Thou shalt not shop

Jost Müller-Neuhof from Der Tagesspiegel wonders how Germans can criticise Switzerland’s vote to ban minarets on mosques as an attack on religious freedom yet they blithely accept being told by Christian churches whether they can shop on Sundays or not.

Thou shalt not shop
What would Jesus buy? Photo: DPA

It was just another Tuesday, but Germany’s Christian churches had a reason to let their bells toll this week. In the name of religious freedom, they won a major victory at the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe against the heathen city of Berlin.

It had to be Berlin – a godless place that has ditched compulsory religion classes for schoolchildren and would like to prohibit prayer in school buildings. But the churches now have it from the highest judicial authority in the country – Berlin’s secular push has gone too far. Advent Sundays in the run-up to Christmas are holy and shops must remain closed. If there are to be any exceptions, then only to prove the rule that stores in Germany do not open on the seventh day of the week.

Department store clerks, trade unionists, church-goers and anyone with a family might welcome the ruling, but it’s annoyingly provincial to many retailers, stressed-out shoppers, non-Christians and plenty of average people with or without families. At the end of the day, it’s probably a compromise that everyone can live with. Crowded Saturday shopping during the holiday season will just have to do, as it did in the past.

Although the ruling’s rather miniscule effect on Berlin’s economy and familial bliss deserves little attention, one aspect should raise plenty of concern: How is it that Switzerland’s recent prohibition on minarets can be seen as an affront to religious freedom, but in Germany we allow churches rather than a democratically elected government tell us what to do with our Sundays? What happened to the religious freedom of those citizens who don’t believe in the Christian ideal of the Sabbath and would rather go to the shops than church?

The place to go for answers from now on is Karlsruhe, home to the Constitutional Court. No-one should underestimate the legal gymnastics required to reach this decision. According to the constitution, Sunday is a day to rest and rejuvenate the soul. There’s not a single word about God or Christmas or even the birth of Jesus. And no wonder – Sunday was never holy to the German constitution, which is why no-one could claim it was in the name of religion.

But that’s all changed now. The Constitutional Court’s decision refers directly to the Christian roots of resting on Sundays, constructing a legal precedent for the churches. If politicians from one of Germany’s 16 federal states want to re-think their retail shopping hours, it might now be a good idea to stop by the local bishop’s place to see if they have his blessing first. But how do you reconcile that with the right to a neutral, secular government? This is the real reason three Constitutional Court judges rejected the ruling. Had it been just one more, Berliners could have kept their Sunday shopping during Advent.

The topic of store opening hours might be banal, but the court ruling fundamentally changes the state’s relationship between religion and law. This happens to cut to the core of the endless debate about integration of Muslims in Europe.

Germany’s top justices have suddenly made the country’s constitution rather pious. But considering it’s not only Christian citizens that have a right to religious freedom, this should be the only time they are given preferential treatment.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

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Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday

The mayor of Cologne has announced a two-year pilot project that will allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer on the Muslim day of rest each week.

Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday
The DITIP mosque in Cologne. Photo: dpa | Henning Kaiser

Mosques in the city of the banks of the Rhine will be allowed to call worshippers to prayer on Fridays for five minutes between midday and 3pm.

“Many residents of Cologne are Muslims. In my view it is a mark of respect to allow the muezzin’s call,” city mayor Henriette Reker wrote on Twitter.

In Muslim-majority countries, a muezzin calls worshippers to prayer five times a day to remind people that one of the daily prayers is about to take place.

Traditionally the muezzins would call out from the minaret of the mosque but these days the call is generally broadcast over loudspeakers.

Cologne’s pilot project would permit such broadcasts to coincide with the main weekly prayer, which takes place on a Friday afternoon.

Reker pointed out that Christian calls to prayer were already a central feature of a city famous for its medieval cathedral.

“Whoever arrives at Cologne central station is welcomed by the cathedral and the sound of its church bells,” she said.

Reker said that the call of a muezzin filling the skies alongside church bells “shows that diversity is both appreciated and enacted in Cologne”.

Mosques that are interested in taking part will have to conform to guidelines on sound volume that are set depending on where the building is situated. Local residents will also be informed beforehand.

The pilot project has come in for criticism from some quarters.

Bild journalist Daniel Kremer said that several of the mosques in Cologne were financed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “a man who opposes the liberal values of our democracy”, he said.

Kremer added that “it’s wrong to equate church bells with the call to prayer. The bells are a signal without words that also helps tell the time. But the muezzin calls out ‘Allah is great!’ and ‘I testify that there is no God but Allah.’ That is a big difference.”

Cologne is not the first city in North Rhine-Westphalia to allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer.

In a region with a large Turkish immigrant community, mosques in Gelsenkirchen and Düren have been broadcasting the religious call since as long ago as the 1990s.

SEE ALSO: Imams ‘made in Germany’: country’s first Islamic training college opens its doors