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Lower Saxony set to ban Islamic face veils in schools

The case of a Muslim pupil refusing to remove her niqab triggered debate in Lower Saxony. Now a new law may mean that full-face Islamic veils will no longer be allowed in state schools.

Lower Saxony set to ban Islamic face veils in schools
Fully-veiled Muslim women in Hesse. Photo: DPA.

The state of Lower Saxony is expected to announce a ban on face veils such as burqas and niqabs in schools in August, following a unanimous decision by the state parliament on Thursday to amend current education policies, reports the Branschweiger Zeitung.

A niqab covers the whole body except for a slit for the eyes, whereas a burqa fully covers the body including the eyes.

The state's school board also plans on publishing regulations for the practical handling of the ban.

Some parent and and school group representatives at a state parliament meeting rejected the ban, including Birhat Kaçar, chair of Lower Saxony's pupils' council, who said the policy would not solve the problems that come with dealing with fully-veiled pupils. Kaçar argued that issues involving religious attire should be dealt with by the schools themselves.

The chair of Lower Saxony’s parents’ council, Mike Finke, also said such matters should be the responsibility of schools to decide.

But the Association of Lower Saxony Teachers supported the ban, with the group's chair, Manfred Busch, arguing that schools need clarity in cases of conflict, as well as legal certainty. At the same time, Busch also noted that schools also need a certain margin of discretion to make decisions.

The Federation of Turkish Parent Groups in Lower Saxony also supported the ban, with chair Seyhan Öztürk saying that full-body veils hinder students' ability to fully participate during lessons.

Over the past year, Lower Saxony has heatedly debated several cases of female students wanting to wear face veils to classes. One case that attracted particular attention was that of a girl in Belm near Osnabrück who had been attending classes for years in a niqab, writes the Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung.

SEE ALSO: Muslim teen banned from wearing face veil in school

When and where Muslim women are allowed to wear religious clothing is continuously debated across Germany and differs in other states.

Bavaria, for example, passed a law implemented this month banning burqas and niqabs in many public places, including kindergartens, universities, and polling centres.

In April, German lawmakers approved a partial ban on the burqa for officers and soldiers following several jihadist attacks.

Article 4 of Germany's constitutional law or Grundgesetz states that religious freedom is a fundamental right.

“Freedom of faith and of conscience, and freedom to profess a religious or philosophical creed, shall be inviolable,” it states.

READ ALSO: When Muslim women are allowed to wear headscarves in Germany, and when not

ISLAM

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

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