Finland: Islam in schools should contribute to anti-radicalization

Finnish pupils in elementary education have started their school year of 2016 with a new national curriculum. In Finland, every school is obliged to offer subject education in Islam for Muslim children, when at least three students would select it instead of the majority Evangelic Lutheran religious education or alternatively Ethics. Whereas until now the contents of teaching and learning for minority religion subjects (i.e. not Evangelic Lutheran) such as Islam, Baha’i, Mormonism etc. were determined in a separate document, the curriculum for Islam has been revised so that it is now for the first time included in the new national curriculum.

The change means that Islam as a school subject is now treated with the same degree of attention as all the other subjects are. As for each religious subject the curriculum is categorized into three different content areas; “Relationship to one’s own religion”, “Religious diversity in the world” and lastly “Good life principles”, the contents of Islam are hence comparable also with other religious subjects such as Catholicism and Judaism, ensuring equal literacy in their respective religions for students of these subjects.

The new curriculum aims at empowering the pupils of today to be able to deal with issues concerning the Finnish society in the early 21st century. The content areas outlined for the subject of Islam throughout the class levels 1-9 include for example reflections on religion as part of one’s cultural identity, the historical influence of Islam in the European culture, political Islam, inter-religious dialogue and religion in media and popular culture. Moreover, alongside with the traditional content-based learning the new curriculum emphasizes phenomenon-based learning in all subjects. Hence, for example in Islamic education children are encouraged to research and learn about current trends and phenomena in the society and analyze and critically think about them from the standpoint of their religion. The curriculum gives as well more space to co-operation across subjects, while for example visits to local worship places (e.g. churches or mosques) can be done together with Muslim and Christian student groups.

The importance of religious school education has been lately discussed in the Finnish media in terms of how it prevents radicalization and enhances social cohesion. The sociologist Karin Creutz commented in an interview that when Islam is taught in the schools, it will give tools and skills for the Muslim children and youth to understand and know their religion and hence avoid being drawn into radicalism and the dark-side of the violent Islamism, like the Islamic State. Also the Islam school teacher Suaad Onniselkä confirmed on a radio program what Creutz was as well had argued for, that Islam as a school subject will contribute positively to the construction of the Self-identity among Muslim children in Finland. Hence, according to Onniselkä, religion functions as an empowering element.

When Islam is now taught in schools on a comparable level with other religious subjects, it will support holistically the understanding of differences in religious structures and culture as such. Such a school education shall help to raise generations who will be enabled to build world peace. Yet, education in religious literacy should not merely be restricted to school children but should be expanded to the communal level, Creutz again argues. Thus, the general knowledge on religions and the discourse at the societal level should be more inclusive of aspects of religion as part of people’s lives in a world in which religions are falsely stigmatized in a pseudo-secularized society.

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.

Hamburg begins with interreligious education

June 23, 2014

Starting in August 2014 two schools in Hamburg will test religious education in a joint sponsorship involving Jewish, Christian and Islamic communities. With this the federal state of Hamburg implements a treaty closed one year ago. Precondition for Muslim teachers is, however, that they have a regular as well as an Islamic teaching qualification and that the student body contains a high proportion of children with an Islamic background. In re-organizing religious education Hamburg’s school board is expecting positive effects on tolerance and de-radicalization.

Paris denies French school is teaching sharia law in Qatar

February 5, 2014

 

France’s Foreign Ministry has denied media reports that a French international school in Qatar has agreed to teach Islamic sharia law and separate boys and girls into different classrooms.

A recent agreement between the Lycée Voltaire in Doha and French authorities does not involve changes to religion classes or dividing classes by sex, Paris said after reports of the accord sparked outrage in France.

Under French law, state-run schools are barred from providing religious education. However, the state does subsidize private schools, like Doha’s, provided they follow the French state curriculum, do not force religious teaching upon students, and do not discriminate according to religion or sex.

“By signing the accord, the [Doha] school has committed itself to respecting the “Charter of French Teaching Abroad”, which outline the principles of secularism and religious neutrality in education,” the Foreign Ministry said on its website. “The school, which goes from kindergarten to sixth grade, is mixed-sex. All of its classes include both boys and girls, in accordance with the spirit and practices of French education,” it added.

Prominent French news outlets, including the left-leaning weekly Marianne, blasted the country’s international school agency last week for allegedly allowing the Doha school to teach strict Muslim sharia law and place boys and girls in separate classrooms from a certain age.

France’s Foreign Ministry, which helps oversee hundreds of French international schools around the world, said that while religion classes were taught at the Lycée Voltaire, they were part of an after-school program, as is the case in many other international French schools.

Religious education was compulsory for Qatari students at the school, as per Qatari law, but not students of other nationalities, it said.

However, some observers said French officials were not being completely transparent about the situation at the Lycée Voltaire, which boast an enrollment of around 1,000 students, roughly 40% of which are Qatari nationals. Marianne journalist Martine Gozlan said the school’s sixth grade class would not open until next year, and that discussions were ongoing over the question of separating pupils by sex at that level.

“Voltaire come back, Qatar is driving them crazy!” Gazlan wrote in the left-wing magazine, referring to the Enlightenment philosopher famous for his advocacy of secularism and his fierce attacks on religious dogma.

This is not the first time the Doha-based school makes headlines in France. In November 2012, the eviction of the school’s director prompted accusations of repeated interference by Qatari authorities.

 

Source: http://www.france24.com/en/20140205-france-qatar-education-sharia-mixed-sex-classes-agreement/

Allah or the Advisory Council, Islamic Religious Education in Germany

A few weeks ago, a new school subject was introduced in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia: Islamic religious education. The new subject is a provisional arrangement and is not uncontroversial. By Ellen Hoffers

Aya frowns. In the back row, Ayman starts a kind of sing-song “Shalom, salaam, shalom.” Bernd Ridwan Bauknecht sighs. He has just explained to his fourth graders that the Arabic greeting “Salaam aleykum” is similar to the Hebrew greeting “Shalom alechem.” Both of them mean peace.

“And do you know what?” he continues. “In church, Christians shake hands with each other before they take communion and they say to each other, ‘Peace be with you.'” Aya’s not sure about all this: “And what do the Catholics say?” Bauknecht smiles: “You’ll have to ask them yourself,” he says. She won’t have far to go: “the Catholics” have their class next door.

Since the beginning of this school year, 2,500 of the 320,000 Muslim school pupils in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia have been receiving faith-based “Islamic religious education” for the first time in the history of education in Germany. The Am Domhof Catholic primary school in Bad Godesberg, a suburb of Bonn, at which Bauknecht teaches, is one of the first 33 schools to offer the new subject.

The law introducing the subject was passed in December 2011 by the Social Democrat–Green coalition in the state, with the support of the opposition Christian Democrats. The move has widespread support, although there’s annoyance over the organisational model that the government has introduced. This model features an advisory council, and that has been criticised above all by those who have been campaigning for Islamic religious education for years.

“The mentality of a religious bouncer”

Lamya Kaddor is one of them. She has been teaching Islamic Studies in schools for ten years. She helped set up the first university chair in Islamic religious education, temporarily filled a vacant professorship and is the author of three textbooks.

In 2011, she was awarded the Integration Medal by Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin; in Madrid in 2010, she was voted one of the most influential Muslim women in Europe. On that occasion, Cherie Blair shook her hand. Now she’s afraid that she might end up unemployed.

That’s because Kaddor is also chairperson of the Liberal Islamic Association. She says that equal rights for men and women are rooted in Islam. She also calls the idea that only those who believe the right things will end up in paradise “the mentality of a religious bouncer” and rejects any ban on showing the video that defamed Muhammad and caused such a storm in the Arab world. She insists: Muslims in Germany don’t need special treatment.

But these views are not welcome both in conservative and traditional Muslim circles and in the four big Muslim associations in Germany. It’s these four associations – which only represent 15 per cent of the Muslims in Germany – that will soon decide whether she has the “religious aptitude” to continue to teach. She says the situation is absurd.

“What do I say when they ask me why I’m not wearing a headscarf?” she asks. “And what happens when they discover that I’ve written a paper on that issue? Will they reject me?”

The ministry’s trick

In the twelve years before the new subject was introduced, a course called “Islamic Studies in German” was taught in North Rhine-Westphalia in a pilot project. That was all that was possible back then because in Germany, in order to teach a religion on the basis of the beliefs of that religion, there has to be a religious organisation. But since Islam doesn’t have the same kind of structures as the Christian Churches, the Islamic Studies subject was introduced, officially, as a school curriculum on Islamic Studies from an academic point of view.

But from the start, things all looked different in practice. The reason for this is that the Ministry for Education only appointed practicing Muslims. “It was clear to everyone involved that the aim of the project was faith-based religious education,” says Dorothea Paschen, head of St. Andrew’s school in Bad Godesberg. “What was missing was legal equality with the other denominational religious education classes.”

To achieve that, the ministry used a trick: in consultation with the Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany (KRM), an advisory council was set up to take on the role of the required religious organisation. In practice, this council tests teachers on their “religious aptitude” and approves the textbooks.

Opponents of this model speak of a “failed attempt to churchify” Islam. The state education minister, Sylvia Löhrmann of the Greens, recognises the problem but pleads for pragmatism: “We have to institutionalise Islam like the other religions, otherwise we won’t make any progress. Obviously, we will never have full unanimity.”

“The liberal camp was ignored”

The purpose of the current model is to ensure that the state retains its neutrality by having the Muslim community decide – in the same way as the Christian Churches do – what counts as the teachings of Islam and what doesn’t.

The problem is: who represents the Muslim community? The advisory council has eight members; four have been chosen by the ministry in consultation with the Muslim associations, and the four associations – DITIB, the Council of Muslims, the Association of Muslim Cultural Centres and the Central Council of Muslims – send one member each.

All these organisations are conservative and traditional. “The liberal camp was ignored when the members of the advisory council were chosen,” says Lamya Kaddor. Before it was set up, the Liberal Islamic Association and the Association of Democratic European Muslims warned the minister that the council would be one-sided. But she chose to negotiate the membership of the council with the KRM, whose four member associations are now all represented on the council.

The KRM’s spokesman is the veteran functionary Ali Kizilkaya. He came to Germany from Turkey in 1973 and spent a long time as an official in the German headquarters of the highly conservative, Turkish association Milli Görüs. He then became chairperson of the Council of Muslims and spokesperson for the KRM. In 2006, he caused a storm when he said that the wearing of a headscarf was a “religious commandment” which “cannot be contextualised according to different countries or places.”

Religious aptitude test needed

Kizilkaya is a product of the decades-long fight by the Muslim associations for official recognition. Nevertheless, he sees the current arrangement on religious education as only a compromise: in his opinion, the associations should really have “sole competence” to decide on the religious aptitude of teachers.

He says that they had no choice but to “tolerate” the Islamic Studies classes and that they held back with their criticism. But that’s over now. It is, of course, the “duty and the task” of the associations “to examine the faith and the behaviour of teachers”. After all, that’s what the Churches do. “People will have to get used to that,” he says.

Bernd Ridwan Bauknecht has done the “religious aptitude test” and was quite shocked by it. In the 20-minute interview, the main issue was his loyalty to the associations. He was accused of “not being religious enough.” Two weeks after the interview, he received a letter from one of the members of the advisory council asking him to join one of the four associations.

“Can you imagine it?” he says. “I am a German convert, an expert in Islamic Studies and a committed Muslim! Why should I join an association like DITIB, which is controlled from Turkey? Or one of the Arab associations? Or the Council of Muslims, which is dominated by Milli Görüs? It’s laughable.”

If he didn’t want to join, he was told in the letter, he should at least have an imam confirm that he regularly played an active part in community life, preferably in a mosque belonging to one of the associations.

Kizilkaya doesn’t see the problem: “You have to be a member of the Church too,” he points out. Imams will be trained to provide certificates to prove that teachers lead a religiously correct way of life and are active in the communities. In a recent public discussion in which Löhrmann also took part, Kizilkaya said training was not the decisive point; it was “active involvement in a community and the correct belief” that mattered, and in the system set up by the state, it was the job of the associations to check on those issues. Löhrmann replied that the advisory council was still in the process of finding its role.

Bauknecht has been teaching Islamic Studies in Bad Godesberg for the last 9 years. Just a few hundred metres from his school is the Saudi King Fahd Academy, which hit the headlines in 2004 over texts in its textbooks glorifying violence; three streets further along, there’s a mosque that is especially popular with Moroccans and where Salafists have a big say; then there’s the DITIB mosque with its strong roots in Turkey.

Bauknecht has always considered his teaching as a bulwark against radical forms of Islam. He wants to give children space to think about themselves and their religion – a space in which they can also express their doubts. His children come from many different Muslim movements, and he feels that they have to learn how much variety there is in their religion.

Many potential conflicts

“The classes must be measured against the needs of our children,” says one father of four, “and not some political skirmish.” This father originally sent his children to Catholic religion classes. “They also dealt there with social and ethical questions,” he remembers. “Those are important for all children.”

Then Islamic Studies were introduced, and now he’s proud that the subject has the same status as that of other religions. He says Mr Bauknecht has been teaching the subject well for the last ten years, and that’s the most important thing – “whether the teacher is involved in a community or not is his own business.”

For the pupils, nothing has changed. In their classroom there’s a cross made of mosaic pieces and a calligraphy. On top of the board are the “99 beautiful names of Allah” in gold letters – next to them is a list of all the people who are mentioned in the Christian bible as well as in the Koran. Maryam/Mary; Ayoub/Job, Yusuf/Joseph.

“Quiet now,” calls Bauknecht. Today’s topic is conflict and reconciliation. He draws an iceberg on the board. Only the tip is out of the water. He explains that beneath the surface of any conflict, there are always deeper wounds. You have to recognise that before you can solve the conflict.

Lamya Kaddor thinks that there’s plenty of room for future teachers to find themselves in conflict with the advisory council. “What happens when a teacher marries someone from another religion?” she asks. “Or when a teacher is homosexual? Nobody thought about such issues when the subject was introduced.”

For her part, the minister has recently been saying that one should remember that the advisory council is legally only a temporary arrangement until 2019. After that, the issues will have to be discussed anew.

Ellen Hoffers

© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 2012

Translated from the German by Michael Lawton

Editor: Aingeal Flanagan

Hamburg State signs treaty with Muslim community

August 14

After three years of negotiations with Muslim associations, the State of Hamburg has agreed to implement and recognize religious-related holidays, including school holidays, religious education and burial rituals.

Unlike Christians churches, Muslim mosques and associations are not recognized as corporations by public law. However, the State of Hamburg has stated it will guarantee three official holidays: Eid ad-Adha, Ramadan and Ashura. Muslim teachers will be allowed to teach religious education, once they have passed the state exam and given that the course is cross-confessional. It is not clear whether women wearing a headscarf will be allowed to teach.

The involved parts, other than the State of Hamburg, are: the Turkish-Islamic Union Institute for Religion (Ditib), the Council of Islamic communities (Schura), the association for Islamic Culture centers (VIKZ) and as the Alawites community of Germany. The three associations represent approximately 130 000 Muslims in Hamburg.

Daniel Adin, a Schura representative, spoke about an important step towards the institutional recogntion of Islam in Germany. Murat Pirildar (VIKZ) said that the treaty would strengthen the participation of Muslims in German society. Aziz Alsandemir, representative of the Alawite community, emphasized that the rights, which would be granted to Alawaites in Hamburg are still denied to them in Turkey. Approximately, 50 000 Alawites live in Hamburg.

German Court Ruling over Ritual Circumcision: Kulturkampf against Muslims and Jews

A court in Germany has ruled that circumcision on religious grounds amounts to bodily harm, making it potentially punishable by law. Sociologist of religion Rolf Schieder says this is an unacceptable move that questions the right to religious freedom

Upon first glance, the Cologne district court is correct: any medical intervention in the case of a child amounts to bodily harm in Germany. The same applies to the removal of a wart, just as it does to the removal of a boy’s foreskin. The state has both the right and the duty to assess whether the medical treatment carried out on the child is in the interests of that child. If for example the removal of a child’s tonsils is in the interests of the child’s welfare, then despite the fact that this is amounts to bodily harm, the actions of the doctor are justified.

As a rule, medical reasons are accepted as justification. So if the Muslim parents in Cologne had explained to the doctor that they wanted a circumcision for reasons of hygiene, the case would not have come as far through the courts as it eventually did.

Furthermore, until the Cologne district court ruling, the commonly-held view among lawyers competent in such religiously sensitive legal matters was that adherence to a religious tradition is an acceptable basis for justification. This was even the assumption of the first court to deal with the matter, the Cologne magistrates’ court.

New Centre of Islamic Theology at the University of Tübingen

30.09.2011

The University of Tübingen opened the first German Centre of Islamic Studies/ Islamic Theology last week. The centre is one of four new centers for Islamic Theology nationwide (as reported) dedicated to the study of Islamic Theology to train, for instance, future imams or teachers for Islamic religious education. However, the interest by aspiring students has remained far behind expectations  and, so far, only 24 students have enrolled.

Islam in German Schools

08.07.2011

The federal states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony are planning to introduce Islamic religious education in state schools, starting at the beginning of the school year of 2012/ 2013 (as reported). The new subject is not only meant to impart knowledge and introduce children to Islamic practices, but also offers opportunities to promote tolerance and acceptance for people of different faiths. However, currently, the states are concerned about the lack of teachers to successfully implement these plans in practice.

 

To enable potential teachers for Islamic education to complete basic (and obligatory) university studies in theology, Federal Minister of Education and Research, Annette Schavan, is planning on introducing (and funding) Islamic Theology at four universities throughout Germany. The universities of Münster/ Osnabrück and Tübingen, for instance, offer some courses in the next academic year. Similar to the lack of teachers, the demand for lecturers and professors cannot be met domestically. Therefore, personnel will initially be recruited from abroad.

Muslim Gang Jailed for Attacking RE Teacher

24.05.2011, 26.05.2011, 27.05.2011

A group of four Muslim men have been jailed for attacking Gary Smith, a religious education teacher, on his way to work at a Girls’ School in East London in July last year. According to media reports about the trial, the four men assaulted Smith, as they did not approve of him (a non-Muslim) teaching Muslim girls; furthermore, they perceived his religious teaching to “mock Islam”.

Smith, who was severely injured in the attack and did not regain consciousness for two days, has lost his sense of smell and still suffers from long- and short-term memory loss as well as depression and anxiety.

The judge ordered the young men to serve jail sentences of four to ten years. He believes that they remain a danger to the public due to their extremist beliefs. The Telegraph even reports that the four had been terrorist suspects.