FaithWorld

Hamburg moves toward official recognition of Islam

hamburgHamburg may soon become the first German state officially to recognize Islam as a religious community and give its Muslims the same legal rights as Christians and Jews in dealing with the local administration. (Photo: Hamburg port, September 29, 2000/Fabrizio Bensch)

Four years of quiet negotiations about building mosques, opening Muslim cemeteries and teaching Islam in public schools are nearing an end just when Germany is embroiled in a noisy debate about Islam and the integration of Muslim immigrants.

The deal seems set to go through, but the national debate on Islam and local political changes could make its approval more difficult than expected, politicians and Muslim leaders said.

hamburg mosqueGermany has an estimated 4 million Muslims, most of them of Turkish origin, in its 82 million population. Long treated as migrant workers due eventually to return to their countries of origin, they have become an established minority that wants equal rights. (Photo: Central Mosque in Hamburg, 8 Oct 2010/Christian Charisius)

The agreement in Germany’s second-largest metropolis, a city-state in the country’s federal system, would set out their rights and also their duties, such as consulting neighborhood residents before building mosques or erecting minarets.

Germany holds inflamed debate on Islam and migration

merkel JUGermany’s inflamed public debate about Islam and integration risks serious overheating as politicians compete to make ever tougher statements criticizing Muslims immigrants they accuse of refusing to fit in here.

The escalating row, sparked off when a Bundesbank board member slammed Muslims as dim-witted welfare spongers, has mixed some social problems and some Muslim customs into a vision of Islam as a looming menace to German society. (Photo: Chancellor Angela Merkel tells CDU meeting that multicultural policies have failed, in Potsdam, 16 Oct. 2010/Thomas Peter)

When President Christian Wulff tried to build bridges by saying Islam was now part of German society, critics retorted the country was based on “Judeo-Christian values” and should not accept any more immigrants from foreign cultures.

Austrian far-right surges in Vienna vote

vienna elexAustria’s resurgent far-right party won over a quarter of the vote in Vienna’s provincial election as voters took their discontent to the ballot box, reflecting a wider European trend as voters concerned about the economic crisis and integration of Muslims turn to rightist parties. (Photo: Heinz-Christian Strache, top candidate of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), October 10, 2010/Leonhard Foeger)

Vienna’s Social Democrats under Michael Häupl, mayor since 1994, won 44.1 percent, losing their absolute majority while Heinz-Christian Strache’s far-right Freedom Party scooped up 27.1 percent, up from 15 percent in 2005. All the other main parties lost ground. The results suggest Freedom, which has called for a ban on mosques with minarets and on Islamic face veils, is returning to its strength of the late 1990s.

Analysts say that if the centrist parties keep losing support, they might start catering more to far-right concerns on social policy, mulling for example a ban on Islamic face veils in public and stricter limits on immigration.

Wary Afghans mull possible Taliban peace talks

talibanLike many Afghans, shopkeeper Abdul Sattar recalls Taliban rule as a nightmare of public executions, women shut away at home and evenings without TV, but he might accept some of it back for peace and stability.

With President Hamid Karzai reaching out to insurgents in a bid to broker peace talks, the Kabul businessman says he would support a deal returning Afghanistan’s former hardline rulers to some measure of power if it brought an end to 10 years of war. (Photo: Taliban militants after joining a government reconciliation and reintegration program, in Herat, March 14, 2010/Mohammad Shioab)

“The Taliban had some good rules and some bad rules,” Sattar said at his stationery shop. “If the government talks to the Taliban and they accept just the good ones, then it could work.”

Constitution, not sharia, is supreme law in Germany – Merkel

merkelChancellor Angela Merkel has said Muslims must obey the constitution and not sharia law if they want to live in Germany, which is debating the integration of its 4 million-strong Muslim population.

In the furore following a German central banker’s blunt comments about Muslims failing to integrate, moderate leaders including President Christian Wulff have urged Germans to accept that “Islam also belongs in Germany.” (Photo: Angela Merkel at a CDU conference in Wiesbaden, 6 Oct 2010/Alex Domanski)

Merkel , the daughter of a Protestant pastor brought up in East Germany who now leads the predominantly Catholic CDU party,  said Wulff had emphasised Germany’s “Christian roots and its Jewish roots.”

German president welcomes Islam in 20th anniversary Unity Day speech

imam (Photo: An imam leads prayers at a mosque in Dortmund on German Unity Day, October 3, 2010./Ina Fassbender)

German President Christian Wulff said Sunday that Islam had a place in Germany, during a speech celebrating two decades of the country’s reunification.

The president, who holds a largely ceremonial position but is considered a moral authority for the nation, used the televised ceremony to wade into a debate over immigrant integration that has captivated public attention for weeks.

“First and foremost, we need adopt a clear stance: an understanding that for Germany, belonging is not restricted to a passport, a family history, or a religion,” he told an audience in the northern city of Bremen.  “Christianity doubtless belongs in Germany. Judaism belongs doubtless in Germany. That is our Judeo-Christian history. But by now, Islam also belongs in Germany.”

Mosques to become bigger part of German life – Chancellor Angela Merkel

germany mosque 1 (Photo: Khadija Mosque in Berlin October 16, 2008/Fabrizio Bensch)

Chancellor Angela Merkel has said Germans had for too long failed to grasp how immigration was changing their country and would have to get used to the sight of more mosques in their cities.

Germany, home to at least 4 million Muslims, has been divided in recent weeks by a debate over integration sparked by disparaging remarks about Muslim immigrants by an outspoken member of the country’s central bank.

“Our country is going to carry on changing, and integration is also a task for the society taking up the immigrants,” Merkel told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Saturday. “For years we’ve been deceiving ourselves about this. Mosques, for example, are going to be a more prominent part of our cities than they were before,” she added.

Berlin issues guidelines on integrating Muslim pupils in schools

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.

German commentaries on Bundesbank’s Sarrazin after Jewish, Muslim remarks

bundesbank 1 (Photo: German Bundesbank President Axel Weber at news conference after the bank decided to dismiss board member Thilo Sarrazin, 2 September 2010/Alex Domanski)

Germany’s Bundesbank has voted to dismiss board member Thilo Sarrazin, whose remarks about Muslim immigrants and Jews have divided the country. Following are extracts from Friday’s German newspapers on the central bank’s decision, which must still be approved by the German President Christian Wulff.

BILD (Conservative mass circulation)

“President Christian Wulff is in a horrible jam. If he signs the order to fire Sarrazin, he’ll be viewed by millions of Germans as just another one of those jaundiced political leaders … but if he doesn’t sign it, he’ll have the chancellor and the entire political establishment against him.

“But if Wulff decides to read the book himself, he’ll see that it’s based on a lot of well-documented truths about immigrants, education and Germany’s social state. And unfortunately an appalling, vulgar Darwinism that reduces every person to a hostage of their genetic makeup.

Europe, face veils and a Catholic view of a Muslim issue

burqa 1The French National Assembly begins debating a complete ban on Muslim full face veils in public next week and could outlaw them by the autumn. Belgium’s lower house of parliament has passed a draft ban and could banish them from its streets in the coming months if its Senate agrees. The Spanish Senate has passed a motion to ban them after a few towns introduced their own prohibitions. (Photo: A veiled French woman outside the Belgian Parliament in Brussels/Yves Herman)

Calls to ban “burqas” — the word most widely in Europe used for full veils, even if most full veils seen are niqabs — have also been heard in the Netherlands and Denmark. According to a  Financial Times poll,  the ban proposal also “wins enthusiastic backing in the UK, Italy, Spain and Germany”.

Only a tiny minority of Muslim women in these countries actually cover their faces, but that doesn’t seem to matter. That Switzerland has only four minarets didn’t stop Swiss voters from banning them in a referendum last November (and maybe banning veils next). There seems to be a movement to ban religious symbols that Europeans either reject or fear.