German Islam Conference and reactions

May 14

 

This year´s German Islam conference has been criticized by politicians of the opposition and Islamic associations. Minister of Interior Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) has been criticized for focusing the topic of the conference on extremism. Kenan Kolat who represents the Turkish community in Germany criticized the emphasis on the topic “security” at the conference. Bekir Alboga, general-secretary of the Turkish Islamic Union for the Institute of Religion (DITIB) criticized that the topic of security would overlap partnership.

 

Islamic associations have criticized the conference for inviting participants with a critical attitude towards Islam. Erol Pürlü, dialogue appointee of the association for Islamic culture centres, expressed the concern of Islamic organizations: “Dialogue is only reasonable with Islamic religious communities and only with them”. One of the invited participants who is critical towards Islam is Hamed Abdel-Samad. In 1995, Abdel-Samad who is a son of an Egyptian Sunni cleric, moved to Germany. Having studied Political Science and Islamic Studies, he has been engaged in several initiatives such as writing books or creating documentaries with a critical stand towards Islam.

 

Participants of the German Islam Conference

 

Hamed Abdel-Samad is a Political Scientist and “secular Muslim” who has written about the Islam and its challenges in Modern times. He criticized the violent reactions and threats against the Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard as a sign of backwardness, which Muslims would need to admit. He has been chosen as an”independent Muslim”.

Bernd Ridwan Bauknecht is a teacher of Islamic Studies at public schools. He can be categorized as a “liberal Muslim” whose goals are to accompany young Muslim pupils and youngsters to facilitate their integration in society.

Sineb el Masrar is Chief Editor of the Women and Migrant magazine “Gazelle”. She is “liberal Muslim” with secular views and stand for the recognition of Muslims and their contribution to German society. Her attempt is to strengthen the role of Muslim women in society as they would try to bridge modernity with tradition.

Gönül Halat-Mec is lawyer, works on family law with special focus on migrants. She perceives herself as a “secular Muslim”, whose religion should be a personal and private matter only. As religious and transitional doctrines would repress and discriminate women, they contradict with the plural democratic societal order and would complex any joint cooperation.

Abdelmalik Hibaoui is an Imam and preacher. He can be categorized as a “conservative Muslim”, who expects from the Islam Conference to provide the fundament for the construction of Centers for Islamic theology at Universities and Islam as a subject at public schools.

 

Hamideh Mohagheghi has studied theology and writes on interreligious dialogue. She expects a mutual dialogue between Muslims and their “State”. Islam and Muslims should be perceived as a norm. She might be categorized as a “conservative Muslim” though as an expert, she has taken a scientific stand in her interviews.

 

Ahmed Mansour is a Berlin based Palestinian Israeli. He is a free lance author working for the “society of democratic culture”. He is manager of the HEROES project in Berlin and is Policy Advisor for European Foundation for Democracy.

 

Bülent Ucar is Professor for Islamic Religious Education. He is “liberal Muslim” declaring mutual participation and recognition as a fundamental part of integration. The State should recognize Muslim associations and organizations to facilitate area wide religious education for Muslim children and institutionalize the education of Imams in Germany.

 

Turgut Yüksel is a sociologist and “secular Muslim”. As a consultant, he works on projects related to migration and intercultural dialogue. Religious practices should be a private matter only without any form of discrimination. The State should not risk losing it neutrality toward all religions. A clear borderline between Islam and Islamism would be necessary. A founder of the (initiative for secular Muslims in Hessen), he tries to represent the voices of Muslims without a representative organization or association.

 

 

Tuba Isik-Yigit is Doctorate at the Center for Theology and Cultural Sciences at the Institute of Catholic Theology at the University of Paderborn. She can be categorized as a “conservative Muslim” conceptualizing the establishment of centers for the education of theology students. Also, she is engaged in strengthening equality of women, especially those with headscarf.

 

Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill evolving

November 13, 2012

It’s one thing to get out of the blocks quickly in a race, it’s quite another to stay ahead of the pack… for 60 years. But that’s exactly what the Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS) has been doing since it was founded in 1952. The Islamic Studies Library, which started off as a modest departmental collection, is now considered one of the most important in the field, boasting more than 150,000 volumes of print and digital material.

From the outset, the IIS tried to maintain a balance between faculty from the Muslim world and from the West. The idea was simple; to gain the fullest possible understanding of the Muslim world required the best of both Western and Islamic scholarly traditions – perhaps not such a revolutionary concept today, but entirely unheard of in the 1950s. Those same scholars went back and became influential in Indonesia. Among other things, they established the State Institutes of Islamic Studies, an archipelago-wide system of education basically modeled on the IIS.

Allah or the Advisory Council, Islamic Religious Education in Germany

A few weeks ago, a new school subject was introduced in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia: Islamic religious education. The new subject is a provisional arrangement and is not uncontroversial. By Ellen Hoffers

Aya frowns. In the back row, Ayman starts a kind of sing-song “Shalom, salaam, shalom.” Bernd Ridwan Bauknecht sighs. He has just explained to his fourth graders that the Arabic greeting “Salaam aleykum” is similar to the Hebrew greeting “Shalom alechem.” Both of them mean peace.

“And do you know what?” he continues. “In church, Christians shake hands with each other before they take communion and they say to each other, ‘Peace be with you.'” Aya’s not sure about all this: “And what do the Catholics say?” Bauknecht smiles: “You’ll have to ask them yourself,” he says. She won’t have far to go: “the Catholics” have their class next door.

Since the beginning of this school year, 2,500 of the 320,000 Muslim school pupils in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia have been receiving faith-based “Islamic religious education” for the first time in the history of education in Germany. The Am Domhof Catholic primary school in Bad Godesberg, a suburb of Bonn, at which Bauknecht teaches, is one of the first 33 schools to offer the new subject.

The law introducing the subject was passed in December 2011 by the Social Democrat–Green coalition in the state, with the support of the opposition Christian Democrats. The move has widespread support, although there’s annoyance over the organisational model that the government has introduced. This model features an advisory council, and that has been criticised above all by those who have been campaigning for Islamic religious education for years.

“The mentality of a religious bouncer”

Lamya Kaddor is one of them. She has been teaching Islamic Studies in schools for ten years. She helped set up the first university chair in Islamic religious education, temporarily filled a vacant professorship and is the author of three textbooks.

In 2011, she was awarded the Integration Medal by Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin; in Madrid in 2010, she was voted one of the most influential Muslim women in Europe. On that occasion, Cherie Blair shook her hand. Now she’s afraid that she might end up unemployed.

That’s because Kaddor is also chairperson of the Liberal Islamic Association. She says that equal rights for men and women are rooted in Islam. She also calls the idea that only those who believe the right things will end up in paradise “the mentality of a religious bouncer” and rejects any ban on showing the video that defamed Muhammad and caused such a storm in the Arab world. She insists: Muslims in Germany don’t need special treatment.

But these views are not welcome both in conservative and traditional Muslim circles and in the four big Muslim associations in Germany. It’s these four associations – which only represent 15 per cent of the Muslims in Germany – that will soon decide whether she has the “religious aptitude” to continue to teach. She says the situation is absurd.

“What do I say when they ask me why I’m not wearing a headscarf?” she asks. “And what happens when they discover that I’ve written a paper on that issue? Will they reject me?”

The ministry’s trick

In the twelve years before the new subject was introduced, a course called “Islamic Studies in German” was taught in North Rhine-Westphalia in a pilot project. That was all that was possible back then because in Germany, in order to teach a religion on the basis of the beliefs of that religion, there has to be a religious organisation. But since Islam doesn’t have the same kind of structures as the Christian Churches, the Islamic Studies subject was introduced, officially, as a school curriculum on Islamic Studies from an academic point of view.

But from the start, things all looked different in practice. The reason for this is that the Ministry for Education only appointed practicing Muslims. “It was clear to everyone involved that the aim of the project was faith-based religious education,” says Dorothea Paschen, head of St. Andrew’s school in Bad Godesberg. “What was missing was legal equality with the other denominational religious education classes.”

To achieve that, the ministry used a trick: in consultation with the Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany (KRM), an advisory council was set up to take on the role of the required religious organisation. In practice, this council tests teachers on their “religious aptitude” and approves the textbooks.

Opponents of this model speak of a “failed attempt to churchify” Islam. The state education minister, Sylvia Löhrmann of the Greens, recognises the problem but pleads for pragmatism: “We have to institutionalise Islam like the other religions, otherwise we won’t make any progress. Obviously, we will never have full unanimity.”

“The liberal camp was ignored”

The purpose of the current model is to ensure that the state retains its neutrality by having the Muslim community decide – in the same way as the Christian Churches do – what counts as the teachings of Islam and what doesn’t.

The problem is: who represents the Muslim community? The advisory council has eight members; four have been chosen by the ministry in consultation with the Muslim associations, and the four associations – DITIB, the Council of Muslims, the Association of Muslim Cultural Centres and the Central Council of Muslims – send one member each.

All these organisations are conservative and traditional. “The liberal camp was ignored when the members of the advisory council were chosen,” says Lamya Kaddor. Before it was set up, the Liberal Islamic Association and the Association of Democratic European Muslims warned the minister that the council would be one-sided. But she chose to negotiate the membership of the council with the KRM, whose four member associations are now all represented on the council.

The KRM’s spokesman is the veteran functionary Ali Kizilkaya. He came to Germany from Turkey in 1973 and spent a long time as an official in the German headquarters of the highly conservative, Turkish association Milli Görüs. He then became chairperson of the Council of Muslims and spokesperson for the KRM. In 2006, he caused a storm when he said that the wearing of a headscarf was a “religious commandment” which “cannot be contextualised according to different countries or places.”

Religious aptitude test needed

Kizilkaya is a product of the decades-long fight by the Muslim associations for official recognition. Nevertheless, he sees the current arrangement on religious education as only a compromise: in his opinion, the associations should really have “sole competence” to decide on the religious aptitude of teachers.

He says that they had no choice but to “tolerate” the Islamic Studies classes and that they held back with their criticism. But that’s over now. It is, of course, the “duty and the task” of the associations “to examine the faith and the behaviour of teachers”. After all, that’s what the Churches do. “People will have to get used to that,” he says.

Bernd Ridwan Bauknecht has done the “religious aptitude test” and was quite shocked by it. In the 20-minute interview, the main issue was his loyalty to the associations. He was accused of “not being religious enough.” Two weeks after the interview, he received a letter from one of the members of the advisory council asking him to join one of the four associations.

“Can you imagine it?” he says. “I am a German convert, an expert in Islamic Studies and a committed Muslim! Why should I join an association like DITIB, which is controlled from Turkey? Or one of the Arab associations? Or the Council of Muslims, which is dominated by Milli Görüs? It’s laughable.”

If he didn’t want to join, he was told in the letter, he should at least have an imam confirm that he regularly played an active part in community life, preferably in a mosque belonging to one of the associations.

Kizilkaya doesn’t see the problem: “You have to be a member of the Church too,” he points out. Imams will be trained to provide certificates to prove that teachers lead a religiously correct way of life and are active in the communities. In a recent public discussion in which Löhrmann also took part, Kizilkaya said training was not the decisive point; it was “active involvement in a community and the correct belief” that mattered, and in the system set up by the state, it was the job of the associations to check on those issues. Löhrmann replied that the advisory council was still in the process of finding its role.

Bauknecht has been teaching Islamic Studies in Bad Godesberg for the last 9 years. Just a few hundred metres from his school is the Saudi King Fahd Academy, which hit the headlines in 2004 over texts in its textbooks glorifying violence; three streets further along, there’s a mosque that is especially popular with Moroccans and where Salafists have a big say; then there’s the DITIB mosque with its strong roots in Turkey.

Bauknecht has always considered his teaching as a bulwark against radical forms of Islam. He wants to give children space to think about themselves and their religion – a space in which they can also express their doubts. His children come from many different Muslim movements, and he feels that they have to learn how much variety there is in their religion.

Many potential conflicts

“The classes must be measured against the needs of our children,” says one father of four, “and not some political skirmish.” This father originally sent his children to Catholic religion classes. “They also dealt there with social and ethical questions,” he remembers. “Those are important for all children.”

Then Islamic Studies were introduced, and now he’s proud that the subject has the same status as that of other religions. He says Mr Bauknecht has been teaching the subject well for the last ten years, and that’s the most important thing – “whether the teacher is involved in a community or not is his own business.”

For the pupils, nothing has changed. In their classroom there’s a cross made of mosaic pieces and a calligraphy. On top of the board are the “99 beautiful names of Allah” in gold letters – next to them is a list of all the people who are mentioned in the Christian bible as well as in the Koran. Maryam/Mary; Ayoub/Job, Yusuf/Joseph.

“Quiet now,” calls Bauknecht. Today’s topic is conflict and reconciliation. He draws an iceberg on the board. Only the tip is out of the water. He explains that beneath the surface of any conflict, there are always deeper wounds. You have to recognise that before you can solve the conflict.

Lamya Kaddor thinks that there’s plenty of room for future teachers to find themselves in conflict with the advisory council. “What happens when a teacher marries someone from another religion?” she asks. “Or when a teacher is homosexual? Nobody thought about such issues when the subject was introduced.”

For her part, the minister has recently been saying that one should remember that the advisory council is legally only a temporary arrangement until 2019. After that, the issues will have to be discussed anew.

Ellen Hoffers

© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 2012

Translated from the German by Michael Lawton

Editor: Aingeal Flanagan

Huron University College Appoints Chair in Islamic Studies

Oct. 14, 2011

 

Huron University College in London, Ontario has appointed Dr. Ingrid Mattson as the inaugural London and Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies at its Faculty of Theology. Dr. Mattson will begin her appointment on July 1, 2012.

Dr. Mattson was born and raised in Kitchener-Waterloo and earned her PhD in Islamic Studies from the University of Chicago. She is the first convert to Islam and the first woman to lead the Islamic Society of North America. Before accepting the Chair in Islamic Studies at Huron University College, Dr. Mattson was Director of the Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary in Hartford Connecticut. She has also been an Advisor to both the Bush and Obama Administrations.

New Centre of Islamic Theology at the University of Tübingen

30.09.2011

The University of Tübingen opened the first German Centre of Islamic Studies/ Islamic Theology last week. The centre is one of four new centers for Islamic Theology nationwide (as reported) dedicated to the study of Islamic Theology to train, for instance, future imams or teachers for Islamic religious education. However, the interest by aspiring students has remained far behind expectations  and, so far, only 24 students have enrolled.

Interview with Islamic Studies Scholar Kaddor

11.09.2011

In light of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Deutsch Türkische Nachrichten interviewed Lamya Kaddor, a scholar of Islamic studies of Syrian origins and actively involved in introducing Islamic education in German public schools, about her recent visit to New York and Ground Zero and the scaremongering by Interior Minister Friedrich. Kaddor thinks the 9/11 attacks have sensitized people to Islam – both in a negative as well as positive way. On a recent trip to New York, Kaddor was surprised by the relatively relaxed atmosphere in the US. She describes Ground Zero as a busy, yet peaceful place, where the presence of Muslims is not considered to be problematic.

 

Asked about Interior Minister Friedrich’s recent announcement that Germany is home to an estimated 1,000 Islamic terrorists, Kaddor criticises this form of scaremongering for political benefits. While such comments do not support the actual debate about Islamism and terror in Germany, they may be used (or rather, abused) to justify the implementation of certain policies.

 

As a teacher, Kaddor works with children that were born shortly before or after 9/11 and, therefore, do not have any direct (and first-hand) associations with the attacks. When talking about the attacks in class, Kaddor observes that some students cannot construct the links between what they hear and see and reality; for many of them, the events seem more like abstracts from an action-movie.

International Conference: “Islam and Europe: Culture, History, Politics”

ANU COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SOCIAL SCIENCES
8 – 9 March 2012

The Australian National University’s Centre for European Studies and
Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies will be jointly hosting an
international conference exploring the themes of Muslims in Europe and
Europe’s relations with the Muslim world.

Scholars specialising in Islamic and Middle East studies, European
studies, and the wider fields of Humanities and the Social Sciences are
invited to participate in this multidisciplinary forum. Historical
perspectives and contemporary analyses are welcome in the following areas:

– Religious and cultural diversity in Islam;
– Muslims, civil society, democracy and secularism;
– Impact of Islam in European history;
– Impact of recent events in the Middle East;
– Cultural identities and the Arts.

Professor Neal Robinson, Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies

Offers for 20 minute presentations are invited for consideration by 1 September 2011.
Please send presentation title, abstract of 200 words (max.) and short
biography to
Europe@anu.edu.au.

Convenors: Professor Jacqueline Lo, Centre for European Studies and
Professor Neal
Robinson, Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies

Venue: Sir Roland Wilson Building, McCoy Circuit (Building 120), ANU,
Canberra

Enquiries: europe@anu.edu.au

Islamic Studies Scholar Talks about Al-Qaida and Islamophobia

30.08.2011

10 years after the attacks of 9/11, süddeutsche online interviewed Lamya Kaddor, a scholar of Islamic studies of Syrian origins and actively involved in introducing Islamic education in German public schools. Kaddor talked about her fear of Al Qaida, Islamophobia, and what Muslims could contribute to improve inter-faith dialogue. In light of the many questions about Islam, Al Qaida, and terrorism that currently dominate many of her conversations, Kaddor stresses that Islam itself does not justify the acts of religious terrorists and that she, as a Muslim, is as afraid of terrorist acts as anyone else. Kaddor also notes that the events of 9/11 have significantly contributed to feelings of Islamophobia, which now reaches all levels of German (and European) society. It is this general sense of prejudice against Muslims that allows people such as Thilo Sarrazin (with his controversial book published in the fall of 2010 (as reported)) to construct Muslims more generally as scapegoats for current social circumstances. She then criticizes that, since 9/11, many Muslims are simply reduced to their religion and not recognised for who they actually are. According to Kaddor, it is now important to address these issues and fears and improve inter-faith interaction and dialogue. To achieve this, it is vital for Muslims to openly condemn acts of terror in their communities, as remaining silent can be misunderstood.

New Islam-Professorship at the University of Hamburg

22.06.2011
The University of Hamburg established a professorship for Islamic Studies and Islamic Theology at the Academy of World Religions. In the fall of 2011, Katajan Amirpur (40), a German of Iranian origin who has previously worked at the University of Zurich, will take up the professorship in Hamburg. The University honoured Amirpur as an excellent academic in the area of innovative approaches to Islamic Theology. The Academic of World Religions, which was implemented in 2010, focuses especially on religious and cultural diversity.