Islam and Nazi Germany’s War
(Harvard University Press, 2014)


In the most crucial phase of the Second World War, German troops, fighting in regions as far apart as the Sahara and the Caucasus, confronted the Allies across lands largely populated by Muslims. Nazi officials saw Islam as a powerful force with the same enemies as Germany: the British Empire, the Soviet Union, and the Jews. Islam and Nazi Germany’s War is the first comprehensive account of Berlin’s remarkably ambitious attempts to build an alliance with the Islamic world.

Drawing on archival research in three continents, David Motadel explains how German officials tried to promote the Third Reich as a patron of Islam. He explores Berlin’s policies and propaganda in the Muslim war zones, and the extensive work that authorities undertook for the recruitment, spiritual care, and ideological indoctrination of tens of thousands of Muslim volunteers who fought in the Wehrmacht and the SS.

Islam and Nazi Germany’s War reveals how German troops on the ground in North Africa, the Balkans, and the Eastern front engaged with diverse Muslim populations, including Muslim Roma and Jewish converts to Islam. Combining measured argument with a masterly handling of detail, it illuminates the profound impact of the Second World War on Muslims around the world and provides a new understanding of the politics of religion in the bloodiest conflict of the twentieth century.


German: Für Prophet und Führer: Die Islamische Welt und das Dritte Reich (Klett-Cotta, 2017).
Turkish: İslam ve Naziler (Alfa, 2015).


∙ Fraenkel Prize, 2014
∙ Prince Consort Prize and Seeley Medal of the University of Cambridge, 2011
∙ Doctoral Dissertation Prize of the British International History Group, 2011
∙ Doctoral Dissertation Prize of the German Historical Institute London, 2011


‘Based on remarkable research, David Motadel has written an outstanding book on an important topic, providing fascinating and original insights into Nazism’s attempts to win followers of Islam to support Germany’s war.’
— Sir Ian Kershaw, University of Sheffield

‘David Motadel presents a deeply researched, finely written, and fascinating account of how the Nazis understood Islam and how they sought to mobilize, manipulate, and utilize it. There is no study quite like it, and it has much to teach not only to students of German history and Islamic studies, but also to those of international relations and geopolitics more broadly.’
— Michael A. Reynolds, Princeton University

‘An original contribution to the modern history of Islam, David Motadel’s book is a powerful and timely reminder of Western colonial efforts to manipulate and mobilize jihadist rhetoric in the service of empire.’
— Robert D. Crews, Stanford University

‘David Motadel shows that the Nazi regime pushed a crude but fairly consistent anti-Orientalist line in order to forge a Muslim alliance. This went beyond the coincidence of shared enmities against the British, the Bolsheviks and the Jews, and promised to open up a true partnership based on shared key values: obedience to the leader, belief in the family and commitment to a holy war. Mastering this complex story and showing it from radically contrasting points of view is a remarkable achievement.’
— Nicholas Stargardt, University of Oxford

Islam and Nazi Germany’s War will surely become one of the most important books on international history as well as global intellectual history, demonstrating the sophistication and theoretical rigor of both fields. It not only provides the most comprehensive account of Nazi Germany’s engagement with Islam but also fascinating insights into the nature of modern Europe’s complex relationship with Muslim societies. It will reorient the way we think about the geopolitics of European Orientalism and will be compulsory reading for everyone interested in debates on Islam and the “West.”’
— Cemil Aydin, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

‘David Motadel’s book is erudite, thorough, and elegantly written. It will be the reference on its subject for a long time to come.’
— Saul Friedländer, UCLA

Islam and Nazi Germany’s War is the first book to provide an in-depth study of this complex relationship, charting its twists and turns as Hitler’s paladins sought to bring Muslims onside. It is academically impeccable, drawing on a wealth of archival resources in a multitude of languages, yet it wears its erudition lightly. In the current climate, a subject such as this might be considered controversial. Motadel, however, is never less than resolutely serious and rigorous. The whiff of sensationalism never offends the nostrils… Motadel’s book is a brilliantly original study that achieves that rare feat of combining rigor with accessibility. Most impressively, in the hugely crowded field of the second world war and Nazi Germany, it manages to explore an area of profound significance that had previously been overlooked.’
— Roger Moorhouse, FINANCIAL TIMES Read Review

‘Impeccably researched and clearly written, [Motadel’s] book will transform our understanding of the Nazi policies that were, Motadel writes, some “of the most vigorous attempts to politicize and instrumentalize Islam in modern history.”’
— Dominic Green, WALL STREET JOURNAL Read Review

‘Motadel’s treatment of an unsavory segment of modern Muslim history is as revealing as it is nuanced. Its strength lies not just in its erudite account of the Nazi perception of Islam but also in illustrating how the Allies used exactly the same tactics to rally Muslims against Hitler. With the specter of Isis haunting the world, it contains lessons from history we all need to learn.’
— Ziauddin Sardar, THE INDEPENDENT Read Review

[Islam and Nazi Germany’s War is a] comprehensive and discerning history…[and it has] implications for understanding current history. Motadel…offers a portrait of continuity in the West’s strategies for mobilizing Islam in wartime or for using Islam for its geopolitical ends…Motadel’s sophisticated narrative suggests at least two reasons why such Western strategies typically fail. One is the panners’ ignorance of Islam’s diversity and of the subtle part that faith plays in the daily lives of so many self-identified Muslims. That is, Westerners often overestimate Islam’s coherence and thus its pliability. The second reasons is written across the vast history of colonial and postcolonial European and American interventions in Muslim territories…Muslim populations…have seen countless promises betrayed and one traumatic outcome of Western intervention after another.’

‘As David Motadel points out in Islam and Nazi Germany’s War, it was only in 1941, when German troops became involved in North Africa, advancing towards the Middle East, that policy-makers in Berlin began a systematic study of the strategic role of Islam…These propaganda efforts were unsuccessful, and Motadel cites a number of reasons for this…The author also makes the important point that Germany committed the mistake (as Western powers still do) of underestimating the complexities of the Muslim world and the huge variety of local customs and traditions. The potential of pan-Islamic unity was, and is, overestimated.’

‘In offering an interesting and important account of Islam in Nazism’s war, Motadel reveals a little-known chapter in the conflict. This is a nuanced and sensitive account of a topic that is too important to ignore.’
— Robert Gellately, TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION Read Review

‘Thanks to David Motadel’s exhaustive scholarship we now have the first “comprehensive study of German policy towards Islam during the Second World War”. In fact, it is even more than that, since it explores the roots of Nazi policy in Imperial Germany and the Great War and follows its tracks through the Weimar years into the Third Reich. Throughout the book Motadel also addresses “the relationship between religion and power”, analysing one of several attempts in recent history to use religion as an instrument of politics and military strategy. Needless to say, this inquest into the previous weaponisation of Islam has uncomfortable resonances for today.’
— David Cesarani, LITERARY REVIEWRead Review

‘Hitler’s failed effort to put Muslim boots on the ground still stands as the most far-reaching Western attempt to use Islam to win a war. Such is the judgment of David Motadel, the author of a new, authoritative book, Islam and Nazi Germany’s War. Motadel’s detailed and fascinating explanation of how and why the Nazis failed to get Muslims on their side is a must-read for serious students of World War II, and it has an important message as well for our own policy in the Middle East.’
— David Mikics, THE TABLET Read Review

‘There’s one Nazi propaganda battle you don’t hear much about. Now, Motadel details Hitler’s efforts to promote himself as a backer of Islam. The Nazis saw the Muslim people as sharing common enemies, including the British Empire and Zionism. “The peoples of Islam will always be closer to us than, for example, France”, Hitler said. But despite the Third Reich’s best efforts, the Islam–Nazi relationship remained tempestuous. A new look at how World War II profoundly changed the Middle East.’
— Billy Heller, THE NEW YORK POST (A Book of the Week) Read Review

‘Mr. Motadel’s Islam and Nazi Germany’s War is a superb analysis of little-known but important facts about World War II…Mr. Motadel’s book should be part of every major library with a World War II history section.’
— Herman J. Obermayer, THE WASHINGTON TIMES Read Review

‘This is a major work of scholarship, examining the various ways the Nazis fostered a relationship with Muslims both before the war and especially during the war.’
Read Review
    (See also HAARETZRead Review and TIMES OF ISRAEL  Read Review)

Islam and Germany’s War by David Motadel is an important contribution to our understanding of the relationship of Nazi Germany to the Islamic world.’
– Jack Fischel, JEWISH BOOK WORLD Read Review

‘Motadel (Cambridge) is thorough, balanced in his judgements, and clear in his exposition of facts…An outstanding contribution.’
– R. S. Levy, CHOICERead Review

Islam and Nazi Germany’s War by David Motadel — make[s] fascinating reading and highlight the variety of ways in which the German state sought to subvert the Muslim soldiers’ professional loyalty to the Allied armies in the two wars…The [author] must be lauded for [his] painstaking research in producing [this] highly readable [volume] that include[s] relevant photographs as well.’
— Muhammad Ali Siddiqi, DAWNRead Review

Islam and Nazi Germany’s War is a valuable ground-breaking work, energetically readable and unabashedly complicated… Through an extensive amount of research in some fairly recondite primary sources, Motadel tells the story of Nazi Germany’s interaction with its Muslim conquests and would-be conquests in greater detail and with greater skill than any English-language historian before him. He stresses the at first odd-seeming fact that when it came to dealing with Muslims, the Nazis were almost jarringly accommodating… At heart, Motadel’s revelatory book describes a mutual bafflement, and in that sense alone it’s perhaps prescient. Either way, Islam and Nazi Germany’s War is an indispensable enlargement of our understanding of the Second World War’s Eastern European theater.’
— Steve Donoghue, OPEN LETTERS MONTHLY (A Book of the Year) Read Review

‘David Motadel’s Islam and Nazi Germany’s War…is meticulously researched. Indeed, the author uses a large number of secondary sources and research archives in several countries. The endnotes constitute around a third of the entire book. What is the implication of Motadel’s monograph? As any other good scholarly work, it elucidates not just a comparatively small segment of human history but provides important insight which facilitates the understanding of other similar periods…The importance of Motadel’s book is manifold… a strong work, providing anyone interested in the Nazi period and the role of Islam with a wealth of information and insight.’
— Dmitry Shlapentokh, NEW EASTERN EUROPERead Review

‘This research and deep historical examination offers new insights…Motadel illustrates the profound impact of World War II on Muslims around the world…Motadel’s book analyzes material that is critically important for thinking about religion and ideology as part of World War II as well as today, especially in a historical moment in which the conversation about religion and politics tends too often toward the sensational.’
— Mehnaz M. Afridi, MARGINALIARead Review

‘[An] extensively researched and easily read book…[Motadel] bases his account on German, English, French, Bosnian (Serbo-Croatian), Albanian, Arabic, Persian, and Tatar sources from more than thirty different local and national archives in fourteen countries…The author provides the most comprehensive study yet of Germany’s policy toward Islam during the Second World War.’

‘This is an important book with a different view of the world war, superbly researched, and elegantly produced.’

‘David Motadel’s impressive and excellent new book will take some heat out of the debates as a standard reference providing definitive information about the German side of the encounter between Nazism and the world of Islam during the Second World War. The wealth of material that Motadel presents is astounding…he left no page unturned or document un-scrutinized in relevant libraries and archives worldwide…Motadel’s account is at its best when he details the obsession of Nazi leaders with ideas about the subversive potential of what they termed “Universal Islam”…Motadel’s account offers chilling insights into the ideological meanderings of Nazi grandees about the assumed fierceness and prowess of Muslim soldiers, who they hoped would tip the balance in a global struggle against British and French imperialism…In his balanced account, Motadel makes clear that Germany’s exploitation of Islam and the deployment of Muslim legionnaires were driven by the contingencies of strategic overstretch.’
— Peter Wien, WAR IN HISTORYRead Review

Islam and Nazi Germany’s War is a well-written survey of Nazi attempts to compensate for military manpower shortages in World War II by seeking to mobilize support among Muslims from North Africa to Eurasia…Author David Motadel’s nuanced analysis reveals the efforts of Nazi policymakers to market their cause to populations with which they had little historical connection…In summation, Motadel’s study includes much original research and pulls together in a coherent narrative the separate experiences of a variety of Muslim populations. The work is highly readable and provides fresh coverage of a seldom-addressed aspect of the war. Overall, the book draws upon a broad range of sources…and is a valuable contribution to scholarship on the war. For students and scholars alike, it serves as useful background for understanding many developments of the post-Cold War period across the Middle East, the Balkans, and western Eurasia.’
— Robert F. Baumann, MILITARY REVIEW  Read Review

‘This ambitious, well researched study explores under-publicized German efforts to “promote an alliance with the Muslim world against their alleged common enemies, most notably the British Empire, the Soviet Union, and the Jews”. David Motadel (Univ. of Cambridge) has gathered a trove of engaging materials from over thirty archives in fourteen countries; his footnotes occupy nearly a third of his book. It is an important story well told…Islam and Nazi Germany’s War is a fine work of scholarship that clarifies the role of the people of Islamic territories in various theaters of World War II.’

Islam and Nazi Germany’s War offers food for thought.’
— Robert M. Citino, WORLD WAR IIRead Review

‘[Motadel] carried out…painstaking, meticulous research…His book sets new standards for research in this field, not only for the extraordinary scope of his archival research, but also due to the immense amount of secondary literature and memoirs referenced in his 150 pages of footnotes…He has discovered a plethora of important new sources. He has succeeded in processing a vast amount of material and synthesizing it all into a compelling study. His book should be seen as required reading for all researchers in this field.’

‘[An] important book…Through remarkable and pioneering research…Motadel has documented the previously underexamined extent to which the National Socialists embraced Islam…Motadel’s deep and path-breaking research…also draws attention to an overlooked aspect of the Nazi military policy toward Muslims in Eastern Europe…Islam and Nazi Germany’s War merits close attention by historians who seek a deeper understanding of the complex interaction between race and religion during the Holocaust. David Motadel has written a pioneering work that should foster rethinking about not only that relationship but also the one between Nazi Germany and Islam.’

‘In this meticulously researched book Motadel makes use of more than 30 local and national archives, in fourteen countries but mostly in Eastern Europe and Germany…[an] excellent analysis of Nazi Germany’s engagement with Islam.’
— Sophie Spaan, SEHEPUNKTERead Review

‘Motadel’s book provides a vast panorama of the Third Reich’s Islampolitik and clearly presents various aspects of this policy and various questions that it raises. Motadel loves details, and the book sometimes reads like historical anthropology…More generally, this book is virtually exhaustive in its approach, and would therefore be hard to surpass…Motadel uses an impressive number of sources, including diverse secondary sources and archives.’

‘Drawing on an extraordinarily wide range of archival materials in several countries he analyses how German authorities…”engaged with Islam in an attempt to build an alliance with Muslims in Germany’s occupied territories and in the wider world”…Motadel…painstakingly traces the German authorities’ efforts to mobilize and recruit Muslims for their aims…He proves…that Islam played a ‘significant role’…in German policies by tracing these policies in detail, not only in one area, but also in North Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Eastern Front.’

‘David Motadel, who works in Cambridge in the circle of Richard Evans, presents, in the book under review, an essential, comprehensive, and – though one usually wishes to avoid this worn-out word – exhaustive study. To come to the point: This book will be the standard work on the subject for a long time to come, and will become part of the canon of writings that have set new standards in the extensive research on National Socialism…The book is written in a precise, fluent, and readable language.’

‘Islam and Nazi Germany’s War is a carefully researched and detailed book drawing on archives in a half dozen different countries including Germany, Britain, the United States, the Czech Republic, Russia, Latvia, Albania and Iran…One particularly intriguing issue developed in the book is the Nazis’ shifting accommodation of Muslims at the expense of Nazi ideological and racial categories… Motadel…convincingly demonstrate[s] that the regime’s policies reveal the Third Reich’s desire for strategic partnerships with Muslims, and more significantly, [he] reveal[s] the Reich’s misguided belief that it shared a common worldview with its potential Muslim allies.’

‘David Motadel’s Islam and Nazi Germany’s War [is] based on an extraordinary range of archival sources from the US to Germany to Russia to the Crimea to Iran. Motadel analyses Germany’s concerted attempts to use, through the Grand Mufti and other key figures, the entire Islamic world from Morocco to the Balkans to the Middle East to the Caucasus for its own strategic ends…Some of Motadel’s most fascinating sections concern the German understanding of Islam going back to the archaeologist and adventurer Max von Oppenheim, who before World War I had viewed Islam as the Achilles heel of Germany’s potential enemies and thus a geopolitical weapon…Was Germany able through such efforts to mobilize the Islamic world against its enemies? For Motadel, the answer is regional, and aside from examining German efforts in great detail, he analyses Allied and Soviet counter-measures as well as indigenous politics.’

‘Motadel’s book highlights the very broad, active, and sustained Nazi engagement with the Islamic world, especially the areas under temporary German control… The most interesting aspects…come from Motadel’s sections on the occupied Soviet Union and on the German recruitment of Muslim soldiers. For many Soviet Muslims, as for many non-Russian people in the western Soviet Union, Nazi Germany appeared to be a liberating force—at least initially, although many Soviet Muslims remained attached to the German forces to the bitter end for fear of harsh Soviet reprisals.’
— Raffael Scheck, JOURNAL OF MODERN HISTORYRead Review

‘Islam and Nazi Germany’s War is a groundbreaking and exhaustive study on German policy towards Islam during World War II. Using a wealth of sources, including numerous archives, secondary literature and memoirs not only in European languages but also in Arabic and Persian, David Motadel, a research fellow in History at Cambridge University, weaves a fascinating account of the views on Islam and Muslims among German political and intellectual elites well before the National Socialists came to power, and on their translation into practice in the Nazi policies towards the Muslims in their occupied territories.’
— Esther Webman, GERMAN HISTORYRead Review

‘This is a very detailed study of Germany’s efforts during World War II to mobilize the Muslim world against the Reich’s enemies, generally defined as the British, the Soviet Union, and the Jews… The author has worked in archives in several countries, has turned up material in an enormous variety of places…this is a major work of scholarship… The plans, projects, and problems of the German effort, as well as the actual role of Muslims in Germany’s war…appear here in full and fair detail.’
— Gerhard L. Weinberg, HOLOCAUST AND GENOCIDE STUDIESRead Review (See also BUSTAN Read Review)

‘Motadel is a historian’s historian. He gives a vital yet neglected subject all the depth and breadth of knowledge it requires…he handles the present relevance—the legacies and genealogies—in an unobtrusive, measured way. With a precision of empirical-analytical intelligence, he moves back and forth from the macro-political operations of the Nazi state and its rivalrous policymaking arms…to the local messiness of action on the ground. These virtues are brilliantly on display in part II; likewise in the treatments of military mobilization in part III….The book’s contributions are manifold…Motadel’s exposition includes an endnote apparatus of 154 pages (almost a third of the book), where the archival learning and command of literatures are sovereign.’

Non-English Reviews and Articles

Ronen Steinke, ‘Hakenkreuz und Halbmond’ | Süddeutsche Zeitung (3 June 2016). (German)

Gottfried Niedhart, ‘Für Adolf Effendi nach Stalingrad’ | Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (25 January 2016). (German)

Sven Felix Kellerhoff, ‘So eng war der Pakt der Nazis mit Muslimen’ | Die Welt (27 October 2015). (German)

Stefan Ihrig, ‘Den Islam stellt mancher gern in die Nazi-Ecke’ | Die Zeit (24 October 2015). (German)

Jana Beckmann, ‘Dr. David Motadel über die Rolle des Islams für das Dritte Reich’ | Lippische Landeszeitung (13 January 2015). (German)

Bodo Mrozek, ‘Politische Religionen’ | Tagesspiegel (27 September 2016). (German)

Christian Rocca, ‘L’islamismo jihadista e noi’ | Il Sole 24 Ore (20 February 2015). (Italian)

Géraldine Schwarz, ‘Croissant fertile et croix gammée’ | Le Monde (8 January 2016). (French)

Anne Vidalie, ‘Le Caire et Damas, nids de nazis’ | L’Express (5 August 2015). (French)

Lasha Otkhmezuri, ‘ “En 1943, 200 000 musulmans sous uniforme allemand”’ | Guerres et Histoire 27 (2015). (French)

Lasha Otkhmezuri, ‘Benyamin Netanyahu instrumentalise la rencontre entre Hitler et Haj Amin’ | Guerres et Histoire 28 (2015). (French)

José Pedro Teixeira Fernandes, ‘Allah über Deutschland? A Alemanha entre o fascínio e a rejeição do Islão’ | Publico (6 February 2015). (Portuguese)

Bjarne Nørum, Da nazisterne gjorde kur til islam’ | Kristeligt Dagblad (5 January 2015). (Danish)

Salomon Schulman, ‘Det tredje rikets muslimska vapenbröder’ | Sydsvenskan (16 February 2015). (Swedish)

Carl Rudbecks, ‘Banden till fiendens fiende’ | Axess (April 2015). (Swedish)

Aleksander Piński, ‘Emiraty III Rzeszy’ | Historia (8 May 2015). (Polish)

Alexander Kahn, ‘Kak nacysm savlekal musulman’ | BBC World (4 January 2015). (Russian)

Georgios Skafidas, ‘Oi Nazi kai to Islam’ | Istoria Eikonografimeni 564 (2015), 73-85. (Greek)

Vartan Estukyan, ‘“Çarpıtılmış tarih anlatısını Netanyahu uydurmadı”’ | Agos (31 October 2015). (Turkish)

Excerpts and Summary Articles

David Motadel, ‘Muslims in Hitler’s War’ | History Today 66, 9 (2015), 19-25.

David Motadel, ‘The Muslims’ War’ | The Scholar 12 (2015), 14-15.

David Motadel, ‘Wie die Nazis den Islam vereinnahmen wollten’ | Deutschlandradio Kultur (4 November 2015), Online.

David Motadel, ‘Swastika and Crescent’ | The Wilson Quarterly (Winter 2014), Online.

David Motadel, ‘Jihad 1914’ | History Today 64, 9 (2014), 41-2.