Study finds British Muslim schools’ uniforms policy often require girls to wear the hijab

The National Secular Society found that 59 out of the 142 Islamic schools that accept girls have a compulsory hijab policy. Hijab refers to Islamic standards of modesty, but is being used in the articles summarised below specifically to refer to the hair-covering practice of girls. Three of the schools which require hijab receive state funding. The National Secular Society opposed these school polices and say it is duty of the British government to protect the liberty of these students.

The organisation wrote a letter raising concerns about this issue. The letter is co-signed by feminists from “Muslim backgrounds, ” including activist Sara Khan and journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

The Bradford Council for Mosques responded to this finding saying that wearing the hijab should not be compulsory for school uniforms. Spokesman Ishriaq Ahmed said, “People should have choices without the fear of being criticised…No child should be forced to do anything.”

The controversy over required hijab in dress codes follows closely after a controversy over allowing girls to wear hijab. The Sunday Times surveyed primary schools in England and found that 20% of primary schools “allow the hijab” in their uniform policies.

Gina Khan, a Birmingham children’s rights advocate, criticised the policy, saying, “Schools…need to support Muslim girls to have free choices, not to be set apart from other children.”

On the other side, Toby Howard, the Bishop of Bradford and an inter-faith leader, said, “this is a matter of religious identity not sexualisation.” The concern about sexualisation arises from the practice of starting to wear a headscarf post-puberty. But Howard noted that is not necessarily the case, as girls may choose to where the headscarf to “look like their mums.”

French Judge Rules: Jewish and Muslim Students Must Have Non-pork Option for School Lunch

A French court ruled that schools should provide an alternative to lunches containing pork for Muslim and Jewish students.

The decision on Monday came after the Muslim Legal Defense League sued the local authority at Chalon-sur-Saône in Burgundy, challenging its 2015 decision to stop providing a non-pork alternative in its school cafeterias.

The Muslim Legal Defense League had called the decision to stop providing a pork alternative “illegal, discriminatory and a violation of the freedom of conscience and religion.”

The judge said he made the ruling because, due to the lack of an alternative, many local Muslim children went without lunch, which is “not in keeping with the spirit of the international convention on the rights of children” and not “in the interests of the children.”

He said religion was not a consideration. French National Front party leader Marine Le Pen said in a 2014 interview that non-pork options for Jewish and Muslim students will no longer be offered in school menus in the 11 towns where France’s far-right National Front party won local elections.

Beaucaire mayor accuses Morocco of terrorism, calls for banning Arabic in schools

Julien Sanchez, who serves as the mayor of the city of Beaucaire in South France, recently released a video in which he expressed his opposition to teaching Arabic in schools.

Sanchez accused Morocco of “becoming in recent months a country of origin for terrorist organizations, which exposes French schools to danger” because many of the Arabic teachers are originally from Morocco.

“We are asked to secure our schools, but we don’t know exactly who penetrates them”, he said.

The FN mayor said he will not allocate money for such a project and will instead give a symbolic Euro.

Islamic theology at German universities: successes and limitations of an unprecedented experiment

For many decades after the arrival of Muslim ‘guest workers’ from Turkey, Morocco, and other Muslim-majority countries, German authorities were happy to outsource the provision of religious services to Imams and preachers sent by the Muslim immigrants’ countries of origin. Since the Muslim workforce would ultimately return home, it was unnecessary and even counterproductive to grant Islamic religiosity a permanent presence – or so the reasoning went.

‘Domesticating’ Islam

It was only around the turn of the millennium that perceptions changed. After the events of September 11, 2001, authorities took a securitised perspective on Islam. Fears about the uncontrolled flourishing of a radical underground religious scene appeared to call for the creation of more transparent structures of Islamic learning.

Members of the Muslim community also began to voice a critique of the prevailing arrangement: they bemoaned the fact that Imams knew little about life in Germany or Western Europe and could not provide guidance on many issues that mattered to believers, and especially to younger audiences.((See Ceylan, Rauf (2009). Prediger des Islam. Imame – Wer sie sind und was sie wirklich wollen. Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder. ))

Establing new chairs

In 2011, then, the German government – taking cues from the country’s ongoing Islamkonferenz, an (often controversial) forum bringing together state authorities and various Muslim figures and organisations – decided to fund the creation of several university departments of Islamic theology.

Subsequently, several university chairs were established – at Tübingen, Frankfurt/Gießen, Münster, Osnabrück, and Erlangen/Nuremberg. State funding, initially granted for five years, has since been renewed. Overall, the Ministry for Education and Research has spent € 36 million on these new faculties.(( https://www.bmbf.de/de/islamische-theologie-367.html ))

Training school teachers

Yet while the formation of Imams for Germany’s mosques has been on the agenda of these university departments, their main focus has been the training of teachers for Islamic religious education classes in public schools.

The understanding of secularism anchored in Germany’s constitution is not marked by a laic attempt to cleave apart public and religious life in a stringent manner. Instead, the German ethos is one of cooperation of state and religious bodies in the public sphere. Consequently, the country’s public schools offer confessional courses in religious education adapted to the pupils’ faith.

Expanding employment opportunities for graduates

Many of Germany’s 16 federal states – who are each individually responsible for their own educational sectors – rapidly expanded their offerings of Islamic religious education in the 2000s. Ever since, they have been in dire need of skilled teaching personnel to fill vacant positions.(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/07/islamische-theologie-universitaet-fach-studium-bilanz/komplettansicht ))

Of the currently 2,000 students enrolled in degree courses in Islamic theology, most will seek employment as secondary school teachers. Others might staff the ranks of Germany’s expanding Islamic social welfare sector. Confessional institutions run by large Catholic and Protestant charity organisations play a pre-eminent role in various fields of pastoral care, including in care for the elderly. Now, with the ‘guest worker’ generations ageing, there is a growing demand for Islamic offers in this domain.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/wohlfahrtspflege-der-religionsgemeinschaften-muslimische.886.de.html?dram:article_id=346493 ))

No progress on the formation of Imams

What the centres for Islamic theology have not accomplished so far, however, is to foster a new generation of Imams that could preach in German mosques. In fact, students themselves express little desire to pursue this career – a stance for which a number of reasons can be adduced.(( http://www.rp-online.de/panorama/deutschland/imam-ausbildung-in-deutschland-studierende-wollen-nicht-imam-werden-aid-1.6046869 ))

First of all, given their lack of firm legal status in Germany – they are not recognised as a ‘corporations of public law’ and thus do not hold a status comparable to Christian churches or Jewish congregations – many Muslim communities have extremely limited financial wiggle room. They are, consequently, at times not in a position to pay the salaries of a fully-trained Imam – and students of Islamic theology are reluctant to accept employment with extremely meagre pay.

Continued reliance on clergymen from abroad

The organisation that could most easily avoid this financial trap is DİTİB, the country’s largest Islamic association with roughly 1,000 Imams. Yet DİTİB is a subsidiary of the Turkish government’s Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) and as such only employs Imams trained in and funded by Turkey.

To be sure, DİTİB spokesman Zekeriya Altuğ has affirmed that the mosques of his organisation will gradually move towards relying on German-trained Imams.(( http://www.rp-online.de/panorama/deutschland/imam-ausbildung-in-deutschland-studierende-wollen-nicht-imam-werden-aid-1.6046869 )) Altuğ has also stressed DİTİB’s overall willingness to emancipate itself from its Turkish superiors.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/f-a-s-exklusiv-ditib-will-unabhaengiger-werden-14386218.html ))

Yet it remains doubtful whether the organisation will be either willing or capable to accomplish such a manoeuvre in the near future, particularly given the recent reassertion of central control from Ankara.

Distrust between theology chairs and associations

Scepticism about the suitability of potential Imams trained at German university extends beyond DİTİB, however. The 300 mosques of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) do fund their Imams through private donations, without relying on a financially strong state backer. Nevertheless, they have not embraced the idea of turning to graduates of Germany’s Islamic theology seminaries.

It seems likely that this reticence is linked to disputes over personnel choices and over the content of the curricula at Islamic theology faculties. On both of these matters, the more liberal-leaning faculties (with backing from universities and public authorities) and the more conservative Islamic associations have often clashed bitterly.

‘Liberals’ vs. ‘conservatives’

Generally, the liberals have had the upper hand, to the chagrin of their opponents. Consequently, Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the ZMD, criticised the tendency to “see university institutions as counter-models to the mosques”.

He claimed that the dichotomisation into “enlightened” university Islam and “backward” practices of mosque communities “does particular harm to the reputation of university institutions. For after all it is the congregations that are supposed to employ the graduated Imams one day.” In other words, the ZMD’s constituent communities continue to be suspicious of the ideological orientation of the university degree holders.(( http://www.rp-online.de/panorama/deutschland/imam-ausbildung-in-deutschland-studierende-wollen-nicht-imam-werden-aid-1.6046869 ))

Managing students’ expectations

At the same time, members of the ‘liberal’ university teaching staff have themselves expressed some dissatisfaction with their students and their outlook on the Islamic theology curriculum.

According to Harry Harun Behr, Professor of Religious Education at the University of Frankfurt, many students “seek to deepen their faith, not to work scientifically. When I tell them that the Qur’an is the result of a theological discourse, they don’t want to hear.”(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/07/islamische-theologie-universitaet-fach-studium-bilanz/komplettansicht ))

Professor Mouhanad Khorchide of Münster University concurred: Many students “want to have their faith confirmed”, he asserted, “but university is a place to reflect on faith”. According to him, it would take at least two or three additional generations of students for this point to be accepted across the board.(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/07/islamische-theologie-universitaet-fach-studium-bilanz/komplettansicht ))

Positive results

A little more than five years after the creation of the new faculties, policymakers as well as Islamic scholars and theologians nevertheless continue to see the experiment in positive light.(( https://en.qantara.de/content/europe-and-its-muslims-islamic-theology-in-germany-spanning-the-divide?nopaging=1 ))

Academic observers have stressed that, among other beneficial contributions, the establishment of departments of Islamic theology has helped to bring a more adequate and more intellectually sophisticated Muslim voice to current debates; debates which are all too often controlled by questionable “Islam experts” without any solid theological credentials.((Antes, Peter and Rauf Ceylan (2017). “Die Etablierung der Islamischen Theologie: Institutionalisierung einer neuen Disziplin und die Entstehung einer muslimischen scientific community”. In Antes and Ceylan (eds.), Muslime in Deutschland: Historische Bestandsaufnahme, akutelle Entwicklungen und zukünftige Forschungsfragen. Wiesbaden: Springer VS. )) Indeed, Muslim theologians have not shied away from weighing in on controversial issues.

Islamic theology’s struggle for independence

Thus, there are encouraging signs. They might enable Islamic theology at German universities to transcend its twofold challenge: first, like any new academic discipline, it needs to establish itself and find its own turf – institutionally as well as intellectually. This, by itself, is not an easy feat to accomplish.

In the case of Islamic theology, a second and more particular hurdle presents itself, linked to the inherently contested nature of the study of Islam itself. The most powerful factions seeking to gain definitional authority and dominance over the field are conservative Islamic associations on the one hand and public authorities on the other hand.

While the latter are ostentatiously more liberal than the former, they are nevertheless bent on enforcing their security agenda and on creating a state-backed ‘moderate’ Islam. If Islamic theology wants to come of age in Germany, it must shake off the demands of both sides and strive to cut its own path.

Keeping It Halal: The Everyday Lives of Muslim American Teenage Boys by John O’Brien

A compelling portrait of a group of boys as they navigate the complexities of being both American teenagers and good Muslims

This book provides a uniquely personal look at the social worlds of a group of young male friends as they navigate the complexities of growing up Muslim in America. Drawing on three and a half years of intensive fieldwork in and around a large urban mosque, John O’Brien offers a compelling portrait of typical Muslim American teenage boys concerned with typical teenage issues—girlfriends, school, parents, being cool—yet who are also expected to be good, practicing Muslims who don’t date before marriage, who avoid vulgar popular culture, and who never miss their prayers.

Many Americans unfamiliar with Islam or Muslims see young men like these as potential ISIS recruits. But neither militant Islamism nor Islamophobia is the main concern of these boys, who are focused instead on juggling the competing cultural demands that frame their everyday lives. O’Brien illuminates how they work together to manage their “culturally contested lives” through subtle and innovative strategies—such as listening to profane hip-hop music in acceptably “Islamic” ways, professing individualism to cast their participation in communal religious obligations as more acceptably American, dating young Muslim women in ambiguous ways that intentionally complicate adjudications of Islamic permissibility, and presenting a “low-key Islam” in public in order to project a Muslim identity without drawing unwanted attention.

Closely following these boys as they move through their teen years together, Keeping It Halal sheds light on their strategic efforts to manage their day-to-day cultural dilemmas as they devise novel and dynamic modes of Muslim American identity in a new and changing America.

Reviews:

“Swift and insightful. . . . O’Brien effectively shows teenage Muslim Americans to be an unjustly persecuted minority, delving into the psychology of how they behave in reaction to their outsider status in order to paint a portrait of social anxiety and strained assimilation that is universal in its power.”Publishers Weekly

Endorsements:

“A textured and insightful look into the lives of young American Muslim men.”–Eboo Patel, author of Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation

Keeping It Halal is a sensitive, lucid, compelling portrait of the social complexity of male Muslim teen life. It should be read by anyone concerned with the way young people navigate complicated cultural terrains.”–Omar M. McRoberts, author of Streets of Glory: Church and Community in a Black Urban Neighborhood

“Engaging and insightful. O’Brien provides rich descriptions of the cultural work these teenagers do in their efforts to be both good Muslims and fully American.”–Mark Chaves, author of American Religion

“The best ethnography of immigrant American youth to be published in many years. O’Brien writes with empathy, sensitivity, and analytical sophistication about people trying to manage the cultural tensions of being young and Muslim in American society.”–Mitchell Duneier, author of Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea

‘Why do I need a note for my religion?’ Students are told to get permission slips to wear hijabs.

Two observant Muslims, Fatmata Mansaray and Hajah Bah, described an embarrassing level of scrutiny, when their hijabs drew sharp questions from administrators of Freedom High School of Northern Virginia.

School officials threatened them with discipline, the students said, demanding that they remove the scarves and pressing them to get permission slips from their parents to prove they were Muslim.

Mansaray said an assistant principal threatened to write her up for being disrespectful when she explained they were wearing hijab for a religious observance.

In Bordeaux, Muslims fight radical Islam

Fouad Saanadi is preaching to the converted, but not the mainstream Muslim community he belongs to. In a discreet building near city hall, the Bordeaux imam meets with bewildered parents and fragile youngsters, some of whom have never set foot inside a mosque.

Many come from troubled families and neighborhoods. Some are mentally unstable. He and a small group of experts are fighting a powerful adversary: militant Islam.

“My role is not to tell people the ‘good’ or ‘true’ Islam, but to help awaken a critical approach,” Saanadi says of Bordeaux’s year-old CAPRI program aimed at preventing radicalization. “We are not here to confront but rather to awaken a critical awareness.”

Bordeaux counts among a growing number of communities across Europe searching for ways to counter extremism, following a wave of largely home-grown terrorist attacks. The question is all the more important for France, the target of three terror strikes in two years, and western Europe’s biggest exporter of extremist fighters.

Unlike countries like Germany and Britain, France is a relative newcomer to approaches beyond law-and-order ones, and new efforts to branch out have not always proved successful. Indeed, a recent Senate report characterized the state’s approach in tackling radicalization a failure.

 

Today, there is a new sense of urgency to finding answers. Hundreds of foreign fighters are beginning to return to Europe, authorities say, posing risks as potential terrorists and recruiters. Some end up in French prisons, already considered jihadist breeding grounds.

“The European system is not experienced with dealing with so many radicalized people,” Khosrokhavar says. “We need to invent a new way of dealing with this sort of problem.”

A partnership between Bordeaux’s city hall and the regional Muslim federation, the year-old CAPRI program may be one sign of changing times. While the initiative is local, it offers a religious dimension to fighting radicalization – one that is drawing interest from other municipalities.

“For the youngsters and the families, the fact we’re doing this program with the Muslim community is positive,” says Bordeaux’s Deputy Mayor Marik Fetouh, who is also CAPRI’s spokesman. “It shows we’re not confounding Islam and radicalization, and often the theologians will create links between the families and CAPRI.”

Imam Saanadi gathers with half-a-dozen therapists, psychiatrists and legal experts to evaluate each new case. Of the 36 youngsters now enrolled, roughly 40 percent are women. A number are converts, or “born again” Muslims from largely secular backgrounds. The average age is 22. “It’s a puzzle,” Saanadi tells DW. “When we put together the different pieces, we can see whether to intervene or not.”

As secretary-general of Bordeaux’s Muslim federation, Saanadi himself ascribes to a moderate, government-sanctioned brand of Islam that respects French secularism but is not always considered legitimate among more fundamentalist believers.

Perhaps not surprisingly, he does not personally know anyone who has joined a jihadi movement. “Terrorism is a question for national education,” he says. “We see children at the mosque two hours a week. The rest of their time is at school.”

Whatever the cause, most agree that France has a serious problem. Roughly 700 French jihadists are still fighting in Iraq and Syria, according to recent government figures; another 1,350 suspected radicals are in French prisons, including nearly 300 with direct ties to terrorist networks.

Nationwide, authorities classify another 15,000 as extremists and potential security threats, including an estimated 200 or more in the southwestern Gironde department that includes Bordeaux. The state’s traditional law-and-order response has not proved effective, critics say.

“The state took too much time and now it’s searching for miracle solutions,” sociologist Ouisa Kies, an expert on radicalization in prisons, told DW.

Last year, the center-left government adopted a softer approach with uncertain results so far. It earmarked more than $300 million (284 million euros) for de-radicalization programs over three years, and rolled out the first of a dozen voluntary centers planned across the country.

But in February, a French senate report deemed the de-radicalization center, in the Loire Valley, a “fiasco.” Only nine youngsters had been treated there, it said, and it was currently empty.

The new government funding windfall has also helped fuel some 80 local initiatives, some with dubious credentials. “It’s becoming a market,” says Bordeaux’s main imam, Tareq Oubrou, who provides theological advice to CAPRI. “Everyone is becoming a de-radicalization specialist in two seconds.”

“As soon as there’s an initiative by a Muslim leader or members of the community there’s always suspicion,” says Kies, who believes the Muslim leadership nonetheless has a narrow but necessary role to play in countering radicalization.

In Bordeaux, Saanadi is the first to acknowledge the limits of his intervention. “There are no miracle solutions,” he says. “It’s very easy to destroy, but very difficult to reconstruct.”

Row over students’ prayers highlights questions of Islam’s visibility in the German educational sector

“Provocative” and “conspicuous” praying

A secondary school in the Western German city of Wuppertal has caused a stir by prohibiting its Muslim pupils from “conspicuous praying”. In an internal memo directed at the teaching staff, the administration of the Johannes-Rau-Gymnasium encourages its instructors to prevent “provocative” praying activities.

For the administration, this includes the performance of ablutions in school bathrooms or the rolling out of prayer carpets. Should students pray in spite of the prohibition, teachers are to determine the names and to pass them on to the school administration.(( http://www.derwesten.de/region/muslimische-schueler-fallen-durch-provozierendes-beten-auf-wirbel-an-wuppertaler-gymnasium-id209791697.html ))

Commentators remarked upon the memo’s police-style formulations, questioning whether this signalled the school’s generalised suspicion against its Muslim pupils. While defending the thrust of the text, the local government conceded that the language used had been “unfortunate”.(( http://www.rp-online.de/nrw/panorama/schule-in-wuppertal-verbietet-muslimischen-schuelern-sichtbares-beten-aid-1.6648704 ))

Religion in the educational sector

The case touches upon the larger question to what extent educational establishments must accept the presence and expression of religious convictions. Legal professionals point out that within the German framework, schools are given wide latitude to regulate religious expression if such regulation is necessary in order to guarantee “school peace”.(( http://www.rp-online.de/nrw/panorama/schulfrieden-schlaegt-religionsfreiheit-aid-1.6648883 ))

To what extent this ‘peace’ was threatened in the case of the Johannes-Rau-Gymnasium of Wuppertal is difficult to ascertain. No details of the precise chain of events leading up to the prohibition on prayer have been released.

In recent months and years, public scrutiny of Muslim students’ religious practices had been focused mostly on prayer rooms or multifaith spaces at universities. Some of them were closed after reportedly attracting hard-line religious purists who sought to engage in missionary activity and enforce a strict morality code. Others continued to function and were praised as success stories.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/deutsche-universitaeten-gebetsraeume-unter-generalverdacht-14118890.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Secularisation and publicly visible religion

The presence of a growing number of Muslim students with higher levels of religious observance comes as the historically active Lutheran and Catholic student associations are experiencing a slow but steady decline. Concomitantly, an increasing number of students and commentators advocate a strictly secularised university that offers no institutional space for religiosity.

The visibility of Islam in these establishments has emerged as an important political battlefield in its own right. After all, some of the 9/11 attackers had used a supposed prayer circle at the Technical University of Hamburg for conspiratorial purposes.(( http://www.zeit.de/2017/11/religion-universitaet-beten-verbot-wissenschaft ))

Although this case has remained isolated and no other Muslim university circles have spawned jihadist groups since, the seed of distrust has, in many cases, been sown. As a result, a considerable portion of educational decision-makers is increasingly willing to question the traditionally generous attitude towards the public expression of religiosity in the educational sector.

The hijab in German public schools: New court case lets old questions resurface

The protracted German debate on Muslim teachers’ right to wear the hijab when working in the public sector has received its newest episode. The State Labour Court (Landesarbeitsgericht) of Berlin and Brandenburg decided in favour of a Muslim teacher who had sued the state of Berlin for barring her from exercising her profession because of her hijab.

Landmark decision by the Constitutional Court

In German public schools, pupils are free to wear the Muslim headcovering; yet the situation with respect to teachers is more complex. This is partly linked to the country’s federalised geography: educational matters are generally not governed from Berlin but handled by the capitals of the country’s 16 federal states, leading to often strongly differing educational practices.

As Euro-Islam reported, Germany’s top Constitutional Court had overturned North-Rhine Westphalia’s blanket ban on teachers wearing the Muslim headscarf in 2015; yet the practices of state governments have been slow to adapt. Moreover, the precise implications of the Court’s verdict itself have remained unclear.

While the judges rejected a generalised ban of the hijab, it did not unconditionally allow its wearing, either. In fact, based on the verdict, school authorities retain the right to prohibit individual teachers from wearing the hijab if they demonstrate that the teacher’s clothing constitutes “a sufficiently concrete threat or disruption of school peace”.(( http://www.bundesverfassungsgericht.de/SharedDocs/Entscheidungen/DE/2015/01/rs20150127_1bvr047110.html ))

Current court cases

Perhaps also because of this considerable degree of equivocation in the Court’s judgements, a number of states have not changed their discriminatory practices. Instead, state governments have preferred to wait until Muslim women take to the courts, attempting to enforce their right to wear a hijab.

Subsequently, lower-instance courts have issued a number of verdicts that appear favourable to Muslim women’s demands. Yet upon further inspection, the judges have often dodged the real issues at stake.

In 2016, a Munich Administrative Court, for instance, ostentatiously ruled in favour of a junior lawyer whom the State of Bavaria had banned from wearing a headscarf while working at court. Yet in its reasoning, the court based itself on purely formal grounds, thus refraining from commenting on the overall legality of prohibiting women from wearing the hijab while fulfilling public functions.

The situation in Berlin

In Berlin, the local government did not amend its legal provisions after the Constitutional Court’s landmark verdict on the hijab. It seems that the state authorities deemed themselves immune from legal challenges because Berlin’s “neutrality law” (Neutralitätsgesetz) does not explicitly discriminate against the hijab: in fact, it prohibits the wearing of any and all religious symbols in public service.(( http://gesetze.berlin.de/jportal/portal/t/iaf/page/bsbeprod.psml?pid=Dokumentanzeige&showdoccase=1&js_peid=Trefferliste&fromdoctodoc=yes&doc.id=jlr-VerfArt29GBE2005pP2&doc.part=X&doc.price=0.0&doc.hl=0 ))

In the present case, the court of first instance had dismissed the teacher’s lawsuit. In its verdict, it based itself on the non-discriminatory nature of Berlin’s neutrality law, arguing that the educational board had the right to refuse an applicant with a hijab.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-04/kopftuchverbot-berlin-urteil-arbeitsgericht-lehrerinnen ))

This judgement has now been overturned in the second instance by the State Labour Court. Now, the judge argued that the State of Berlin did in fact discriminate against the prospective teacher by refusing to employ her because of her headscarf. Consequently, the State was condemned to pay the woman close to 9,000 Euros in salaries.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-02/berlin-lehrerin-kopftuch-gericht-berufungsverfahren-entschaedigung ))

Caveats persist

However, like in the case of the Munich junior lawyer, the court’s verdict comes with a caveat: the State Labour Court did not object to the neutrality law itself. For the judge, the neutrality law itself is fully constitutional.

Instead, the court objected to the fact that state educational authorities had not sufficiently justified their decision to deny employment to the plaintiff: the state had failed to demonstrate that the “school peace” would be threatened or disrupted by the presence of a headscarf-wearing woman.(( http://www.spiegel.de/karriere/berlin-abgelehnt-wegen-kopftuch-lehrerin-bekommt-schadensersatz-a-1133806.html ))

Walking a tightrope

This showcases how the court sought to bridge the divide between Berlin’s neutrality law on the one hand and the verdict of the Constitutional Court on the other hand – an exercise that resembles walking on a tightrope.

The neutrality law itself incorporates in its Article 3 a provision that allows educational authorities to exempt individual teachers from the requirement of absolute religious neutrality, provided that this measure does not endanger the “ideological-religious neutrality” of the school in question and does not threaten “school peace”.(( http://gesetze.berlin.de/jportal/portal/t/iaf/page/bsbeprod.psml?pid=Dokumentanzeige&showdoccase=1&js_peid=Trefferliste&fromdoctodoc=yes&doc.id=jlr-VerfArt29GBE2005pP2&doc.part=X&doc.price=0.0&doc.hl=0 ))

This might appear to allow a reconciliation of the neutrality law with the Constitutional Court’s verdict. Yet it is noteworthy that the Berlin law flips on its head the default position that underlies constitutionally acceptable restrictions on the wearing of the hijab.

The Constitutional Court argues that it is per se legal for teachers to wear the hijab, unless it be proven that the headscarf upsets the orderly working of the school. Conversely, the State of Berlin starts from the position that it is per se illegal for teachers to wear the hijab, unless it be shown that the religious symbol in question does not undermine school peace.

A question of equality

As noted above, the Constitutional Court passed its landmark ruling in 2015 in response to a case from North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW). In contrast to Berlin, the NRW state government had banned only the hijab from public schools, while continuing to allow kippah or Christian habits. Consequently, the main thrust of the Court’s verdict is directed against this unequal treatment of religious symbols.

In its verdict, the Court also briefly and somewhat hurriedly accepts as constitutional bans on religious symbols that do not discriminate between the faiths and instead prohibit all religious symbols from public institutions.((See esp. Section III, Art. 1 c) for the Court’s positioning on that matter: http://www.bundesverfassungsgericht.de/SharedDocs/Entscheidungen/DE/2015/01/rs20150127_1bvr047110.html ))

Different versions of secularism

While this would seem to legitimise Berlin’s neutrality law, this somewhat underdeveloped aspect of the Constitutional Court’s verdict remains problematic. Most notably, the Court’s recognition of a non-discriminatory policy of neutrality departs from the German tradition of Church-State relations, anchored in Article 140 of the German Basic Law.

In contrast to the French practice of laicité on the other side of the Rhine, the post-WWII German state has defined its position vis-à-vis institutionalised religion as one of fostering and support. There are extensive cooperation agreements between state and religious bodies, for instance in various domains of social or charitable work. This cooperative framework of Church-State relations also forms the basis of the extensive confessional education offered to children in public schools.

Against this tradition of cooperation, neutrality laws introduce a more categorical separation into the German framework. It remains to be seen whether the recognition of this practice by the Constitutional Court signals the onset of a full-fledged transformation of the German system.

Political reactions

In Berlin itself, where the struggle between these two different visions of secularism will take place over the coming months and years, the reactions to the decision in the teacher’s favour have been mixed.

In its official response, the ruling coalition of Social Democratic, Green, and Left parties asserted that it would uphold the state’s neutrality law. However, the junior partners in the coalition, the Green and Left parties, criticised the law.

The city’s Justice Senator Dirk Behrendt asserted that the neutrality provision had become untenable. In his interpretation, the court’s verdict did in fact reveal the law’s irreconcilability with the Constitutional Court’s position, i.e. its unconstitutionality.(( http://www.rbb-online.de/politik/beitrag/2017/02/berlin-kopftuchurteil-senat-neutralitaetgesetz-wird-nicht-ueberprueft.html )) The political debate over the place of the hijab in public institutions is thus far from over.

Deputy mayor in France sends police to school to protest Arabic language classes

A city council official sent police to a primary school in France to protest the school’s decision to offer its students the option of learning the Arabic language. The deputy mayor of Six-Fours-les-Plages in southeastern France was acting on an inaccurate claim on Facebook that said students were being forced to learn the language.

Jean-Sébastien Vialatte confirmed that police officers were sent to the Reynier primary school twice in November to tell school officials that the deputy mayor opposed the teaching of Arabic there, local media reported Wednesday. The incident came to light when a local lawyer disclosed court documents revealing a failed legal suit by the council to halt these classes. Vialatte added that officials had their doubts about the teacher as well because he wasn’t a state employee.

An image shared in September by a parent of one of the children who attends classes at the school inaccurately said the Arabic language classes were mandatory sparking an outcry among parents in which politicians quickly joined.

Frédéric Boccaletti, a local politician and member of the far-right National Front, shared the image on his Facebook page blaming “friends” of Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the Moroccan-born minister of education, as the people behind these mandatory classes. He also condemned Vialatte for allowing the classes to continue.

French Muslim activist Yasser Louati said the incident was representative of the “normalization of state-sponsored racism.”
“Sending the police to make sure an Arabic class isn’t held shows how much hate government institutions can express for Arabs. In 2015, we had cases of primary school children being humiliated, assaulted, and even taken to the police by their teachers,” Louati reportedly said. “Then we had school girls being barred from school for wearing a long skirt or the prohibition of substitute meals for Muslims and Jews.”

“The only solution for French Muslims and any citizen who loves justice and equality is to band together and engage in a power struggle with decision makers. The upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections are an opportunity … nobody benefits from a society built on hate,” he added.