Interior Minister ignites debate on Islamic public holiday in Germany

Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, member of Angela Merkel’s CDU party, has sparked controversy by asserting that local authorities might be allowed to introduce a public holiday to commemorate an Islamic religious occasion.

A regional Muslim holiday?

De Maizière did not suggest a day off work at the national level but rather a regional one, limited to areas with a large Muslim population. Such area-specific divergences in matters of religious festivities and the corresponding public holidays are widespread in Germany, due to the country’s historical split between Protestant and Catholic areas.

His declarations, which came at a campaign rally in the Lower Saxon town of Wolfenbüttel, were met with considerable surprise. In the preceding months, de Maizière had often struck a very different tone.

Most notably, he had revived Germany’s long-standing debate about a ‘leading’ or ‘guiding’ culture (Leitkultur) in a populist tabloid article. The notion of a ‘leading culture’ stresses Germany’s supposedly Judeo-Christian essence and thus implicitly defines German identity in opposition to Islam.

Backlash against the proposal

The overall reception of de Maizière’s unexpected suggestion was negative. In a poll, slightly more than 70 per cent of Germans rejected the idea that Islamic occasions could become a public holiday. Only 7,8 per cent of respondents declared themselves in favour of the Interior Minister’s proposal.(( http://www.focus.de/politik/videos/70-prozent-dagegen-nach-de-maiziere-vorstoss-mehrheit-der-deutschen-lehnt-islamische-feiertag-ab_id_7724392.html ))

De Maizière’s fellow Christian Democrats expressed anger and outrage at his statements. Bernd Althusmann, the CDU’s front-runner for the state elections in Lower Saxony (which he has since lost), criticised the timing of de Maizière’s advance during the late stages of the electoral campaign.(( http://www.focus.de/politik/deutschland/aussage-zu-muslimischen-feiertagen-thomas-de-maiziere-erntet-heftige-kritik_id_7708486.html ))

Alexander Dobrindt, Minister of Transport and member of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, accused de Maizière of jeopardising Germany’s Christian heritage. “To introduce Islam-holidays in Germany is out of the question for us.” Other CDU figures also stressed the need to protect the “Judeo-Christian” heritage of the country.(( http://www.bild.de/politik/inland/thomas-de-maiziere/brauchen-wir-wirklich-einen-muslimischen-feiertag-53525894.bild.html ))

Discrimination of Christians abroad

In a somewhat incongruous move, many commentators also dismissed the notion that Germany might introduce an Islamic holiday by pointing to the religious discrimination and persecution suffered by Christians in Muslim-majority countries.

The Catholic bishop of Fulda asked: “How would Islamic states react, if Catholic Christians attempted to celebrate for instance the festival of Corpus Christi with a [public] procession?”(( http://www.die-tagespost.de/politik/Islam-Feiertagsdebatte-geht-weiter;art315,182532 )) He was seconded by leading CDU politician Wolfgang Bosbach, who argued that the religious liberty of Christians in Islamic countries ought to be the priority.

The two men did not elucidate, however, how the highly objectionable suppression of the rights of Christians in other parts of the world could legitimise religious discrimination at home.

Catholic laymen more receptive to an Islamic holiday

Other Christian religious figures and institutions were, however, at least initially less hostile to de Maizière’s suggestions. The President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), the largest Catholic laymen’s association, welcomed the debate on the potential introduction of an Islamic public holiday in certain localities.

He asserted that “in a multi-religious society, an Islamic holiday can be added in areas with a large share of pious Muslims – without betraying the Christian tradition of our country. That [the betrayal of Christian roots] happens much rather through the transformation of Saint Nicholas into Santa Claus.” CSU Secretary General Andreas Scheuer has since expressed his “shock” and “bewilderment” atthe ZdK-President’s statements.(( http://www.die-tagespost.de/politik/Islam-Feiertagsdebatte-geht-weiter;art315,182532 ))

Positive reaction of the ZMD

Muslim figures have also taken part in the raging debate. Aiman Mazyek, Chairman of the ZMD – one of Germany’s Islamic umbrella associations – welcomed the statements by Thomas de Maizière.

At the same time, Mazyek – perhaps mindful of the backlash – asserted that he did not demand a public Islamic holiday mandated by law. Instead, Mazyek presented his position as merely wanting to raise awareness of Islamic religious occasions so that they be ‘put on the map’.

On this basis, Muslim employees might be able to reach practicable solutions at their workplace that would allow them to celebrate Islamic holidays. Mazyek gave the example of a Muslim policeman having a day off for Eid while stepping in for his Christian counterpart on Christmas Day.(( http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/politik/inland/muslimischer-feiertag-deutschland-100.html ))

Critical Muslim voices

Other voices were more critical. Ahmad Mansour, a highly vocal counter-radicalisation activist, called de Maizière’s proposition of an Islamic public holiday “a well-meant gesture” but deemed it impractical. Instead, Mansour suggested that all Germans be given two additional days off work, to be used for whichever religious festival people feel attached to.(( https://www.facebook.com/OfficialAhmadMansour/posts/529328327414627 ))

Lamya Kaddor, Islamic scholar and Chairwoman of the Liberal-Islamic Union (LIB) also dismissed calls for an Islamic holiday. For Kaddor, the Muslim community in Germany is too small to warrant a public holiday; like Mansour, she stressed that more practical, hands-on solutions to the needs of Muslim employees could be found at the individual workplace.

Kaddor criticised de Maizière’s statements as a mere exercise in symbolism out of touch with the genuine wishes of Muslim Germans. Kaddor suspected that the Interior Minister’s remarks were merely clumsy advances seeking to attract Muslim voters to the CDU.(( http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Muslimischer-Feiertag-waere-Symbolpolitik-article20083722.html ))

Individualisation of the religious sphere

The underlying question remains, however, how religious minorities can reconcile their faith with a calendar – and hence a working schedule as well as with a societal sense of time – still based on fundamentally Christian notions.

Many who might consider themselves socially liberal ‘progressives’ appear to be drawn to a particular default answer to this question – namely to the flexibilisation of public holidays: they assert that adherents of different religious traditions ought to be able to take leave from work on different days, depending on their individual faith-based commitments.

Unifying potential of a public holiday

Yet the outcome of such flexibility would be the further segregation of religious traditions. Murat Kayman, a former official of the Turkish-dominated DİTİB Islamic association who was chased from his post in the context of personnel purges after Turkey’s 2016 coup attempt, highlighted the potential of a universal and mandatory Islamic public holiday for inter-religious dialogue:

“It would be a nice thought if on this day Ronny from Dresden or Thilo from Berlin could have time for their families, hobbies, and leisure – only because there are Muslims in Germany. By the same token, there should be a nationwide Jewish holiday. So that Jens from Frankfurt and Mehmet from Duisburg realise that they can only spend a pleasurable, work-free day because of their fellow Jewish citizens.”(( http://murat-kayman.de/2017/10/16/deutschland-muss-deutschland-bleiben/ ))

Lamya Kaddor in fact struck a similar note while steering clear of religious connotations:

“It might be nice to introduce a holiday that represents what constitutes and unites our society. Maybe a ‘Day of Immigration’. There is a centuries-old tradition of immigration into this country, from Huguenots to Syrians. This could be a signal to look towards the future for once, instead of back into the past. Christian values would not be infringed upon by this – and neither would Muslim or any other ones.”(( http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Muslimischer-Feiertag-waere-Symbolpolitik-article20083722.html ))

De Maizière “misunderstood”

For now, however, such a communal new holiday seems far off. After the fierce criticism directed at his remarks, Thomas de Maizière backtracked quickly, asserting that he had been misunderstood.

On his website, he stated: “There is no suggestion on my part to introduce a Muslim holiday. I will also not make such a suggestion.”(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/muslimischer-feiertag-de-maiziere-fuehlt-sich-missverstanden-15250862.html ))

 

Islam in crisis: Observations by German religious scholar Michael Blume

The assumption that ‘Islam’ – usually conceived as a monolithic force – is on an expansionary path is widely shared. Islamists herald the onset of an age of Islamic renewal and dominance; anxious Westerners take to the streets against the ‘Islamisation’ of the occident; and colourful videos highlighting that Islam is set to overtake Christianity as the world’s largest religious group in the coming decades regularly go viral in social networks.

Declining levels of orthopraxy

It is in order to go against this conventional wisdom that German religious scholar Michael Blume has written his latest book Islam in Crisis: A World Religion between Radicalization and Silent Retreat. Blume asserts that Islam is not about to conquer the world but rather that it is in existential trouble.

Blume paints a picture of a religion that is rapidly losing in relevance in the lives of those who are commonly seen as ‘Muslim’. Focusing particularly on figures taken from his native Germany, Blume shows how Muslim communities are marked by a pronounced decline in orthopraxy: young Muslims in Germany pray less than their ancestors, fewer girls wear headscarves, and fewer boys go to the mosque.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/islam-die-saekularisierung-als-symptom-der-krise ))

Detachment from the religious tradition

Concomitantly, Muslims are increasingly heterodox in their religious outlook: in 2013, 42 per cent of German Muslim respondents asserted that in their spiritual lives they “draw upon the teachings of different religious traditions”.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/islam-die-saekularisierung-als-symptom-der-krise ))

At the same time, Blume sees most Muslims as more and more distant from and disenchanted with the traditions of their own faith. Violent groups such as the ‘Islamic State’ only foment this disenchantment, according to Blume: their despicable acts further alienate many Muslims from the religion of their parents.

In fact, the warriors of the ‘Islamic State’ are engaged in a battle against the progressing secularisation of the Islamic world. In this respect, they are a product of the present age and of the crisis of Islamic thought, rather than an organic outgrowth of the religious tradition.

Intellectual and theological stasis

According to Blume, this civilisational crisis goes back to Sultan Bayezid’s fateful decision to ban the printing press from Ottoman lands after its invention in Europe in the 15th century. This decision, according to Blume, led to societal and intellectual stasis in the Arab heartlands of the Islamic world – a state of affairs that was perpetuated by subsequent authoritarian regimes buttressed by oil rent.(( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCgN5dsls0M ))

Ever since the 15th century, the Islamic religious establishment has been unable to develop answers that could be meaningful to all those Muslims who seek to live in the modern age, or so Blume argues. Yet inevitably Muslims do lead modern lives – a fact that fosters their increasing disconnect from petrified religious traditions.

Looking beyond jihadism

The refreshing element of Blume’s discussion resides in its unflinching focus away from the flashy band of religious radicals who, in spite of being small in number, have managed to capture the world’s attention by their jihadist violence. Instead, Blume seeks to shed light on the religious dynamics among the majority of the world’s Muslim population.

Equally important is the related observation that these ‘Muslims’ are not a homogeneous mass. The implicit assumption in popular discourses as well as in official statistics (for instance from the German government) is the fact that being born to parents from a Muslim-majority region makes one ‘Muslim’ – irrespective of actual levels of belief and observance.

A long-standing argument made anew

At the same time, the observation that the rise of political Islam and of present-day jihadism has gone hand in hand with – in fact proceeded via – a weakening of the authority of the Islamic tradition and its institutions is scarcely new.

There are, after all, entire bookshelves filled with studies demonstrating how local Islamic traditions have been remodeled by the rise of authoritarian nation-states,((For a concise overview of this phenomenon across the Muslim world, see Part I of Jocelyne Cesari’s book The Awakening of Muslim Democracy: Religion, Modernity, and the State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014). A particularly insightful study of a single case is provided by Brinkley Messick in The Calligraphic State: Textual Domination and History in a Muslim Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).)) how traditional modes of Islamic reasoning have ossified in this process,((For a monumental work in that category, see Wael Hallaq’s Shari’a: Theory, Practice, Transformations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).)) and how Islamist laymen have stepped in to fill the void.((An excellent introduction is provided by the essays in the collection edited by Ali Rahnema, Pioneers of Islamic Revival (London: Zed Books, 1994).))

Differences between Islamic heartlands and the immigrant context

Nor have the processes of change undergone by Muslim communities across the world been completely uniform everywhere: Muslims lives in Germany are, surely, necessarily different from Muslim lives in Indonesia. One is left to wonder whether Blume at times underestimates the resulting diversity.

After all, detachment from traditional religion seems easier and more likely in immigrant settings, where religious networks are less deep, religious expertise less profound, and where Muslims are permanently forced to come to terms with a plurality of lifestyles and with an often hostile perception of Islamic religiosity.

Put differently, in a context where there are hardly any mosques and few well-educated Imams; where headscarf-wearing women are often seen with suspicion; and where halal meat is difficult to come by, it is not surprising to observe declining levels of orthopraxy.

Reaffirmations of orthopraxy

Yet even in the European or German context, from whence Blume draws most of his hard figures apparently demonstrating the decline of Islamic orthopraxy, we also observe countervailing dynamics.

Well-educated daughters of secularist Turkish parents are choosing to don a headscarf, in a statement of ostentatious orthopraxy serving to reaffirm their Muslim identity. Salafis carry this identitarian reemphasis of (allegedly) traditional behaviour to its extremes. Yet while Salafis use orthopraxy to withdraw from a mainstream society seen as ‘infidel’, the young woman wearing the hijab may have very different reasons.

A recent study observed that urban, well-educated Muslim women covered up more often in order to reconcile their Muslim faith with the demands of being out of their homes and with employment in gender-mixed environments.(( http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2016-09-02-veil-worn-muslim-women-may-signal-they-are-integrating-more )) Here, ‘modernisation’ – understood as female participation in the labour market – actually reinforced rather than undermined religious orthopraxy.

Modernisation = secularisation?

One is thus left to wonder whether the “silent retreat” and the “radicalisation” observed by Blume are really a convincing (let alone an exhaustive) portrayal of the possibilities of Islamic religiosity in the modern world. For Blume, these are the twin reactions in the face of the secularisation processes undergone by the Islamic world and by Muslim communities.

Yet at the heart of this argument lies the supposition that ‘modernisation’ always goes hand in hand with ‘secularisation’ – a teleological claim that social science has long abandoned for being overly simplistic.

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.

Muslim workers at Paris airport sue after fired for refusing to shave beards

An industrial tribunal will hear the case of four Muslim former security guards at Orly airport who say they were discriminated against when sacked for refusing to shave off their beards in the wake of the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris.

Soon after those jihadist attacks that left 130 dead, management from the Securitas security firm summoned several male staff members working for it at Orly, all of them Muslim and all of them bearded.

They were told that with passengers on edge, it would be appreciated if they could all trim or shave off their beards to adhere to the firm’s strict grooming policy.

Most of the men, who worked at the security points where passengers and their hand luggage are screened, complied, but four did not, and launched discrimination complaints.

Their case is to be heard at an industrial tribunal in Bobigny.

The men were suspended a week after refusing to shave and some months later received a letter telling them they were sacked. Securitas denies any discrimination, and argues that the ex-employees simply refused to adhere to company rules stating that facial hair needed to be kept short and well-groomed.

The tribunal hearing is likely to be dominated by arguments over what length of a beard is “acceptable” and whether a beard can be considered a religious symbol.

The European Court of Justice ruled in March that companies should be allowed to to ban their staff from wearing visible religious symbols.

Security was tightened at Orly airport in the wake of the November 13th attacks in Paris, with authorities screening all workers at the two Paris airports – Charles de Gaulle and Orly.They decided to revoke “secure zone access” to almost 70 workers, with the head of Aeroports de Paris citing the main reason as “cases of radicalization”.

 

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.

New report explores the identity of Latino Muslims in the United States

The Latino Muslims Survey (LMS), a social science oriented study of U.S. Latino Muslims, examined the religiosity of 560 Latino Muslims via an online, bilingual nationwide survey. The historic findings shed light on the intersection of religious beliefs and practices; spiritual, moral, social, and ethical views.  The study also examined the social, civic and political attitudes of the self-identified Latinos and Muslims.  The results of the study were published June 2017 in the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion. 

According to, Dr. Gaston Espinosa, Arthur V. Stoughton Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College, one of the co-principals of the study, this research “is important because it is the largest survey ever conducted on the U.S. Latino Muslims and because it helps us to understand why Latinos are converting to Islam, what branches of Islam they are converting into, and their religious, social, gender, and political views.”

This comprehensive survey adds nuance to the understanding of Latino Muslims and reexamines the previously held notion that a majority of Latino Muslims coverts embraced Islam as a rejection of Catholicism.

Hijab debate splits feminists in Germany

In a new instalment of Germany’s long-running judicial battles over the hijab, the country’s highest court has in a new verdict upheld the legislator’s right to prohibit Muslim women from wearing the Islamic headcovering in certain circumstances.

 

Jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court

The Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) rejected the application for interim relief filed by a junior lawyer from the state of Hesse working at a local court. Her employer, referring to a 2007 ministerial decree, had refused to let her wear the hijab when interacting with the public in an official role.

The Court’s decision appeared to be a reversal on a previously more concessionary interpretation of legal texts, and a turn to a more categorical upholding of a quasi-laic principle of state neutrality. In previous rulings, the Court had invalidated a blanket ban on headscarves worn by teachers at public schools and also rejected demands to outlaw the headscarf at public kindergartens.

“The sight of other religious convictions”

Yet while the Court had stated in its verdict on the kindergarten case that no one had a constitutional right to “be spared the sight of other religious or ideological confessions of faith”(( http://www.spiegel.de/karriere/eilantrag-gegen-kopftuchverbot-juristin-scheitert-vor-gericht-a-1155852.html )), the present judgement seems to be based at least partly on the exact opposite reasoning. In somewhat convoluted phrasing, the judges assert that

it appears understandable if persons involved in a trial feel violated in their right to remain untouched by the cultic actions of a faith they do not espouse if they are subjected to the unavoidable compulsion of having to lead a lawsuit under the involvement of state representatives who identifiably project their religious or ideological convictions to the outside.((http://www.bundesverfassungsgericht.de/SharedDocs/Pressemitteilungen/DE/2017/bvg17-055.html ))

In other words, at least in the sensitive domain of the justice system, people do have the right to be spared the sight of other religious convictions.

A crossroads for feminism

The significance of the verdict is, of course, not simply juridical: whilst phrased in the arcane language of Germany’s specific legal doctrine dealing with the relationship between Church (or religion more generally) and state – the so-called Staatskirchenrecht – the import of the judges’ decision lies in the ways in which it touches upon the place allocated to Islamic religiosity and Muslim women in the German public sphere.

In this context, the issue of the hijab regularly becomes a crossroads for progressive politics. Most notably, as Meredith Haaf writes in a thoughtful article for the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/kultur/debatte-tuch-oder-tussi-1.3585227 )) – translated into English here – feminism continues to struggle over its positioning vis-à-vis the Muslim headscarf.

Combatting ‘sexualisation’

Internationally, influential NGO Terre des Femmes recently called for a global ban on hijabs for underage girls – a move that Haaf identifies as part of “the discursive stoking of discrimination against a section of the population”.

Terre des Femmes argues that the headscarf stigmatises girls and women as “seductresses and sexual beings”. Yet even if Muslim parents should indeed be acting upon this rationale, Haaf points out that many non-Muslims do the same by making their (often pre-pubescent) daughters wear bikini tops or by dressing them in ostentatiously ‘girlish’ clothing. Whether ‘oriental’ sexualisation is a more powerful force than its ‘occidental’ counterpart is thus far from clear.

Headscarf and patriarchy

Many feminists have nevertheless picked up upon the headscarf as the prime symbol and tool of patriarchal oppression in our age. In this context, a number of feminists have not shied away from entering a de facto alliance with the populist right.

In Germany, only the openly Islamophobic AfD party has called for a ban on the hijab such as the one demanded by Terre des Femmes. Needlessly to say, the AfD also supports a curtailment of women’s reproductive rights and a strengthening of the traditional family model – hardly an agenda that Western feminists have traditionally espoused.

Feminism’s rightward turn

Haaf takes particular aim at Emma, the long-standing leading German feminist publication. Founded by Alice Schwarzer, dominant persona of the German feminist movement, Emma’s editorial line (as well as Ms. Schwarzer’s personal politics) has shifted sharply to the right on matters concerning Islam.

Especially following the mass sexual assaults by predominantly North African men on New Year’s Eve 2015/2016 in Cologne, Schwarzer became very vocal in her description of Islam as a violent and inherently patriarchal ideology. In 2017, Schwarzer published an edited volume entitled The Shock: The New Year’s Eve of Cologne. In this work, Schwarzer and her co-authors assert that sexual violence is based on and legitimised (even called for) by the Qur’an.

‘Islamic feminism’

For her positioning Schwarzer has received harsh criticism from a feminist perspective. Khola Maryam Hübsch, journalist, Muslim activist, and author of the book Freedom under the Veil: What Islam Can Add to a Truly Emancipated Image of Women attacked Schwarzer for replicating the discourses and argumentative patterns employed by misogynistic Islamist extremism.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/koelner-silvesternacht-so-hilft-alice-schwarzer-den-islamfeinden-der-afd/60902 ))

Hübsch decried the fact that interventions such as Schwarzer’s essentialise ‘Islam’ or ‘the Qur’an’ and in this way “torpedo the attempts of all those Muslims who don’t tire of pointing to the obvious: particular verses need to be interpreted in textual and historical context. They must not be abused selectively for egoistically motivated behaviour.”(( http://cicero.de/kultur/koelner-silvesternacht-so-hilft-alice-schwarzer-den-islamfeinden-der-afd/60902 ))

Clashing feminisms

In many respects, Hübsch’s comments are expressive of a self-consciously ‘Islamic’ feminism, represented in Germany by voices such as Kübra Gümüsay. Islamic feminists highlight the ways in which mainstream feminism has – in their view – sidelined Muslim women by denying them agency and by conceptualising them as passive objects in need of saving.

Yet Hübsch’s account stressing the possibility of uniting feminism and the hijab is, of course, far from uncontested. Other Muslim commentators strike a very different note. Activist Zana Ramadani, author of the book The Veiled Danger, accuses mainstream feminism of having become politically correct and complacent. Ramadani sees Gümüsay and others as using accusations of Islamophobia and racism in order to silence critical voices raising uncomfortable questions about the nature of Islamic religiosity.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/islam-und-frauenrechte-pseudo-feministinnen-mit-kopftuch ))

Reverting to ad hominem attacks against Islamic feminists, Ramadani asserts that “these ignorant headscarf women are part of an Islamist lobby that through trickery has managed to obtain the solidarity of not only leftist feminists. They have all been hoodwinked by the Muslim fake-feminists such as Gümüsay”.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/islam-und-frauenrechte-pseudo-feministinnen-mit-kopftuch ))

The different meanings of the hijab

Thus, both sides castigate one another as having undermined feminism’s progressive credentials. In spite of the often lacklustre nature of the arguments employed – especially on the part of those blindly accusing headscarf-wearing women and their defenders of complicity with terrorism – neither side is necessarily completely wrong: the hijab may be imposed as an oppressive garment; yet it may also be freely chosen.

Thus, what is often difficult to understand and appreciate for both sides is the polyvalence of the hijab as a symbol. Those feminists who only conceive of the hijab as a symbol and a tool of domination fail to accept the fact that women may choose to wear the headcovering of their own accord. Those who see it as a potentially liberating object fail to see that it is at times violently imposed.

Religious obligations

Another facet of the problem is, however, even more difficult to conceptualise. Religious precepts are – at least in their traditional understanding – not based on free-wheeling ‘individual choice’ but on a communal tradition that is perceived as binding on the individual. To give but one example: Jewish and Muslim parents circumcise their male offspring – without the child having much of a say in it.

In a highly remarkable verdict in 2012, a German court condemned this practice as violating the child’s right to bodily integrity. While the legislator in Berlin quickly passed a law creating a loophole that allowed for the continued legality of religiously motivated circumcision of boys, the underlying point still stands: free individual choice and the belonging to a religious community may frequently clash.

The hijab as the norm

The same could quite well apply to many women wearing the hijab: it is true that an increasing number of women particularly in Western societies might make the individualistic choice to wear the Muslim headcovering. Yet in many cases, they will wear it because their families and their (Muslim) environment have signalled them that this is “the way things are to be done” in the community.

In many respects, Islamic feminists and their feminist antagonists both argue from the standpoint of a radical, individualistic choice: the former assert that Muslim women ‘choose’ the headscarf; the latter claim that Muslim women should be enabled to become true individuals by abandoning the garment.

Communal obligations vs. individual choice

Neither side tackles the much harder question concerning the place of communal obligations in an increasingly individualised society. Does it per se make people ‘unfree’ in a relevant way if they conceive of themselves as part of a religious community that is seen as imposing certain rules that go unquestioned by the community’s individual members and that thus curtail individual choice?

The framers of Germany’s Basic Law did not seem to think so: in their Staatskirchenrecht, they enshrined far-reaching guarantees for citizens to be able to belong to religious communities and to project their communal affiliations and beliefs to the outside, including in the public sphere. Yet as the recent verdicts given by Germany’s top courts reveal, the renegotiation and actualisation of these foundational principles in today’s context continues to be a challenge – especially in relation to Islam.

American Muslims growing more liberal, survey shows

A major Pew survey reveals that American Muslims are growing more religiously and socially liberal, with the number who say society should accept homosexuality nearly doubling during the past decade.

The Pew Research Center, survey of 1,001 American Muslims exhibits that American Muslims are more likely to identify as political liberals and believe there are multiple ways to interpret the teaching of Islam.

The wide-ranging survey solicited opinions issues ranging from religious practices and political terrorism to social values.  The survey also found that the American Muslim population has been steadily rising for a decade, adding about 100,000 people per year.  An estimated 3.35 million Muslims now live in the United States, just 1% of the overall population.

The survey also reveals that despite persistent anxiety about Islamic extremism and religious discrimination, the Muslim community in America remains hopeful about their future in the United States.

After a Muslim-American shot and killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando last year, American Muslims were forced to come to terms with gays and lesbians in their mosques and families, prompting conversations about homosexuality and Islamic teachings, said Zareena Grewal, who studies the American Muslim experience at Yale University.
“After the Pulse shooting, Muslims were coming out of the closet across the United States, and the Muslim community, in public and private, was grappling with the issue in a much more honest way,” Grewal said.

Muhammad Ali’s Muslim Faith Is Being Scrubbed From His Legacy

Muhammad Ali is remembered as a boxing legend, an Olympian, a civil rights warrior, a humanitarian, and a trailblazer for Parkinson’s disease awareness.

But one central part of his identity is missing from the official Ali Instagram and Twitter feeds: the proud, unapologetic Muslim.

Islam is conspicuously absent from the Ali brand, which is owned and managed by a New York–based licensing company ABG.

Sherman Jackson, a Muslim professor at the University of Southern California who’s written extensively about Islam and black America, said Ali’s religion is an inconvenient fact for companies looking to profit by putting his image on T-shirts, hats, and posters. Jackson, who delivered a eulogy at Ali’s funeral in Kentucky, said the duty now falls to American Muslims to ensure that a central part of his legacy isn’t lost to revisionism and commercialization.

“It’s up to Muslims to really understand his legacy, to really preserve it, and to put it where it ought to be in terms of the pantheon,” Jackson said.

Ali’s family has emphasized six core principles as key to his legacy: confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect, and spirituality. In public aspects of the Ali legacy, all those values are reflected except spirituality.

Progressive Muslims seek to open Islamic Academy in Berlin

As Euro-Islam reported, the political disputes of the past months have taken a heavy toll on Turkish-dominated DİTİB, numerically still Germany’s largest Islamic association.

German politicians have castigated the organisation for its proximity to the Turkish government, particularly when it was revealed that some of its Imam’s had spied on suspected members of the Gülen movement on behalf of Turkish state authorities.

Internal pressures

Internally, DİTİB has been rocked by successive waves of dissent, dismissals, and disputes. While some functionaries left the organisation of their own accord, others were de facto purged upon Ankara’s request. Out of protest, DİTİB’s entire youth board resigned in May 2017, signalling a generational split within the association.

Ender Çetin, former chairman of Berlin’s Şehitlik mosque, was one of the victims of the purge. Deemed too progressive and too disloyal to the Turkish point of view, Çetin was ousted from his post at the mosque in December 2016. In the past, he had gained renown for gradually turning the mosque into an open space for encounters and debates, including on controversial matters such as homosexuality.

A forum for debate

Now, Çetin and around 30 predominantly younger Muslims formerly active in DİTİB communities in Berlin seek to build an Islamic institution to their liking out of DİTİB’s reach. They have announced plans to open an Islamic Academy that is to serve as a forum for discussions and cultural events.((https://www.rbb-online.de/politik/beitrag/2017/06/berlin-muslimische-akademie-geplant.html ))

The Academy is to be modelled upon other comparable confessional institutions in Germany: both Catholic and Protestant churches have their “academies” – open centres that bridge the divide between religion and society by hosting conferences, debates, and projects on contemporary issues.

Aiming at a young audience

The Academy aims at catering primarily to a younger audience. Its initiators noted that young Muslims were in desperate need of a modern and societally open spiritual forum. As of late, DİTİB’s internal clampdown and the association’s rigid hierarchies had made open debate all but impossible, or so they argued.

As of now, the initiators are still organising the logistics of their project. Making the Academy real will necessitate overcoming many challenges, not least of a financial nature: in the past, a number of progressive endeavours that sought to establish themselves beyond the purview of the conservative associations have foundered on insufficient funding.

Nevertheless, the idea of a Muslim Academy holds the promise of building a genuinely open and proactive civil society institution that is capable of asking hard questions and of projecting progressive Muslim voices – without falling into the trap of a “liberal Islam” that remains a chimaera.