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German court rules against school niqab ban

A court in Germany ruled Monday against an attempt by authorities in Hamburg to forbid a 16-year-old schoolgirl from wearing a niqab during lessons.

German court rules against school niqab ban
Archive photo shows a woman wearing a niqab during a demonstration in the Netherlands. Photo: DPA

The ruling, which cannot be appealed, has fuelled debate in Germany over whether schools should allow the niqab, a facial veil worn by Muslims which leaves only the wearer's eyes visible.

Hamburg education officials had ordered the girl's mother to ensure that her daughter did not wear the veil at school, a decision which an administrative court overturned on Monday.

State law does not currently permit the authorities to impose such a ban, the court said in a statement.

READ ALSO: Lower Saxony set to ban Islamic face veils in school

The teenager, who is studying retail sales, has “a right to unconditional protection of her freedom of belief” the statement added.

Hamburg's social-democratic education senator Ties Rabe immediately said that he would seek to change the state law.

“Only if students and teachers have a free and open face can school and lessons function,” he told local media.

German education laws are made at state level rather than by the federal government, but the case is part of a wider debate across the country.

High profile politicians in the conservative CDU, the economically liberal FDP and the far-right AfD have all voiced support for a niqab ban in the past, but others remain divided on the issue.

The state parliament in neighbouring Schleswig-Holstein failed to pass a ban on full-face veils in its universities and colleges on Monday, after the Green Party voted against it.

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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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