German Muslim groups link up for single voice

11th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

11 April 2007, Cologne, Germany (dpa) - In a move towards greater unity, four main Muslim groups in Germany have formed a national coordination council so they can speak with one voice to the German government, they said Wednesday. The government, which has said it cannot cater to Islam until it hears a clear Muslim point of view, praised the move, which follows last year's launch of government talks with 15 figures from the broader Islamic community. But there was immediate criticism from secular Muslims,

11 April 2007

Cologne, Germany (dpa) - In a move towards greater unity, four main Muslim groups in Germany have formed a national coordination council so they can speak with one voice to the German government, they said Wednesday.

The government, which has said it cannot cater to Islam until it hears a clear Muslim point of view, praised the move, which follows last year's launch of government talks with 15 figures from the broader Islamic community.

But there was immediate criticism from secular Muslims, who said they feared the council would project strongly religious views as representative of the whole community.

Ayyub Axel Koehler, president of the German Council of Islam and first spokesman for the new joint council, said Wednesday in Cologne, "As far as I am concerned, this is a dream come true."

Rafet Ozturk of the Ditib Turkish-Islamic Union said in Cologne the council provided a means of liaison with the rest of the community and would seek to forge common positions, but the four groups would remain independent.

"We are putting ourselves to the test as to whether we can arrive at joint decisions or not," he said. "We'll have to see how it goes."

The other groups in the coordination council are the Islamic Council of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Federation of Islamic Cultural Centres, both of which mainly represent Turkish Sunni Moslems.

A major Islamist group, Milli Gorus, which seeks to reform society on an Islamic basis and is being monitored by German authorities as potentially subversive, is not represented in the new coordination panel.

Germany's main Shiite institution, the Hamburg Islamic Centre, is represented via the multi-ethnic German Council of Muslims whose leader, Koehler, is German-born.

In Berlin, an interior ministry spokesman welcomed the formation of the council as a "good and important step."

He said it came at the "right time," ahead of the second full meeting of the German Islam conference on May 2 with German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

"This spokesman is available for external contact, but can not make decisions without consultation," said Ozturk.

The spokesman would consult the other three leaders each time before pronouncing any joint stance.

Among the first critics of the new panel was Lale Akgun, a member of parliament and the Social Democratic Party's liaison person with Islam.

She told a weekly newspaper, Rheinischer Merkur, "I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if these four organizations were granted the power to define what Islam is in Germany.

"They jointly represent a very conservative Islam. There is no room among them for liberal views."

Omid Nouripour, a Greens deputy, told the same newspaper that Berlin's demand to be told "the telephone number for Islam" would prove "counter-productive."

Koehler rejected the attacks, saying, "We represent a majority of the mosque communities in Germany."

Bekir Alboga, Ditib liaison officer, said, "Whose interest is it in to make us look small?"

He said the new council catered to a plurality of views and was willing to accept new members, provided they accepted the German constitution and renounced violence.

The German Interior Ministry estimates that only 15 per cent of German Muslims are members of any Islamic group.

Among the 15 figures selected by the government last year to represent the broader community in the German Islam conference are several who are non-religious.

Working parties are set to report back to the government-sponsored conference on May 2.

Key issues include university training for imams, how to fund and supervise Islam classes for Muslim children attending German public schools and legal protection for such Islamic practices as halal butchery.

Political scientist Mounir Azzaoui, who is on one of the working parties and is affiliated with the German Council of Islam, said the talks so far had been constructive.

DPA

Subject: German news

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