Interior Minister ignites debate on Islamic public holiday in Germany

Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, member of Angela Merkel’s CDU party, has sparked controversy by asserting that local authorities might be allowed to introduce a public holiday to commemorate an Islamic religious occasion.

A regional Muslim holiday?

De Maizière did not suggest a day off work at the national level but rather a regional one, limited to areas with a large Muslim population. Such area-specific divergences in matters of religious festivities and the corresponding public holidays are widespread in Germany, due to the country’s historical split between Protestant and Catholic areas.

His declarations, which came at a campaign rally in the Lower Saxon town of Wolfenbüttel, were met with considerable surprise. In the preceding months, de Maizière had often struck a very different tone.

Most notably, he had revived Germany’s long-standing debate about a ‘leading’ or ‘guiding’ culture (Leitkultur) in a populist tabloid article. The notion of a ‘leading culture’ stresses Germany’s supposedly Judeo-Christian essence and thus implicitly defines German identity in opposition to Islam.

Backlash against the proposal

The overall reception of de Maizière’s unexpected suggestion was negative. In a poll, slightly more than 70 per cent of Germans rejected the idea that Islamic occasions could become a public holiday. Only 7,8 per cent of respondents declared themselves in favour of the Interior Minister’s proposal.(( http://www.focus.de/politik/videos/70-prozent-dagegen-nach-de-maiziere-vorstoss-mehrheit-der-deutschen-lehnt-islamische-feiertag-ab_id_7724392.html ))

De Maizière’s fellow Christian Democrats expressed anger and outrage at his statements. Bernd Althusmann, the CDU’s front-runner for the state elections in Lower Saxony (which he has since lost), criticised the timing of de Maizière’s advance during the late stages of the electoral campaign.(( http://www.focus.de/politik/deutschland/aussage-zu-muslimischen-feiertagen-thomas-de-maiziere-erntet-heftige-kritik_id_7708486.html ))

Alexander Dobrindt, Minister of Transport and member of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, accused de Maizière of jeopardising Germany’s Christian heritage. “To introduce Islam-holidays in Germany is out of the question for us.” Other CDU figures also stressed the need to protect the “Judeo-Christian” heritage of the country.(( http://www.bild.de/politik/inland/thomas-de-maiziere/brauchen-wir-wirklich-einen-muslimischen-feiertag-53525894.bild.html ))

Discrimination of Christians abroad

In a somewhat incongruous move, many commentators also dismissed the notion that Germany might introduce an Islamic holiday by pointing to the religious discrimination and persecution suffered by Christians in Muslim-majority countries.

The Catholic bishop of Fulda asked: “How would Islamic states react, if Catholic Christians attempted to celebrate for instance the festival of Corpus Christi with a [public] procession?”(( http://www.die-tagespost.de/politik/Islam-Feiertagsdebatte-geht-weiter;art315,182532 )) He was seconded by leading CDU politician Wolfgang Bosbach, who argued that the religious liberty of Christians in Islamic countries ought to be the priority.

The two men did not elucidate, however, how the highly objectionable suppression of the rights of Christians in other parts of the world could legitimise religious discrimination at home.

Catholic laymen more receptive to an Islamic holiday

Other Christian religious figures and institutions were, however, at least initially less hostile to de Maizière’s suggestions. The President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), the largest Catholic laymen’s association, welcomed the debate on the potential introduction of an Islamic public holiday in certain localities.

He asserted that “in a multi-religious society, an Islamic holiday can be added in areas with a large share of pious Muslims – without betraying the Christian tradition of our country. That [the betrayal of Christian roots] happens much rather through the transformation of Saint Nicholas into Santa Claus.” CSU Secretary General Andreas Scheuer has since expressed his “shock” and “bewilderment” atthe ZdK-President’s statements.(( http://www.die-tagespost.de/politik/Islam-Feiertagsdebatte-geht-weiter;art315,182532 ))

Positive reaction of the ZMD

Muslim figures have also taken part in the raging debate. Aiman Mazyek, Chairman of the ZMD – one of Germany’s Islamic umbrella associations – welcomed the statements by Thomas de Maizière.

At the same time, Mazyek – perhaps mindful of the backlash – asserted that he did not demand a public Islamic holiday mandated by law. Instead, Mazyek presented his position as merely wanting to raise awareness of Islamic religious occasions so that they be ‘put on the map’.

On this basis, Muslim employees might be able to reach practicable solutions at their workplace that would allow them to celebrate Islamic holidays. Mazyek gave the example of a Muslim policeman having a day off for Eid while stepping in for his Christian counterpart on Christmas Day.(( http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/politik/inland/muslimischer-feiertag-deutschland-100.html ))

Critical Muslim voices

Other voices were more critical. Ahmad Mansour, a highly vocal counter-radicalisation activist, called de Maizière’s proposition of an Islamic public holiday “a well-meant gesture” but deemed it impractical. Instead, Mansour suggested that all Germans be given two additional days off work, to be used for whichever religious festival people feel attached to.(( https://www.facebook.com/OfficialAhmadMansour/posts/529328327414627 ))

Lamya Kaddor, Islamic scholar and Chairwoman of the Liberal-Islamic Union (LIB) also dismissed calls for an Islamic holiday. For Kaddor, the Muslim community in Germany is too small to warrant a public holiday; like Mansour, she stressed that more practical, hands-on solutions to the needs of Muslim employees could be found at the individual workplace.

Kaddor criticised de Maizière’s statements as a mere exercise in symbolism out of touch with the genuine wishes of Muslim Germans. Kaddor suspected that the Interior Minister’s remarks were merely clumsy advances seeking to attract Muslim voters to the CDU.(( http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Muslimischer-Feiertag-waere-Symbolpolitik-article20083722.html ))

Individualisation of the religious sphere

The underlying question remains, however, how religious minorities can reconcile their faith with a calendar – and hence a working schedule as well as with a societal sense of time – still based on fundamentally Christian notions.

Many who might consider themselves socially liberal ‘progressives’ appear to be drawn to a particular default answer to this question – namely to the flexibilisation of public holidays: they assert that adherents of different religious traditions ought to be able to take leave from work on different days, depending on their individual faith-based commitments.

Unifying potential of a public holiday

Yet the outcome of such flexibility would be the further segregation of religious traditions. Murat Kayman, a former official of the Turkish-dominated DİTİB Islamic association who was chased from his post in the context of personnel purges after Turkey’s 2016 coup attempt, highlighted the potential of a universal and mandatory Islamic public holiday for inter-religious dialogue:

“It would be a nice thought if on this day Ronny from Dresden or Thilo from Berlin could have time for their families, hobbies, and leisure – only because there are Muslims in Germany. By the same token, there should be a nationwide Jewish holiday. So that Jens from Frankfurt and Mehmet from Duisburg realise that they can only spend a pleasurable, work-free day because of their fellow Jewish citizens.”(( http://murat-kayman.de/2017/10/16/deutschland-muss-deutschland-bleiben/ ))

Lamya Kaddor in fact struck a similar note while steering clear of religious connotations:

“It might be nice to introduce a holiday that represents what constitutes and unites our society. Maybe a ‘Day of Immigration’. There is a centuries-old tradition of immigration into this country, from Huguenots to Syrians. This could be a signal to look towards the future for once, instead of back into the past. Christian values would not be infringed upon by this – and neither would Muslim or any other ones.”(( http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Muslimischer-Feiertag-waere-Symbolpolitik-article20083722.html ))

De Maizière “misunderstood”

For now, however, such a communal new holiday seems far off. After the fierce criticism directed at his remarks, Thomas de Maizière backtracked quickly, asserting that he had been misunderstood.

On his website, he stated: “There is no suggestion on my part to introduce a Muslim holiday. I will also not make such a suggestion.”(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/muslimischer-feiertag-de-maiziere-fuehlt-sich-missverstanden-15250862.html ))

 

The Bigotry That Armed the Quebec Mosque Attacker

TORONTO — On Sunday night, a gunman opened fire in a mosque in Quebec City, killing six people and wounding eight. Our prime minister, Justin Trudeau, called the shootings a “terrorist attack on Muslims.”

Worshipers gunned down in a mosque — people here more readily associate such news with the United States than with Canada. That this happened in Quebec City has shocked many of us, myself included.

In Quebec, Islamophobia manifested itself in a series of sensational cases, in 2007 and 2008, over the “reasonable accommodation” of religious minorities, Muslims in particular. The provincial soccer federation barred hijab-wearing girls on the pretext of safety. It took an official commission to calm public nerves. Its 2008 report, which had the eminent philosopher Charles Taylor as an author, found there was no crisis: Sensationalist media coverage had distorted perceptions, but Muslims were not making unreasonable demands.

I remain an incurably optimistic Canadian, and I want to believe that Canada is still not the United States. But as Sunday’s attack showed, we face the challenge of undoing the damage of years of suspicion and bigotry.

Trump Effect: Jewish and Muslim Organizations Form New Alliance

A new Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council will work to protect religious minorities’ rights as well as other ‘issues of common concern.’

Less than a week after an election that left many minority and religious groups in the United States feeling disenfranchised, two important organizations – one Jewish and the other Muslim – announced an unusual alliance on Monday.

The American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America have teamed up to form a new national group of leading Jewish and Muslim Americans: The Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council.

In a press release, the AJC said that the new group “brings together recognized business, political and religious leaders in the Jewish and Muslim American communities to jointly advocate on issues of common concern.”

Nashville rabbi offers Murfreesboro mosque trip on Yom Kippur

The rabbi of Nashville’s largest and longest-practicing synagogue used the most holy night of the Jewish year to invite his congregation on an unusual trip.

Going to the beleaguered mosque in Murfreesboro, he told them Friday, is part of Yom Kippur’s call to introspection.

“It’s the day that we look into our most honest selves and we have to wrestle with ourselves — not just to do what is the easy or comfortabl thing — but that which is courageous and filled with strength of conscience,” said Rabbi Mark Schiftan of The Temple-Congregation Ohabai Sholom.

The congregation will load up on buses Oct. 27 and travel to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro for food and conversation, Schiftan said Saturday. While Jews and Muslims are often in conflict overseas, they’re both religious minorities in the U.S. The meeting gives both congregations the opportunity to ask questions and affirm their appreciation of the First Amendment right to practice their religions.

While Muslims have been meeting in Murfreesboro for decades, their newly opened mosque faced a number of tribulations, from burning of equipment on the construction site to a legal effort to prevent the building’s use.

Interfaith movement struggles to adapt to changing religious landscape

The Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington is known as one of the country’s early multi-faith groups, and its executive director’s nickname is the “dean of American interfaith.” Yet as it approaches its 35th anniversary in November, the group is fighting for survival, down to two full-time staff members and facing more than $100,000 in debt.

 

The conference, which has a major fundraiser planned this fall and aims to restructure the organization and sharpen its mission, is hardly alone. Some of the oldest and best-known names in interfaith, including the National Council of Churches and the Chicago-based Council for a Parliament of the World Religions, have slashed staff as their revenue shriveled.

Since the Interfaith Conference was founded in 1978, religious minorities have grown significantly in size and stature, and Americans now interact more easily with people of other faiths in their schools, offices, neighborhoods and even immediate families. Younger interfaith types today are more interested in activism and often focus on particular policy issues. For example, some of the newer, small groups in Washington are Interfaith Youth for Climate Justice and Shoulder to Shoulder: Standing with American Muslims.

When these new, more activist groups are taken into account, the interfaith movement as a whole appears to be thriving. The Rev. Bud Heckman, who has been a leader of several key interfaith groups, said his research shows there are twice as many interfaith groups nationally as there were a decade ago. A recent Hartford Institute survey showed congregations are twice as likely to engage in interfaith worship today as they were 10 years ago.

 

Interfaith Conference leaders say they believe there is still a need for the group’s unique strength — it connects local leaders from 11 different faiths, including Mormons, Catholics, Buddhists, Jews and Muslims.

Lawmakers ask Obama for religious diversity summit

Nearly 40 members of the U.S. House, among them Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims, sent a letter to President Obama on Wednesday (July 17) urging him to convene a “Religious Diversity Summit” and do more to fight discrimination against religious minorities.

“The targeting of religious minorities in America is reaching a crisis point and we believe your leadership is crucial to stemming this rising tide of violence,” the letter writers said.

The letter comes just ahead of the first anniversary of the Aug. 5 attack by a white supremacist on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., that killed six worshippers. Muslim advocacy groups say there has been an increase in attacks against mosques and Muslims since the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15.

All 37 signatories were Democrats, including Buddhist Hank Johnson of Georgia, Hindu Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Muslims Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana, and Jews Jared Polis of Colorado, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, and Henry Waxman and Alan Lowenthal, both of California.

“The terrible and very public episodes of violence this country has seen over the past several years deserve a response, and as elected leaders we have an obligation to be a part of that response,” wrote Arizona Democrat Raul M. Grijalva, one of several Christians to sign the letter.

Muslim college carves niche in USA

Until Zaytuna opened its doors three years ago, American Muslims who wanted to study and grow in their faith mostly had to look overseas for a college education. That left students unprepared to engage with the U.S. culture to which they would return, say Zaytuna’s founders, well-known Islam scholars Hamza Yusuf, Zaid Shakir and Hatem Bazian.

The college grew out of the non-profit Zaytuna Institute, founded in 1996 as a local community organization.

Courses include Islamic theology and law, and they also cover the classic liberal arts, such as logic, rhetoric and astronomy. Students learn Arabic and study the Koran. And they read Western authors such as Aristotle, Einstein and Robert Frost.

The school, which raised $7 million last year, is funded by individual Muslim donors and tuition revenue. Tuition last year was $11,000, slightly less than the $12,192 UC campuses charged California-resident undergraduates.

Zaytuna is “trying to participate in this bigger story, this bigger historical narrative of religious minorities having a place here,” says Scott Korb, a New York-based religious studies and writing professor and author of Light Without Fire: The Making of America’s First Muslim College, which chronicles the school’s first years.

Zaytuna is not America’s first Muslim college. The Chicago-based American Islamic College was established in 1981 as a private, not-for-profit, four-year school but stopped offering classes more than a decade ago. A few years ago, it began offering non-credit courses and hopes to again offer bachelor’s degrees, says spokeswoman Hind Makki.

Introduction to the Study on Religion in Italy by Massimo Introvigne and PierLuigi Zoccatelli

How many Catholic priests, bishops or religious people are there in Italy? What associations aspire to represent Italian Muslims? Which associations address national masses of the many Protestant communities and individual Pentecostal Churches? What websites, email accounts, phone numbers correspond to the different Buddhist organizations, Hindu and Sikh communities in Italy? How many Italians are satanists? Which groups practice occultism, spiritualism, ceremonial magic? Which religions bring together flying saucers and Marxism? What is the Association for the Sbattezzo?

This is the work of the monitoring research agency CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions), which since 1988, has been working to understand Italian religions – and non-religious spiritual paths. Well covered here in the the Encyclopedia of Religion in Italy by Massimo Introvigne and Pier Luigi Zoccatelli. The authors present historical introductions, finally reliable statistical data, addresses, phone numbers, Internet links and doctrinal analysis of more than eight hundred organized spiritual and religious minorities in Italy – many of which, little known or discrete, shines a new light on pluralism in Italy. This work greatly changes the perception of religious pluralism in Italy.

Immigration: A Study in Italy shows there are more Christian Immigrants than Muslim.

In Italy there are 836 different religions and more Christian than Muslim immigrants, shows some of the data from a study of Cesnur (Center for Studies on New Religions) which was presented today in Turin. As for information about immigrants, Cesnur reviewed data from annual reports of the Caritas / Migrantes.

”We counted different things” explained Massimo Introvigne and Pier Luigi Zoccatelli, Director and Deputy Director of the Center, respectively, “Caritas counts immigrants on the basis of religion they had in their country of origin, we looked specifically at those practicing in Italy.” So based on information from Caritas, Muslim immigrants in Italy number approximately 1,651,000 however,  Cesnur found that this was actually closer to 1,360,000 and immigrants Orthodox Christians fell from 1,483,000 to 1,295,000.” While in some collective imagination” explain Introvigne and Zoccatelli “an immigrant is most likely non-Catholic  and almost by definition a Muslim is wrong, most immigrants are now non-Muslims, the majority of them are non-Catholic Christians, Orthodox and Pentecostal Protestants adding that these groups now number more than Muslims.” As a whole, immigrants who are other religions (non-Catholic) number 3,218,000. In other words, those belonging to religious minorities are 2.5% of Italian citizens and 7.6% of non-citizens. Among Italian citizens, according to the same data, the largest  minority is Protestant, with 435,000 faithful. The second religious organization among Italian citizens after the Catholic Church is Jehovah’s Witnesses, with a little more than 400,000 faithful, followed by Buddhists (135,000).  The Italian Jewish are “of great historical and cultural importance, but only constitute 36,000 people.”

Survey: Americans overstate size of religious minorities

The typical American underestimates how many Protestants there are in the U.S., and vastly overestimates the number of religious minorities such as Mormons, Muslims, and atheist/agnostics, according to a new study.

Grey Matter Research and Consulting asked 747 U.S. adults to guess what proportion of the American population belongs to each of eight major religious groups: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, atheist/agnostic, believe in God or a higher power but have no particular religious preference, and any other religious group. The average response was that 24 percent of Americans are Catholic, 20 percent are Protestant, 19 percent are unaffiliated, 8 percent are Jewish, 9 percent are atheist or agnostic, 7 percent are Muslim, 7 percent are Mormon and 5 percent identify with all other religious groups.

Respondents were correct on Catholics — 24 percent of the country is Catholic. But according to the 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 51 percent are Protestant, 12 percent are unaffiliated, 2 percent are Jewish, 4 percent are Atheist/Agnostic, less than 1 percent are Muslim, 2 percent are Mormon and 4 percent identify with all other religious groups.