz-Josef Jung suggested that, "by pushing clearly extremist thinking with their positions on Islam, the [AfD] is not compatible with the constitution".
It appears the proposals have divided opinion within the AfD, too. Western German party officials, generally seen as a more moderate wing, have insisted the Islam-critical leaks will not make it into the final party programme.