Source: NY Times
Religion in Germany is not a private affair. Government at all levels recognizes religious communities as public institutions, and encourages participation in them — Germans who register with the state as Roman Catholics, Protestants or Jews pay a “religion tax,” which the government then sends to their respective institution. Religious groups are also allowed to give faith-based instruction in public schools: It’s not uncommon for a small-town pastor, priest or lay person to have a spot on the local high school faculty.
To enjoy this privileged status, religious communities must have a defined set of beliefs, their members must be recorded, and they must have historical and social significance. The Catholic, Protestant and Jewish religious communities are organized as public institutions; in the state of Berlin, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormon Church are as well.
It might seem as if Islam, with 4.3 million adherents in Germany, would have qualified easily. But so far, the German government has resisted including it.
The reason is both simple and complex: Muslim communities are separated along ethnic lines as well as along denominational lines among Sunnis, Shiites and Alawites. Often there is little unity among these groups, hence they fail the most important state criterion: a unified religious body with shared goals and doctrines.
These requirements for a religion to get a privileged status in Germany highlight the anachronistic state of the secular federal republic in its approach to faith. The idea that the state can cooperate with religious groups in the same way it cooperates with, say, labor unions presumes a certain unity and hierarchy on the part of those groups. But Islam doesn’t work that way. It simply doesn’t fit within criteria written for the structured Christian churches that have shaped Europe, with bishops and baptismal registers.