Muslim women’s dress takes centre-stage again in German debate

Counterterrorism and the burqa

Following the twin attacks in Würzburg and Ansbach in July, a group of conservative interior ministers from Germany’s federal states have published a manifesto demanding enlarged competences for police, army, judiciary, and intelligence services. The politicians from the CDU/CSU party also demand the retraction of laws easing the acquisition of dual citizenship, passed by the red-green government of Gerhard Schröder in 2000.((http://www.haz.de/Nachrichten/Politik/Deutschland-Welt/Innenminister-der-Union-fordern-Burka-Verbot )).

While the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the conservatives’ coalition partner in Berlin, has flatly rejected calls to abolish dual citizenship, responses to added security measures have been more mixed. Yet what has taken centre stage in recent days is another demand from the manifesto – a proposed ‘burqa ban’. This is in spite of the fact that the precise security benefit from such a ban has remained largely unexplored. The initially security-focused discussion has thus gradually morphed into a debate with vaguely ‘civilisational’ overtones.

Echoing many of his colleagues in an opinion piece for the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, leading CDU politician Jens Spahn deems burqa and niqab to be incompatible with the values of an open society and with the kind of public interaction such a society necessitates. According to him, these items of clothing also undermine the integration of recently arrived refugees. ((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/warum-burka-und-niqab-nicht-nach-deutschland-gehoeren-14393282.html )) In an interview in late July, Spahn had struck a distinctly more polemical note, declaring himself to be a “burkaphobe” and accusing Muslims of being sexually repressed. As a remedy, Spahn encouraged Muslims to shower in the nude while at the gym.((http://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article157398148/Ein-Verbot-ist-ueberfaellig-Ich-bin-burkaphob.html ))

Constitutional hurdles

Yet whether a blanket ban on the burqa as Spahn and others demand it would even withstand scrutiny by the German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) is uncertain at best. In the past, the court has generally set high hurdles to potential state regulation of religious practices. Consequently, already in 2010 a German parliamentary committee came to the conclusion that a straightforward burqa ban would be unconstitutional. ((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/verbotsdebatte-burka-verbieten-geht-das-ueberhaupt-1.3123311 ))

In view of this fact, politicians not just from the CDU but also from the SPD appear to move away from a general ban to more targeted restrictions: more recent interventions in the debate propose prohibiting women from wearing burqa or niqab when appearing in front of a judge or when driving a car.((http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Burka-am-Steuer-soll-verboten-werden-article18438906.html ))

The calmer voices in the often agitated discussion have sought to critique the focus on the burqa as a false debate obscuring the real issues. Indeed, the number of burqa-wearing women in the country  is very small, ranging between a few dozen and several hundred.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/verbotsdebatte-burka-verbieten-geht-das-ueberhaupt-1.3123311 )) As the Muslim CDU politician Cemile Giousouf stated, “I am against the burqa but it is not the core problem – an extremist understanding of religion is.” Moreover, according to her, “the experience in France shows that a burqa ban does not provide greater security.”(( http://www.haz.de/Nachrichten/Politik/Deutschland-Welt/Cemile-Giousouf-Burkaverbot-bietet-nicht-mehr-Sicherheit ))

From burqa to burkini

France itself, among the pioneers of a burqa ban, has since moved on to debate the ‘burkini’, a piece of swimwear covering all of a woman’s body with the exception of face, hands, and feet.(( http://europe.newsweek.com/burkini-swimsuits-spark-anti-muslim-outrage-sales-488138?rm=eu )) This debate has been considerably more muted in Germany, where the focus has remained on face-covering burqas and niqabs. Indeed, the German Constitutional Court has implicitly legitimised the burkini in the past, when it ruled that co-educational swimming classes in public schools were mandatory, and that those Muslim girls uncomfortable with a co-educational arrangement could wear burkinis.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/bundesverwaltungsgericht-schwimmunterricht-in-burkini-fuer-muslimische-maedchen-zumutbar-12569208.html ))

In spite of this, in mid-August German Muslim woman reported an incident in which she and one of her daughters were asked to leave a water park near Berlin since their burkinis were deemed to be “inappropriate clothing”. Speaking to Berliner Zeitung, the mother asserted that wearing the burkini was her own independent choice; a choice that one of her daughters had also made while her other daughter had stuck to regular Western swimsuits. Interestingly, she went on to add that she disliked full-body veiling and that she agreed with a burqa ban, but noted that a burkini for her was a completely different thing.((http://www.berliner-zeitung.de/berlin/streit-in-bad-saarow–was–bitte-schoen–ist-an-einem-burkini-so-schlimm—24599592 ))

All of this amply demonstrates that the body of Muslim women is back at the centre of attention. After the string of attacks in Europe and amidst unresolved questions regarding immigration, however, a nuanced engagement with this topic seems to have become even more difficult to achieve.

Manuel Valls ‘supports’ mayors who ban burkinis

In an interview with La Provence, Manuel Valls stated that he “understands” and “supports” the mayors who took steps to ban the burkini, which they judged to be “incompatible with the values of the Republic.”

“I understand the mayors, in this period of tension, who are looking for solutions to avoid disrupting public order,” he stated, insisting, “I support those who took steps, if they are motivated by a desire to encourage the vivre ensemble, without underlying political motivations.”

“The burkini is not is not a new style, a new fashion. It’s the translation of a political aim, against society, based in particular on the subservience of women.”

Burkini Ban: Algerian businessman pays women’s fines

Rachid Nekkaz, a wealthy Algerian entrepreneur and human rights activist, has stepped up to the plate to pay the penalty for any Muslim woman who is fined in France for wearing the burkini, a full-length swimsuit that covers the whole body except for the face, hands and feet.
“I decided to pay for all the fines of women who wear the burkini in order to guarantee their freedom of wearing these clothes, and most of all, to neutralize the application on the ground of this oppressive and unfair law,” Nekkaz said.
The burkini ban at some French beaches is the most recent move by Parisian politicians to prohibit religious attire in public.
After the Charlie Hebdo and Nice attacks, Nekkaz said a few politicians took advantage of the fear of Islam, which spread within the population, to try to reduce the number of freedoms in France, which he called an “unacceptable, inadmissible and intolerable move.”
Across Europe, similar bans are taking form, as the tide shifts toward more regulations in favor of restricting the traditional Islamic attire.
“And I don’t accept that these great countries such as France, Belgium, Switzerland or the Netherlands and now Germany, take advantage of this fear of Islam to reduce the number of personal freedoms,” Nekkaz said.

Muslim leaders critique burkini controversy

Amar Lasfar, President of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF) and rector of the mosque in southern Lille, disapproved of the recent burkini controversy in a recent 20 Minutes interview. “For years, we have tried to attack radical Islam and terrorism, to tell Muslims that France does not target them, and this type of debate and decision has the inverse effect.”

In a letter addressed to Manuel Valls, Christian Estrosi, First Deputy of the Republicains to the mayor of Nice, wrote that “the complete covering of the face or body to go to the beach does not correspond with our ideal of social relations.”

Lasfar states that “the burkini is not part of the Muslim religion” and that he does not advocate wearing a burkini. But for religious leaders, that is not the point of the debate. “For me it’s not a question of religion, but of liberty,” says Lasfar. “But someone tell me what the difference is between a diving suit and a burkini.”

“That’s enough. It’s been blown out of proportion,” deplores Abdullah Zekri to BFMTV. The President of the Observatory Against Islamophobia stated he is “exasperated by everything I hear, Muslims, halal, the burka…”

 

Rochdale Muslim leader ‘was bludgeoned in Isis-inspired murder’

A former imam was bludgeoned to death in a children’s playground by two Islamic State supporters who believed he practised “black magic”, a court has heard.

Jalal Uddin, 71, was murdered by two alleged Islamist extremists who harboured a “hatred and intolerance” of his form of Islam, jurors were told.

The respected community leader was targeted as he made his way home from a mosque in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, after months of being surveilled by his alleged killers, the jury heard.

The accused – Mohammed Hussain Syeedy, 21, and Mohammed Abdul Kadir, 24 – were Isis supporters who developed a hatred of Uddin after discovering he practised a form of Islamic healing called ruqya, jurors were told.

Opening the trial at Manchester crown court, the prosecutor, Paul Greaney QC, told jurors that Syeedy and Kadir “stalked Jalal Uddin around the streets of Rochdale” before Kadir launched a savage attack on the older man in a playground. Kadir unleashed “repeated forceful blows” to Uddin’s head and mouth with a weapon believed to be a hammer, the court heard, leaving him with severe skull fractures.

Described as “quiet, dignified and well respected,” Uddin wore an amulet – known as a taweez – that some believe to protect the wearer against evil. However, Isis forbids the practice, considering it to be “black magic”, the court heard.

 

Amidst political controversy, German DITIB association vows greater emancipation from Turkish state

 

DITIB: a pawn of the Turkish government?

Recent weeks and months have witnessed growing pressure on Germany’s largest Islamic association, DITIB. As a subsidiary of the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), DITIB has been charged with being a pawn of the Turkish government and with seeking to render German Turks loyal to President Erdoğan. As Euro-Islam reported, these accusation have become ever louder since July’s failed coup in Turkey, in the aftermath of which DITIB appeared to participate in anti-Gülenist agitation.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/01/tensions-supporters-erdogan-partisans-gulen-rise-germany/))

These developments now jeopardise the slow progress DITIB has made in its quest to be recognised as a ‘religious community’ or even as a ‘public law corporation’, legal statuses provided by the German constitution. The bestowal of such a status would enable DITIB to have a greater say in the organisation of religious education in public schools, and would eventually also open up new financial possibilities – e.g. through the granting of state subsidies or even through the power to tax Muslim community members via the Muslim equivalent to the Christian ‘church tax’.

Current political turmoil threatens DITIB’s institutional and political gains

In recent years, DITIB had made some headway in this regard in several of Germany’s 16 federal states: in Lower Saxony as well as in Rhineland-Palatinate, DITIB is negotiating state treaties with the regional governments that seek to open new areas of cooperation in education, social services, and ritual matters. In North Rhine-Westphalia, DITIB is even attempting to become a ‘public law corporation’.

Recent events, however, have rendered the success of these initiatives doubtful. The Lower Saxon oppositional Christian Democratic Party (CDU) has withdrawn from the state treaty negotiations with DITIB, arguing that an association controlled by the Turkish government is no legitimate discussion partner.((https://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/niedersachsen/hannover_weser-leinegebiet/CDU-Fraktion-steigt-aus-Scheitert-Islamvertrag,islamvertrag106.html)) In a similar move, the Social Democratic government of Rhineland-Palatinate halted treaty negotiations, asserting that it was necessary to await further developments in Turkey and DITIB’s reaction to them.((http://www.swr.de/landesschau-aktuell/rp/dreyer-aeussert-sich-zu-umstrittenem-islamverband-die-tuerkei-krise-folgen-fuer-rheinland-pfalz/-/id=1682/did=17903846/nid=1682/5yt4qj/index.html))

Finally, the minister president of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hannelore Kraft (SPD), noted that it was increasingly unlikely that DITIB would meet the necessary criteria in order to be recognised as a ‘religious community’ or ‘public law corporation’ in the constitutionally relevant sense.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/hannelore-kraft-geht-auf-distanz-zu-tuerkischem-islamverband-ditib-a-1107293.html)) This comes after her government had been relatively well-disposed towards DITIB’s quest for legal recognition in the past.

Emancipation from Turkish state and government?

These events have apparently prompted the DITIB leadership to publicly distance their organisation from events in Turkey and from the Turkish government. In the past, DITIB had repeatedly emphasised its claim to political neutrality.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/01/tensions-supporters-erdogan-partisans-gulen-rise-germany/)) Going beyond this, the organisation’s spokesman Zekeriya Altug now broached the sensitive issue of DITIB’s financial ties to the Turkish state apparatus: in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Altug asserted that “the question is how long Turkey will still give support to DITIB-Imams. We need to look for alternative sources of funding in the long run.”((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/f-a-s-exklusiv-ditib-will-unabhaengiger-werden-14386218.html))

Altug added that in the future DITIB’s Imams “shall and will” no longer be Turkish citizens sent by the Turkish government; instead, Imams would be from Germany and be native German speakers.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/f-a-s-exklusiv-ditib-will-unabhaengiger-werden-14386218.html))

DITIB’s dilemma between Germany and Turkey

This move is a strong indicator of the pressure DITIB is under in the current political situation. While the organisation usually simply denies that any control is exercised by Ankara, its spokesman now apparently felt compelled to declare that DITIB would seek to emancipate itself from Turkish governmental influence. It is not yet clear whether DITIB will act upon this announcement and progressively eliminate the financial links to Turkey. Nor is it clear, for that matter, how the resulting shortage in funds could be replaced: as long as the legal status of the association is in limbo in Germany, DITIB would most likely struggle to attain adequate funding – a fact that is generally not mentioned by all those criticising DITIB for its continuing ties to the Turkish state.

Altug’s statements do reveal, however, DITIB’s predicament: on the one hand, DITIB is deeply embedded in Turkish institutions and politics. It cannot simply extricate itself from these ties to Turkish state and government. On the other hand, however, DITIB wishes to remain an influential player on the German political scene, also in order to retain its position in the large Turkish immigrant community in the country.

Amidst the current turmoil, it has become increasingly difficult to reconcile these two objectives. For German Islamic associations, this is not an unheard-of situation: in the past, the Islamic Community Milli Görüş in Germany (IGMG) gradually chose to loosen the ties to its Turkish parent, because too close an affiliation with the Turkish Milli Görüş movement proved too detrimental to IGMG’s attempts to gain a foothold on the German political and institutional scene. What is new is that DITIB, for a long time the preferred partner of successive German governments, should be faced with this dilemma.

French burkini ban sparks sales, says designer

Burkini bans in France have boosted sales and interest in the full-body Islamic swimsuit, particularly from non-Muslim women, the Australian credited with creating the design says.

The burkini has created controversy in France, with bans in 15 towns in the south-east and tension after deadly jihadist attacks. But Australian-Lebanese Aheda Zanetti, who claims the trademark on the name burkini and burqini, and created her first swimwear for Muslim women more than a decade ago, said on Tuesday the furore had attracted more publicity for her products.

“It’s just been so hectic,” she said.

“I can tell you that online on Sunday, we received 60 orders – all of them non-Muslim,” the 48-year-old from Sydney said. She usually received between 10 and 12 orders on Sundays.

Zanetti did not have sales figures for the rest of the past week but said she had also received numerous messages of support – and only one disparaging email – since the French bans.

They include messages from cancer survivors and other swimmers who use her lightweight, quick-drying, two-piece garments as protection from the sun.

There are other Islamic swimsuits but Zanetti has said her designs are the first to be streamlined into two-piece swimwear with a head covering.

“A lot of the correspondence … was that they are survivors of skin cancer and they’ve always been looking for something like this, saying, ‘Thank god we’ve found someone like this producing such a swimsuit,’ ” she said.

“The support I’m getting is somehow about empowering women … I feel like I’ve been a counsellor. It’s a cry of need that they want to have this enjoyment.

“Women are standing together on this. It doesn’t matter what race or religion.”

The one critical email questioned why Zanetti wanted to cover up women in France, saying “we prefer our women to be naked”.

 

‘Political correctness’ allowing Islamist extremism to flourish in British prisons, report warns

Political correctness in prisons is allowing extremism to flourish because guards are too afraid of confronting Muslims, a report has found.

A review into Islamist extremism in the British justice system has found that “cultural sensitivity” towards Muslim prisoners is preventing staff “challenging unacceptable extremist behaviour and views”.

The report, by Ian Acheson, a former prison governor, warns that supervising staff are being “pressured” to leave prayer rooms during collective worship.

Islamist prisoners are also attempting to prevent searches by “claiming dress is religious” and are also getting access to extremist literature that is available in chaplaincy libraries or from individual prisoners.

Mr Acheson’s report concluded that extremists are “exploiting…staff fear of being labelled racist”.

It also warned that “charismatic Islamist extremist prisoners [are] acting as self-styled ‘emirs’ and exerting a controlling and radicalising influence of the wider Muslim prison population”.

The Government has said that it will implement a number of the report’s recommendations.

Liz Truss, the Justice Secretary, has already announced that the most dangerous extremists will be locked up in isolated high-security prisons within prisons to prevent them from radicalising other inmates.

On Monday, she will also announce that governors and prison officers will be given new training to “prevent influential extremist prisoners exerting control and radicalising others”.

Scrutiny of the issue resurfaced last week when it was revealed that Anjem Choudary, one of Britain’s most prominent Islamist clerics, faces years in jail for drumming up support for Islamic State.

Choudary, one of the UK’s most notorious hate preachers, was convicted earlier this year. He will serve 10 years in jail after being found guilty of pledging allegiance to Islamic State.

Sun newspaper issues correction over ‘Islamic honour killing’ headline

The UK’s Sun newspaper has apologised over an article wrongly linking Islam and so-called “honour killings” after being accused of “encouraging Islamophobia through the use of clearly inaccurate language” in its headlines.

The Sun, the UK’s most popular newspaper, published an article in May about the murder of mother-of-four Saima Khan, a 34-year-old care worker from Luton whose 26-year-old sister was subsequently charged with her murder.

The original article claimed that police were investigating whether the killing was a so-called “Islamic honour killing”.

A clarification published on Saturday noted that the Sun was now “happy to make clear that Islam as a religion does not support so-called “honour killings”.

The clarification follows a complaint submitted to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) by Miqdaad Versi, deputy head of the Muslim Council of Britain.

An IPSO ruling issued last month in response to the complaint noted that there was “no basis for saying that religion had played a role” in Khan’s killing.

The text of the Sun’s clarification was almost identical to one issued by its competitor, the Daily Mail, which also included the phrase “Islamic honour killing” in its headline.

Responding to the Sun’s correction, which appeared both online and in print, Versi told Middle East Eye that headlines encouraging Islamophobia must be avoided in the current climate.

“News outlets should not encourage Islamophobia through the use of clearly inaccurate and inflammatory language in headlines, especially in today’s climate,” Versi said in an emailed statement.

“Honour killings are barbaric acts based in culture and not in faith. The fact that two tabloid outlets, the Mail Online and the Sun made the same error is very worrying and suggests there is insufficient oversight over the language used.

Versi said safeguards need to be put in place to prevent “further inaccuracies”.

The Sun was also in hot water with IPSO last month after publishing a column saying Islam is “clearly a violent religion” and slamming Channel 4 for allowing Fatima Manji, a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf, to report on the bloody attack in the French city of Nice.

IPSO is investigating after receiving more than 100 complaints in less than 24 hours concerning the column, written by former Sun editor Kelvin McKenzie.

Why the world’s biggest halal baby food brand is British: for aisha

Mark Salter launched the UK’s first halal baby food company, recognising “the power of the Muslim pound.”

Baby food brand for aisha broke into the market just a year ago. for aisha is now available in over 2000 multiple retail stores in the UK, including Tesco, ASDA, Morrisons and Boots. Here’s how founder Mark Salter grew his halal baby food business into a global phenomenon.

But what makes for aisha successful may be more than catering to a growing market of Muslim parents. Salter’s brand sources ethical ingredients and focuses on keeping sugar content down, making the baby food brand one of the healthiest in the market.

One year on, the company is turning over £80,000 per month and is on target to reach £1 million turnover by April 2017, catalysed by its popularity in fast-growth export markets in the Middle East and North Africa.

Considering that the global halal market is set to hit $1.6 trillion by 2018, Salter may have caught on to the next wave in healthy baby food.