Schools bode new path for Islam in France

News Agencies – September 24, 2009

As Islam in France becomes more established with a growing number of cemeteries and mosques, new attention is being given to private Islamic religious schools.

Three new Islamic schools have recently been announced – one in Montigny-le-Bretonneux, another in Marseille and a third in Toulouse. Most of these schools have been launched with support from the UOIF (the Union of French Islamic Organizations or the Union des organisations islamiques de France).

There are currently 650 students attending Islamic schools in France. The Averroès school in Lille is the only Muslim school in the country to have a formal contract with the state, and whose teachers are paid by the state.

New documentary examines Muslims in northern France

Documentary filmmaker Bernard Debord’s “Voile Sur la République” (Veil on the Republic) (2009) examines the challenges and lives of Muslims living in the North of France. Debord’s film includes an interview with sociologist Leïla Babès who expresses concern for the rise of fundamentalists in northern France and that “a little bit of Islam everyday will ensure that eventually [French] society will become entirely Muslim.”

Debord includes interviews with a broad base of Muslims, some devout practitioners and others who consider themselves secular.

Woman wearing burka expelled from national court

A witness called before the National Court in Spain has been expelled from the court after she refused to lift or remove her burka. The woman, the sister of an Islamic radical killed in a suicide bombing in 2005, was called as a witness in a case where nine alleged Islamists were in the dock, facing allegations of sending Mujahidin to carry out suicide attacks in Iraq. She explained that her religion forbade her from appearing in public without her burka.

Judge Javier Gómez Bermúdez expelled her from the court, but the two later reached a compromise, AFP reports. She agreed to testify on Monday without the part of her burka which normally covers the face “between the chin and the eyebrows” and with her back turned to the public in the courtroom.

The judge commented that “seeing her face I can see if she is lying or not, or if any question surprises her or not”. He said that he did not want to charge her with disobedience, but underlined that religious beliefs cannot be above civil law.

CAIR and U.S. Muslim leaders to ask Iranian President for release of hikers

Representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), along with other national Muslim leaders, will meet Thursday with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to seek the release of three American hikers who were detained after apparently straying across Iran’s border.

Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd were detained in July while hiking in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

The case has added to tensions between Iran and the United States.

Interview with Şeyla Benhabib about the status of Islam in Germany

The philosopher Şeyla Benhabib has identified a deficit in Germany’s democracy. She calls for the right to vote in local elections for non-nationals – and the same legal status for Islam as for other religions. “From the equal rights point of view, Islam has to be acknowledged as a religious community. There’s room for discussion on which form this should take and what consequences it should have, but the first priority is to abolish this plain and public form of unequal treatment. It is blocking the debate.”

The Muslim voting block in Germany

Muslims in Germany form a potential voting block that cannot to be ignored. According to a study by the Islam Conference last June, the total number of Muslims in Germany lies between 3.8 and 4.3 million, of which 1.84 million hold a German passport. The German Federal Statistics Office conservatively estimates that some 750,000 Muslims are eligible to vote in the country.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) would probably have mixed feelings when glancing at the results of this poll. The Social Democrats are in first place with 35.5 percent of the vote, but only two years ago, 52 percent of Muslims were willing to cast their ballots for the SPD. The party has primarily lost ground to non-voters. The Greens have increased their support by 3.6 percent to a current level of 18 percent. This is a clear result of choosing Cem Özdemir as their leader. The Left Party and FDP don’t even make it to 5 percent, the cut-off threshold for seats in the German Bundestag. The same holds true of the CDU, which only garnered 4 percent support.

Tarek Fatah calls NDP leader Jack Layton’s comments about Islam into question

Tarek Fatah claims that New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton’s Eid greetings are reflective of “politicians tripping over one other to prove their credentials as lovers of Islam and all things Muslim.” Fatah adds, “As if to ensure his credibility and authenticity as the true pro-Islam politician in Canada, Layton invokes the names of some Muslim Canadians and his solidarity with them. No, he does not mention the CEO of Rogers or the Secretary-Treasurer of the CLC nor does he mention any of the Muslim Senators or MPs; trade unionists or physicians; janitors or economists. He assumes we Muslims do nothing other than pray and preach. That all of us are all linked up in varying degrees to religiosity and Islamic organizations ranging from the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to the local chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Belgian Mouvement Réformateur Party against religious symbols in schools until 16

Mouvement Réformateur president, Didier Reynders, announced a desire to ban all religious signs in Belgian public schools. Other political parties have not agreed to the recommendation.

Rotterdam to investigate forced marriages

Rotterdam city council suspects that some girls may have been married against their will over the summer. The suggestion stems from a campaign instituted at the end of the last academic term to help girls avoid arranged marriages.

In May, Telegraaf reported that the new measures would allow girls who are worried they may be married against their will to register their concerns through their school. Prior to the school break, girls were given the option of signing a document stating that they did not want to be married. Should they fail to return to school after the break, the document could be used as a basis for formal investigation.

But just three girls made use of the opportunity to sign the document, and all returned to school after the break. According to Telegraaf, before the holiday, eight suspected cases were on the council’s books and a further seven girls have not returned to school. Rotterdam police and the Public Prosecution Office have begun an investigation.