German Islam conference finds veils acceptable
The conference concluded that freedom of religion means that wearing the veil cannot be forbidden.Berlin -- Muslim girls may wear the veil at school, but not over the whole face, and swimming should be compulsory until puberty, representatives of Germany's large Islamic minority and MPs said in talks promoting integration Thursday.
"Freedom of religion means ... that wearing the veil is not forbidden," concluded the German Islamic Conference (DIK). "However, covering the whole face is incompatible with the open communication that education requires."
The DIK is a regular event set up by the government in 2006 in response to worries about a lack of integration in German society creating home-grown Islamic extremism and in the wake of a number of "honour killings."
Germany, which opposed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq but has around 3,700 troops in Afghanistan under NATO command, has managed to escape terror attacks by Islamic radicals. But authorities say there is still a serious threat.
The DIK also concluded that Muslim girls could be required to remove headscarves during sport or when safety regulations required them to do so in certain classes, such as in science lessons.
After puberty begins, they can opt out of swimming but only if the pupils are able to prove "in a credible manner" that showing parts of their bodies in public, particularly in front of boys, created a "conflict of conscience."
Sex education lessons, on the other hand, are compulsory, the conference decided, provided that the school "takes into account the religious convictions of the parents."
The conference also recommended creating Islamic theology departments at German universities and lessons on Islam -- in German -- at schools. At present there are only pilot projects.
A government study published on Tuesday found that Germany had between 3.8 and 4.3 million Muslims -- between 4.6 and 5.2 percent of the population -- much higher than the previous estimates of 3.1-3.4 million.
The rise was attributed to previous studies not including immigrants from countries where the population is only partly Muslim, such as Malaysia or India.
Some 45 percent have German citizenship, 36 percent described themselves as strongly religious and 50 percent moderately religious, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) study of 6,000 people said.