The third official Islam Conference in Berlin managed to forge a consensus on the issue of adding Islam to the school curriculum after four hours of often heated debate.
“In the not too far future, we will – where there’s wish and need for it – have Islamic religion classes at German schools,” German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble told journalists.
The government initiated the conference on Thursday and its two previous meetings in the hope of easing tensions with Germany’s 3.4 million Muslims and promoting their integration into German society.
At present the content of lessons about religion is worked out by schools in coordination with Christian and Jewish religious officials. Bekir Alboga, head of a German Muslim council, said ahead of the conference on Thursday that children should be taught about Islam throughout the country and criticized the lack of teachers qualified to do so.
“This is a failure in Germany – a failure of the state,” Alboga told the regional Ruhr Nachrichten daily newspaper.
The majority of Germany’s Muslims are Turks, who were either born or have lived in the country for decades yet still do not feel particularly welcome. One conference participant, Nihat Sorgec, said nearly half of all Turks in Germany don’t consider it their own country.
But Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday urged Germany’s large Turkish community to maintain allegiance to Turkey as well as Germany, reopening a bitter debate with the German government over integrating immigrants.
“In fact they should be loyal to both,” Erdogan told Germany’s conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung when asked whether the 800,000 German citizens of Turkish origin should be loyal to Germany or Turkey.
Erdogan sparked a firestorm last month for a speech he gave in the western German city of Cologne before thousands of Turks in which he called assimilation a “crime against humanity” and urged them to safeguard their own culture. German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted furiously, saying that the millions of people in the country of Turkish origin owed their primary loyalty to the German state.
Erdogan defended the remarks in the interview, saying immigrants should not face pressure to sacrifice their cultural roots while they accept the language and customs of the country they call home.
“Let them practise their religion, learn their language and practise their customs,” he said, adding that Turks living in Germany must become fluent in German.
Erdogan said in the newspaper interview that Merkel had missed an opportunity by not attending the Cologne event with him.
“If we had stood together on the stage it would have sent a message to German society and inspired Turks living in Germany,” he said. “We can do that anytime Mrs Merkel wants to.”