Germany plans historic conference with Muslims

21st September 2006, Comments 0 comments

21 September 2006, BERLIN - The German government is planning its first-ever conference with the country's Muslim minority next week, but the timing of the meeting has prompted questions even before the meeting starts about the government's cultural sensitivity. The initial two-hour meeting at midday Wednesday will take place in the first week of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. The government invitation says a light buffet lunch will end the meeting in a part of the Schloss Charlottenburg pal

21 September 2006

BERLIN - The German government is planning its first-ever conference with the country's Muslim minority next week, but the timing of the meeting has prompted questions even before the meeting starts about the government's cultural sensitivity.

The initial two-hour meeting at midday Wednesday will take place in the first week of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.

The government invitation says a light buffet lunch will end the meeting in a part of the Schloss Charlottenburg palace in Berlin.

While the Interior Ministry says it will be a private decision for each participant whether or not to eat with the German officials and invited journalists, some Muslims feel the invitation card treats them as second-rate guests.

A source at one of the national Muslim bodies said it would have been more inclusive and polite to write, "those who are not fasting are invited to lunch," and perhaps as well, "those who are fasting are invited to prayers."

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who is to chair the first meeting, has told media," I want to do something so that the Muslims recognize they are accepted as a part of Germany, a part of Europe."

Germany has only slowly come to terms with the fact that Islam is an established part of its society. Centre-right politicians say they have nothing against Islam, but the immigrants must learn German and accept German ways.

The historic conference provides a first opportunity for the Muslim community to voice its needs to the government.

However there has been criticism that the government has chosen not only its own delegation of 15, but also most of the 15 representatives who are to speak for the Muslim community.

Only five on the Muslim side of the table will represent "organized" Islam, having been appointed by Germany's fractured national mosque associations. The other 10 will be prominent people of Muslim heritage representing "non-organized Islam."

The women will include Seyran Ates, a Turkish-born lawyer who campaigns against head-scarves and wife-beating, and Necla Kelek, a sociologist and author who attacks Islam as inimical to women's interests.

The Interior Ministry insists that this line-up is representative, because only a minority of people of Muslim heritage are enrolled in mosque associations. It wanted to include "modern" and "secular" Muslims along with achievers in business and the arts.

German authorities estimate that 3.2 million to 3.5 million out of Germany's population of 82 million are of Muslim heritage, the bulk of them with Turkish roots. Others are of Arab or Balkan origin.

Axel Ayyub Koehler, who chairs one group, the National Council of Muslims, disagrees with Berlin: "The national associations are under- represented," he told the newspaper Handelsblatt.

"This is not a cross-section of the Muslims of Germany," said Ali Kizilkaya of another group, the Council of Islam.

The government regularly complains that Islam is too fragmented and lacks a national authority, although four main groups say they represent up to 1,800 of the estimated 2,200 mosques in Germany.

Consultations are expected to continue at six-monthly interviews for two to three years and end in a "pact".

The purpose of the talks is to improve the "integration" of Muslims into German society, according to the Interior Ministry position paper. Working parties are to consider the issues in detail.

The ministry stresses that these are not talks between Islam and Christendom, but an encounter between German secular authorities and a minority culture that has neither fully accepted German social values nor appointed national spokesmen as Christians and Jews do.

Muslims in Germany generally prefer to keep out of sight, but the clashes often emerge when Muslim children enrol at public schools

Conservative parents object to sex education that suggests pre- marital sex is normal, and to girls and boys attending swimming classes in the same pool or sharing dormitories during school excursions.

The position paper also suggests there be discussion about training imams at state expense in Germany and how the Muslim community can help to prevent a slide into radicalism or terrorism.

Schaeuble has told German media that militant groups such as the Turkish association Milli Gorus would be welcome, "if they accept that this Islam Conference is taking place under the aegis of the constitution and not the sharia."

By Jean-Baptiste Piggin, dpa

Copyright DPA with Expatica

Subject: German news, Muslims in Germany

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