BERLIN (Reuters) - A leader of German Muslims on Monday likened the attitude of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party toward his community to that of Hitler's Nazis toward Jews.
The AfD entered three state parliaments last month by luring voters angry with Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to welcome mainly Muslim refugees fleeing war in Syria, and says Islam is incompatible with Germany's constitution.
"It is the first time since Hitler's Germany that a whole religious community is discredited and existentially threatened," Aiman Mazyek, head of Germany's Central Council of Muslims, told Germany's NDR public television.
He was responding to AfD plans, announced at the weekend, to press for bans on minarets and burqas at its congress in two weeks' time.
"The AfD is riding a wave of Islamophobia," Mazyek said. "This is not an anti-Islam path, it is an anti-democratic path."
Asked about the AfD remarks on Islam, Merkel told reporters during a news conference after talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo that freedom of religion was a right guaranteed by the constitution, known as the Basic Law.
"This naturally also applies to Muslims in our country," Merkel said. "Experience has shown that the vast number of Muslims here practice their religion within the framework of the Basic Law."
She added that security forces could take action when this was not the case.
Merkel's conservatives have also called for an effective ban on the burqa, saying the full body covering of some Muslim women should not be worn in public. But they have not said Islam is incompatible with the constitution.
AfD leaders say the influx of more than one million migrants last year, mainly Muslims fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, makes the "Islamization of Germany" a real threat.
The rise of the AfD has alarmed mainstream parties, who rely on compromise to form coalitions.
Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, accused the AfD of using language similar to that of Hitler's Nazis.
Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Angus MacSwan