I'm wondering exactly how native German speakers would translate the infamous statement:

Der Islam gehört zu Deutschland

and its equally infamous counterpart:

Der Islam gehört nicht zu Deutschland

I've read articles containing these two statements for many months now, and always translated them in my mind as:

Islam belongs to Germany


Islam does not belong to Germany

My (probably not surprising) assumption was that "zu" is best translated here as "to".

But I was surprised yesterday when I saw a new article in the American magazine The New Yorker which translated the latter statement as:

Islam does not belong in Germany

When "zu" is translated to English as "in", the sentence takes on a significantly different meaning. And so now I am very curious to see what native German speakers think.

So my questions are:

  1. How exactly would you translate:

    Der Islam gehört zu Deutschland

  2. And, also, regardless of how you translate this sentence, can you please also rate the two English translations I have provided against each other?

    Do you find my two translations as equally valid translations, or is one a slightly worse translation, a significantly worse translation, or even a wrong translation?

P.S. Hopefully, it goes without saying that I am not asking for anyone's political opinion on the topic at hand. This is an important sentance that has been constantly cited and debated in German media for years (as evidenced by the Zeit story linked above), and understanding its correct meaning is necessary for understanding a very important topic.

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    Can you rephrase the question in such a way that it can be answered without a detailed knowledge of the use of the English verb "to belong"? – Carsten S Oct 4 '16 at 15:58
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    I'm a German native speaker, but I have no idea how to correctly translate this in a foreign language like English. The question you asked is NOT about German language, but about English language and therefore off-topic here. – Hubert Schölnast Oct 4 '16 at 17:26
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    Are you sure you know the meaning of the English word "infamous"? – fdb Oct 4 '16 at 23:10
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    Der Satz wird schon im Deutschen sehr unterschiedlich interpretiert, wobei sich die leidenschaftliche Gewissheit, was er bedeuten muss umgekehrt proportional zur Fähigkeit und Bereitschaft verhält, die Bedeutung analytisch darzulegen. Ob es eine Zustandsbeschreibung sein soll, oder eine programmatische Aussage für die Zukunft, schon darüber gehen die Meinungen auseinander. Vor einer Übersetzung wäre daher zu klären, was mit dem Satz überhaupt gemeint ist. Man könnte freilich auch versuchen die Mehrdeutigkeit in die Übersetzung zu retten. – user unknown Oct 5 '16 at 8:32
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    Bin etwas überrascht, dass die Frage geschlossen wurde, mit dem Argument, dass es hier nicht um Deutsch geht. So wie ich die Frage verstehe, möchte OP wissen, wie genau der deutsche Satz gemeint/zu verstehen ist und benutzt dazu die engl. Übersetzung als Werkzeug. Im Übrigen bittet er im ersten Satz explizit um die Meinung deutscher Muttersprachler. Meines Erachtens on topic. – Mac Oct 5 '16 at 10:07

IMHO, the issue is not the preposition, but to use 'belong' at all, as a translation of 'gehören' in this context. If using 'belong' as a translation, the preposition must be 'to' to keep the same meaning.

Accidentially, the difference between 'belong to' and 'belong in' can be found in the German language as well, between 'gehören zu' and 'gehören in'.

In the phrase in question, 'gehören zu' is used in the meaning 'being a part of'. To express this meaning in English using 'belong', the preposition 'to' must be used as e.g. in 'the house belongs to the property'. Rephrasing this sentence with 'the house belongs in the property' makes it perhaps more obvious that 'in' is misplaced here.

Merriam-Webster's definition of 'belong in' is 'to be suitable, appropriate, or advantageous' or 'to be in a proper situation', e.g. 'a dictionary belongs in every home'. The same meaning can in German be expressed, though slightly archaic, with 'gehört in': 'Ein Wörterbuch gehört in jedes Haus.'

To avoid any confusion or ambiguity, I would instead have translated the German phrase 'Islam gehört zu Deutschland' with 'Islam is a part of Germany'.

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    Others (Bundeskanzlerin Merkel, for example) have stated the very same idea as "...der Islam ist ein Teil von Deutschland...". I think this makes it very clear that "...belongs in..." is not the best translation. – tofro Oct 4 '16 at 16:33
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    Schöner Hintergrundartikel zum Ursprung des Satzes "Der Islam gehört zu Deutschland" deutschlandradiokultur.de/… – Iris Oct 4 '16 at 16:53
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    @ardila 'The house belongs to the property' means that the house is part of the property. Without chaning the syntax, the meaning could also be to express posession, e.g. 'the house belongs to our neighbour'. The exact meaning of the first example can only be determined by ruling out 'the property is in posession of the house' as a possible meaning, since it does not make sense. Then again, I am not sure myself if I understand the rest of your question. – jarnbjo Oct 4 '16 at 17:19
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    Anybody care to explain the downvote? – jarnbjo Oct 4 '16 at 19:33
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    I agree 100%. "is a part of Germany" is the only correct translation in idiomatic English. – fdb Oct 4 '16 at 23:17

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