Around 5000 of Belgium’s prison population, 45% of the overall number of inmates in the country, are of Muslim faith. This has, as previously reported, caused a number of issues in regards to prison dietary rules, female guard presence, prayer rooms. The national umbrella organization of the Belgium Muslims (Executif des Musulmans de Belgique) has called upon the state to provide facilities to practice and manage the faith in prisons in order to protect it from being taken over by radical sections.
The Koordinationsrat der Muslime (KRM), the Muslim umbrella organization in Germany, which unites Germany’s four largest Muslim organizations, announced last week that Ramadan, the month of fasting, begins on August 1st and ends on August 29th. Then, on August 30th, Muslims will celebrate the Idul Fitr , the end of Ramadan. Aiman Mazyek, the KRM’s spokesman, reminded of the meaning of fasting and wished all Muslims well for the time ahead. Since 2008, the main Islamic communities in Germany fast at the same time, which allows an easier integration of Ramadan in e.g. schools or the public sector.
The details of the intended introduction of Islamic education in German schools are still uncertain; yet, the demand for well educated teachers for the new subject is already being discussed. As reported earlier this month, the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia aims to introduce the new subject in the autumn of 2012. The state’s education minister, Sylvia Löhrmann, is planning a step-by-step introduction and is already working on the curriculum with the Muslim umbrella organization KRM. While other federal states are making similar progress, again others, such as Hesse, are far behind and not sure yet when Islamic education will be introduced.
As of yet, it is uncertain how many teachers will be needed for the new subject, as the federal states do not know how many Muslim students will actually take up the opportunity to participate in Islamic education. It is certain, though, that these teachers need to be educated adequately; therefore, the University of Münster, for instance, is planning on extending their capacities for the course of study in Islamic education, which was initiated in 2004. Furthermore, the universities in Osnabrück, Erlangen-Nürnberg, Tübingen and Frankfurt have been chosen as future centers of Islam studies. They will receive an additional four million Euros over the next five years to either establish or extend such centers, which are not only meant to train teachers, but also theologians and imams. Both researchers as well as politicians emphasize the key role of such centers for the integration of Muslims in Germany.
Geert Wilders, leader of the right wing Freedom Party (PVV) announced
Thursday that he will establish and international umbrella organization
to “fight for freedom and against Islam”, ANP reports. The
International Freedom Alliance is intended to include individuals and
organizations from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Germany
and France, and to be formalized by the end of this year. According to
WIlders, IFA aims to operate between the traditional conservative
parties and what he called “unsavoury” far-right parties in these
Abu Bakr Rieger, the president of the EMU Foundation, an umbrella organization for informing about and promoting Islam in Europe, comments in an interview on the German Islam conference. According to him, the whole project has had its downsides from the beginning, when former German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble invited “liberal Muslims”, who were very critical of Islam themselves, to outnumber the more conservative representatives. Today, Abu Bakr Rieger sees similar problems arising from current Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière’s approach that caused two of the major Muslim organizations to withdraw from the Conference. Furthermore, while admitting that Muslims benefit a lot from the German rule of law, Abu Bakr Rieger is disappointed with de Maizière’s denial of anti-Islamic sentiments in Germany.
Spanish Muslims have launched an independent, self-regulatory body to train imams in the southern European country, IslamOnline.net reports. The Islamic Union of Imams and Preachers in Spain will be entrusted with training imams and preachers across the country.
Chairman Sheikh Alaa Said explains that “the growing Muslim community in Spain required the launch of an official Islamic body to unify efforts of imams and preachers nationwide”. He admitted that many mosque imams are not well-prepared to do their job: “We have nearly 700 mosques in Spain, most of which are supervised by volunteered imams who have not studied religious sciences or been trained perfectly to do the job.” The new umbrella organization, with specialized committees on fatwa, research, and training, seeks to rectify this lack of training and unify the country’s imams.
A Belgian court is due to rule next week on a ban on the Muslim headscarf at two schools in Dutch-speaking Flanders, an issue that has led to a death threat for one school principal and graffiti sprayed on walls. The schools in Antwerp and nearby Hoboken introduced the ban at the start of the school year last week, arguing that Muslim girls were being pressured to wear headscarves by their families and peers.
Angry pupils have staged protests outside the school and one girl filed a complaint with the Belgian Council of State to contest the ban. The court will rule on the matter next week and one of its chief advocates has already advised it to overturn the ban. The advocate’s advice is followed in 90 percent of cases.
“The advocate said that such a ban is not lawful, and that only the umbrella organization of state schools can decide on whether or not to introduce such a measure,” a court spokesman said.
Islam in Europe
The European rabbinical umbrella organization “Conference of European Rabbis” (CER) boycotted an interfaith conference in Belgium after it was determined that Muslim delegates included alleged members of the Muslim brotherhood movement. The meeting, co-hosted by the European commission and the European Parliament, took place in Brussels on Monday of this week. The interfaith meeting was intended to bring together four religious leaders from each participating faith community. In a statement explaining the decision not to attend the meeting, the executive director of the CER said: “We do not consider it appropriate for organizations such as the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe, or individuals who made or endorsed anti-Semitic statements and who are clearly linked to radical Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood to be present.” These invitees, according to the CER, are “extremists who are not representative of the vast majority of Europe’s Muslim citizens.” The statement noted that the interfaith initiative was a positive one, but that it was undermined by the inclusion of some persons who are more interested in divisiveness than dialogue. The European Commission said that the decision was regrettable, as president Jose Manuel Barroso stated: “This meeting aims to foster dialogue and build on common ground, regarding the importance of this economic and financial crisis and we believe it is important to contribute. …It is time for unity and not for isolation on such an important topic.”
On April 10, the German Muslim leaders announced the creation of a new umbrella organization: the Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany (KRM). The KRM will unite the leadership of the four central German Muslim authorities: the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), the Islamic Council (IR), the Central Council of Muslims (ZMD) and the Association of Islamic Culture Centers (VIKZ). This decision came after ongoing discussion with German authorities on how to bring Muslims into a social contract with German society; this unified leadership has been undertaken with the hope of elevating Muslims to the position of respect and tolerance enjoyed by German Catholics and Protestants. The hope is that one unified voice will provide German Muslims with better leverage against the government on issues such as representation of Muslims in religious education curriculum, visibility in radio and television media, availability of halal meat, and the headscarf. Critics warn, however, against believing KRM’s claims to German Muslim sentiment. Only an estimated 10-15% of Muslims are affiliated with a mosque. Independent, secular, and feminist Muslims are likely to fall outside the breadth of the new umbrella organization. In spite of the leadership’s insistence that the KRM is welcome to all Muslims, it will undoubtedly have a conservative bent.
Germany’s Islamic organizations aren’t lacking in number. But coherence has long been a problem. Now four groups are banding together to form an umbrella organization. German politicians applaud the initiative, but warn that it’s only one of several on the way to better inter-cultural dialogue. When Interior Minister Wolfgang Sch_uble held an Islam conference in Berlin last year, his goal was to establish a new basis for dialogue with Germany’s Muslim community, one rooted in democratic and constitutional values. But as the representatives of the various Muslim organizations, federations and groups pulled up their chairs around the table, it became clear that dialogue — in the sense of conversation between two parties — was a misnomer: To date, no single body has represented the interests of the 3.3 million Muslims living in Germany. Now, four organisations want to change that (…)