Muslim MPs unanimously support gay marriage in Germany, Islamic associations split on the issue

On June 30, the German Parliament voted to legalise gay marriage – or, as it has become known in Germany, the “marriage for all” (Ehe für alle). The path to this decision had been a tumultuous one; and the vote in the Bundestag came only after a surprise move in which Chancellor Angela Merkel, a long-time opponent of gay marriage, relinquished her principled opposition.

Downfall of a bastion of conservatism

While the Chancellor still voted against the marriage equality bill, her own party – the Christian Democratic Union – was split, with 225 CDU-parliamentarians opposing the bill, and 75 supporting it. The other parties – Social Democrats, Greens, and Left – gave the bill their quasi-unanimous backing.

Thus, many in the CDU were not willing to give up what has been perceived as one of the last core conservative positions of their party. A number of CDU politicians also adduced religious reasons for the rejection of the bill, deeming the opening of the marriage relation to homosexual couples a contravention of the Christian principles the CDU is grounded upon.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/gleichstellung-bundestag-beschliesst-ehe-fuer-alle-15084396.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Muslim MPs support “marriage for all”

Interestingly enough, none of the Muslim members of Parliament shared the qualms of the Christian conservatives. All parliamentarians of Islamic faith supported the bill. To be sure, the extent to which these men and women felt and identified as distinctly ‘Muslim’ when they made this decision is open to question. Most Muslims in Germany’s parliament are situated on the left of the political spectrum, in a milieu that is often quite secular.

The more interesting case in this respect is perhaps Cemile Giousouf, the CDU’s only Muslim MP and a strong backer of gay marriage. Giousouf has stated that her religious convictions were a “determining factor” in her decision to join the CDU:

“The CDU gives space to religious feeling. This is important for me. It is a party that represents a value-bound politics derived from the Christian conception of man. For the CDU, religion is not a marginal phenomenon. There are more commonalities than differences between Christians and Muslims. We both feel responsible to man and to our Creator for our deeds. Thus there was no question for me that my political commitment was right only in this party.”((https://www.welt.de/regionales/duesseldorf/article114268231/So-etwas-hat-es-in-der-CDU-noch-nie-gegeben.html ))

The conundrum of organised religion

Organised religion and its representatives remain split on the issue of gay marriage. On the one hand, the German Lutheran churches have for a considerable while abandoned any past opposition to the legal and religious recognition of homosexual partnerships.

On the other hand, the Catholic Church, in line with dogma from Rome, continues to oppose the “marriage for all”. Yet ahead of the vote in the Bundestag, the voice of the Catholic Church was scarcely heard and it seemed as if the Roman clergy had resigned itself a long time ago to the fact that, in spite of its dismay, the full recognition of homosexual marriage would only be a matter of time.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2017-06/gleichgeschlechtliche-ehe-katholische-kirche-ablehnung-reformation ))

Liberal-Islamic Union backs gay marriage

Islamic religious organisations did not figure as prominently in the recent public debate as their Christian counterparts. Yet they have not been completely absent, either. Already in May, 2017, the Liberal-Islamic Union (LIB), a small socially progressive Muslim umbrella body, came out in support of gay marriage.

One of the LIB’s board members, Annika Mehmeti, highlighted that in no instance does the Quran explicitly define “marriage” as limited to a man and a woman. Nor does the holy book define the begetting of children as the sine qua non condition of the marriage relation. Instead, the Quran lays its focus on the mutual commitment of the spouses and on the duties they have towards each other, or so Mehmeti argues.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article164652401/Der-Koran-erlaubt-die-Homo-Ehe.html ))

Silence of the conservative associations

The other Islamic associations, which tend to be more conservative in outlook, have been much more equivocal than the LIB. For the most part, they have simply avoided to comment on the issue of homosexual partnerships.

While some of their members will undoubtedly support gay marriage (or perhaps do not see it as such a big deal), many will also hold deep reservations. Against this backdrop, keeping silent may be a preferred option, since it allows the associations to dodge uncomfortable questions.

The mental gymnastics that the mainline conservative forces have had to undertake in this respect mirror the contortions of the Catholic Church. They are epitomised by a statement by Aiman Mazyek, media-savvy chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), in a 2016 interview:

“For my own part, and from a religious standpoint, I do not accept homosexuality. Yet at the same time I stand up against homophobia, as a Muslim.”(( http://zentralrat.de/27637.php ))

Popular Muslim attitudes

Among the German population at large, support for gay marriage had been high for a considerable number of years: in a 2013 survey, 87% of individuals unaffiliated with any religion, 78% of Protestants, 70% of Catholics, and 48% of Muslims had supported full marriage equality for homosexual couples.

Yet survey results are far from unequivocal. A 2012 study among Turks in Germany reported that 51% of respondents agreed to the statement that “homosexuality is an illness”.(( https://web.archive.org/web/20121011112234/https://d171.keyingress.de/multimedia/document/228.pdf )) Conversely, a 2015 study found that 60% of German Muslims supported gay marriage.(( https://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/de/presse-startpunkt/presse/pressemitteilungen/pressemitteilung/pid/muslime-in-deutschland-mit-staat-und-gesellschaft-eng-verbunden/ ))

Pressure from abroad

To some extent, the unease and hostility with which the LGBT community is viewed from many Islamic quarters is not only – perhaps not even primarily – rooted in (putative) homophobic sensibilities among German Muslims. Rather, religious institutions and societal pressures from abroad continue to play a large role.

This dynamic has been in evidence in the context of the fierce criticisms directed at the recently opened “gender-equal” mosque in Berlin by Turkish and Egyptian authorities. In cases such as these, it is voices from Middle Eastern countries that make an opening towards ‘divergent’ paths more difficult to achieve for Islamic associations operating in Germany.

Resistance to Muslim-LGBT dialogue

This lesson was also learned in 2014 by Ender Çetin, chairman of the DİTİB-run Şehitlik mosque in Berlin at the time. He agreed to convene a discussion round between Muslim and LGBT representatives at his mosque. The resulting backlash came first of all from DİTİB’s Turkish parent organisation and from Turkish media: Turkish newspapers accused Çetin of opening the mosque to “abnormal” homosexuals.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/diskussion-in-berlin-homosexualitaet-und-islam-unvereinbar-1.2237310 ))

As a response, the meeting did not take place at the mosque, and a number of DİTİB’s theologians and clerics that had initially agreed to participate in the forum withdrew.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/diskussion-in-berlin-homosexualitaet-und-islam-unvereinbar-1.2237310 )) Since then, the purges of Turkish state organisations in the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt have not stopped short of DİTİB, and the liberal-leaning governing board of the Şehitlik mosque has been at least partly removed.

The lack of recognition for the Turkish language

July 6, 2014

According to the Brigitta Busch, Professor of linguistics at the University of Vienna, Austria is generally paying low or no attention and offers no recognition to language diversity inside its borders. In particular, the Turkish language, Busch stresses, does not enjoy any positive reputation; however, since some parts of the government want to establish a Turkish Matura at the Gymnasiums, some politicians from the right are openly showing their assessment.

Muslims in German parties

April 29

 

Muslims in the Social Democratic Party (SPD) have begun to initiate working groups about the opinion of Muslims about German politics. The goal is to juxtapose the overwhelming prejudice in German public about Muslims being unable to participate in democratic societies. Also, Muslims in the SPD aim at improving the image of Muslims proving their compatibility with democracy. On February 14th 2014, SPD head Siegmar Gabriel and Minister of Integration Aydan Özoguz organized a session for the new initiated “working group for Muslim social democrats”. The working group is expected to be an important step towards the recognition of Muslims and their engagement in German society.

 

A further positive step was the designation of Yasmin Fahimi this January as the General Secretary of the SPD. Fahimi (46) is a German Chemist of Iranian descent.

Sisters in Islam co-founder gets France’s highest award

March 7, 2014

 

Advocacy group Sisters in Islam (SIS) co-founder Zainah Anwar, from Malaysia, who will be conferred the French government’s highest award, the Legion of Honour, regards it as a recognition of the advocacy group’s courage in standing up for its cause.

“It is also a recognition that a group like ours is regarded by many nationally and internationally as a model of what the leadership should be in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Malaysia.

“We should be coming together to share the nation and not look at it as one winning over the other,” she told The Malaysian Insider.

French Ambassador to Malaysia, Martine Dorance, will confer the honour on Zainah. The order, created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, rewards men and women, French and foreigners, for their distinguished merits and the exemplary services rendered to causes supported by France.

Sisters in Islam’s main cause is to promote an understanding of Islam that recognises the principles of justice, equality, freedom and dignity within a democratic nation state. “International recognition of Zainah’s work is also a testament to the moral courage and commitment it takes to challenge injustices, particularly those committed in the name of religion,” said Suri Kempe, the programme manager for SIS.

 

Major challenges for German Islam Conference

February 10, 2014

 

According to experts such as Islam Scholar Michael Kiefer, the German Islam Conference has not made progress, since it was found by former Minister of Interior Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) in 2006. The initial success was the creation of an institutional connection to Islamic representatives and the foundation Islamic studies in schools.

Since then, the dialogue between State and religion representatives has gone through difficult obstacles such as the debate on selection processes through home affairs politicians and constitution protection authorities. The exclusion of extreme Islamic organizations like the Turkish Milli Görüs represented.

Further challenges are questions related to the understanding and representation of Islam in Germany. The current Minister of Interior Thomas de Maizière (CDU) seeks a pragmatic oriented approach to Muslim associations with a “goal-oriented” and “issues-driven” agenda. Muslim associations have welcomed the Ministers approach by sidelining security policy issues, focusing mainly on issues such as the recognition of Islam as a statutory body under public law.

Again, there will be questions related to the representativeness of associations. The growing Islamophobia will be a further challenge to the German Islam Conference. Critics fear the conference to remain an event of political symbolism. The politician Lale Akgün (SPD) claims more representative rights for women. Female teachers of Islamic studies, female Imams would be necessary to enhance a feminist view of Islam, deliberately strengthening a “liberal” Islam in Germany.

 

Qantara: http://en.qantara.de/content/changing-the-orientation-of-germanys-islam-conference-new-agenda-same-old-faces

Fraternity Life, Islamic Style

February 9, 2014

 

SHORTLY BEFORE SUNUP, a dozen or so students at the University of California, San Diego, stumbled dutifully out of bed. They ironed their collared shirts, knotted their ties and piled into their cars. Their destination was the Islamic Center of San Diego, where they were to be initiated into the country’s first Muslim fraternity, Alpha Lambda Mu, named for three letters that start several chapters of the Quran: Alif Laam Meem.

Alpha Lambda Mu was founded just a year ago by Ali Mahmoud, a junior biology and sociology major at the University of Texas, Dallas, as a national fraternity for Muslim college students. Mr. Mahmoud, who is seeking university recognition and a house for his chapter, hosted the first formal rush this fall: 40 students showed up, and half were offered bids. A total of 24 members now make up the Texas chapter.

The directive is for spiritual students to have more fun, and convivial ones to incorporate more spirituality in their lives. Mr. Mahmoud’s guidebook stipulates that chapters organize events every semester. Some are to be purely social, others to teach life skills, encourage volunteer work and enrich members with Islamic culture.

Sometimes referred to as the post-9/11 generation, Muslim-American college students say they have long struggled with the prejudices and suspicions that have come with the West’s unsettled relationship with the Arab world. This has led them to explore more thoroughly their dual identity, and to strive to show the world who they are and how they want to be perceived, said Lori Peek, the author of “Behind the Backlash: Muslim Americans After 9/11.” “The formation of a fraternity represents a really thoughtful reflection on their part,” Dr. Peek said. “It moves these students out of the private sphere and into a more public space where they are effectively spanning two cultures.”

Two reports by the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies indicate that an evolution has indeed occurred. In 2009, 40 percent of Muslim Americans ages 18 to 29 said they were thriving, the lowest percentage in that age group. By 2011, 10 years after the terrorist attacks, that number had risen to 65 percent.

Only 1.4 percent of American college freshmen are Muslim, according to a Higher Education Research Institute survey in 2012, up from 0.9 percent in 2005. But with growing interest in Islam, more campuses are providing prayer spaces and cultural centers. In 1999, Georgetown became the first university to hire a full-time imam. In recent years, Yale, Princeton and Northwestern have brought in Muslim chaplains.

The Muslim Student Association, founded in 1963, is the voice of this movement and now has more than 200 affiliated chapters in the United States. It has pushed for greater awareness about Islamic culture and helps members procure scholarships and internships. The group has generated controversy as well. The chapter at the University of California, Irvine, was suspended for the 2010 fall semester after members protested a campus speech by the ambassador to Israel. And in 2012 the organization made headlines, and elicited sympathy, amid reports that the New York City Police Department had surreptitiously monitored chapters at Yale, Columbia and other East Coast campuses.

 

NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/09/education/edlife/greek-life-islamic-style.html?_r=0

Atheist Afghan man granted asylum in UK to protect him from ‘religious’ persecution

January 13, 2014

 

An Afghan man is understood to have become the first atheist ever to secure asylum in Britain on religious grounds. His case was accepted by the Home Office on the basis there was a risk he could face persecution in Afghanistan for having rejected Islam.

Although he was brought up a Muslim, since living in the UK he has gradually turned away from it and is now an atheist. The young man – who does not want to be identified for fear of being rejected by the Afghan community in Britain – fled to the UK from a conflict involving his family in Afghanistan.

He first claimed asylum in 2007 when he was just 16. The claim was rejected but he was granted discretionary leave to remain until 2013 under rules to protect unaccompanied children.

The case was taken up by Kent Law Clinic, a pro bono service provided by students and supervised by practising lawyers from the University of Kent’s Law School, alongside local solicitors and barristers. A submission to the Home Office argued that the man’s return to Afghanistan could result in a death sentence under Sharia law as an “apostate” – someone who has abandoned their religious faith – unless he remained silent about his atheist beliefs.

Sheona York, who supervised the case, said: “The decision represents an important recognition that a lack of religious belief is in itself a thoughtful and seriously-held philosophical position.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “We do not routinely comment on individual cases. The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need it and we consider every application on a case by case basis.”

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/afghan-atheist-to-get-asylum-in-britain-on-religious-grounds-9057286.html

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10569748/Atheist-Afghan-man-granted-asylum-in-UK-to-protect-him-from-religious-persecution.html

 

 

Book review: ‘I Am Malala’ by Malala Yousafzai

October 11, 2013

 

Marie Arana is the author of the memoir “American Chica” and the biography “Bolivar: American Liberator.” She was also a scriptwriter for the recently released film about education in the Third World, “Girl Rising.”

Malala tells of that life-shattering moment in a riveting memoir, “I Am Malala,” published this past week even as she was being cited as a possible candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. Co-written with Christina Lamb, a veteran British journalist who has an evident passion for Pakistan and can render its complicated history with pristine clarity, this is a book that should be read not only for its vivid drama but for its urgent message about the untapped power of girls.

The story begins with Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, the son of an imam (a preacher of Islam), who was instilled from boyhood with a deep love of learning, an unwavering sense of justice and a commitment to speak out in defense of both. Like Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, Ziauddin was convinced that aside from the sword and the pen, there is an even greater power — that of women — and so, when his firstborn turned out to be a bright, inquisitive daughter, he raised her with all the attention he lavished on his sons.

Malala was born in 1997, as her father was struggling to found his school against a sea of troubles: a deeply corrupt government official to whom he refused to pay bribes; a mufti who lived across the way and objected to the education of girls, a practice he denounced as haram, or offensive to Islam; and the vicissitudes of a fierce jihad, visited upon them from time to time in Taliban raids that evolved from harsh rhetoric to outright killings. By the time Malala was 10 and the top student in her father’s surprisingly flourishing school, radical Talibs had penetrated the valley all the way to the capital of Islamabad and were beheading Pakistani police, holding their severed heads high on the roadsides.

We know how this story ends, with a 15-year-old child taking a bullet for a whole generation. It is difficult to imagine a chronicle of a war more moving, apart from perhaps the diary of Anne Frank. With the essential difference that we lost that girl, and by some miracle, we still have this one. Disfigured beyond recognition by her assailant’s gun, Malala was rushed to Peshawar, then Rawalpindi and finally to Birmingham, England, where doctors reconstructed her damaged skull and knit back the shattered face. But her smile would never be quite the same.

 

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/book-review-i-am-malala-by-malala-yousafzai/2013/10/11/530ba90a-329a-11e3-9c68-1cf643210300_story.html

Mosque, all ready but the negotiations between the City and Muslims stalled

It’s a negotiation both complex and delicate, and still in progress. Those in search of compromise include the Islamic Association on one side and the city of Mangalore on the other.

 

The building is constructed but it is not in use. Talks now center on the possible rebuilding of the structure. In 2007, a proposal arrived on the desk of the mayor, Guerino Surini a center-left affiliate, asking for a change of order for a building in an agricultural area.

 

The building is a house with two floors, and was acquired by the the Islamic association An-Hur which intends to transform the building into an Islamic cultural center and a place of prayer. The mayor, Surini, rejected the request. The association did not give up and sought an appeal through TAR, the Regional Administrative Court. In September 2010, the TAR judgment ruled against the municipal administration.

THE JUDGMENT OF THE TAR

 

“There are no insurmountable reasons that prevent the development of a residential building into one of social function, even a religious one” reads the judgment of the Regional Administrative Court “no damage would be dealt to the natural environment, since the building would remain in the current state and it would not be necessary for changes to be made to the road. Article 70, paragraph 2, of Regional Law 12-2005 does not authorize municipalities to decide on the legitimacy of religious denominations. Therefore, local governments must not only comply with any form of official recognition of a particular religion, but also comply with the general principles of the state in matters of religion.”

 

THE DIFFICULTIES OF NEGOTIATION

 

In short, TAR granted a green light for the use Islamic center however, the judges urge the association and the city administration to reach an agreement. It’s been three years since that ruling, but the deal between Muslims and the City has not yet been reached. A new mayor Dario Colossi, right-center, stated he would not talk in open negotiations.

 

Mangalore is a municipality that has approximately 4 thousand inhabitants, with immigrants just over 400, 10% of the population, which is further subdivided into 15 different ethnic groups. The building, owned by the An–Hur, after TAR’s decision he intended to have the building become a center of Muslim prayer and the de facto place of worship for all the Muslims in the area. The city fears that it will not be able to cope with the influx of thousands during times of celebrations like Ramadan.