Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Islam Needs A Fair Chance In Germany

... a commitment by the city government to promote the teaching of Islam in the Hamburg pubic school system. The agreement grants the leaders of Hamburg's Muslim communities a determinative say in what will be taught by allowing them to develop the teaching curriculum for Islamic studies. Muslim officials will also be able to determine who will (and will not) be allowed to teach courses about Islam in city schools -- meaning that only Muslims will be allowed to teach Islam. Muslims, for their part, are hoping the Hamburg treaty will establish a precedent for the rest of Germany to follow.
Hamburg, the second-largest city in Germany, has concluded a "historic treaty" with its Muslim communities that grants Muslims broad new rights and privileges but does little to encourage their integration into German society.

The November 13 agreement, signed by Hamburg's Socialist Mayor Olaf Scholz and the leaders of four Muslim umbrella groups, is being praised by the proponents of multiculturalism for putting the northern port city's estimated 200,000 Muslims on an equal footing with Christian residents.

Moreover, Muslim officials will also be able to determine who will (and who will not) be allowed to teach courses about Islam in city schools. In practice, this means that only Muslims will be allowed to teach Islam and that pupils will not be exposed to any critical perspectives about the religious, social and political ideology of Islam.

Under the wide-ranging accord, Muslims in Hamburg will also have the right to take three Islamic holidays as days off from work. Up until now, it has been up to individual employers to decide whether or not to grant Muslim staff religious days off on a case-by-case basis. In addition, Muslim students will be exempt from attending school on Muslim holidays.

The agreement also includes provisions for the construction of more mosques in Hamburg, the upkeep of cultural Islamic facilities, the authorization for Muslims to bury their dead without the use of coffins, as well as the counseling of patients and prison inmates by Muslim clerics.

Hamburg has also pledged to incorporate Muslim broadcast slots alongside Protestant and Catholic broadcasts on public and private radio and television, as well as broadcasting council seats for Muslims with the northern Germany's NDR public broadcaster and Germany's federal ZDF television channel.

Muslims for their part undertake to respect fundamental rights and support equality between the sexes, although the document provides no specifics on how these notions are defined or how they will be enforced.

Mayor Scholz, who is a former federal labor minister of the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), described the signing at the Hamburg city hall as a "milestone" for integration, adding: "With the signing of these agreements, we are strengthening the societal foundation of our city: we are all Hamburg."

Hamburg's agreements were made with the city's Alevi community (Alevis are a liberal sect within Islam based mostly in Turkey) and three Muslim umbrella organizations: the DITIB Turkish-Islamic Union (DITIB), the Council of Islamic Communities (Shura) and the Federation of Islamic Cultural Centers (VIKZ). Together these four groups are said to represent about 90% of the Muslims living in Hamburg.

Muslims for their part hope the Hamburg treaty will establish a precedent for the rest of Germany to follow. The spokesperson for the Alevi community in Germany, Aziz Alsandemir, says: "We hope that this accord will be viewed as a trigger by other provinces."

Bremen, the second-largest city in northern Germany, is close to finalizing its own treaty with local Muslim umbrella groups. According to the Socialist mayor of Bremen, Jens Böhrnsen, "Muslims form a significant part of the population of Bremen." The German states of Baden-Württemberg and Schleswig-Holstein, both of which are run by Socialist governments, are also looking at negotiating treaties with the Muslims in their regions.

At the national level, the SPD has said it would like to see Islam recognized as an official religion in Germany. In aninterview with the newspaper Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, SPD politician Dieter Wiefelspütz said: "It would be an important signal to the four million Muslims in Germany, if the state recognizes Islam as a religious community." He added: "Islam needs a fair chance in Germany."

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