Berlin issues guidelines on integrating Muslim pupils in schools

September 17, 2010

GERMANY SARRAZIN/TRIALIf you’re a teacher in Germany and are unsure whether to allow your Muslim pupils to pray at school, to skip swimming lessons or wear the veil, you may want to consult a new handbook aimed at dealing with the sometimes tricky task of reconciling Muslim practices with German schooling.

Berlin’s Ministry for Education, Science and Research has just published a guide called “Islam and School”  giving practical advice on how to resolve these issues and encourage “people to live together respectfully and peacefully”, which you can find in German here.

The guidelines aim to boost the integration of Germany’s Muslim community, Europe’s second largest Muslim population after France. Around 4 million Muslims live in Germany, meaning about 5 percent of the overall population.

The issue has come to the fore in recent weeks with former Bundesbanker Thilo Sarrazin made disparaging criticism of Muslim immigrants in a best-selling book warning of the demise of traditional German society.

“For years, society and schools have been faced with a variety of new duties and challenges. One of these big challenges is to have people from different traditions, cultural and religious affiliations living together peacefully and respectfully,” said Juergen Zoellner, Berlin Minister for Education, Science and Research, in the introduction to the booklet.

“This document should give insight into Islam and its diversity. In addition, the knowledge that Islam can be read and practised flexibly opens up room for manoeuvre for schools and Muslims both parents and pupils .. so that they can find pragmatic solutions for issues that arise.”

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 in 2004 banned pupils from wearing conspicuous signs of their religion at school, including headscarves.

Unlike France, Berlin recommends teachers to have a relaxed attitude towards pupils wearing headscarves, noting that in the debate over Islam “for some it is the symbol of oppression and inability to integrate, while for others it is a specific expression of the assertion of identity and religiousness. Also in schools, these two camps occasionally confront one another, to the detriment of the pupils.”

The ministry also said it would fix two days for Muslim pupils to take off for Islamic religious holidays, given that legal school holidays in Germany are based on Christian customs. “It is a sign of recognition if schools and pedagogues make the effort to inform themselves about Islamic holidays,” it wrote.

The initiative shows willing on behalf of the German administration and contrasts with the fear-mongering talk in some countries about a Muslim “invasion”; yet will these tentative proposals be heeded — by both sides — without any enforcement? Given that in Germany’s federal system, each of the country’s 16 states regulates education law, will the others follow Berlin’s example?

Finally, do ordinary Germans — teachers, pupils and pupils’ parents — support these top-down measures from well-meaning politicians?

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I disagree. Most Americans have no issue with a muslim community center (not a mosque) renovating an empty building several blocks away from “ground zero”. The problem comes from the conservative side and the lesser educated right wing. If anything, at least liberals understand what America’s pledge of religious freedom means–even atheists like me.

The USA/Canada are melting pot societies. Europe, though more liberal, is a collection of states each with a specific culture (or two). Both sides of the Atlantic need to learn how to coexist without loosing what makes Western societies so vibrant and inclusive.

Maybe when people move from one nation to another they need to better understand what the cultural changes to their lives that will have. Perhaps staying within a muslim culture would be better for people with strong islamic convictions of religion that pits them against the existing culture of the nation they move to.

Posted by tchb | Report as abusive