Salt is a small town very near to Gerona (Catalonia). The percentage of immigrants has grown from a 6 percent to 49 percent in the past ten years. As a consequence of the recent economical crisis both unemployment and crime have risen in the town. Last week, a group of residents protested at the City Hall about the crime and the lack of police presence in the city. The residents accuse the immigrant population of being responsible for the current situation. Many incidents and confrontations have taken place and serve to demonstrate the tension that exists between the two groups. The local Muslim associations have called for calm and an end to the racist protests. In a meeting held last Saturday between local immigrant associations, many young people made clear their unwillingness to be represented by religious organisations. The process continues.
The article is an overview of the system of representation for Muslim communities in Catalonia. The most important Muslim federation in Catalonia is the CICC (The Islamic and Cultural Council of Catalonia). The CICC was created in 2001 and currently is the principal Muslim liason with the Catalan government. There are other Islamic associations too, some of which are critical of the work being done by the CICC.
Recently the CICC has created a controversial travel agency which organizes annual pilgrimages to Mecca. Critics of the CICC see this agency as a private business and not a religious organization.
Currently there are two other Muslim federations; one is still in the project stages having broken off from the CICC and the other, the UCIC, is a part of UCIDE. The fragmentation of Muslim communities, combined with other factors, such as the influence of the Moroccan government makes it difficult to have only one federation as the privileged liason with the Catalan government.
Educating Islamic theologians – schoolteachers and imams – at German universities has caused a lot of discussion in the past. Now the Wissenschaftsrat (German Council of Science and Humanities) has proposed a concept to grant both universities and Muslim associations a say in the education, but it is still likely to stir controversy.
So far, Muslim associations had little influence on the curriculum of Islamic education at universities, but some faculties do seek advice with local mosques or national Muslim associations. In 2008, a case at the University of Münster has caused a large debate: Muhammad Kalisch, Professor of Islamic Religion, publicly doubted the real existence of Prophet Mohammed, which in turn caused an outcry among Muslim associations. They called for Prof. Kalisch to step down and discouraged students to take up Islamic teacher training in Münster. Because they had no say, Kalisch still continues to teach.
The new proposal seeks to guarantee acceptance of Islamic teachers and Imams among the believers, and therefore allows associations to have more influence. Together with the universities, they may take part in decision-making on what will be taught and by whom. While it is certainly necessary to consult Islamic expertise in this matter, the question is whether the largely conservative associations would be the best partners. In the case of Kalisch, this would certainly have lead to his replacement by a very conservative scholar, which undermines independent academic research and teaching. On the other hand, it is a positive sign of the Wissenschaftsrat to incorporate Islamic theology into German state universities instead of leaving it to the Muslim associations or even to Islamic countries.
The Islamic Commission of Melilla (CIM) is made up of four different Islamic entities in the city. On 8th January the Muslim population of the city was called to vote in the election for the president of the CIM. Controversy has surrounded the process.
One of the Muslim associations that comprises the CIM has denounced the lack of transparency and the existence of serious irregularities in the democratic process of election. Now, the same association is demanding a new election on the basis that the first was not legitimate.
In the past few years, many European states have seen the establishment of a national body to represent their respective Muslim population.
Unlike Christianity, Islam does not have a representative and organizational body like the church, which makes it difficult for political institutions to have a contact person for dialogue. Such national representative bodies are now at work in, for instance, France and Germany.
The idea of a single body representing the country’s diverse Muslim groups is one of a number of hot topics now doing the rounds in Switzerland, which is still reeling from the surprise anti-minaret vote two weeks ago. For Stéphane Lathion, head of a research group on Islam in Switzerland at Lausanne University, focusing on a national Muslim umbrella organization right now would be like “putting the cart before the horse”.
“The priority is building ties on a daily basis between Muslim associations and the Swiss population at the local level; not just annual open-door events or inter-religious dialogue, but getting people to talk together more and for associations to take position on specific Muslim issues as well as on social issues regarding the whole of society,” says Lathion.
Following a controversial Swiss referendum to ban mosques with minarets, Christian Democratic state interior ministers in Germany on Thursday recommended Muslims show restraint when building houses of worship. “Naturally the Muslims in Germany have a right to build mosques. But they should make sure not to overwhelm the German population with them,” Hessian Interior Minister and conservative Christian Democrat Volker Bouffier told daily Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.
Large mosque minarets or domes that dominate the skyline will only create fears of Islamisation and fuel protests, Bouffier told the paper, explaining that the country’s state interior ministers would address the topic during their regularly scheduled conference on Thursday. Afterwards the ministers plan to make an appeal to Muslim associations to avoid such structures, even if they are legal according to building regulations, in addition to “further intensifying the dialogue with Muslims in Germany,” he told the paper.
Attempts to prevent the construction of mosques in Germany have made national headlines in recent years. This November workers in Cologne broke ground on a large, futuristic mosque with 55-metre minarets after it drew protestors from across the continent – including right-wing extremists.
The Charlie-Hebdo weekly satirical Paris-based newspaper has been cleared of a charge of publicly abusing a group of people because of their religion. A group of French Muslim associations filed a complaint following their publication of the 2005 Danish cartoons in February 2006. The appeals court ruled that the cartoons were not aimed at insulting all Muslims, did not constitute an attack on Islam and did not go beyond the limits of free speech. The paper’s lawyer, Richard Malka, proclaimed the decision a beautiful victory for secularism and freedom of expression.
Brussels’ mayor has forbidden a demonstration that several anti-Muslim associations wanted to organize on September 11th. These associations called their sympathizers to come anyway. They plan to stand in the 2009 European elections. The reasons invoked to forbid this gathering – it was considered as a threat to public order, and an incitement to discrimination and hatred – raised a heated debate, that recalled the debate that surrounded the publication of Mahomet’s cartoons in a Danish daily two years ago.
On April 10, the German Muslim leaders announced the creation of a new umbrella organization: the Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany (KRM). The KRM will unite the leadership of the four central German Muslim authorities: the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), the Islamic Council (IR), the Central Council of Muslims (ZMD) and the Association of Islamic Culture Centers (VIKZ). This decision came after ongoing discussion with German authorities on how to bring Muslims into a social contract with German society; this unified leadership has been undertaken with the hope of elevating Muslims to the position of respect and tolerance enjoyed by German Catholics and Protestants. The hope is that one unified voice will provide German Muslims with better leverage against the government on issues such as representation of Muslims in religious education curriculum, visibility in radio and television media, availability of halal meat, and the headscarf. Critics warn, however, against believing KRM’s claims to German Muslim sentiment. Only an estimated 10-15% of Muslims are affiliated with a mosque. Independent, secular, and feminist Muslims are likely to fall outside the breadth of the new umbrella organization. In spite of the leadership’s insistence that the KRM is welcome to all Muslims, it will undoubtedly have a conservative bent.
A Danish newspaper will not face criminal charges over cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that prompted international protests by Muslims, the country’s public prosecutor said. The drawings of Muhammad, an article and other cartoons published last September by Jyllands-Posten, Denmark’s biggest broadsheet, were neither “scornful” nor “degrading” of Muslims as a group and the newspaper can’t be prosecuted under the criminal code, Director of Public Prosecutions Henning Fode said in a statement issued yesterday. “The drawings that must be assumed to be pictures of Muhammad depict a religious figure and none of them can be considered to be meant to refer to Muslims in general,” the prosecutor said. There was no basis for assuming that the intention of one of the drawings, which depicted Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb, was “to depict Muslims in general as perpetrators of violence or even as terrorists.” The drawings sparked protests in the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Asia, and a boycott of Danish goods. Fode’s decision reaffirms a Jan. 6 ruling by a prosecutor in the city of Viborg who received a complaint against the newspaper. A number of organizations and individuals appealed the local prosecutor’s ruling, Fode said in the statement. Jyllands-Posten said the cartoons were published as a reaction to comments made by a Danish illustrator, who said he was afraid to draw the prophet for a children’s book as he feared he would become the target of threats by militants. The newspaper apologized for offending Muslims. `Scorn, Mockery, Ridicule’ The cartoons were reprinted by news media in Europe, and in other parts of the world including Egypt. While there’s no basis for prosecution in the case, Fode said, it’s “not a correct description of existing law when the article in Jyllands-Posten states that it is incompatible with the right to freedom of expression to demand a special consideration for religious feelings and that one has to be ready to put up with `scorn, mockery and ridicule’.” The decision can not be appealed further in Denmark, Fode said. Some 27 organizations and individuals appealed the original decision, including the Islamiske Trossamfund, an umbrella group for Muslim associations in Denmark, Copenhagen-based daily Politiken said today. “The lawyers that evaluated the case had no knowledge of Islam and its religious symbols,” Kasem Said Ahmad, a spokesman for the group, told the newspaper. “It’s slipshod,” he said, referring to the DPP’s decision. The groups may appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the newspaper reported.