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 ))

 

Muslims in a Bible Belt town hold their breath

Murfreesboro is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country and an increasingly diverse one. Muslim and Christian students go to school and play sports together; their families patronize the same restaurants and stores.

Residents variously describe the town as a proud example of Southern hospitality, a growing “melting pot,” a suburb of “little blue dot” Nashville and the “buckle on the Bible Belt.” Its downtown with the old courthouse and Confederate-soldiers memorial yields to strip malls and chain stores, new housing developments and old cotton fields, and the university, with its 20,000 undergraduates.

Among the town’s couple hundred places of worship are 59 Baptist churches, including an Arabic Baptist church as well as Grace Baptist, whose deacon in 2010 greeted the construction of the new mosque next door by erecting 23 huge white crosses on the road.

Murfreesboro doesn’t need “to have a lot of Muslims,” Sally Wall said. “I think they can stay where they are and we stay where we are.”

But there’s more tolerance because of the public acrimony over the mosque, said City Council member Bill Shacklett.

“I wish some of the things hadn’t happened. But the one thing it has done is compel people to open their hearts and minds to be drawn toward each other . . . get out and flesh out your faith with different people,” Shacklett said, adding that Muslims and Christians have started to do that.

 

 

Verses from the Qur’an translated in Zeeuws [Dutch dialect]

Hans Vos and Johan Goossen have translated the Qur’an in the Dutch dialect Zeeuws in ‘Zeeuwse knoppe, Arabiese blomme.’ De Vos already translated some Bibles into this dialect and now wanted to do the Qur’an. They hope it will motivate the speakers of this dialect to get interested in the Qur’an, although they are mainly strict Dutch reformed Christians. The translation is, compared to the Arabic original, more ordinary and has less of a lofty touch that Qur’anic Arabic has.

US must ‘destroy’ Islamic State, say religious conservatives

August 13, 2014

(RNS) A coalition of more than 50 religious leaders, led by mostly conservative Catholic, evangelical and Jewish activists, is calling on President Obama to sharply escalate military action against Islamic extremists in Iraq. They say “nothing short of the destruction” of the Islamic State can protect Christians and religious minorities now being subjected to “a campaign of genocide.”

“We represent various religious traditions and shades of belief,” the petition reads. “None of us glorifies war or underestimates the risks entailed by the use of military force.”

But they say the situation is so dire that relief for these religious communities “cannot be achieved apart from the use of military force to degrade and disable” the Islamic State forces.

The petition was organized by Robert P. George, a prominent Catholic conservative and Republican activist, and he was joined by a range of other leaders, many of whom are known for their hawkish views on foreign policy.

The Vatican on Wednesday (Aug. 13) released a letter that Pope Francis wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealing to the world community “to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities.”

While Francis called for “concrete acts of solidarity” by the U.N. and included security forces as part of the solution, he was careful not to promote a military response as the chief means for resolving the tragedy. Other Catholic officials in Rome and Iraq have said the U.S. airstrikes are viewed as necessary and morally justified but they are leery of actions that could lead to another U.S.-led military campaign.

The letter from the religious activists, mainly Americans, was much more forceful in calling for military action.

Sudan ‘apostasy’ woman Meriam Ibrahim arrives in US

August 1, 2014

A Sudanese woman who fled to Italy after being spared a death sentence for renouncing Islam has arrived in the US. Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag arrived in New Hampshire on Thursday evening with her American husband and her children. Welcoming her on a brief stopover in Philadelphia, the city’s mayor, Michael Nutter, described her as a “world freedom fighter”.

He compared her to Rosa Parks, who became a symbol of the civil rights movement in the US when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Alabama.

When in Rome, she met the Pope, who “thanked her for her witness to faith”, according to a Vatican spokesman.

Alabama’s chief justice: Buddha didn’t create us so First Amendment only protects Christians

Speaking at the Pastor for Life Luncheon, which was sponsored by Pro-Life Mississippi, Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court declared that the First Amendment only applies to Christians because “Buddha didn’t create us, Mohammed didn’t create us, it was the God of the Holy Scriptures” who created us.

“They didn’t bring the Koran over on the pilgrim ship,” he remarked January 17 at the event in Jackson, Mississippi. “Let’s get real, let’s go back and learn our history. Let’s stop playing games.”

He then noted that he loves talking to lawyers, because he is a lawyer who went to “a secular law school,” so he knows that “in the law, [talking about God] just isn’t politically correct.” He claimed that this is why America has “lost its way,” and that he would be publishing a pamphlet “this week, maybe next” that contained copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, thereby proving that all the people “who found this nation — black, white, all people, all religions, all faiths” knew that America was “about God.”

He later said the “pursuit of happiness” meant following God’s law, because “you can’t be happy unless you follow God’s law, and if you follow God’s law, you can’t help but be happy.”

“It’s all about God,” he continued. “We’ve made ‘life’ a decision taken by man,” he said, and “taken ‘liberty,’ and converted it to ‘licentiousness. We’ve taken ‘pursuit of happiness,’ and reduced it to materialism.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called on Alabama’s governor and attorney general to reaffirm the constitutional rights of all that state’s citizens after video surfaced in which Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court seemed to claim that the First Amendment only applies to Christians because “Buddha didn’t create us, Mohammed didn’t create us.” Justice Moore went on to state: “They didn’t bring the Koran [Islam’s revealed text] over on the pilgrim ship.”

The Muslim Taxi Driver

February 28, 2014

 

If you want to kill legislation that protects the right of Christians to withhold business services from same-sex couples, here’s one way to do it: Don’t warn people about Christians. Warn them about Muslims.

That strategy was on display in the campaign against Arizona Senate Bill 1062, which would have shielded businesses from discrimination suits if they acted on religious beliefs. Everyone understood that the bill would have allowed conservative Christians to refuse services for a gay wedding. But in Arizona, that wasn’t a strong enough argument against it. So opponents went for the Muslim angle.

Many Americans who talk about religious freedom are really just interested in the rights of conservative Christians. They’re not so keen on Muslims. In fact, they worry about Muslims imposing their beliefs on Christians. Two days ago, in praise of the Arizona bill, Rush Limbaugh complained, “Religious beliefs can’t be used to stop anything the left wants to impose—unless they’re Muslim religious beliefs, and then we have to honor those. But any other religious beliefs are not permitted.”

The first reference to Muslims in the Arizona fight, as far as I can tell, came from the Anti-Defamation League in a letter to state senators and in testimony before a state Senate committee on Jan. 16. If the bill were to pass, the ADL’s assistant regional director told the committee, “A Muslim-owned cab company might refuse to drive passengers to a Hindu temple.”

This week, as lawmakers voted on the bill and Republican Gov. Jan Brewer weighed whether to sign it, the chorus grew. On Feb. 20, the editorial board of the Arizona Republic warned Brewer, “The proposed law is so poorly crafted it could allow a Muslim taxi driver to refuse service to a woman traveling alone.” On Feb. 21, John Aravosis, the editor of Americablog and a political consultant, brought up theMuslim cab driver and other scenarios raised by the ADL. On Feb. 22, Box Turtle Bulletin, a gay rights blog, published a post titled “Did the Arizona Legislature Just Legalize Sharia Law?

On Feb. 24, USA Today columnist Owen Ullman asked, “if religious beliefs are a justification for refusing gay couples, shouldn’t Arizona extend the principle to all religious beliefs? Devout Muslims should have the right to refuse service to women who are not covered in burqas.” On Feb. 25, fellow columnist Kirsten Powers, a former communications consultantadded:

I can’t prove that all this Muslim talk influenced Brewer’s decision to veto the billlast night. But it definitely caused trouble. During the state Senate debate on Feb. 20, the bill’s sponsor struggled with the Muslim taxi driver question. (Skip to minute 1:22 of the video.) On Feb. 25 the state’s Capitol Media Services raised the taxi driver scenario in an analysis of the bill’s legal ramifications. On Feb. 26, CBS News asked the president of the Center for Arizona Policy, which helped craft the bill, whether it would “protect a Muslim wedding photographer who does not want to photograph a Jewish wedding.” She said it would.

Slate.com: http://www.slate.com/blogs/saletan/2014/02/27/arizona_s_antigay_bill_did_warnings_about_muslim_religious_freedom_help.html

USA Today.com: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/02/24/voices-column-on-arizona-anti-gay-bill/5775081/

Savona: A Saturday Meeting between faiths

January 8, 2014

 

Young Christians, Muslims and other faiths led by a bishop will gather in the Savona cathedral in the name of interreligious coexistence. The event will be held next Saturday, January 11 at 3.30, in the Cathedral of Savona.

This is a now annual initiative and has led many of different faiths and in symbolic places such as Assisi and Bethlehem. The event is a significant moment of unity among Muslims, Catholics and members of other religions around the nativity crib and attended by the Bishop Vittorio Lupi.

The event will be attended by Zahoor Zargar, President of the Islamic communities in Liguria as well as the pastor of the Cathedral, Don Giovanni Margara.

 

L43 Local: http://www.ivg.it/2014/01/savona-sabato-cristiani-musulmani-insieme-incontro-duomo-il-vescovo/

Savona News: http://www.savonanews.it/339/?tx_ttnews%5Byear%5D=2014&tx_ttnews%5Bmonth%5D=01&tx_ttnews%5Bday%5D=08&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=615749&tx_ttnews%5Bcat%5D=640&cHash=d6aa08868bf89dd918b1960c9581e3cd

A New Report on Islamic fundamentalism in Europe

December 16, 2013

 

In Western Europe, religious fundamentalism is not a marginal phenomenon but a trend. This is the conclusion of a German study whose results were presented last week in Berlin at WZB, a center for research in the social sciences.

This comparative study between Muslims of Turkish or Moroccan origin and Christians is based on a survey conducted on about 9,000 people in six European countries, including Germany and France.

44% of Muslims polled believed in a return to the origins of Islam and that the rules dictated by their religious beliefs are more important than those of the country in which they live. Contrastingly, in the Christian population this was the case for only 4%.

To determine the extent to which Muslim and Christian fundamentalists are considered hostile to the other groups, the researchers asked them whether they agreed with the following three statements :

“I do not want to have a homosexual friend”
“You just cannot trust Jews”
“Western countries want to destroy Islam / Muslims want to destroy western culture”

The results of the survey showed that 60% of Muslims and 13% of Christians did not like the idea of having a homosexual friend. Muslims who do not trust Jews were 45% compared to 9% of Christians.
About 25% of Christians think that Muslims want to destroy western culture, while 45% of Muslims are convinced that Western countries want to destroy Islam.

In the conclusion, the study’s author, sociologist Rudd Koopmans, emphasizes, however, that the results should be relativized: “We must not forget that Muslims are a relatively small minority in western Europe. Considered in a relative manner, the levels of fundamentalism and hostility are certainly higher among the Muslims, but in absolute terms the Christian fundamentalists are just as numerous.”

Ticino Live: http://www.ticinolive.ch/2013/12/16/allarme-fondamentalismo-islamico-europa/