Islamic theology at German universities: successes and limitations of an unprecedented experiment

For many decades after the arrival of Muslim ‘guest workers’ from Turkey, Morocco, and other Muslim-majority countries, German authorities were happy to outsource the provision of religious services to Imams and preachers sent by the Muslim immigrants’ countries of origin. Since the Muslim workforce would ultimately return home, it was unnecessary and even counterproductive to grant Islamic religiosity a permanent presence – or so the reasoning went.

‘Domesticating’ Islam

It was only around the turn of the millennium that perceptions changed. After the events of September 11, 2001, authorities took a securitised perspective on Islam. Fears about the uncontrolled flourishing of a radical underground religious scene appeared to call for the creation of more transparent structures of Islamic learning.

Members of the Muslim community also began to voice a critique of the prevailing arrangement: they bemoaned the fact that Imams knew little about life in Germany or Western Europe and could not provide guidance on many issues that mattered to believers, and especially to younger audiences.((See Ceylan, Rauf (2009). Prediger des Islam. Imame – Wer sie sind und was sie wirklich wollen. Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder. ))

Establing new chairs

In 2011, then, the German government – taking cues from the country’s ongoing Islamkonferenz, an (often controversial) forum bringing together state authorities and various Muslim figures and organisations – decided to fund the creation of several university departments of Islamic theology.

Subsequently, several university chairs were established – at Tübingen, Frankfurt/Gießen, Münster, Osnabrück, and Erlangen/Nuremberg. State funding, initially granted for five years, has since been renewed. Overall, the Ministry for Education and Research has spent € 36 million on these new faculties.(( https://www.bmbf.de/de/islamische-theologie-367.html ))

Training school teachers

Yet while the formation of Imams for Germany’s mosques has been on the agenda of these university departments, their main focus has been the training of teachers for Islamic religious education classes in public schools.

The understanding of secularism anchored in Germany’s constitution is not marked by a laic attempt to cleave apart public and religious life in a stringent manner. Instead, the German ethos is one of cooperation of state and religious bodies in the public sphere. Consequently, the country’s public schools offer confessional courses in religious education adapted to the pupils’ faith.

Expanding employment opportunities for graduates

Many of Germany’s 16 federal states – who are each individually responsible for their own educational sectors – rapidly expanded their offerings of Islamic religious education in the 2000s. Ever since, they have been in dire need of skilled teaching personnel to fill vacant positions.(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/07/islamische-theologie-universitaet-fach-studium-bilanz/komplettansicht ))

Of the currently 2,000 students enrolled in degree courses in Islamic theology, most will seek employment as secondary school teachers. Others might staff the ranks of Germany’s expanding Islamic social welfare sector. Confessional institutions run by large Catholic and Protestant charity organisations play a pre-eminent role in various fields of pastoral care, including in care for the elderly. Now, with the ‘guest worker’ generations ageing, there is a growing demand for Islamic offers in this domain.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/wohlfahrtspflege-der-religionsgemeinschaften-muslimische.886.de.html?dram:article_id=346493 ))

No progress on the formation of Imams

What the centres for Islamic theology have not accomplished so far, however, is to foster a new generation of Imams that could preach in German mosques. In fact, students themselves express little desire to pursue this career – a stance for which a number of reasons can be adduced.(( http://www.rp-online.de/panorama/deutschland/imam-ausbildung-in-deutschland-studierende-wollen-nicht-imam-werden-aid-1.6046869 ))

First of all, given their lack of firm legal status in Germany – they are not recognised as a ‘corporations of public law’ and thus do not hold a status comparable to Christian churches or Jewish congregations – many Muslim communities have extremely limited financial wiggle room. They are, consequently, at times not in a position to pay the salaries of a fully-trained Imam – and students of Islamic theology are reluctant to accept employment with extremely meagre pay.

Continued reliance on clergymen from abroad

The organisation that could most easily avoid this financial trap is DİTİB, the country’s largest Islamic association with roughly 1,000 Imams. Yet DİTİB is a subsidiary of the Turkish government’s Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) and as such only employs Imams trained in and funded by Turkey.

To be sure, DİTİB spokesman Zekeriya Altuğ has affirmed that the mosques of his organisation will gradually move towards relying on German-trained Imams.(( http://www.rp-online.de/panorama/deutschland/imam-ausbildung-in-deutschland-studierende-wollen-nicht-imam-werden-aid-1.6046869 )) Altuğ has also stressed DİTİB’s overall willingness to emancipate itself from its Turkish superiors.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/f-a-s-exklusiv-ditib-will-unabhaengiger-werden-14386218.html ))

Yet it remains doubtful whether the organisation will be either willing or capable to accomplish such a manoeuvre in the near future, particularly given the recent reassertion of central control from Ankara.

Distrust between theology chairs and associations

Scepticism about the suitability of potential Imams trained at German university extends beyond DİTİB, however. The 300 mosques of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) do fund their Imams through private donations, without relying on a financially strong state backer. Nevertheless, they have not embraced the idea of turning to graduates of Germany’s Islamic theology seminaries.

It seems likely that this reticence is linked to disputes over personnel choices and over the content of the curricula at Islamic theology faculties. On both of these matters, the more liberal-leaning faculties (with backing from universities and public authorities) and the more conservative Islamic associations have often clashed bitterly.

‘Liberals’ vs. ‘conservatives’

Generally, the liberals have had the upper hand, to the chagrin of their opponents. Consequently, Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the ZMD, criticised the tendency to “see university institutions as counter-models to the mosques”.

He claimed that the dichotomisation into “enlightened” university Islam and “backward” practices of mosque communities “does particular harm to the reputation of university institutions. For after all it is the congregations that are supposed to employ the graduated Imams one day.” In other words, the ZMD’s constituent communities continue to be suspicious of the ideological orientation of the university degree holders.(( http://www.rp-online.de/panorama/deutschland/imam-ausbildung-in-deutschland-studierende-wollen-nicht-imam-werden-aid-1.6046869 ))

Managing students’ expectations

At the same time, members of the ‘liberal’ university teaching staff have themselves expressed some dissatisfaction with their students and their outlook on the Islamic theology curriculum.

According to Harry Harun Behr, Professor of Religious Education at the University of Frankfurt, many students “seek to deepen their faith, not to work scientifically. When I tell them that the Qur’an is the result of a theological discourse, they don’t want to hear.”(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/07/islamische-theologie-universitaet-fach-studium-bilanz/komplettansicht ))

Professor Mouhanad Khorchide of Münster University concurred: Many students “want to have their faith confirmed”, he asserted, “but university is a place to reflect on faith”. According to him, it would take at least two or three additional generations of students for this point to be accepted across the board.(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/07/islamische-theologie-universitaet-fach-studium-bilanz/komplettansicht ))

Positive results

A little more than five years after the creation of the new faculties, policymakers as well as Islamic scholars and theologians nevertheless continue to see the experiment in positive light.(( https://en.qantara.de/content/europe-and-its-muslims-islamic-theology-in-germany-spanning-the-divide?nopaging=1 ))

Academic observers have stressed that, among other beneficial contributions, the establishment of departments of Islamic theology has helped to bring a more adequate and more intellectually sophisticated Muslim voice to current debates; debates which are all too often controlled by questionable “Islam experts” without any solid theological credentials.((Antes, Peter and Rauf Ceylan (2017). “Die Etablierung der Islamischen Theologie: Institutionalisierung einer neuen Disziplin und die Entstehung einer muslimischen scientific community”. In Antes and Ceylan (eds.), Muslime in Deutschland: Historische Bestandsaufnahme, akutelle Entwicklungen und zukünftige Forschungsfragen. Wiesbaden: Springer VS. )) Indeed, Muslim theologians have not shied away from weighing in on controversial issues.

Islamic theology’s struggle for independence

Thus, there are encouraging signs. They might enable Islamic theology at German universities to transcend its twofold challenge: first, like any new academic discipline, it needs to establish itself and find its own turf – institutionally as well as intellectually. This, by itself, is not an easy feat to accomplish.

In the case of Islamic theology, a second and more particular hurdle presents itself, linked to the inherently contested nature of the study of Islam itself. The most powerful factions seeking to gain definitional authority and dominance over the field are conservative Islamic associations on the one hand and public authorities on the other hand.

While the latter are ostentatiously more liberal than the former, they are nevertheless bent on enforcing their security agenda and on creating a state-backed ‘moderate’ Islam. If Islamic theology wants to come of age in Germany, it must shake off the demands of both sides and strive to cut its own path.

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.

Muslim women’s dress takes centre-stage again in German debate

Counterterrorism and the burqa

Following the twin attacks in Würzburg and Ansbach in July, a group of conservative interior ministers from Germany’s federal states have published a manifesto demanding enlarged competences for police, army, judiciary, and intelligence services. The politicians from the CDU/CSU party also demand the retraction of laws easing the acquisition of dual citizenship, passed by the red-green government of Gerhard Schröder in 2000.((http://www.haz.de/Nachrichten/Politik/Deutschland-Welt/Innenminister-der-Union-fordern-Burka-Verbot )).

While the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the conservatives’ coalition partner in Berlin, has flatly rejected calls to abolish dual citizenship, responses to added security measures have been more mixed. Yet what has taken centre stage in recent days is another demand from the manifesto – a proposed ‘burqa ban’. This is in spite of the fact that the precise security benefit from such a ban has remained largely unexplored. The initially security-focused discussion has thus gradually morphed into a debate with vaguely ‘civilisational’ overtones.

Echoing many of his colleagues in an opinion piece for the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, leading CDU politician Jens Spahn deems burqa and niqab to be incompatible with the values of an open society and with the kind of public interaction such a society necessitates. According to him, these items of clothing also undermine the integration of recently arrived refugees. ((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/warum-burka-und-niqab-nicht-nach-deutschland-gehoeren-14393282.html )) In an interview in late July, Spahn had struck a distinctly more polemical note, declaring himself to be a “burkaphobe” and accusing Muslims of being sexually repressed. As a remedy, Spahn encouraged Muslims to shower in the nude while at the gym.((http://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article157398148/Ein-Verbot-ist-ueberfaellig-Ich-bin-burkaphob.html ))

Constitutional hurdles

Yet whether a blanket ban on the burqa as Spahn and others demand it would even withstand scrutiny by the German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) is uncertain at best. In the past, the court has generally set high hurdles to potential state regulation of religious practices. Consequently, already in 2010 a German parliamentary committee came to the conclusion that a straightforward burqa ban would be unconstitutional. ((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/verbotsdebatte-burka-verbieten-geht-das-ueberhaupt-1.3123311 ))

In view of this fact, politicians not just from the CDU but also from the SPD appear to move away from a general ban to more targeted restrictions: more recent interventions in the debate propose prohibiting women from wearing burqa or niqab when appearing in front of a judge or when driving a car.((http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Burka-am-Steuer-soll-verboten-werden-article18438906.html ))

The calmer voices in the often agitated discussion have sought to critique the focus on the burqa as a false debate obscuring the real issues. Indeed, the number of burqa-wearing women in the country  is very small, ranging between a few dozen and several hundred.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/verbotsdebatte-burka-verbieten-geht-das-ueberhaupt-1.3123311 )) As the Muslim CDU politician Cemile Giousouf stated, “I am against the burqa but it is not the core problem – an extremist understanding of religion is.” Moreover, according to her, “the experience in France shows that a burqa ban does not provide greater security.”(( http://www.haz.de/Nachrichten/Politik/Deutschland-Welt/Cemile-Giousouf-Burkaverbot-bietet-nicht-mehr-Sicherheit ))

From burqa to burkini

France itself, among the pioneers of a burqa ban, has since moved on to debate the ‘burkini’, a piece of swimwear covering all of a woman’s body with the exception of face, hands, and feet.(( http://europe.newsweek.com/burkini-swimsuits-spark-anti-muslim-outrage-sales-488138?rm=eu )) This debate has been considerably more muted in Germany, where the focus has remained on face-covering burqas and niqabs. Indeed, the German Constitutional Court has implicitly legitimised the burkini in the past, when it ruled that co-educational swimming classes in public schools were mandatory, and that those Muslim girls uncomfortable with a co-educational arrangement could wear burkinis.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/bundesverwaltungsgericht-schwimmunterricht-in-burkini-fuer-muslimische-maedchen-zumutbar-12569208.html ))

In spite of this, in mid-August German Muslim woman reported an incident in which she and one of her daughters were asked to leave a water park near Berlin since their burkinis were deemed to be “inappropriate clothing”. Speaking to Berliner Zeitung, the mother asserted that wearing the burkini was her own independent choice; a choice that one of her daughters had also made while her other daughter had stuck to regular Western swimsuits. Interestingly, she went on to add that she disliked full-body veiling and that she agreed with a burqa ban, but noted that a burkini for her was a completely different thing.((http://www.berliner-zeitung.de/berlin/streit-in-bad-saarow–was–bitte-schoen–ist-an-einem-burkini-so-schlimm—24599592 ))

All of this amply demonstrates that the body of Muslim women is back at the centre of attention. After the string of attacks in Europe and amidst unresolved questions regarding immigration, however, a nuanced engagement with this topic seems to have become even more difficult to achieve.

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.”

German conservatives call for Islam Law

Leading members of the CSU party, Bavarian sister organisation to Angela Merkel’s CDU, have called for an ‘Islam Law’ that would curb foreign influence on German mosques. CSU Secretary General Andreas Scheuer asserted that “German has to become the language of the mosques”, with Imams being trained in Germany and being steeped in German “basic values”. In order to curb what Scheuer described as imported extremism, mosques, Islamic cultural centres and Muslim institutions should also no longer be allowed to receive money from abroad. These proposals follow the lead set by Austria, who adopted similar measures in 2015.

While Scheuer explicitly mentioned Saudi Arabia’s practice of funding Wahhabi and Salafist organisations as dangers to domestic German stability, in the context of recent diplomatic rows between Germany and Turkey, the Turkish connection of many of Germany’s Islamic institutions has now also come into the focus of the political debate. Up to 1000 Imams in Germany are trained in Turkey, and are sent to Germany by the Turkish presidency of religious affairs, Diyanet. They work in mosques administered by DITIB, Diyanet’s German affiliate, and continue to be paid by the Turkish state.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, DITIB has been extremely critical of the CSU proposals, arguing that they violate the German constitution and the right for religious self-determination anchored therein. The DITIB Secretary General dismissed the proposal for an Islam Law as “discriminatory”, “populist”, and as playing into the hands of the far-right AfD party. Other, more Islamist-tinged functionaries of the German Islam Council (IRD) and the Millî Gorüs community (IGMG) equally castigated the proposals as an attempt by the CSU to gain undue state influence over Muslim religious life.

Other commentators have noted the with approval that the CSU – in contrast to its past positions – now appears willing to recognise the existence of Muslim communities in Germany and the need to provide some sort of institutional infrastructure for the exercise of their religiosity. However, in an opinion piece for the newspaper Die Zeit, Parvin Sadigh notes that many mosque communities in the country are already using German as their primarily language, due to the diversity of origins of the attendees, as well as due to the fact that the children and grandchildren of Muslim immigrants often no longer speak the language of their parents and grandparents well enough to be able to follow religious instruction in Turkish or Arabic. Conversely, most Salafi and jihadi preachers are fluent in the German language and extremely well-versed in the sociocultural features of young Muslims’ lives. Ostentatious ‘integration’ in the mainstream of German society is thus not synonymous with theological liberalism.

Sadigh notes that degree programmes for Islamic Theology at German universities have only been in existence for 6 years, meaning that for the foreseeable future there will remain an acute shortage of German-educated Imams for mosques and of religious education teachers for public schools. Moreover, Sadigh notes that German mosques often do not have the necessary financial resources to offer adequate salaries to their Imams: without the constitutionally recognised status as a ‘religious corporation’, they have been unable to construct a durable financial infrastructure and thus continue to depend on charitable offerings from their members and on large-scale funding from abroad in order to be able to offer religious and social services.

Another CSU politician, Alexander Radwan, reacted to these criticism and proposed to enable Muslim associations in Germany to levy a church tax, analogous to the practice of the Catholic and Protestant churches. This, according to Radwan, would remedy the need of mosque communities to rely on foreign funding. What Radwan did not mention, however, is that the attainment of the requisite status of a ‘religious corporation’ that would enable Muslim associations to levy such a tax has remained elusive for most of the deeply divided Islamic organisations operating in the country.

Muslim parent upset over school flyer promoting church’s Easter egg hunt

April 4, 2014

 

Some Muslim parents are concerned about public schools in Dearborn handing out flyers to all students advertising an Easter egg hunt, saying it violates the principle of church and state separation.

A flyer headlined “Eggstravaganza!” was given to students this week at three elementary schools in the Dearborn Public Schools district, which has a substantial number of Muslim students. The flyer described an April 12 event at Cherry Hill Presbyterian Church in Dearborn featuring an egg hunt, relay race, and egg toss. It asked students to RSVP “to secure your free spot” and included images of eggs and a bunny.

“It really bothered my two kids,” said parent Majed Moughni, who is Muslim and has two children, ages 7 and 9, in Dearborn elementary schools. “My son was like, ‘Dad, I really don’t feel comfortable getting these flyers, telling me to go to church. I thought churches are not supposed to mix with schools.’ ”

Moughni said he’s concerned about “using school teachers paid by public funds … to pass out these flyers that are being distributed by a church. I think that’s a serious violation of separation of church and state.”

David Mustonen, spokesman for Dearborn Public Schools, did not respond Thursday to several requests by the Free Press for comment.

The pastor of Cherry Hill Presbyterian Church defended the flyer, saying it was approved for distribution by Dearborn Public Schools and is not promoting a religious event.

“It’s designed to be an opportunity to invite the community to come for a day of activity,” said Pastor Neeta Nichols of Cherry Hill. “There is not a religious component to this event.”

And in recent years, other Muslim parents have complained about what they say are attempts to convert their children. The Conquerors, a Grandville-based group of Christian athletes who display feats of strength to spread the message of Jesus, have performed in Dearborn schools, drawing some concern. In 2009, there was controversy over an assistant wrestling coach who some parents said was trying to convert Muslim wrestlers, which the coach denied.

Moughni said he greatly respects Christianity, but believes that schools should not promote events related to religious holidays. He said he would oppose flyers that promoted events at mosques as well.

Detroit Free Press: http://www.freep.com/article/20140404/NEWS05/304040016/Muslim-parents-upset-over-flier-promoting-Easter-egg-hunt-at-church

Kansas school surrenders to ignorance, removes Islam display

Back to school means back to the culture wars for Minneha Core Knowledge Elementary School in Wichita, Kansas.

On the very first day of school, someone snapped a photo of a bulletin board display in the hallway featuring the Five Pillars of Islam and then posted it on Facebook.

“This is a school that banned all forms of Christian prayer,” said the caption under the photo. “This can not stand.”

The Islam display went viral migrating from the “Prepare to Take America Back” page on Facebook to likeminded pages and Web sites. Islamophobia is a cottage industry on the Internet.

School officials were immediately inundated with complaints from gullible and misinformed people who apparently believe the canard that public schools indoctrinate kids in Islam – and persecute Christians.

I wish I could report that Minneha administrators faced down the Facebook smears and courageously defended their bulletin board display.

But sadly, the school surrendered to ignorance and fear and removed the Five Pillars of Islam display – ostensibly to “alleviate the distraction.”

As it turns out, a bulletin board in another part of the school features an image of the Last Supper as part of teaching about the religious art of the Renaissance. Other religious images are featured on bulletin boards at other times of the year. These inconvenient facts were left out of the Facebook posting.

Islam in Schools? Cantone what do you think? Asks deputy governor Michele Guerra

June 4, 2013

 

Michele Guerra gran consigliere for the Northern League, raises awareness about education of Islam in schools to the Canton government and raises questions about Islam in Ticino.

 

The deputy refers in particular an interview appeared recently through the Cdt to an Ticino Imam. The Imam confirmed that Islam is a reality in Europe and due to this it should be taught in public schools to stop prejudice acts and worse, terrorism.

 

According to Guerra this proposition is “disconcerting.”

 

Islam, explains Guerra, “represents a recent minority especially for Ticino. In the second place, it’s not certain that education in public schools would deter acts of vandalism or terrorism.”

 

Guerra, who is against teaching Islam in schools, he has appealed to the State government to stop the Imam’s proposition.

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.

 

Tennessee May Deliberately Exclude Muslim Schools From New Voucher Program

Several conservative lawmakers in Tennessee are throwing the brakes on a fast-moving bill that would divert money away from public schools and towards vouchers for students to attend private or parochial schools. Republicans are taking a second look at the bill after the possibility arose that some Islamic schools could apply for the same funding made available to other religious schools.

The bill is a top priority for Republican Governor Bill Haslam, but several anti-religion lawmakers in the state senate, led by Sen. Bill Ketron who sponsored several anti-Islam bills in the last few years, are hoping to strip away the ability for any school that caters to Muslim children and their families to receive public dollars:

“This is an issue we must address,” state Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) said. “I don’t know whether we can simply amend the bill in such a way that will fix the issue at this point.”

State Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Tracy each expressed their concerns Friday over Senate Bill 0196, commonly called the “School Voucher Bill” and sponsored by fellow Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville), which would give parents of children attending failing public schools a voucher with which to enroll in a private school.