While many Western countries have increased their security measures after the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day, in some parts, such as in Lower Saxony in Germany, heavy monitoring of mosques and Muslim-frequented cafes is standard police procedure. For years this policy has increasingly outraged German Muslims while failing to yield a single terrorism-related arrest.
In Lower Saxony, Muslim worshippers heading to Friday services routinely arrive to find the street in front of the mosque cordoned off and armed police at the entrance. Those entering or leaving the mosque must show their identification papers. Sometimes the police search bags, ask questions, or bring those who cannot show ID to the precinct station. In one city, officers stamped Muslims on the arm after checking them.
In these controls, known as “unmotivated mosque checks,” the police are not seeking any specific person or investigating any particular crime. Rather, they are acting under a 2003 state law that empowers them to question and search individuals in public places regardless of any suspicion of wrongdoing in the interest of preventing crimes of “grave and international concern.”
The northern German state of Lower Saxony announced recently that it was establishing the country’s first academic department of Islamic theology. The department, to be based at the University of Osnabrueck, will provide a place for theological research and will offer training for future imams. The move reflects fresh efforts across Germany to address concerns about Islam that threaten to overshadow decades-old achievements in integrating Muslims into German society. Those fears have mounted since the events of 9/11 and their aftermath stirred anxiety among many Germans over a perceived rise in radical Islam. A perception has persisted that some immigrant-based population groups have already developed “parallel societies” that are inaccessible to the German mainstream but particularly susceptible to outside influence — in this case, international Islamist groups. Resulting demands for stronger efforts to integrate Germany’s Muslim communities have grown louder and more frequent. Nowhere have they been more acute than in the debate about whether and how to integrate the Islamic religion into the German educational system. Osnabrueck’s new department of Islamic theology looks like one step, then, on what could be a very long road. Germany is home to about 4 million Muslims, or about one in 20 people. Many are immigrants who’ve been in the country for decades and have watched the debate over integration rage the entire time. A teacher of Islamic religion at the Johann-Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt upon Main since 2006, Oemer Oezsoy, says the notion of opening German academia to Islamic theology is an idea whose time has come. Bernd Volkert reports.
Germany’s most populous state has moved to ban Muslim teachers from wearing headscarves in classrooms. Deputies from the ruling Christian Democrats and Free Democrats in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia agreed unanimously on Tuesday to put the measure to a vote in the state legislature in November. “With the ban, we will send a message to affirm our system of values against Islamic fundamentalism,” the head of the Free Democrats’ parliamentary group, Gerhard Papke, said. The regional education ministry said there were 20 Muslim teachers known to wear headscarves (hijab) at public schools in the state. Headscarf bans for teachers have already been introduced in the German states of Hesse, Lower Saxony, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria and Saarland. In Hesse the ban applies to all civil servants. However, the rules stop short of banning school pupils from wearing Islamic headscarves. Germany is home to more than three million Muslims.