Tips on reconciling Muslim practises with German schools
The German government and representatives of the country’s large Muslim community said on Thursday they had agreed a number of practical proposals to resolve conflicts between German schools and Muslim practises.
The government cannot legally enforce the proposals because, in Germany’s federal system, each of the country’s 16 states regulates education law.
Yet the proposals — agreed upon at a high-profile summit in Berlin aimed at boosting the integration of Germany’s Muslim residents — testify to an increasingly open and rational debate in Germany about Islam.
“These suggestions are not a cure-all, but should be seen as the groundwork for solutions that teachers, pupils and parents have to agree on together,” the German Islam Conference (DIK) said in statement.
(Photo: German Interior Minister Schaeuble chats with delegates of the Islamic Conference in Berlin, 25 June 2009/Wolfgang Kumm)
New official data shows that between 3.8 and 4.3 million Muslims live in Germany — a higher number than previously estimated — meaning about 5 percent of the overall population.
Some 36 percent of Germany’s Muslims described themselves as strongly religious and 50 percent as moderately religious.
The DIK was set up to try to help Europe’s second biggest Muslim population after France integrate into mainstream Germany society, amid worries about the potential radicalisation of disillusioned young Muslims.
Proposals touched on sensitive issues such as Muslim pupils’ participation in sports and sexual education classes to religious holidays.
Delegates at the conference agreed that schools should try to offer separate swimming lessons to girls and boys and to ensure there are separate changing rooms to enable the participation of all Muslim pupils.
Given that legal school holidays in Germany are based on Christian customs, practical consideration should be given to Islamic religious holidays.
“Schools should take these holidays into account when fixing its calendar for the school year. This affects in particular the dates chosen for exams,” the DIK said.
Regarding sexual education classes, these were necessary and compulsory, but schools should let parents know in advance how and what they planned to teach.
“In the class itself, teachers should be sensitive in their choice of words and carefully select the media, that they show with caution,” the DIK said.
(Photo: Muslim women walk in front of the newly built Ahmadiya mosque in the Heinersdorf district of Berlin, 16 Oct, 2008/ Fabrizio Bensch)
Tips were not only reserved for schools, however. The conference suggested that parents should make sure their children got enough sleep during Ramadan and that, if their daughters wore a headscarf, they should take care it did not lead to ostracism.
Germany seems to be treading a careful path in order to avoid the kinds of conflicts with its Muslim community that other countries have incurred, such as France which provoked controversy in 2004 by banning pupils from wearing conspicuous signs of their religion at school, including headscarves.
But will its tentative proposals be heeded without any kind of legal enforcement?