Michigan bill targets use of ‘foreign’ laws like Sharia

Oralandar Brand-Williams/ The Detroit News

Detroit— A state lawmaker wants Michigan to join the trend of states banning “foreign laws,” but Muslim activists say the effort is a thinly veiled attack on Islam.

Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, is pushing a bill to bar the implementation of foreign laws. It doesn’t mention Sharia — Islamic law — but he acknowledged it would be prohibited in courts under the legislation intended to prevent anyone “who tries to shove any foreign law down our throats.”

“No foreign law shall supersede federal laws or constitution or state laws or constitution,” Agema said. “Our law is our law. I don’t like foreign entities telling us what to do.”

Agema said his bill would protect the “vast majority” of Muslims, whom he contended “come to this country to get away from Sharia.”

The legislation comes at a time of heightened debate about Sharia, a set of religious rules governing personal conduct, family relationships and religious practice for Muslims. Critics fear Sharia could supersede civil law and have an impact on divorce and child custody cases, and similar legislation has been introduced in 25 states.

Some say the bills are unnecessary and pander to anti-Muslim paranoia.

Pro- and Anti-Minaret Groups Launch New Initiatives

November 29, 2010

Precisely one year following the Swiss referendum banning minarets in 2009, the Swiss Islamic Central Council (IZRS) has announced that it wishes to hold another national referendum in order to remove the minaret ban from the constitution. No other Muslim organizations were consulted with regard to this plan, which had been kept secret due to tactical considerations.
Leaders of the IZRS stated that not even a ruling against Switzerland in the European Court of Human Rights would achieve would Muslims in Switzerland need, and that only way to fight the ban is by holding another referendum. Oscar Bergamin, political consultant for the IZRS, believes that there are good chances to win a second referendum, since the ban is discriminatory and unfairly singles out Muslim places of worship.
The very same day that the IZRS made their announcement, the Anti-Minaret Committee led by Ulrich Schüler of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) presented a manifesto in Berne against the Islamicization of Switzerland. The document emphasizes Switzerland’s Christian heritage and gives voice to the group’s frustration that the government has not been implementing the minaret ban, especially in the case of the Langenthal minaret project. The document goes on to denounce all practices of sharia law, and calls for all Muslims wishing to become Swiss citizens to pledge allegiance to the constitution and the laws of the country.

Website links Martyrdom and Massacres

The Austrian Liberal Muslim Initiative (ILMÖ) has declared the Islamic website nektar.co.at “dangerous,” resulting from the website’s definition of “jihad” as a type of martyrdom in Islam which is not only found on the battlefield, but also through the massacre of civilians.

The Federal office for the protection of the constitution and combating terrorism admits that the website in question is under surveillance, however legally there has not yet been a reason to intervene. The website gives no information as to who the contributors are, though it does say that its goal is to spread knowledge about Islam in German. The owner of the website did not respond to telephone calls from Der Standard.

Germany’s Islam conference: State Islam would be unconstitutional

The Muslims will have to organize if they want to ensure themselves of a place within the system of constitutional law on religion. In order to conduct negotiations on religious matters the neutral state requires someone to talk to. A commentary by canon lawyer Hans Michael Heinig

Symbolic Picture of Islam in Germany and the German Constitution (photo: dpa/DW) In Germany’s daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on March 16, Necla Kelek posed the question of who was going to protect the silent majority of Muslims in Germany from the traditionalists of the Islamic associations. The answer she proposed was that the German Interior Minister should abandon state impartiality in religious questions and show contempt for organized Islam by continuing the German Islam Conference without any association representatives. One can only hope that the minister will decide not to listen to his recently appointed adviser. The basic principles upon which our free and liberal society is based would be difficult to defend were we to adopt religious bias.

It took a terrible death toll in the wake of the religious civil war to suspend the question of religious truth in politics. The religious and ideological neutrality of the state in religious disputes is among the great achievements of European civilization. It is also one that is reflected in the German constitution. According to the Federal Constitutional Court, the state is “home to all citizens”.

“There can be no taking sides”

The constitution forbids the setting up of a state church, which, therefore, means there can be no state Islam either. There is no place within our constitutional system for the Kemalist solution of a state-led Islam. Nor can the state afford to take sides in any conflict between conservative and progressive factions within a religion. Were the interior minister to respond to the call to relinquish his role as mediator, he would be committing a violation of the constitution.

Ultimately, any criticism of Islam based purely on anti-Islamist anger runs the risk of doing the very thing it accuses the Islamic associations of doing, exploiting the state in the name of a religious-political power struggle.

Participants at the third Islam Conference, March 2008 (photo: AP) Of course, the state protects Muslims against any violent forms of Islam that violate German law, just as it does non-Muslims also. But it is only the German Muslims who can protect themselves against a “false” Islam. Those who feel that they are not being properly represented by the “hardliners” in the associations have to organize. That is the way the game is played in a liberal democracy. When groups of people unite they form a stronger whole and have greater political influence.

This applies as much to motoring organizations or trades unions as it does to a religious association. A state that maintains a neutral religious ideology has no other choice than to cooperate with the Islamic associations produced by its society. It may not create a partner particularly agreeable to itself.

Associations represent members, intellectuals represent no one

Reading Necla Kelek one can easily come to the conclusion that she sees all Muslim associations as a conspiracy to disenfranchise the individual believer. Without religious communities able and ready to cooperate with one another, however, the state could not give Islamic religious instruction, train Imams in state universities, nor organize the spiritual counseling of military personnel or prisoners. Religious communities unite their members. Membership gives a feeling of belonging.

Necla Kelek (photo: dpa) A state committed to neutrality and freedom of religion can build on this if it creates spaces for public religion and promotes religions as culturally important. The community has a strong interest in the well-known public forms of canon law and the promotion of religion, because in this way the state can stimulate what is best in the social form religion and counter destructive tendencies without sacrificing its neutrality in religious matters.

So long as the vast majority of religious Muslims in Germany decline to exercise their fundamental right to religious freedom of association, German society will have to live with the consequences of this sort of refusal to integrate. The existing associations can hardly be blamed. They represent their members. No more and no less. It cannot be claimed, therefore, that they are representative of Muslim life in Germany in its entirety.

Without the cooperation of the already existing associations, however, the German Islam Conference is doomed to failure. Individual Muslims are no substitute for the associations. Intellectuals and artists are not legitimized by anyone and need not justify themselves to anyone.

Islam Conference at crossroads

By including such figures in the German Islam Conference, former interior minister Wolfgang Schäuble was trying to respond to the existing associations’ inadequate reflection of the diversity of Islamic life in Germany. For a consultative body with no executive decision-making powers the solution was understandable, or at least acceptable, and at the same time reduced the political pressure on the majority of Muslims to organize themselves in accordance with the constitutional requirements.

Now, however, the Islam Conference model is threatening to take on a life of its own. Only recently, Germany’s Science Council advised the setting up of chairs of Islamic theology at state universities based on this concept. A reasonable organization of constitutional law on religion is hardly likely to come about on this basis however. It would amount to a special privilege and as such hardly reconcilable with the constitutional promise of equal treatment for all religions and ideologies.

The German Islam Conference has reached a crossroads. Its constitution led to the symbolic integration of Islam into the political system. The stolid silence between state and organized Islam under the SPD-Green Party coalition came to an end. Schäuble even went so far as to consciously include some of the more disreputable members of the Islamic associations in his invitations. This was linked to the hope that public recognition would change those who received the attention.

The state expects the solidarity of the associations

This was, to some extent, probably a forlorn hope. Currently, representatives of the IGMG (Islamic Association Milli Görüş) find themselves facing criminal charges that go beyond the mere suspicion of political extremism. The current interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, had to respond to this for the latest session of the Conference. He suspended the membership of the Islamic Council, which is dominated by the IGMG. Now, however, the other associations are hesitating over their further participation in the Islam Conference.

Germany’s former Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (photo: picture-alliance/dpa) This is understandable given that the associations had formed a joint coordinating council and the DITIB (the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs), ZMD (Central Council of Muslims in Germany) and VIKZ (Association of Islamic Culture Centres) now feel themselves obliged to consider the matter. This type of cooperation was something the politicians had been repeatedly calling for. It might have been wiser, therefore, to declare certain individuals undesirable rather than suspend the whole association.

Following the elections and consequent change in leadership, it took the interior ministry some time to come up with a concept for the second phase on the Islam Conference. The delay was unfortunate given that the Conference had been successful until then, and particularly since the integration of Muslims is such a key issue in German society.

Among the priorities the interior minister wants the Islam Conference to turn its attention to in the future are the need to find solutions on the questions of religious education and the training of imams. But these are things the government does not have the powers to do single-handedly. School and university policies are the responsibility of the individual states. The proposed increased participation from the Länder is, therefore, now urgently needed.f

Dictates of the pragmatic

It is worth remembering that one of the key aims of Schäuble’s Islam Conference was to provide a national platform where fundamental questions could be discussed alongside the small-scale development of local alliances and the initiatives of the Länder on individual questions of state church law.

The Islam Conference explored various forms of the societal conception of the relationship between religion and politics, of cultural freedom and societal expectations, of successful integration and undesirable marginal existence, of religion’s own response to averting danger and the productive contribution of the religions to the common good. Therein lies an intrinsic value that should not be underestimated.

Politics nowadays is always about tangible concrete issues. It is subject to the dictates of the pragmatic. But sometimes it is the discussion of the general that is the tangible and mere talking pragmatic.

Hans Michael Heinig

© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung / Qantara.de 2010

Hans Michael Heinig teaches public law at Göttingen and is head of the juridical department of the EKD (Evangelical Church in Germany).

Translated from the German by John Bergeron

Editor: Lewis Gropp / Qantara.de

Work contracts terminated for Muslim employees

Lega Nord Trentino terminated a cleaning contract with a firm composed of Islamic employees.

Don Giuseppe Caldera, in charge of Migrantes and Director of the Missionary Diocesan Centre says it is discrimination and risks instigation of religious hatred. Assou El Bariji, coordinator of immigrant workers for CGIL (left wing Trade Union) in Trentino, denounced the Lega Nord initiative as racist and against the basic principles of the Human Rights’ Charter and the Italian constitution. He accuses the Lega Nord of bigotry and deplores its incapacity to recognize the value and contribution of foreigners to Trentino. The facts are raising political clashes and protests in the region and beyond.

Alessandro Savoi, head of the Lega Nord group explained that their request is motivated by security concerns: it is, indeed, neither secure nor appropriate to allow Islamic workers to move freely within their offices and to have access to their computers. Moreover, they were found sleeping on the office’s sofas.

Belgian Muslim vigilance website launched

Vigilance Musulmane (Muslim Vigilance), a think tank and watch dog group based out of Belgium, has launched a website detailing their work ensuring for proper treatment within the country’s constitution, as well as the neutrality of the State and the separation of religion and politics in the country. The website features news articles on these topics. It is coordinated by Abdelghani Ben Moussa.

Islam in German schools

Saphir, a textbook for Islamic religion classes, presents the fundamental issues of Islam in 15 chapters for fifth and sixth grade pupils. Themes include the concept of God, the Prophet Mohammed, and the structure of the Quran, as well as issues such as the rights of children and social responsibility. Editions for grades seven to 10 are currently being prepared.

The textbook is part of an initiative to better educate Muslim students at Germany’s public schools about their Muslim faith. Saphir stands at the forefront of contemporary religious education. For Islam in Germany, the new schoolbook is a step away from the fringes and into the mainstream of society.

The book “does not aim to educate pupils to believe, but rather to make responsible decisions concerning faith,” stressed Harry Harun Behr from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. Behr, a German convert to Islam, teaches aspiring religion teachers at the Interdisciplinary Center for Islamic Religious Education. He is one of the authors of the teaching plan for classes in Islam at the Bavarian model schools in Erlangen, Bayreuth, Fürth, Nuremberg and, since the beginning of this school year, also in Munich. Behr maintains that classes in Islam at school should encourage a “critical distance to one’s own religion.” The university lecturer feels that a literal understanding of the Quran as an instruction manual is “not a sustainable model.” He regards the Quran as a literary text with a historical point of origin and development.

Islam as a regular subject at German public schools has, until now, only taken place on a trial basis. According to Article 7, Paragraph 3 of the German constitution, Muslims have a right to religious education for their children under the supervision of the state, just as Christians do. Yet for many decades, this right has not been implemented due to the lack of suitable partners on the Muslim side. Since 1999, North Rhine-Westphalia has offered Islamic instruction in approximately 140 schools to some 10,000 Muslim pupils. However, the Islamic instruction does not correspond to religion courses as prescribed by the German constitution. Such a course curriculum is only now being prepared in collaboration with Islamic associations.

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Senators seek rights protections in FBI probes

Three Democratic senators are seeking “bare-minimum” civil rights protection for those Americans who might be targeted in FBI security investigations, even without evidence of wrongdoing. Senators Dick Durban, Russ Feingold, and Edward Kennedy made demands on the measures in a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, saying that the new policies could allow surveillance of innocent Muslim or Arab-Americans based in part on just their religion or nationality. “The Justice Department’s actions over the last eight years have alienated many Americans, especially Arab and Muslim Americans. We are concerned that issuing new attorney general guidelines without a more transparent process will actually make the FBI’s job more, not less, difficult by exacerbating mistrust in communities whose cooperation the FBI needs,” the letter is quoted as saying.

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Associated Press

International Herald Tribune

Suspected 9/11 Terrorist Challenges Canadian Detention

A suspected Syrian terrorist who has spent seven years in custody in Canada is claiming that his indefinite detention without charge or trial amounts to cruelty. Hassan Almrei has argued in Canadian Federal court that this lengthy incarceration violates his constitutional rights. Almrei has arrested after September 11, 2001 and is one of five Muslim foreigners held under a national security certificate, which allows the Canadian government to detain suspects indefinitely, with secret evidence, as a threat to public safety.

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Switzerland: Group says anti-minaret petition to go to national referendum

Swiss nationalists say that they have enough signatures to force a nationwide Swiss referendum on whether or not to ban the construction of minarets on mosques. 103,000 signatures have been verified – exceeding the required minimum of 100,000. If approved, the referendum would take permanent place in the Swiss constitution to ban the towers, used to call Muslims to prayer. A scheduling of the vote has not been set, and may take months to arrange.