Islam in crisis: Observations by German religious scholar Michael Blume

The assumption that ‘Islam’ – usually conceived as a monolithic force – is on an expansionary path is widely shared. Islamists herald the onset of an age of Islamic renewal and dominance; anxious Westerners take to the streets against the ‘Islamisation’ of the occident; and colourful videos highlighting that Islam is set to overtake Christianity as the world’s largest religious group in the coming decades regularly go viral in social networks.

Declining levels of orthopraxy

It is in order to go against this conventional wisdom that German religious scholar Michael Blume has written his latest book Islam in Crisis: A World Religion between Radicalization and Silent Retreat. Blume asserts that Islam is not about to conquer the world but rather that it is in existential trouble.

Blume paints a picture of a religion that is rapidly losing in relevance in the lives of those who are commonly seen as ‘Muslim’. Focusing particularly on figures taken from his native Germany, Blume shows how Muslim communities are marked by a pronounced decline in orthopraxy: young Muslims in Germany pray less than their ancestors, fewer girls wear headscarves, and fewer boys go to the mosque.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/islam-die-saekularisierung-als-symptom-der-krise ))

Detachment from the religious tradition

Concomitantly, Muslims are increasingly heterodox in their religious outlook: in 2013, 42 per cent of German Muslim respondents asserted that in their spiritual lives they “draw upon the teachings of different religious traditions”.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/islam-die-saekularisierung-als-symptom-der-krise ))

At the same time, Blume sees most Muslims as more and more distant from and disenchanted with the traditions of their own faith. Violent groups such as the ‘Islamic State’ only foment this disenchantment, according to Blume: their despicable acts further alienate many Muslims from the religion of their parents.

In fact, the warriors of the ‘Islamic State’ are engaged in a battle against the progressing secularisation of the Islamic world. In this respect, they are a product of the present age and of the crisis of Islamic thought, rather than an organic outgrowth of the religious tradition.

Intellectual and theological stasis

According to Blume, this civilisational crisis goes back to Sultan Bayezid’s fateful decision to ban the printing press from Ottoman lands after its invention in Europe in the 15th century. This decision, according to Blume, led to societal and intellectual stasis in the Arab heartlands of the Islamic world – a state of affairs that was perpetuated by subsequent authoritarian regimes buttressed by oil rent.(( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCgN5dsls0M ))

Ever since the 15th century, the Islamic religious establishment has been unable to develop answers that could be meaningful to all those Muslims who seek to live in the modern age, or so Blume argues. Yet inevitably Muslims do lead modern lives – a fact that fosters their increasing disconnect from petrified religious traditions.

Looking beyond jihadism

The refreshing element of Blume’s discussion resides in its unflinching focus away from the flashy band of religious radicals who, in spite of being small in number, have managed to capture the world’s attention by their jihadist violence. Instead, Blume seeks to shed light on the religious dynamics among the majority of the world’s Muslim population.

Equally important is the related observation that these ‘Muslims’ are not a homogeneous mass. The implicit assumption in popular discourses as well as in official statistics (for instance from the German government) is the fact that being born to parents from a Muslim-majority region makes one ‘Muslim’ – irrespective of actual levels of belief and observance.

A long-standing argument made anew

At the same time, the observation that the rise of political Islam and of present-day jihadism has gone hand in hand with – in fact proceeded via – a weakening of the authority of the Islamic tradition and its institutions is scarcely new.

There are, after all, entire bookshelves filled with studies demonstrating how local Islamic traditions have been remodeled by the rise of authoritarian nation-states,((For a concise overview of this phenomenon across the Muslim world, see Part I of Jocelyne Cesari’s book The Awakening of Muslim Democracy: Religion, Modernity, and the State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014). A particularly insightful study of a single case is provided by Brinkley Messick in The Calligraphic State: Textual Domination and History in a Muslim Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).)) how traditional modes of Islamic reasoning have ossified in this process,((For a monumental work in that category, see Wael Hallaq’s Shari’a: Theory, Practice, Transformations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).)) and how Islamist laymen have stepped in to fill the void.((An excellent introduction is provided by the essays in the collection edited by Ali Rahnema, Pioneers of Islamic Revival (London: Zed Books, 1994).))

Differences between Islamic heartlands and the immigrant context

Nor have the processes of change undergone by Muslim communities across the world been completely uniform everywhere: Muslims lives in Germany are, surely, necessarily different from Muslim lives in Indonesia. One is left to wonder whether Blume at times underestimates the resulting diversity.

After all, detachment from traditional religion seems easier and more likely in immigrant settings, where religious networks are less deep, religious expertise less profound, and where Muslims are permanently forced to come to terms with a plurality of lifestyles and with an often hostile perception of Islamic religiosity.

Put differently, in a context where there are hardly any mosques and few well-educated Imams; where headscarf-wearing women are often seen with suspicion; and where halal meat is difficult to come by, it is not surprising to observe declining levels of orthopraxy.

Reaffirmations of orthopraxy

Yet even in the European or German context, from whence Blume draws most of his hard figures apparently demonstrating the decline of Islamic orthopraxy, we also observe countervailing dynamics.

Well-educated daughters of secularist Turkish parents are choosing to don a headscarf, in a statement of ostentatious orthopraxy serving to reaffirm their Muslim identity. Salafis carry this identitarian reemphasis of (allegedly) traditional behaviour to its extremes. Yet while Salafis use orthopraxy to withdraw from a mainstream society seen as ‘infidel’, the young woman wearing the hijab may have very different reasons.

A recent study observed that urban, well-educated Muslim women covered up more often in order to reconcile their Muslim faith with the demands of being out of their homes and with employment in gender-mixed environments.(( http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2016-09-02-veil-worn-muslim-women-may-signal-they-are-integrating-more )) Here, ‘modernisation’ – understood as female participation in the labour market – actually reinforced rather than undermined religious orthopraxy.

Modernisation = secularisation?

One is thus left to wonder whether the “silent retreat” and the “radicalisation” observed by Blume are really a convincing (let alone an exhaustive) portrayal of the possibilities of Islamic religiosity in the modern world. For Blume, these are the twin reactions in the face of the secularisation processes undergone by the Islamic world and by Muslim communities.

Yet at the heart of this argument lies the supposition that ‘modernisation’ always goes hand in hand with ‘secularisation’ – a teleological claim that social science has long abandoned for being overly simplistic.

Hijab debate splits feminists in Germany

In a new instalment of Germany’s long-running judicial battles over the hijab, the country’s highest court has in a new verdict upheld the legislator’s right to prohibit Muslim women from wearing the Islamic headcovering in certain circumstances.

 

Jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court

The Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) rejected the application for interim relief filed by a junior lawyer from the state of Hesse working at a local court. Her employer, referring to a 2007 ministerial decree, had refused to let her wear the hijab when interacting with the public in an official role.

The Court’s decision appeared to be a reversal on a previously more concessionary interpretation of legal texts, and a turn to a more categorical upholding of a quasi-laic principle of state neutrality. In previous rulings, the Court had invalidated a blanket ban on headscarves worn by teachers at public schools and also rejected demands to outlaw the headscarf at public kindergartens.

“The sight of other religious convictions”

Yet while the Court had stated in its verdict on the kindergarten case that no one had a constitutional right to “be spared the sight of other religious or ideological confessions of faith”(( http://www.spiegel.de/karriere/eilantrag-gegen-kopftuchverbot-juristin-scheitert-vor-gericht-a-1155852.html )), the present judgement seems to be based at least partly on the exact opposite reasoning. In somewhat convoluted phrasing, the judges assert that

it appears understandable if persons involved in a trial feel violated in their right to remain untouched by the cultic actions of a faith they do not espouse if they are subjected to the unavoidable compulsion of having to lead a lawsuit under the involvement of state representatives who identifiably project their religious or ideological convictions to the outside.((http://www.bundesverfassungsgericht.de/SharedDocs/Pressemitteilungen/DE/2017/bvg17-055.html ))

In other words, at least in the sensitive domain of the justice system, people do have the right to be spared the sight of other religious convictions.

A crossroads for feminism

The significance of the verdict is, of course, not simply juridical: whilst phrased in the arcane language of Germany’s specific legal doctrine dealing with the relationship between Church (or religion more generally) and state – the so-called Staatskirchenrecht – the import of the judges’ decision lies in the ways in which it touches upon the place allocated to Islamic religiosity and Muslim women in the German public sphere.

In this context, the issue of the hijab regularly becomes a crossroads for progressive politics. Most notably, as Meredith Haaf writes in a thoughtful article for the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/kultur/debatte-tuch-oder-tussi-1.3585227 )) – translated into English here – feminism continues to struggle over its positioning vis-à-vis the Muslim headscarf.

Combatting ‘sexualisation’

Internationally, influential NGO Terre des Femmes recently called for a global ban on hijabs for underage girls – a move that Haaf identifies as part of “the discursive stoking of discrimination against a section of the population”.

Terre des Femmes argues that the headscarf stigmatises girls and women as “seductresses and sexual beings”. Yet even if Muslim parents should indeed be acting upon this rationale, Haaf points out that many non-Muslims do the same by making their (often pre-pubescent) daughters wear bikini tops or by dressing them in ostentatiously ‘girlish’ clothing. Whether ‘oriental’ sexualisation is a more powerful force than its ‘occidental’ counterpart is thus far from clear.

Headscarf and patriarchy

Many feminists have nevertheless picked up upon the headscarf as the prime symbol and tool of patriarchal oppression in our age. In this context, a number of feminists have not shied away from entering a de facto alliance with the populist right.

In Germany, only the openly Islamophobic AfD party has called for a ban on the hijab such as the one demanded by Terre des Femmes. Needlessly to say, the AfD also supports a curtailment of women’s reproductive rights and a strengthening of the traditional family model – hardly an agenda that Western feminists have traditionally espoused.

Feminism’s rightward turn

Haaf takes particular aim at Emma, the long-standing leading German feminist publication. Founded by Alice Schwarzer, dominant persona of the German feminist movement, Emma’s editorial line (as well as Ms. Schwarzer’s personal politics) has shifted sharply to the right on matters concerning Islam.

Especially following the mass sexual assaults by predominantly North African men on New Year’s Eve 2015/2016 in Cologne, Schwarzer became very vocal in her description of Islam as a violent and inherently patriarchal ideology. In 2017, Schwarzer published an edited volume entitled The Shock: The New Year’s Eve of Cologne. In this work, Schwarzer and her co-authors assert that sexual violence is based on and legitimised (even called for) by the Qur’an.

‘Islamic feminism’

For her positioning Schwarzer has received harsh criticism from a feminist perspective. Khola Maryam Hübsch, journalist, Muslim activist, and author of the book Freedom under the Veil: What Islam Can Add to a Truly Emancipated Image of Women attacked Schwarzer for replicating the discourses and argumentative patterns employed by misogynistic Islamist extremism.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/koelner-silvesternacht-so-hilft-alice-schwarzer-den-islamfeinden-der-afd/60902 ))

Hübsch decried the fact that interventions such as Schwarzer’s essentialise ‘Islam’ or ‘the Qur’an’ and in this way “torpedo the attempts of all those Muslims who don’t tire of pointing to the obvious: particular verses need to be interpreted in textual and historical context. They must not be abused selectively for egoistically motivated behaviour.”(( http://cicero.de/kultur/koelner-silvesternacht-so-hilft-alice-schwarzer-den-islamfeinden-der-afd/60902 ))

Clashing feminisms

In many respects, Hübsch’s comments are expressive of a self-consciously ‘Islamic’ feminism, represented in Germany by voices such as Kübra Gümüsay. Islamic feminists highlight the ways in which mainstream feminism has – in their view – sidelined Muslim women by denying them agency and by conceptualising them as passive objects in need of saving.

Yet Hübsch’s account stressing the possibility of uniting feminism and the hijab is, of course, far from uncontested. Other Muslim commentators strike a very different note. Activist Zana Ramadani, author of the book The Veiled Danger, accuses mainstream feminism of having become politically correct and complacent. Ramadani sees Gümüsay and others as using accusations of Islamophobia and racism in order to silence critical voices raising uncomfortable questions about the nature of Islamic religiosity.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/islam-und-frauenrechte-pseudo-feministinnen-mit-kopftuch ))

Reverting to ad hominem attacks against Islamic feminists, Ramadani asserts that “these ignorant headscarf women are part of an Islamist lobby that through trickery has managed to obtain the solidarity of not only leftist feminists. They have all been hoodwinked by the Muslim fake-feminists such as Gümüsay”.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/islam-und-frauenrechte-pseudo-feministinnen-mit-kopftuch ))

The different meanings of the hijab

Thus, both sides castigate one another as having undermined feminism’s progressive credentials. In spite of the often lacklustre nature of the arguments employed – especially on the part of those blindly accusing headscarf-wearing women and their defenders of complicity with terrorism – neither side is necessarily completely wrong: the hijab may be imposed as an oppressive garment; yet it may also be freely chosen.

Thus, what is often difficult to understand and appreciate for both sides is the polyvalence of the hijab as a symbol. Those feminists who only conceive of the hijab as a symbol and a tool of domination fail to accept the fact that women may choose to wear the headcovering of their own accord. Those who see it as a potentially liberating object fail to see that it is at times violently imposed.

Religious obligations

Another facet of the problem is, however, even more difficult to conceptualise. Religious precepts are – at least in their traditional understanding – not based on free-wheeling ‘individual choice’ but on a communal tradition that is perceived as binding on the individual. To give but one example: Jewish and Muslim parents circumcise their male offspring – without the child having much of a say in it.

In a highly remarkable verdict in 2012, a German court condemned this practice as violating the child’s right to bodily integrity. While the legislator in Berlin quickly passed a law creating a loophole that allowed for the continued legality of religiously motivated circumcision of boys, the underlying point still stands: free individual choice and the belonging to a religious community may frequently clash.

The hijab as the norm

The same could quite well apply to many women wearing the hijab: it is true that an increasing number of women particularly in Western societies might make the individualistic choice to wear the Muslim headcovering. Yet in many cases, they will wear it because their families and their (Muslim) environment have signalled them that this is “the way things are to be done” in the community.

In many respects, Islamic feminists and their feminist antagonists both argue from the standpoint of a radical, individualistic choice: the former assert that Muslim women ‘choose’ the headscarf; the latter claim that Muslim women should be enabled to become true individuals by abandoning the garment.

Communal obligations vs. individual choice

Neither side tackles the much harder question concerning the place of communal obligations in an increasingly individualised society. Does it per se make people ‘unfree’ in a relevant way if they conceive of themselves as part of a religious community that is seen as imposing certain rules that go unquestioned by the community’s individual members and that thus curtail individual choice?

The framers of Germany’s Basic Law did not seem to think so: in their Staatskirchenrecht, they enshrined far-reaching guarantees for citizens to be able to belong to religious communities and to project their communal affiliations and beliefs to the outside, including in the public sphere. Yet as the recent verdicts given by Germany’s top courts reveal, the renegotiation and actualisation of these foundational principles in today’s context continues to be a challenge – especially in relation to Islam.

EU’s highest Court rules on headscarf at work

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has been asked to make a decision on two cases related to the wearing of religious signs at work. In both cases, a French and a Belgian one, the headscarf was the bone of contention. The CJEU finally issued a joint judgment this tuesday.

Two stories, one common issue

The Belgian Samira Achbita did not wear a headscarf in 2003 when she started to work as a receptionist for the security company G4S. In 2006, she declared to her employer that she intended to start wearing it… She was then dismissed.

As for the French Asma Bougnaoui, she started working as a design engineer for the IT consultancy firm Micropole in 2008. At this time, she already had a headscarf on. One day, a customer of the company complained about that. This complaint was transmitted by the company to Mrs Bougnaoui, who chose to reject it and refused to remove her headscarf… She was also dismissed.

National Courts from Belgium and France have asked the ECJ to give a ruling on these cases. Though the stories slightly differ, the main issue was to know if a company was justified to dismiss an employee for wearing a headscarf or if this constituted a case of discrimination.

The Court’s decision

For EU’s highest Court, forbidding headscarf on the workplace does not constitute a direct discriminatory act as long as the internal rule of the company proscribes any visible political, philosophical or religious sign and if this policy is justified by an essential occupational requirement:

“An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination. However, in the absence of such a rule, the willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the employer’s services provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered an occupational requirement that could rule out discrimination”.

Hence, the Court stated in favor of the company in the Belgian case, arguing that the company was following its genuine policy of “image neutrality”. As for the French case however, the Court stated that the complainant had indeed been discriminated against, since the demand to remove the headscarf only followed the complaint from a customer and not a consistent policy of neutrality at work.

What are the implications of this ruling?

Right wing and far right personalities welcome this ruling as a victory, since this now allows companies to ban the headscarf in the workplace, as we can see for instance from Gilbert Collard’s tweet , a French MP working for Marine le Pen : “Even the CJEU votes for Marine”. However, one must remember that this long awaited judgment also demands the prohibiting of religious signs to be stated and justified by a consistent internal rule of the company. The prohibition of religious signs is thus limited and must happen only under certain specific conditions :

“Such indirect discrimination may be objectively justified by a legitimate aim, such as the pursuit by the employer, in its relations with its customers, of a policy of political, philosophical and religious neutrality, provided that the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary”.

The diverging views on the ruling of the CJEU 

For the supporters of the ruling, the issue of religious signs at work needed to be clarified and employers and human resources now have a clearer frame to deal with religious signs at work. In its ruling, the Court judged in favor of the company when a neutral image was part of its objective “identity”, but in favor of the complainant when the demand to remove the headscarf was the result of a subjective process, not connected to an essential occupational requirement.

However, for the critics of this ruling, the CJEU now opens the way to the implementation of more restrictive internal rules in private companies. It gives the latter more power to decide on their employees’ outfit, on the subjective basis of the “image” of the company. Also, and even though the ruling does not specifically concern Muslims, it seems to endorse a general European tendency to target Muslim believers’ visibility in the public space and may de facto contribute to exclude them from the job market.

By Farida Belkacem

Sources :

http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2017-03/cp170030en.pdf

The ECJ’s ruling on the hijab in the workplace: Implications for Germany

On March 14, the European Court of Justice issued a widely expected and potentially consequential ruling on the right of Muslim women to wear the headscarf in their workplace. In its decision, the Luxembourg Court appeared to grant a surprisingly wide leeway to private sector employers to restrict their workers’ right of religious freedom.

The cases under scrutiny

The cases had been brought by two Muslim women from Belgium and France, respectively, who had been fired for wearing a hijab. In the case of the French plaintiff, the Court argued that her dismissal had been illegal insofar as it had seemingly been based on the complaint of a single customer who disliked the fact that she wore the Muslim head covering.

Conversely, a workplace ban on the hijab can be compliant with European directives on anti-discrimination, religious freedom, and worker’s rights, according to the Court. Preconditions for the legality of such a ban include (a) the generalised nature of the provision so that not just the hijab but all religious symbols are targeted; and (b) the existence of good reasons for such a ban.((See http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=188853&pageIndex=0&doclang=SV&mode=req&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=333910 for the decision.))

German reactions to the verdict

Muslim figures and associations in Germany have reacted with dismay to the ruling. The Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) criticised that the ruling amounted to “a renunciation of guaranteed liberty rights”.

According to the ZMD, the decision risks forcing women to decide between religious convictions and employment, meaning that constitutional guarantees of anti-discrimination and religious freedom “are not worth the paper they are written on.”(( http://zentralrat.de/28546.php )) The sentiment was echoed by the chairman of the German DİTİB branch, Bekir Alboğa.(( http://www.handelsblatt.com/politik/deutschland/kopftuch-verbot-islam-verbaende-kritisieren-eugh-urteil-/19515956.html ))

Green party politician Volker Beck criticised that the verdict was “not a good signal for freedom and pluralism”, while the Commissioner for anti-discrimination of the federal government warned that employers should be careful and sparing in prohibiting the hijab.(( https://de.qantara.de/content/eugh-erlaubt-kopftuch-verbot-im-job-aber-mit-auflagen ))

Legal theory vs. politicised practice

The Court’s verdict does indeed raise numerous questions. The first of them is above all practical and concerns the decision’s real-life implications. To be sure, on paper the Court’s verdict displays a considerable amount of acumen: the judges highlight, for instance, that a workplace rule on religious symbols that is “apparently neutral” on paper but in fact results in discrimination of particular beliefs is illegal.((See http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=188853&pageIndex=0&doclang=SV&mode=req&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=333910, paragraph 32))

Yet it seems that here the Court simply chose to hide behind what verges on legal sophistry. As the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper pointed out, in its practical repercussions the verdict will almost exclusively target Muslim women since it is the hijab—rather than any other religious symbol—that has become the object of political debate in recent years.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/karriere/religionsfreiheit-am-arbeitsplatz-der-islam-wird-als-stoerend-betrachtet-1.3419227 )) Legal decisions do not occur in a political void.

Fundamental questions of rights in a capitalist economy

The second issue that the verdict raises is of a more principled nature. It is indeed striking that the ECJ saw no problem with allowing private sector employers to restrict the religious freedom of their workers while only providing the haziest of all guidelines as to when such restrictions are legitimate.

Some commentators have asserted that the verdict constitutes a victory of French-style laïcité over the kind of tolerance other Member States have continued to exhibit vis-à-vis religion in the public sphere.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/karriere/religionsfreiheit-am-arbeitsplatz-der-islam-wird-als-stoerend-betrachtet-1.3419227 )) Yet in contrast to laïcité, which is above all concerned with the public sphere of citizenship, the Court’s decision signals an empowerment of the private sector and a victory of capital over workers’ rights.

The German legal context

Within the particularities of the German context, the precise implications of the verdict are, however, not yet quite clear. Legal contestation over the headscarf in Germany has focused on the public sector. In recent years, Germany’s Constitutional Court has declared blanket bans of the hijab in this area to be unconstitutional.

Yet courts have also dealt with private sector cases. In 2002, the Federal Labour Court decided in favour of a Muslim shop assistant who had been fired because of her headscarf. Conversely, church-related (and hence confessional) private sector employers were given greater leeway to prohibit their staff from wearing headscarves in 2014.(( http://www.zeit.de/news/2017-03/14/eu-kopftuch-verbot-am-arbeitsplatz-diskriminierung-oder-nicht-14075603 ))

Courts of lower instance have subsequently regularly—but not always—struck a comparatively permissive line, allowing the headscarf to be worn; or at least declaring that the particular prohibitions of the hijab that Muslim claimants had challenged were not legally sound.(( http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/07/15/german-hijab-debate-court-vetoes-current-restrictions-hijab-bavarian-justice-system-caveat/, http://www.euro-islam.info/2017/02/10/hijab-german-public-schools-new-court-case-lets-old-questions-resurface/))

Clashing legal doctrines

For now, the ECJ’s ruling raises the spectre of differential standards in public and private sectors, with the former governed by the more liberal German provisions and the latter under the influence of the more restrictive interpretation from Luxemburg.

In the longer term, the ECJ’s decision highlights the question of a possible clash between German and European law on the matter of the headscarf.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/karriere/religionsfreiheit-am-arbeitsplatz-der-islam-wird-als-stoerend-betrachtet-1.3419227))

The hijab in German public schools: New court case lets old questions resurface

The protracted German debate on Muslim teachers’ right to wear the hijab when working in the public sector has received its newest episode. The State Labour Court (Landesarbeitsgericht) of Berlin and Brandenburg decided in favour of a Muslim teacher who had sued the state of Berlin for barring her from exercising her profession because of her hijab.

Landmark decision by the Constitutional Court

In German public schools, pupils are free to wear the Muslim headcovering; yet the situation with respect to teachers is more complex. This is partly linked to the country’s federalised geography: educational matters are generally not governed from Berlin but handled by the capitals of the country’s 16 federal states, leading to often strongly differing educational practices.

As Euro-Islam reported, Germany’s top Constitutional Court had overturned North-Rhine Westphalia’s blanket ban on teachers wearing the Muslim headscarf in 2015; yet the practices of state governments have been slow to adapt. Moreover, the precise implications of the Court’s verdict itself have remained unclear.

While the judges rejected a generalised ban of the hijab, it did not unconditionally allow its wearing, either. In fact, based on the verdict, school authorities retain the right to prohibit individual teachers from wearing the hijab if they demonstrate that the teacher’s clothing constitutes “a sufficiently concrete threat or disruption of school peace”.(( http://www.bundesverfassungsgericht.de/SharedDocs/Entscheidungen/DE/2015/01/rs20150127_1bvr047110.html ))

Current court cases

Perhaps also because of this considerable degree of equivocation in the Court’s judgements, a number of states have not changed their discriminatory practices. Instead, state governments have preferred to wait until Muslim women take to the courts, attempting to enforce their right to wear a hijab.

Subsequently, lower-instance courts have issued a number of verdicts that appear favourable to Muslim women’s demands. Yet upon further inspection, the judges have often dodged the real issues at stake.

In 2016, a Munich Administrative Court, for instance, ostentatiously ruled in favour of a junior lawyer whom the State of Bavaria had banned from wearing a headscarf while working at court. Yet in its reasoning, the court based itself on purely formal grounds, thus refraining from commenting on the overall legality of prohibiting women from wearing the hijab while fulfilling public functions.

The situation in Berlin

In Berlin, the local government did not amend its legal provisions after the Constitutional Court’s landmark verdict on the hijab. It seems that the state authorities deemed themselves immune from legal challenges because Berlin’s “neutrality law” (Neutralitätsgesetz) does not explicitly discriminate against the hijab: in fact, it prohibits the wearing of any and all religious symbols in public service.(( http://gesetze.berlin.de/jportal/portal/t/iaf/page/bsbeprod.psml?pid=Dokumentanzeige&showdoccase=1&js_peid=Trefferliste&fromdoctodoc=yes&doc.id=jlr-VerfArt29GBE2005pP2&doc.part=X&doc.price=0.0&doc.hl=0 ))

In the present case, the court of first instance had dismissed the teacher’s lawsuit. In its verdict, it based itself on the non-discriminatory nature of Berlin’s neutrality law, arguing that the educational board had the right to refuse an applicant with a hijab.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-04/kopftuchverbot-berlin-urteil-arbeitsgericht-lehrerinnen ))

This judgement has now been overturned in the second instance by the State Labour Court. Now, the judge argued that the State of Berlin did in fact discriminate against the prospective teacher by refusing to employ her because of her headscarf. Consequently, the State was condemned to pay the woman close to 9,000 Euros in salaries.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-02/berlin-lehrerin-kopftuch-gericht-berufungsverfahren-entschaedigung ))

Caveats persist

However, like in the case of the Munich junior lawyer, the court’s verdict comes with a caveat: the State Labour Court did not object to the neutrality law itself. For the judge, the neutrality law itself is fully constitutional.

Instead, the court objected to the fact that state educational authorities had not sufficiently justified their decision to deny employment to the plaintiff: the state had failed to demonstrate that the “school peace” would be threatened or disrupted by the presence of a headscarf-wearing woman.(( http://www.spiegel.de/karriere/berlin-abgelehnt-wegen-kopftuch-lehrerin-bekommt-schadensersatz-a-1133806.html ))

Walking a tightrope

This showcases how the court sought to bridge the divide between Berlin’s neutrality law on the one hand and the verdict of the Constitutional Court on the other hand – an exercise that resembles walking on a tightrope.

The neutrality law itself incorporates in its Article 3 a provision that allows educational authorities to exempt individual teachers from the requirement of absolute religious neutrality, provided that this measure does not endanger the “ideological-religious neutrality” of the school in question and does not threaten “school peace”.(( http://gesetze.berlin.de/jportal/portal/t/iaf/page/bsbeprod.psml?pid=Dokumentanzeige&showdoccase=1&js_peid=Trefferliste&fromdoctodoc=yes&doc.id=jlr-VerfArt29GBE2005pP2&doc.part=X&doc.price=0.0&doc.hl=0 ))

This might appear to allow a reconciliation of the neutrality law with the Constitutional Court’s verdict. Yet it is noteworthy that the Berlin law flips on its head the default position that underlies constitutionally acceptable restrictions on the wearing of the hijab.

The Constitutional Court argues that it is per se legal for teachers to wear the hijab, unless it be proven that the headscarf upsets the orderly working of the school. Conversely, the State of Berlin starts from the position that it is per se illegal for teachers to wear the hijab, unless it be shown that the religious symbol in question does not undermine school peace.

A question of equality

As noted above, the Constitutional Court passed its landmark ruling in 2015 in response to a case from North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW). In contrast to Berlin, the NRW state government had banned only the hijab from public schools, while continuing to allow kippah or Christian habits. Consequently, the main thrust of the Court’s verdict is directed against this unequal treatment of religious symbols.

In its verdict, the Court also briefly and somewhat hurriedly accepts as constitutional bans on religious symbols that do not discriminate between the faiths and instead prohibit all religious symbols from public institutions.((See esp. Section III, Art. 1 c) for the Court’s positioning on that matter: http://www.bundesverfassungsgericht.de/SharedDocs/Entscheidungen/DE/2015/01/rs20150127_1bvr047110.html ))

Different versions of secularism

While this would seem to legitimise Berlin’s neutrality law, this somewhat underdeveloped aspect of the Constitutional Court’s verdict remains problematic. Most notably, the Court’s recognition of a non-discriminatory policy of neutrality departs from the German tradition of Church-State relations, anchored in Article 140 of the German Basic Law.

In contrast to the French practice of laicité on the other side of the Rhine, the post-WWII German state has defined its position vis-à-vis institutionalised religion as one of fostering and support. There are extensive cooperation agreements between state and religious bodies, for instance in various domains of social or charitable work. This cooperative framework of Church-State relations also forms the basis of the extensive confessional education offered to children in public schools.

Against this tradition of cooperation, neutrality laws introduce a more categorical separation into the German framework. It remains to be seen whether the recognition of this practice by the Constitutional Court signals the onset of a full-fledged transformation of the German system.

Political reactions

In Berlin itself, where the struggle between these two different visions of secularism will take place over the coming months and years, the reactions to the decision in the teacher’s favour have been mixed.

In its official response, the ruling coalition of Social Democratic, Green, and Left parties asserted that it would uphold the state’s neutrality law. However, the junior partners in the coalition, the Green and Left parties, criticised the law.

The city’s Justice Senator Dirk Behrendt asserted that the neutrality provision had become untenable. In his interpretation, the court’s verdict did in fact reveal the law’s irreconcilability with the Constitutional Court’s position, i.e. its unconstitutionality.(( http://www.rbb-online.de/politik/beitrag/2017/02/berlin-kopftuchurteil-senat-neutralitaetgesetz-wird-nicht-ueberprueft.html )) The political debate over the place of the hijab in public institutions is thus far from over.

Muslim girl terrified to return to school after classmate beats her, rips off hijab

MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is calling out a north metro middle school for what it calls a “lack of response” following an alleged incident where a Muslim girl’s hijab was pulled off.

The girl had her headscarf forcibly removed by another student and thrown to the ground at school Nov. 11, according to a press release from the organization.

Once the girl’s hijab was on the ground, her classmate pulled her hair so that it fell down in front of other classmates, the release states.

The girl has not returned to Northdale Middle School, where she feels unsafe, according to the release.

The girl’s family reports that the incident happened Friday at Northdale Middle School in Coon Rapids, CAIR-MN says, adding that the school didn’t respond until Tuesday.

French Army Asks Citizens To Enlist–But No Muslim Headscarves

After the July 14 terrorist attack in Nice, the French interior minister called on “all willing French patriots” to help defend the country by volunteering for the military’s reserves.

Two sisters, Majda and Amina Belaroui, French Muslims of Moroccan heritage, heeded the call in the aftermath of the Bastille Day attack, when a Tunisian truck driver mowed down crowds of spectators, killing 84 and wounding hundreds.

Majda, 21, and Amina, 24, are both university students who live in Nice, on the French Riviera. They pair French fashion with traditional Muslim dress, sporting wide-brimmed sun hat and headscarf ensembles.

The Monday morning following the attack, the third major terrorist rampage in the past 18 months, young men and high school boys trickled through the gates of Nice’s military recruitment center. So did Majda. Wearing a hat and headscarf, she walked past soldiers guarding the gate with weapons across their chests.

She was there to sign up for the “operational reserves,” comprising both former soldiers and civilians with no military background. She wasn’t interested in holding a gun. She just wanted to see how she could help, and set an example as a Muslim amid the growing fears over radical Islam.

“I want to show,” she said, “that I am not like that.”

The receptionist told her she must take off her hijab to enter the recruitment center.

French law prohibits people from displaying their religion in government-run buildings, including public schools, to maintain secularism in the public sphere. It’s a fundamental tenet of the country, stretching back more than a century as part of an effort to reduce the influence of the Catholic Church. But the old concept of secularism is now rubbing up against France’s new efforts to integrate its Muslim population, the largest in Europe.

France has succeeded, in many cases. In Nice, Muslims are an integral part of the landscape. They, too, were on the promenade watching fireworks along with their French compatriots on Bastille Day, the most French day of the year, when the crowd came under attack. Nearly a third of the victims of the attack were Muslims, according to a Muslim community group.

But some Muslims in France believe prohibitions against wearing religious clothing in government venues are actually targeted specifically at them, sending a message that Muslim culture is unwelcome in France.

“Although France has managed to integrate many immigrants and their descendants, those it has left on the sidelines are more embittered than their British or German peers, and many feel insulted in their Muslim or Arab identity,” sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar wrote recently in The New York Times. “Laïcité, France’s staunch version of secularism, is so inflexible it can appear to rob them of dignity.”

It poses a dilemma for people like the Belaroui sisters, who want to stay true to both flag and faith.

Minutes after entering the recruitment center, Majda walked out, unwilling to remove her hijab when asked.

“If I weren’t Muslim, I think I would be so afraid of these people,” she said, referring to Muslims. That’s precisely why she came to volunteer, hijab proudly wrapped around her head.

“For me, it’s discouraging. We want to show that we are against this violence,” she said, adding, “We are demotivated.”

Her sister, Amina, a third-year engineering student, faced the same difficult decision.

Amina had already been to the recruitment center a week prior to the Nice attack and went back again, by herself, more determined following the attack.

Both times, she agreed to take off her hijab in front of the uniformed men, though she really didn’t want to. She said it felt like undressing in public.

“I think the ends justify the means. That’s why I took it off,” Amina said in her flawless English. “I really want to commit and help people, and also try to give another image of Muslim girls, and Muslims in general.”

Anger is boiling over in Nice, which leans conservative. At the memorial ceremony for the victims, some residents argued with Muslim citizens. In the days after the attack, some in the city voiced their support for the National Front, France’s far-right political party, which has used anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Amina hopes joining the military reserves while she finishes her engineering degree can help change minds in France. Or, at the very least, it can help change the minds of French Muslim girls like her.

“Maybe it will encourage other girls to do something they didn’t think they could do before,” she said. “Maybe it will change things.”

The Latest: Muslim Girl Picks School That Will Allow Hijab

A 17-year-old Muslim girl from Florida says she’s grateful Vermont’s Norwich University agreed to allow her to wear a headscarf beneath her military uniform so she can achieve her goal of becoming a naval officer.
Sana Hamze had initially hoped to attend The Citadel in South Carolina, but the school would not change its uniform policy to accommodate her headscarf.
Norwich agreed to her request. The “religious headgear” must be in “authorized colors and fabrics that can be covered” by the uniform.

The Islam debate: The dual consciousness of Muslims

Muslims today can no longer think, or ultimately exist, outside the widespread lore about Islam, which links them to discussions about terror, violence and the separation of religion and society. They can never be free of the neverending stream of projections about Islam. An essay by Farid Hafez

Has anything changed for Muslims, since the latest in a long line of so-called jihadist terrorist attacks claimed the lives of 130 people on 13 November 2015? As in the aftermath of any terrorist act, there have been debates on Islam as a religion and on ″its″ role in the attacks. Europe has responded not only with tighter security measures, including calling a state of emergency in France, but also by declaring war.

The attack in Paris was probably not the last: European societies must now face the kind of day-to-day life that has long since become normal elsewhere, complete with attacks and dead civilians. In future, European societies in general and their Muslims in particular will have to deal with issues such as trade-offs between security and freedom. Muslims will continue to discuss what reaction is the most sensible and expedient. Distancing themselves from the attacks? Or condemning them? Do we need the umpteenth fatwa against terrorism in general and Daesh in particular? And if so, who actually needs it?

The European citizens who ascribe to Islam a fundamental affinity for violence? Or the young Muslims who are seeking religious orientation in the face of racial exclusion and the piecemeal return to their Islam? Presumably we will be revisiting these questions again and again in the near future.

What’s the impact on Muslims?

In this article, though, I would like to touch on something else that is in reality ubiquitous but scarcely ever addressed explicitly. Namely: what impact does such debate have on Muslims? What traces does it leave behind, what scars are inflicted on the Muslim self-image as a result of this discussion about Islam and terrorism? To illustrate, let′s start with a Facebook post. Recently, a well-educated, politically active adult Muslim woman posted on the occasion of the birth of her child:

“I gave birth to a boy in the Christian hospital XY, with nuns as nurses and a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf at the reception desk; I named him for the most beautiful person and prophet XY, with the most beautiful character and an exemplary life story. Above my bed hung a cross and a picture of the Virgin Mary and her son, the prophet Jesus. Religious symbols? For me, it was the perfect accompaniment for a wonderful new life!”

Farid Hafez accepts the Bruno Kreisky Recognition Prize 2010 (photo: cc-by/Fatih Ozturk)

Farid Hafez is a doctor of political science and currently does research at the University of Salzburg. He is the editor of the Yearbook for Islamophobia Research and of the European Islamophobia Report, which will be published for the first time in 2016

The post was probably prompted by the announcement by the editor-in-chief of an Austrian newspaper just a few days before that he was considering reviving the headscarf ban debate, at the suggestion of a representative of the Christian Democratic Party.

The post raises many questions: what causes a woman who is giving birth to new life for the first time and is likely to feel emotions of indescribable happiness to cast this unique experience in a political context? What is happening in the mind of this person? The answer to this question may lead us to one of the biggest challenges faced by Muslims today all over the world and especially in the West: Muslims are trapped in the discursive spider web of a pervasive discourse on Islam.

By this, I mean that it is no longer conceivable for Muslims today to think, or ultimately to exist, outside the widespread lore about Islam, which links them to discussions about terror, violence and the separation of religion and society. Simply to exist. To be a human being. To experience a birth without having to interpret the cross, the nuns and Muslim nurses apart from their humanity. To experience and live through a birth. To be free of everything that is constantly projected onto them.

Dual consciousness

In ″The Souls of Black Folk″, the pre-eminent African-American thinker W.E.B. DuBois (1868–1963) describes a condition he dubs “double consciousness”, by which blacks are only able to see themselves through the eyes of others (whites). They can thus never regard themselves as fully fledged human beings because they are always caught up in a dichotomy, wanting to be human – i.e. normal – but being black – and thus outside the norm.

Many passed down this inferiority complex to their children, encouraging them to make life easier for themselves by becoming invisible, as Jean-Paul Sartre shows in his preface to Fanon’s ″The Wretched of the Earth″. Today there are many Muslims who try to make themselves invisible because they want to be humans, in other words, normal.

And then there are those who publicly avow Islam and thus take on all the challenges and discursive conflicts that this entails. In their effort to counter the hegemonic discourse, they overlook how trapped they are in exactly this discursive web. They have to take a stand. They cannot remain silent. Because silence could be taken as tacit consent to this or that terrorist attack.

Trend towards self-discipline

Recently, a former class representative wrote on the Facebook wall of a Muslim girl who used to be a pupil of his: “To remain silent on the terror in Paris (and elsewhere) means to accept or even to endorse it”. If Muslims avow their faith, they are then compelled to answer for it. If they make themselves invisible, they escape that pressure.

In a second stage, this discursive pressure leads to Muslims beginning to discipline themselves. Parents avoid giving their children toy guns in order not to be perceived as radical. Mothers and in particular fathers do not allow their young daughters to wear a headscarf on the way to the mosque, so as not to attract disparaging glances from those who regard this as a sign of subjugation.

Parents begin to bring up their children according to standards that attempt to counter the negative stereotypes, conspiracy theories and horrific imaginings that are part of the discourse.

Caught in the discursive web, it would seem difficult to breathe the air of freedom, to be human, to live a life apart from all the allegations, innuendo and suspicion. And yet it is this very freedom that is the first and most fundamental condition for thinking and living as a human being. In dignity.

Farid Hafez

© Qantara.de 2015

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor

The submissive subject tries to evade this discursive pressure by making himself invisible. Psychoanalyst Frantz Fanon spoke in relation to Algeria of the desire of the formerly colonised subjects to be white.

A Muslim Lawyer Refuses to Choose Between a Career and a Head Scarf

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. — The apprehension usually hits the night before a job interview or a big court case, as Zahra Cheema, a young lawyer, looks at the colorful head scarves and flowing abayas in her closet and silently wonders: “Should I try to make myself look less Muslim?”  She ponders: Should she wear a long, American-style skirt or the more conservative, full-length abaya that she prefers? There are no easy answers for an observant Muslim woman navigating the workplace.