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 ))

 

Report: left-wing think tank urges days off for Muslim and Jewish holidays

The French left-wing think tank Terra Nova recently published a report in which it urges a “less centralized Islam” in France, as well as additional days off for Muslim and Jewish holidays. The study, entitled “the Emancipation of French Islam,” notes the limits to the French Council of the Muslim Faith’s ability to represent the country’s Muslim population.

The study suggests two additional days off for Muslim and Jewish holidays instead of the usual the days allotted after Christian holidays. Researchers argue that this change would ensure “that all religions are treated equally.” Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha would replace the Mondays off following Easter and Pentecost Monday.

To view the full report click here.

 

 

Sadiq Khan speaks for peaceful Islam at Trafalgar Square Eid festival

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/davehillblog/2016/jul/10/sadiq-khan-speaks-for-peaceful-islam-at-trafalgar-square-eid-festival

Just a few months ago, before the EU referendum triggered earthquakes across the UK political landscape, the Conservative party and its press allies were seeking, unsuccessfully, to portray Sadiq Khan, a Muslim, and at that time Labour’s candidate to become London mayor, as having questionable “links” with Islamist fanatics in one of the most poisonous election campaigns the country had ever seen.

 

On Saturday, Mayor Khan addressed an audience of thousands at London’s 11th annual Eid al-Fitr celebration in Trafalgar Square for the first time since taking office. He called for peace, unity and an embrace of religious freedom and diversity, describing this as one of London’s great strengths. He pledged zero tolerance of hate crimes, reports of which have risen in the wake of the EU leave vote, and he denounced “criminals who do bad things and use the name of Islam to justify what they do”.

 

The whole event received positive and rather lavish coverage from the Daily Mail – a far cry from April when Mail columnist and BBC Sunday Politics regular Isabel Oakeshott was recycling “troubling” stories of exceptional flimsiness to question Khan’s suitability for City Hall and her venerable colleague Max Hastings was declaring, absurdly, that Khan “represents a brand of socialism that is out of fashion even in Cuba”.

 

In reality, of course, Khan in office is turning to be nothing like what the Mail’s pundits predicted and has been putting campaign pledges to be “a Mayor for all Londoners” and a Muslim mayor who’d “take the fight to the extremists” into early effect. Only three weeks ago, he addressed the Pride in London festival from the same stage.

‘RIP the Republic’: debate over postponing French Muslim students’ exams for religious holiday

Ile-de-France region’s decision to allow those celebrating the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr to postpone graduation exams has sparked controversy. Critics of the move say France is ignoring the principles of secularism.


The measure was proposed by Maison des Examens, which manages the bac in the Ile-de-France region.

This year one of Islam’s most important holidays, Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, is celebrated on July 6. This coincides with the bac exams in France.

On June 30, a directive was sent to head teachers of high schools in Paris, Versailles and Créteil to change the exam schedule for Muslim students if they request it.

Muslim students who opt to celebrate the holiday may skip the exam on Wednesday and request to take it on Thursday or Friday instead, Vincent Goudet, director of the House of Examinations in Ile-de-France, confirmed to AFP on Monday.

The move was immediately slammed by many French officials who say non-Muslim students are being discriminated against. They added that such a precedent would create problems in the French education system.

According to Philippe Tournier, the general secretary of the National Union of management staff of Education (SNPDEN), the idea is “inconceivable.”

“This kind of decision can create a … mess, especially since it contains a lot unsaid things,” he said. “And if all the students say ‘yes’ [to postponing the bac exams because of the holiday], because they prefer to have one more day to review, what will we do?”

Nicolas Cadène, general rapporteur of the Observatory of secularism, told BFMTV that “there is no need for the House of Examination to propose any adaptation, which distinguishes students according to their religious practices.”

A member of the National Assembly of France, Eric Ciotti, wrote an open letter to the national Assembly, calling on Education Minister Najat Belkacem and Prime Minister Manuel Valls to explain the decision. He said it was “unacceptable.”
Social media also blasted the move, saying that postponing exams for Muslims because of religious holidays was the end of the French republic as a secular entity.

“Of course, all France knows whether or not they have their bac and then you have Ile-de-France who has to wait,” one Twitter user wrote, while another user sarcastically added: “It’s a great secular Republic.”

“So Muslim pupils got their bac tests postponed until the end of Ramadan. RIP the Republic,” another user wrote.

Eid al-Fitr, or ‘festival of breaking of the fast’, is celebrated on the first day of the 10th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It begins when a new moon is sighted in the sky. After morning celebrations, worshipers return home and continue the festivities with their families, neighbors and friends.

‘Happy Ramadan’: Postal worker threatens to destroy mail featuring Muslim holiday stamps

The US Postal Service is investigating threats made online by a woman identifying herself as one of its mail carriers, Buzzfeed reported.
The woman identifying herself online as Catherine An Ray threatened to tamper with mail on Monday after sharing a post by anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller complaining about the release of a stamp commemorating the Muslim holiday of Eid.
“[As] A US Mail Carrier I can personally assure everyone here that anything with this stamp on it will be lost or destroyed in the system before is [sic] makes delivery,” Ray wrote. “Guaranteed. Happy Ramadan.”

To kill a sheep or donate? The dilemma of Muslims on Eid

Eid is traditionally a holiday during which a Muslim is expected to slaughter a sheep, however there is a growing problem surrounding the holiday due to the limited capacity of slaughterhouses in France. Only one hundred machines would be approved in France as appropriate for slaughter. As a result, the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) once again recommended that communities spread the days of slaughter out (Saturday, Sunday and Monday). However, many believers are reluctant to change.

The price of sheep has sharply increased due to the lack of slaughterhouses. Abdallah Zekri, a member of the CFCM has for the second time launched a boycott of the purchase of sheep, saying that it “seems to be followed” this year. “I don’t mind shearing the sheep, but not the Muslims,” he said.

Influential blogger and specialist in the halal market, Fateh Kimouche stated that “One cannot, for reasons that are purely economic…burden our religion with debt.” He contended that Muslims “contribute to the survival of French agriculture” by injecting “about 50 million Euros” into the industry during Eid. “If we really want to help Gaza–and there is not only Gaza [to help]–give more, but do not neglect this rite.”

Not sacrificing on Animal’s Day? We don’t ask the bio-industry to quit for a day’

The Party for the Animals has proposed not to slaughter sheep the fourth of October, when Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha and it is also Animal’s Day. Not everyone agrees: “Why are only Muslims being addressed?

Marianne Thieme (Party for the Animals) states that they don’t want to insult the religious tradition. But according to inspections, animals won’t be slaughtered individually and there won’t be time to sharpen the knifes in between. They therefore propose to give money, instead of slaughtering an animal.

Sandra van de Werd, spokesperson for three animal-organizations had contacted CMO (Contact device Muslims and Government) about the issue. According to CMO giving money is an important part of the fest, but offering an animal too.
Ibrahim Wijbenga, chairman of the Judea-Islamic Platform says it should be better to look at the bio-industry first.

The Animal Protection (dierenbescherming) was not involved in the proposals. “We don’t ask other slaughterhouses to quit for a day.”

Muslim leaders ask for equal billing with Jewish holiday on Montgomery calendar

Muslim community leaders in Montgomery County this week asked that the Islamic holy day of Eid al-Adha be given equal billing as the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur on Montgomery’s 2015-2016 school calendar.

They described the issue as symbolic but important.

In 2015, both holidays will fall on Wednesday, Sept. 23, but a calendar draft does not give them the same weight. Yom Kippur — for which county schools will be closed — is listed beside the date. The Muslim holiday is included in a parenthetical notation: Eid al-Adha also falls on this date.

Muslim leader Saqib Ali asked at a school board meeting this week that the calendar be changed to say: Yom Kippur/Eid al-Adha.

“We need to see equal treatment,” Ali told the board. “Here is a case where, on a piece of paper — this is strictly a symbolic issue — but on this day when schools are closed, even on this day, the Jewish holidays are given sort of precedence or elevated.”

The calendar question comes after Muslim leaders have repeatedly asked that at least one of the two major Muslim holidays be recognized with a day off school in Montgomery.

This week’s calendar request, signed by six other leaders of the Eid coalition, “is a very, very minimal request,” Ali said. He said the convergence of the two holidays is a “happy coincidence” for Muslim families, but more is needed.

“If MCPS can’t list the holidays equally, if they won’t even grant that, then I think people are going to start asking questions about MCPS’s general attitude toward the Muslim community,” he said.

Board Member Christopher Barclay asked district staff to look into the request. He also said he believes a standard is needed for school closings.

New York City public school kids getting new Muslim, Lunar New Year holidays

February 4, 2014

 

Mayor de Blasio said Monday that he’d move forward with closing schools for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, two Muslim holy days, and for Lunar New Year. But he was hesitant regarding Hindu festival Diwali.

Appearing on WNYC’s “Brian Lehrer Show” on Monday, the mayor said he hadn’t taken a position on whether Diwali, the festival of lights celebrated in India and other South Asian countries, should be a day off from school.

But he said he’d move forward with closing schools for Lunar New Year and for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, Muslim holy days.

“It is complicated in terms of logistics and school calendar and budget. But it’s something I want to get done in a reasonable time frame,” he said.

 

NY Daily News:  http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/nyc-public-school-kids-new-holidays-article-1.1601237#ixzz2tY0E5Rjl