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.(( http://www.derwesten.de/region/muslimische-schueler-fallen-durch-provozierendes-beten-auf-wirbel-an-wuppertaler-gymnasium-id209791697.html ))

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”.(( http://www.rp-online.de/nrw/panorama/schule-in-wuppertal-verbietet-muslimischen-schuelern-sichtbares-beten-aid-1.6648704 ))

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”.(( http://www.rp-online.de/nrw/panorama/schulfrieden-schlaegt-religionsfreiheit-aid-1.6648883 ))

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.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/deutsche-universitaeten-gebetsraeume-unter-generalverdacht-14118890.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

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.(( http://www.zeit.de/2017/11/religion-universitaet-beten-verbot-wissenschaft ))

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.

Le Pen wants collaborate with Geert Wilders

Le Monde

 

15.09.2013

 

In a recent interview with the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad, Marine Le Pen, the leader of the right-wing party Front Nationale (FN), expressed her wish to collaborate with the Dutch right-wing party, Freedom Party (PVV), led by Geert Wilders, for the upcoming European election campaign. Le Pen intents to shows right-wing voters in Europe that xenophobic and racist national movements, which she terms as ‘patriotic’, aren’t isolated but exist in every EU member state. Both parties are infamous for their anti-immigrant, islamophobic and pro-white Christian rhetoric.

 

Despite the many similarities, however, the leader of the FN acknowledges differences with Wilders in regards to the subject of Muslims and Islam. In her view, she has “nothing against the religion itself”, but is predominantly concerned and against the “influ of Muslim immigrants and the visibility of Islam in society”. Wilders, the author of the controversial Islam critical film “Fitna”, on the other hand is all together against the prohibition of the Quran which he compares to Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”.

IFOP REPORT: The perception of Europeans on Islam

Over the past several years polemical and controversial issues related to Islam have emerged in European societies. Amidst a number of highly mediatized fundamentalist attacks, tensions have focused in recent years on debates about the wearing of headscarves, mosques being vandalized, and the integration and naturalization of immigrant populations, all of which are also mobilized by extreme right political parties.

Approximately 12-13 million of Europe’s 377 million inhabitants are Muslim (4% of the population), and most live in large cities. France has the largest population, followed by Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. These four countries have very different models with which to frame the aforementioned debates. This study examining the perceptions of Europeans in these countries on Islam had five principal findings:

That concern with Islam is present but secondary
That Muslim populations are perceived to have largely failed to integrate
That the visibility of Islam is a principal issue
That there is a general rejection of political Islam but an acceptance of private beliefs
That there are important generational differences in how Muslims integrate

How much Allah can the old continent bear?

Switzerland’s recent vote to ban the construction of new minarets has shocked and angered Muslims around the world. But the controversial move also reflects a growing sense of unease among other Europeans who have trouble coming to terms with Islam’s increased visibility.

This article examines the state of Islam in the public sphere of many Western European countries, regarding symbols, values, the relationship with non-Muslims and politics of recognition. It discusses Switzerland’s disturbing vote on minarets and the huge divide within its society, Germany’s fear – and lack of knowledge – of Islam, the British paradox of both integration and exclusion, the French burqa-debate and culture clashes in Belgium.