5 October 2010
Leading conservative German politicians assailed President Christian Wulff on Tuesday for comments intimating Islam had gained a status comparable to Christianity and Judaism in Germany. Wulff riled his fellow Christian Democrats by saying Islam had become an important part of German society in a speech commemorating the 20th anniversary of German reunification on Sunday.
While several Christian Democrats and their Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) allies grudgingly admitted Muslims had earned a place in Germany, they bristled at the idea they were changing the core social fabric of the country. “The speech was easily misunderstood,” CSU politician Norbert Geis told Bild on Tuesday. “If the president wanted to equate Islam in Germany with Christianity and Judaism, then I’d consider that wrong.”
In his first major speech on Sunday since taking office in July, Wulff extended the hand of friendship to Muslims, saying the challenge of integrating them into society was comparable to reunifying the country after the Cold War. “Christianity is of course part of Germany. Judaism is of course part of Germany. This is our Judeo-Christian history… But now Islam is also part of Germany,” he said in his speech. “When German Muslims write to me to say ‘you are our president’, I reply with all my heart ‘yes, of course I am your president’.”
His comments were welcomed by leading German Muslim groups as an important sign that they were not second-class citizens in Germany.
In the ongoing debate of German Muslim integration, two politicians have asserted that Germany does not need a “liberal racism” as propagated by Geert Wilders in the neighboring Netherlands. Both conservative politician Alois Glück and social democrat and interior minister of Berlin, Erhart Körting, talk about accommodating Muslims, including potential worries, without drawing on prejudices.
Glück emphasizes the importance of recognizing the cultural process Islam is going through, consisting of many different currants and moving towards a tolerant form of, for instance, equal gender rights. He is in favor of working together with Islamic associations and of educating Imams in Germany. Körting calls for actively promoting integration especially among those who do not share a “European cultural identity” and who live in large numbers with migrants from the same country, such as those of Turkish background. These people are just as much eligible for integration, but may need more help and should also realize the effort they need to put in for the sake of their children.
Murad Hofmann, a German Muslim scholar and former ambassador, fosters the rediscovery of Muhammad Asad, one of the first European Muslim thinkers. Muhammad Asad, born 1900 in Austria as Jewish Leopold Weiss, converted to Islam during his trips to the Arabian Peninsula as a journalist. He soon distanced himself from traditional Islam and sought to reconcile it with human rights and democracy.
Asad provided a new translation of the Qur’an into English, a very modern one (too modern for some), with some notions deliberately left ambiguous, fluctuating and West-compatible. He also demanded of Muslims to question the interpretations of established scholars and rejected the punishment of stoning and beating women. Murad Hofmann has now republished Asad’s Qur’an interpretation in German. He claims that Asad’s reformist Islam is essential for European Islam today and hopes that more people will be open to this view that during Asad’s lifetime.
In this article, the author sums up the major 2009 events concerning German Muslims. She refers to surprising statistics and remarkable conferences as well as political progress, pointing to the increased goodwill and determination of politicians to improve German Muslim living conditions.
The most painful event was, without doubt, the racist murder of Egyptian Marwa el-Sherbini in a Dresden courtroom. However, the author closes on a positive note and welcomes the start of Cologne’s mosque construction and the fact that minarets are present at many mosques throughout the country.
The Swiss authorities have barred a controversial Islamic preacher from Germany from attending a planned demonstration against the minaret ban in Bern on Saturday. Pierre Vogel was not allowed to enter Switzerland because his presence is considered a danger for public law and order, according to the Federal Migration Office. He was scheduled to give a speech at the rally. The convert and former professional boxer is known for his strongly conservative and Salafist views.
Vogel wanted to encourage Muslims in Switzerland to come out of their social isolation and help reduce mistrust, he told Swiss newspapers. In an interview with the Swiss SonntagsBlick after his entry ban, Vogel said that he was against the construction of minarets as they are no necessary part of Islam but rather a decoration. The money should instead be used for social work on deliquent Muslim youths.
When Wolfgang Schäuble convoked a multi-year “Islam Conference” in 2006 to ease relations between German society and its Muslim minority, the interior minister made a statement – “Islam is a part of Germany” – that was viewed as a groundbreaking and generous concession. Today it looks more like a statement of the obvious. At the final session of the conference on Thursday, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) released a study on “Muslim Life in Germany”. It found that there are vastly more Muslims in Germany than most specialists and pundits had assumed. Where most estimates held the Muslim population at around 3m, the more comprehensive BAMF study places it around 4m, and possibly as high as 4.3m. That means Muslims make up not 4 per cent of the population, but 6 per cent. Does this matter? Of course it does. The new numbers are grist to the mill of those who say the authorities have not been straight with them about the scope of immigration. More important, the size of a community affects a country’s options for integrating it. The bigger it is, the harder it is. Against this, the BAMF study offers one basic reason for optimism: diversity. We should think not of a monolith of millions of like-minded newcomers but of a mosaic of communities, 10,000 here, 10,000 there. If Germany’s Muslims cannot agree among themselves, then how, in the end, can they develop a loyalty or allegiance to anything other than the German state? The multi-facetedness of German Muslim life is an implicit rebuttal of the sense that Muslims are “taking over”. Christopher Caldwell reports.
Muslim parents have lost an appeal against their nine year-old daughter having to attend mixed swimming lessons with boys. The girls can protect their modesty, however, with full-length bathing suits. A court in the western city of Muenster has ruled that Muslim girls at elementary schools in Germany must attend mixed swimming classes with boys, rejecting a request from the parents of a nine-year-old girl for her to be excused from the lessons.
The parents from the industrial city of Gelsenkirchen told the school authorities that they lived strictly to the teachings of the Koran, adding that they found mixed swimming “immoral”. The administrative court said, however, that the girl could protect her modesty by wearing a full-length bathing suit dubbed a “burkini.” It also dismissed complaints that the bathing suit hindered swimming because of excessive absorption, endangering their daughter’s life. German teaching unions and education authorities have adamantly refused to segregate swimming classes in state schools at the request of parents, contending that mixing of sexes is a goal of education. The tribunal refused Wednesday to issue a temporary injunction and said it would allow no further appeal. The issue has also divided the Islamic community into conservatives and liberals who say the custom should change in Germany.
Germany’s main Muslim bodies cut their links Friday to Germany’s only professor of Islamic religion, charging that Muhammad Kalisch had questioned the existence of the Prophet Mohammed and Muslim beliefs about the origin of the Koran. Kalisch teaches at the University of Muenster in northern Germany. The four main Muslim groups had been represented on a board of advisors to his Centre for Islamic Religious Studies (CRS) since the chair was established, but there has been friction over his academic publications. In a joint statement in Cologne on Friday, the council of Muslim organizations said it was concerned at the “discrepancy between fundamentals of Islamic teaching and the published positions of the head of the CRS.” Ayyub Axel Koehler, a German Muslim who is president of one group, the Central Council of Muslims, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa: “Kalisch calls fundamental teachings into question in such a stark way that it’s not possible to go along with him.” He said Kalisch had questioned whether the Prophet really existed and what Muslims believed about the Koran’s origin. “We support the freedom of scholarship and teaching and we have no wish to gag him,” said Koehler. “But we cannot advise people to learn from him.” In a response published by the university, Kalisch said, “I regret the decision of the Muslim organizations. “A university is not there to teach the content of faith, nor to approve the opinions of a professor as correct. “Rather, the task of a university is to conduct independent, open- ended research.” He said a university should equip students “to reflect critically and achieve intellectual independence.”
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The profile of the German Muslim youth has been changed visibly. Their expectations towards their local communities, their parents and also towards their society have been changed likewise. But dangers increase on the other hand. If you neglected those young people, there might be a possibility of ending up in drugs, violence and crime. We are not able to address all the masses, but we rather have to deal with the youth personally, individually and locally, Mesut G_lbahar, chairman of Islamische Gemeinschaft Milli G_r_s (IGMG)’s youth section, commented on the situation of Muslim youth in Germany. “My parents wanted to educate me in a certain direction, but I don’t think they succeeded in their attempt because they missed something important: They could not give me a Muslim identity that is compatible with Germany,” Hischam Abul Ola, a German Muslim youth, summarized his point of view. Torn between different identities and affected by real problems (such as unemployment, poverty, educational deficiencies, and assumedly crime), young Muslims in Germany are trying to find their way, not only in their daily lives but also in their religious practice. Seen with a sober eye, Germany seems to be missing a lot when it comes to the traditional role model of the “Futuwwa” that shaped, for more than thousand of years, the attributes of Muslim youth. The young Muslims are not to be blamed for this statue, but rather the current circumstances and the failing of the previous generations to create the proper condition for the appearance of this life transaction are to be blamed. There are currently around 1.5 million Muslim children and youth living in Germany. Mostly, their parents and mosque societies are caring for their religious education. So far, there is no Islamic teaching in state-run schools, an issue discussed for years. Sulaiman Wilms reports.
Two Islamic extremists from Germany may be planning attacks against targets in Afghanistan, investigators have warned. The men, who share connections to the Sauerland terror cell and suicide bomber Cüneyt Ciftci, are thought to have trained at terror camps in Pakistan. Two German Islamists may be planning a terrorist attack in Afghanistan, German investigators are warning. On April 1, the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) on April 1 notified leaders of Germany’s military, the United Nations and potential targets — including a five-star hotel in Kabul — that two men from Germany with known ties to terrorist groups could be planning a bomb attack against Germans in Afghanistan. The men are identified as Eric B., a 20-year-old German Muslim convert, and Houssain al-M., a 24-year-old Lebanese native who holds a German passport.