Source: Christian Science Monitor
Germany is beginning to grant Muslims the sort of entitlements given to Christians and Jews, including having their religion taught in schools and universities – something that could be key for fighting radical Islam.
FRANKFURT — A half hour away from the shimmering banks of the Main river, Timur Kumlu has just read 20-odd second-graders a chapter from the Quran, about Abraham looking for Allah, but finding him neither in the sun, the wind, nor the moon.
Who is Abraham? One boy with piercing dark eyes jumps in. “He trusted Allah!”
Good, and who is Allah? “God,” answers a pale-faced Albanian boy. Almost half the pupils at the Henri Dunant school are Muslim, their parents coming from as far as Afghanistan and Iraq, Syria and Albania, Turkey and Morocco.
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Mr. Kumlu nods. Allah, he says, is also the god of the Jews and Christians. “All of us have common roots,” he says. “Jews, Christians, Muslims.”
Germany, like the rest of Europe, tries to engage with its growing Muslim community and weed out Islamic radicalism, but it is doing it in a unique way. In a country where religious groups and the state have always shared deep symbiotic relationships, the government in recent years has taken drastic steps to put Islam on the same legal footing as Christianity and Judaism. And that’s not just a matter of legal abstraction, but of real, material change: the faith is being incorporated into public school lesson plans and university disciplines. Revolutionary as it sounds, the approach is extending constitutional rights and protections, hitherto granted to mainstream Judeo-Christian religions only, to Islam.
“Most of the kids here live in two cultures and they don’t know where they belong,” says Kumlu, who has been going through new, state-certified training to teach Islam. “By giving kids a basis on their religion, we can help them not to fall prey to radical discourse.”
Constitutional protections for Islam
In many countries, bringing God into the classroom is taboo. England has a state church. France sees religion as a threat to the republic’s sacrosanct laïcité, and keeps it out of public institutions.
But the German state sees religions as partners to help citizens – and democracy – remain stable, and it supports religious groups in myriad ways, notably by levying a church tax on behalf of its most established denominations.
“There is an openness toward religions, not only religions as having their own merits, but as contributing to the well-being of society,” says Mathias Rohe, head of the Center for Islam and the Law in Europe at the University of Erlangen. It was in response to the abuses of the Third Reich that legal experts anchored religious instruction into Germany’s constitutional Basic Law.
Owing to labor migration in the 1960s and several waves of political refugees since the 1970s, Islam has become a visible religion in Germany. According to a national census conducted in 2011, 1.9% of Germany’s population (around 1.5m people) declared themselves as Muslim. However, this is likely to underestimate the true number, given that many respondents may have exercised their right not to state their religion. An estimate made in 2009 calculated that there are 4.3 million Muslims in Germany (5.4% of the population). Of these, 1.9 million are German citizens (2.4%). As of 2006, about 15,000 converts are of German ancestry. According to the German statistical office 9.1% of all newborns in Germany had Muslim parents in 2005.