Row over students’ prayers highlights questions of Islam’s visibility in the German educational sector

“Provocative” and “conspicuous” praying

A secondary school in the Western German city of Wuppertal has caused a stir by prohibiting its Muslim pupils from “conspicuous praying”. In an internal memo directed at the teaching staff, the administration of the Johannes-Rau-Gymnasium encourages its instructors to prevent “provocative” praying activities.

For the administration, this includes the performance of ablutions in school bathrooms or the rolling out of prayer carpets. Should students pray in spite of the prohibition, teachers are to determine the names and to pass them on to the school administration.(( ))

Commentators remarked upon the memo’s police-style formulations, questioning whether this signalled the school’s generalised suspicion against its Muslim pupils. While defending the thrust of the text, the local government conceded that the language used had been “unfortunate”.(( ))

Religion in the educational sector

The case touches upon the larger question to what extent educational establishments must accept the presence and expression of religious convictions. Legal professionals point out that within the German framework, schools are given wide latitude to regulate religious expression if such regulation is necessary in order to guarantee “school peace”.(( ))

To what extent this ‘peace’ was threatened in the case of the Johannes-Rau-Gymnasium of Wuppertal is difficult to ascertain. No details of the precise chain of events leading up to the prohibition on prayer have been released.

In recent months and years, public scrutiny of Muslim students’ religious practices had been focused mostly on prayer rooms or multifaith spaces at universities. Some of them were closed after reportedly attracting hard-line religious purists who sought to engage in missionary activity and enforce a strict morality code. Others continued to function and were praised as success stories.(( ))

Secularisation and publicly visible religion

The presence of a growing number of Muslim students with higher levels of religious observance comes as the historically active Lutheran and Catholic student associations are experiencing a slow but steady decline. Concomitantly, an increasing number of students and commentators advocate a strictly secularised university that offers no institutional space for religiosity.

The visibility of Islam in these establishments has emerged as an important political battlefield in its own right. After all, some of the 9/11 attackers had used a supposed prayer circle at the Technical University of Hamburg for conspiratorial purposes.(( ))

Although this case has remained isolated and no other Muslim university circles have spawned jihadist groups since, the seed of distrust has, in many cases, been sown. As a result, a considerable portion of educational decision-makers is increasingly willing to question the traditionally generous attitude towards the public expression of religiosity in the educational sector.

At FBI, 876 pages of agent training material related to Muslims found offensive or inaccurate

WASHINGTON — An FBI review of agent training material critical of Islam uncovered 876 offensive or inaccurate pages that had been used in 392 presentations, including a PowerPoint slide that said the bureau can sometimes bend or suspend the law.

The bureau has not released the material, but Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois described a few pages of it in a letter asking FBI Director Robert Mueller to institute five changes so that inappropriate FBI training on Islam doesn’t happen again. On Friday, the FBI confirmed the number of inaccurate or offensive pages and presentations.

The bureau also said the documents that are either offensive or inaccurate have been taken out of training presentations. Earlier this month, the FBI posted on its website a set of training principles which said that training must emphasize that religious expression, protest activity and the espousing of ideological beliefs “are constitutionally protected activities that must not be equated with terrorism or criminality” in the absence of other information about such offenses.

Younger White Evangelicals Express Comfort With Muslim Religion, Culture

Americans are closely divided over how comfortable they feel with public religious expression by Muslims. Like so many other issues, however, comfort with these aspects of Muslim culture and religious expression are strongly correlated with age, not only in the general population but also in more conservative circles that register higher overall levels of discomfort.

Recent PRRI research reveals that while white evangelical Protestants overall tend to be less comfortable with public displays of Muslim religion and culture, there is a striking generational divide between older and younger evangelicals. When asked about a variety of public displays of Muslim culture and religious expression (including Muslim women wearing the burqa and Muslim men praying in an airport), younger white evangelicals (age 18-39) are far more likely to say they are comfortable with these displays than their older counterparts (age 40 and up).

No Religious Symbols for Dutch Police

13 July 2011


A spokesperson for the Dutch Minister of Justice has clarified that in line with a 2008 ‘police lifestyle neutrality’ code of conduct, officers may not wear flashy accessories or religious symbols. In addition to signs of religious expression such as a cross on a chain, visible tattoos, Mohawk hairstyles and ostentatious earrings are also banned. The spokesperson noted the ban is in effect because ‘police should be seen as being there for everyone’.

A French fairy-veil, sans happy ending

Examining France’s decision to ban Muslim face veils

Europeans are more sensitive than Americans when it comes to religious expression in public spaces. Many Europeans are averse to any public showing of religion. Nowhere is this more true than in France, where the lower house of parliament just made it illegal for Muslim women to wear face veils in public, and where Muslim school girls have been forbidden since 2004 to don headscarves.

Amsterdam man fined for refusing work on religious grounds

An Amsterdam court has backed the decision of the Amsterdam Welfare Agency (DWI) to fine a Muslim man who refused work which would require him to shake hands with women and cut his beard. The man was fined 200 Euros by the DWI on the grounds that his convictions prevented him from accepting work as a security guard. According to the DWI this would also have frustrated efforts to get the man employed as traffic warden or seniors’ home. The court argued that in this case, finding a job
takes precedence over freedom of religious expression.

German Court Upholds Muslim Headscarf Ban in Schools

A court has ruled that a ban on Muslim teachers wearing headscarves in schools was legal. It said that teachers who covered their heads violated their obligations to keep religious expression out of the classroom. A German court announced Tuesday it had upheld a ban on Muslim teachers wearing headscarves in schools in the state of Baden-W_rttemberg. A state administrative court of appeal in the city of Mannheim ruled teachers cannot cover their heads in the classroom — at least not if they do so for religious reasons. The court’s decision overturned an earlier ruling in 2006 by a lower court, which decided in favor of a teacher who had converted to Islam. The teacher, who had worn a headscarf since 1995, took her case to court after the school board in the state capital of Stuttgart ordered her to stop wearing a headscarf in the classroom.

The Muslim creatively expresses

A creativity festival was held in Brussels last week, launched as an initiative by FEMYSO to call upon the creativity of young European Muslims. The Muslim community does not always have the opportunity to be heard, FEMYSO (Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organizations) organized the event to encourage diversity and creativity in religious expression. Among the events, included artistic expressions in song, film, and recitation of the Quran – showing that in practicing their religion, Muslims in Brussels (and throughout Europe as well) maintain strong commitments towards the arts and creativity in their adherence.