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Islam on the way to legal equality with Christianity in Germany

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Islam on the way to legal equality with Christianity in Germany
Photo: DPA
12:03 CEST+02:00
Calls are growing in Germany for Islam to be granted the same legal status, rights and duties as other recognised religions, with the idea forming the main focus for this week's Islam Conference.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble of the conservative Christian Democratic Union has said this is his long-term aim, while the Greens this week urged the conference to take concrete steps in that direction.

But a number of formalities have to be fulfilled for the German constitution to recognise Islam as an official religious community, including the ability to provide teachers to give children education in state schools about their faith.

The Muslim communities in Germany are still a way away from this, Schäuble recently told the Tageszeitung.

He said the conference was, “a fair way along the road to reaching the point of being able to offer religion classes at schools to Islamic children. We have developed a more exact understanding together that one can only introduce religion classes in a partnership.”

He acknowledged the fact that the state governments have jurisdiction over education, and are far from accepting the idea of putting Islamic religion classes on an equal footing with Catholic and Evangelical classes.

But he said: “This process needs time. So, for example, existing associations such as the Islam Council, are religious associations, but not a religious community as far as the constitution is concerned. Religious instruction is needed for that.”

Schäuble perhaps unwittingly illustrated how far integration still had to go when he admitted forgetting to invite any Muslim representative to last month's celebration of the 60th anniversary of the German constitution.

“It's completely clear that the fact that there was no invitation, was a regrettable mistake. I asked my people directly afterwards… why we did not do it.”

When asked why an invitation had not been sent out, he said: “We did not think about it. Integration is a learning process – also in my department.”

The Greens party this week drew up a discussion paper which set out further conditions which any formalised religious community would be expected to fulfil. This included active campaigning for religious freedom of non-Muslims, as well as working for the rights of Muslim women, and against anti-Semitism and against homophobic violence.

Germany's Bishops' Conference has also spoken out in favour of the long-term legal equality of Islam. Its secretary Hans Langendörfer wrote in a piece for the Tageszeitung it was, “fundamentally desirable that the Muslim community be set on a legally equal level as the Christian Churches. Above all, the status of a ‘legal public corporation' is not a right exclusive to the churches.”

The Islam Conference meets on Thursday.

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