Row over students’ prayers highlights questions of Islam’s visibility in the German educational sector

“Provocative” and “conspicuous” praying

A secondary school in the Western German city of Wuppertal has caused a stir by prohibiting its Muslim pupils from “conspicuous praying”. In an internal memo directed at the teaching staff, the administration of the Johannes-Rau-Gymnasium encourages its instructors to prevent “provocative” praying activities.

For the administration, this includes the performance of ablutions in school bathrooms or the rolling out of prayer carpets. Should students pray in spite of the prohibition, teachers are to determine the names and to pass them on to the school administration.(( http://www.derwesten.de/region/muslimische-schueler-fallen-durch-provozierendes-beten-auf-wirbel-an-wuppertaler-gymnasium-id209791697.html ))

Commentators remarked upon the memo’s police-style formulations, questioning whether this signalled the school’s generalised suspicion against its Muslim pupils. While defending the thrust of the text, the local government conceded that the language used had been “unfortunate”.(( http://www.rp-online.de/nrw/panorama/schule-in-wuppertal-verbietet-muslimischen-schuelern-sichtbares-beten-aid-1.6648704 ))

Religion in the educational sector

The case touches upon the larger question to what extent educational establishments must accept the presence and expression of religious convictions. Legal professionals point out that within the German framework, schools are given wide latitude to regulate religious expression if such regulation is necessary in order to guarantee “school peace”.(( http://www.rp-online.de/nrw/panorama/schulfrieden-schlaegt-religionsfreiheit-aid-1.6648883 ))

To what extent this ‘peace’ was threatened in the case of the Johannes-Rau-Gymnasium of Wuppertal is difficult to ascertain. No details of the precise chain of events leading up to the prohibition on prayer have been released.

In recent months and years, public scrutiny of Muslim students’ religious practices had been focused mostly on prayer rooms or multifaith spaces at universities. Some of them were closed after reportedly attracting hard-line religious purists who sought to engage in missionary activity and enforce a strict morality code. Others continued to function and were praised as success stories.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/deutsche-universitaeten-gebetsraeume-unter-generalverdacht-14118890.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Secularisation and publicly visible religion

The presence of a growing number of Muslim students with higher levels of religious observance comes as the historically active Lutheran and Catholic student associations are experiencing a slow but steady decline. Concomitantly, an increasing number of students and commentators advocate a strictly secularised university that offers no institutional space for religiosity.

The visibility of Islam in these establishments has emerged as an important political battlefield in its own right. After all, some of the 9/11 attackers had used a supposed prayer circle at the Technical University of Hamburg for conspiratorial purposes.(( http://www.zeit.de/2017/11/religion-universitaet-beten-verbot-wissenschaft ))

Although this case has remained isolated and no other Muslim university circles have spawned jihadist groups since, the seed of distrust has, in many cases, been sown. As a result, a considerable portion of educational decision-makers is increasingly willing to question the traditionally generous attitude towards the public expression of religiosity in the educational sector.

Turkish Community Associations join German pride festivals

Signalling solidarity and allying against discrimination

Turkish community associations have joined gay pride marches in Stuttgart and Hamburg, in a bid to broach questions surrounding sexuality and to demonstrate their openness to diversity. The Federal Chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany (TGD), Gökay Sofuoglu, noted with regard to ongoing difficulties faced by the LGBT+ community that “as an association taking a stand against discrimination of any kind, we cannot close our eyes to this”.((http://www.swr.de/landesschau-aktuell/bw/csd-in-stuttgart-tuerkische-gemeinde-bricht-mit-tabu/-/id=1622/did=17791268/nid=1622/tvsne5/))

Sofuoglu, speaking in the context of the Stuttgart gay pride, noted that there had been some resistance to the decision to participate. Such resistance had also been felt by the chairwoman of the Hamburg Turkish Community association, Nebahat Güçlü: In previous years, Güçlü had failed to overcome her fellow board members’ reservations about joining the local pride march.((https://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/hamburg/CSD-Veranstalter-Parade-wird-politischer,csd640.html))

This year, however, the Hamburg community released a statement on its website arguing that “the vindication of equal rights for minorities is a concern for all of us. This includes the equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. We are conscious of the fact that as a managing committee in our community we are taking an important but also provocative step that could also trigger negative reactions. Nevertheless, we deem it important and right to stand against all kinds of discriminations in our society and we also face up to the discussion within our organisations”.((http://www.tghamburg.de/news/?nid=149))

That the Turkish community’s participation in local pride festivals is more forthcoming this year must perhaps also be seen in relation to the spate recent attacks more or less straightforwardly motivated by Islamic radicalism, including Omar Mateen’s shooting at the LGBT Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016. After this event, Muslim organisations elsewhere have also taken a conscious decision to join pride marches in order to demonstrate their solidarity and open-mindedness.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/06/28/muslim-community-joins-regina-pride-parade-1st-time/))

The ambivalence of Islamic associations

As Euro-Islam reported at the time, the initial reaction of explicitly Islamic associations in Germany remained muted.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/06/20/muted-reaction-of-german-muslim-leaders-to-orlando-touches-upon-uncomfortable-issues-of-homophobia-and-media-discourses/)) Since then, Ayman Mazyek, prolific chairman of one of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), has stated in a public speech that when any person irrespective of race, religion, or sexual orientation were attacked, the Muslim community would “rally to their protection”, “defend freedom” and “protect the dignity of the human being and therefore our own dignity”.((http://zentralrat.de/27631.php))

Yet the difficult contortions that underlie Mazyek’s view were on ample display in an interview published ten days before the shooting at Pulse: when stating his view on homosexuality, Mazyek asserted that “I am a citizen of this country and the chairman of a German religious community. For me the Basic Law is decisive. I don’t accept homosexuality personally and religiously. But at the same time I stand up against homophobia, as a Muslim.”((http://www.volksstimme.de/sachsen-anhalt/islam-mazyek-abschottung-weg-der-angsthasen))

To be sure, such a statement is not substantially different from the disconnect between, for instance, contemporary Catholic teachings on homosexuality on the one hand and the Church’s stance on the worth of the dignity of the human individual on the other hand. It does elucidate, however, why participation in a gay pride march might still be one step to far for many explicitly Islamic associations.

Germans demonstrate in solidarity with Kobane

Throughout October, there have been various demonstrations in solidarity with the tragic situation of Kurds in Kobane. The high point of this was the organization of nation-wide demonstrations scheduled for the 1st November. People in Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Hannover or Frankfurt came out into the streets to protest. Approximately 25000 participated at these nation-wide demonstrations organized by Kurdish organizations.

Hooligans against Salafism

Throughout October, hooligans from different football clubs marched in German cities against radical Islam and Salafism. Building a coalition and network under the heading “HoGeSa”, Hooligans Against Salafists (Hooligans gegen Salafisten), they demonstrated by the end of October in Cologne. Police and intelligence services were not only surprised by the number of attendees, which was tripled by the estimated 1500, but unable to cope with the violence involved. The demonstrations planned in Hamburg and Berlin for mid-November both were canceled. In case of Hamburg the organizers themselves withdraw the demonstration while in the case of Berlin the network never registered the demonstration properly. Now “HoGeSa” is planning another demonstration for the 15th November which is going to take place in Hannover.

 

Hamburg begins with interreligious education

June 23, 2014

Starting in August 2014 two schools in Hamburg will test religious education in a joint sponsorship involving Jewish, Christian and Islamic communities. With this the federal state of Hamburg implements a treaty closed one year ago. Precondition for Muslim teachers is, however, that they have a regular as well as an Islamic teaching qualification and that the student body contains a high proportion of children with an Islamic background. In re-organizing religious education Hamburg’s school board is expecting positive effects on tolerance and de-radicalization.

9/11 Islamist from Hamburg

February 28, 2014

 

In December 2001, German security service supported the CIA to kidnap the Islamist Mohammed Haydar Zammar,52. He had lived in Hamburg for many years and was suspected to be a key figure within the 9/11 Hamburg terror cell of Muhammad Atta. He was brought to Syria and stayed in jail for the last twelve years. According to an Arab news portal, the Islamist militia “Ahrar ash-Sham” released Zammar during an operation in autumn 2013 from the prison in Aleppo. The militia has offered him and five further „political prisoners“ for exchange.

 

German security authorities seek to locate Zammar, who went to hiding but contacted relatives in Hamburg and Aleppo. Zammar cannot be arrested again, as the statue of all charges against him is barred after ten years.

 

In 1971, Zammar moved from Aleppo to Hamburg. In 1982, he became a German citizen and moved to Afghanistan to join the Mujaheddin. In 1991, Zammar travelled again to Afghanistan and Bosnia to show other activists how to work with explosives. He became a radical preacher in Hamburg and was in touch with the pilots of September 11th, Muhammad Atta und Zuad Jarrah. Despite of his close relationship to the Islamists terrorists, Zammar denied any involvement or to be informed about the terror plot.

 

However, the case is peculiar for German security authorities and former government officials. The Office of the German Chancellor was informed about all plans related to the kidnapping of Zammar, a German citizen, to Syria. Zammar claims to be tortured under Syrian custody and questioned by German authorities.

 

(Süddeutsche Zeitung)

http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/hamburger-islamist-zammar-verschleppt-verhaftet-ausgetauscht-1.1901694

 

Young Muslims and social networks

November 16, 2013

 

Social networks such as Facebook are becoming as popular among Muslim youth as among all parts of the society. However protecting data and youth privacy associations are concerned about the amount of misinformation distributed in the digital world. Conservative Muslims warn Muslim users to avoid visiting websites, which would lead to what is described in the Koran as “Fitna”, meaning the loss of faith.

German Salafists such as the populist Pierre Vogel use facebook to address young Muslims. Having more than 10.000 Facebook fans, they call female Muslims to upload photos with the the niqab only. Their face should is supposed to be covered in public.

According to Akif Sahin, a social media manager in Hamburg, Muslim youth are vulnerable to misinformation and negative influences diffused by extremists – especially as young Muslims search for guidance on their religious and cultural identity. This aspect is often abused by extremists, such as Islamist and Islamophobe groups, which would begin to agitate Muslims against each other.

 

Spiegel: http://www.spiegel.de/netzwelt/web/muslime-auf-facebook-keine-angst-vorm-fitnabook-a-933570.html

 

Wal-Mart fires employee at western NY store over Facebook posting criticizing Muslim customers


HAMBURG, N.Y. — Wal-Mart has fired an employee of a western New York store after he posted derogatory comments about Muslim customers on Facebook.

The firing follows a request by the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations for Wal-Mart to discipline the assistant manager of the store in Hamburg, a suburb of Buffalo.

Terry Earsing, then an assistant manager, posted a photo of two women in traditional dress as they shopped at his Buffalo-area store and wrote profanity-laced criticisms beneath it. Earsing has apologized for what he calls a joke.

Along with a picture of Muslim women in traditional dress, the manager’s expletive-filled posting read: “Halloween came early this year. … Do they really have to … dress like that.”

A spokeswoman for Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. says company officials looked into the posting immediately upon learning about it and fired the employee.

 

A member of the local Muslim community spotted the comment and informed the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which in turn alerted Walmart executives.

 

Police violence against protesters in Hamburg

July 21

 

On Saturday, approximately 1000 people demonstrated in Hamburg against “racist police profiling” and asked to stop police violence. Also, 300 demonstrators protested in the city of Offenbach for the same cause.

 

A routine police check escalated in the Northern part of Hamburg, when police was confronted with rioting inhabitants. The police reacted with pepper gas. Since then police control increased in the last week, profiling Turkish and Arabic youngsters. A mosque was controlled and investigated. With respect to the month of Ramadan, many visitors were in the mosque proceeding midnight prayers. Police has entered the mosque threatening the visitors with batons.

 

A young participant Soufian D. witnessed the police to be violent injuring three Muslims. The policemen are said to threaten the young Muslims “better not to speak with the press”. The police authorities of Offenbach have deny the incident. According to the police, it reacted to an alert. Having checked the identities of witnesses, some would be non-cooperative and resistant, injuring the hand of one policeman.

Police raid against Salafi network

June 28

 

The German police has searched 15 apartment and one mosque in the States of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein. Salafist adherents and members of the banned association “Millatu Ibrahim” have been suspected to go hiding and shifting activities underground.

 

Furthermore, the police believes some of the Salafi activists planning “violent acts against the State”. On June 14th 2012, Minister of Interior Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) banned the Salafi  association Millatu Ibrahim. According to the annual report of the “Office for the Protection of the Constitution” 2012, more than 50 persons have travelled to Egypt. They are said to be Salafi adherents.

 

report (PDF)