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 ))

 

How do we bring FGM to an end in Britain?

international-day-of-zero-tolerance-for-female-genital-mutilation-547x410FGM originates in cultural rather than religious values and traditions, although justifications given for it vary across regions and cultures. Despite commonly being associated with Islam, there are a large number of Islamic countries, including Morocco, Algeria, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, where it is not practiced. This does not mean that religion has no influence. There is no requirement for FGM in the Quran; however, many perpetrators invoke Islam to justify their acts. Therefore experts generally refer to religion as a “justification” or “rationalisation” rather than a “cause”.

Communities living abroad can more readily challenge the cultural norms of their country of origin, for example, questioning the beliefs, values and codes of conduct that underpin FGM. Studies examining the views of women and men in diasporic communities from countries where FGM is regularly practiced have identified three key factors behind the continuation of the practice: the preference for a circumcised wife, the wish to circumcise daughters, and the belief that FGM should continue albeit in a modified way.

In diasporic Somali communities, the decision to abandon the practice often results from internal debate about whether Islam demands FGM, with many ultimately concluding that it does not. In fact, close examination of the Quran often leads people to decide that FGM should be seen as forbidden and as a form of harm inflicted on God’s creation.

Rather than forming stereotypes of communities where FGM remains a problem, the problem is best tackled by exploiting this dynamism. Working with communities to change attitudes, rather than imposing judgements from outside, is essential to combat the practice in the UK.

‘Radicalisation risk’ at six Muslim private schools, says Ofsted

The debate over “British values” came to the fore in the wake of the “Trojan horse” affairs, and the realization that hundreds of British Muslim men – and some women – had become radicalised enough to join extremists in Iraq and Syria. The government has stressed “fundamental British values” must be taught and encouraged in schools. To this end, secular and humanist campaigners have welcomed an increase in inspections, saying that for too long the UK has allowed religious communities to “enforce their own values and traditions” on children.

But the school that has been recently inspected said that during a two-day inspection in October, Ofsted asked pupils “vaguely worded questions which produced vague responses”. “To make sweeping generalisations on the basis of their response is utterly unprofessional,” it said in a statement.

Suggestions that children were not protected from extremist views were “completely unfounded”, it said, adding that Ofsted’s findings regarding the role of women did not “reflect the school’s attitude”. The school said it was “natural” for an Islamic school to have a “primary ethos” based on Islam, but that did not mean it taught children that other faiths and traditions were “antithetical to Islamic teachings”.

The six private schools are all in Tower Hamlets, where the council said it had no jurisdiction over teaching and standards at independent faith schools and that its powers were limited to offering training and advice to schools.

 

Catalan children travel to Gambia to study the Qur’an

January 22, 2014

 

Hundreds of Catalan children travel each year to Gambia to study the Koran and Arabic. These children between 7 and 17 years old may be between six months to five years in madrasas (Islamic schools). The goal is for their children to maintain the traditions and religious and cultural ties to the home community.

 

e-noticies: http://sociedad.e-noticies.es/-ninos-catalanes-viajan-a-paises-musulmanes-para-estudiar-el-coran-82331.html

Some schools cancel Christmas performances: League Sends Letter

December 17, 2013

 

“Reports received from some schools in Turin show that performances of a classic children’s Christmas play will not be organized or there will be a play but without any reference to the Nativity and the Catholic religion, to avoid offending the growing number of Muslims who attend local schools. In all cases, individual headmasters make this decision.

“If this report is confirmed it would be a very serious matter” said the Northern League’s Roberto Carbonero in a letter to the City’s schools. “It is not acceptable to favor uncontrolled immigration over our citizens, our children, who now must give up their own traditions and their own culture. In our schools we should not be ashamed of the Catholic base of our society and our history.”

 

La Repubblica: http://torino.repubblica.it/dettaglio-news/19:29/4441798

Quotidiano Piemontese: http://www.quotidianopiemontese.it/2013/12/18/nelle-scuole-di-torino-niente-recite-di-natale-per-rispetto-dei-musulmani/#_

Rolling Stone Tsarnaev cover draws outrage

The cover of Rolling Stone’s Aug. 1 edition features a photograph of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing in April. Many have responded angrily to the magazine’s treatment of Tsarnaev’s image:

Rolling Stone editors said in a statement that the story falls within the traditions of journalism and the magazine’s commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage.

“The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens,” the statement said.

Muslims ask their employers to be flexible with the working schedule of Muslim workers during Ramadan

8 July 2013
Speaking to Europa Press, the President of the Islamic Communities of Spain, Riay Tatary has asked the employers to “take care” of the Muslims workers during the Ramadan period. Tatary also thanks the Spanish people for their interest in the celebration of Ramadan and invites them to go to the mosques and share the events with their Muslim neighbors. Therefore they can get to know their traditions, lifestyle and discover that they are good citizens. Such gesture would be considered as a sign of integration, according to Tatary.

Cultural traditions are no excuse for sex crimes, minister warns

Damian Green, Police and Criminal Justice Minister, said men linked to sex crimes such as female genital mutilation and selling underage girls for sex must learn to obey Britain’s laws and customs. “If you come and live in 21st-century Britain then you obey the laws and observe the conventions of 21st-century Britain. And the law says that exploiting children for sexual purposes is a serious and disgusting crime,” Mr Green told The Times. He added: “The age of consent may be puberty in other parts of the world, but it is not in this country. And in this country it is not acceptable to regard anyone else as being in some way less than human because they may not share your religious views or your race. “We are all equal under the law. If you are abusing children sexually then that’s criminality and I am not prepared to accept, as a plea in mitigation, the argument that in some parts of the world this would be regarded as acceptable. It’s not acceptable in Britain in 2013.”

The sex ring in Rochdale sparked a national debate over the role of largely Asian men in grooming white girls, and what impact cultural background had on the campaign of abuse being able to continue for so long.

 

Police and social workers were accused of not investigating the gang for fear of being branded racist, and instead toeing a ‘politically correct’ line.

 

Men of Pakistani heritage are significantly over-represented among those convicted of group street-grooming crimes, according to The Times. It has also been claimed some interpretations of Islam leads men to believe what would be morally wrong with a Muslim girl is permitted with a non-Muslim victim.

Maroni “Open” to a Mosque “but only if it respects Italian roots”

5/10/2013

 

The President of the Lombardy region, Roberto Maroni, is now “open” to the possibility of having a Mosque in Milan. One of the main critics of a construction of a mosque, Maroni now states that he is open to a Mosque, as long as a mosque “respects Italian culture, our traditions and history.” Roberto Maroni made these statements as part of a larger discussion celebrating the edict of Constantine in 313 and in anticipation of the arrival of the Patriarch in Italy on May 14. The Cardinal Angelo Scoula and the Mayor of Milan, Giuliano Pisapia, also confirmed their support of the Mosque.