Second German Islam Conference takes place after weeks of controversies

The continuation of the German Islam Conference is worthwhile, writes Loay Mudhoon for Qantara. The public row over those attending and the new orientation of the second session of the conference must not be allowed to overshadow the meeting’s success up to this point in advancing Muslim integration in Germany, the author argues.

The circumstances in which German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière officially opened the second session of the German Islam Conference last Monday (17 May 2010) could hardly have been worse. The exclusion of the Council of Islam and the withdrawal of the Central Council of Muslims has undoubtedly inflicted serious damage on the credibility of the Islam Conference.

The absence of these two groups meant that the Islam Conference had failed to fulfill one of its primary goals, namely to discuss effective ways and means of “naturalising Islam” in Germany, on an equal footing with all representatives of the Muslim community in Germany.

When de Maizière’s predecessor Wolfgang Schäuble opened the first Islam Conference, for the first time in German post-war history, a German interior minister conceded that Islam has a place in Germany. While the prerequisites for a formal recognition of Muslims as a statutory body under public law are still lacking — the sense that Muslims have that they are being recognised in public life has increased tangibly, something that if nothing else was evident from the increasingly critical reactions to Islamophobic tendencies in the mass media.

Who speaks for German Muslims?

Debate on which organisations represent German Muslims seen as key to integration dialogue. The German Islam Conference has achieved its first concrete result: Muslim religious education will be introduced as a subject in German schools from next year. The move was agreed upon by representatives of the state and its Muslim population – in spite of what was sometimes a bitter controversy. A number of Muslim participants wanted to see a different kind of religious education – the sort of neutral education about Islam which half the German states already offer. The Federal Interior Minister, Wolfgang Sch_uble, sees Muslim religious education as a clear signal to encourage Muslims to integrate into German society. But he quickly had to scale down his initiative after it became clear that there were many open questions and possible risks involved. He had to admit that the main preconditions for the introduction of Muslim religious education have not yet been fulfilled. Before Muslim religious education can be introduced, it will be necessary for there to be an organisation representing all Muslims in the country. This organisation will also have to be recognised by the state as a Corporation in Public Law. German churches and the Jewish community already enjoy such a status, which gives them certain semi-state rights and duties. The right to such an organisation is a central demand of the four largest, mainly conservative Muslim associations: the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, the Muslim Council, the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) and the Association of Islamic Cultural Centres (VIKZ). Loay Mudhoon reports.