Hamburg moves toward official recognition of Islam

Hamburg port, September 29, 2000/Fabrizio Bensch

Hamburg may soon become the first German state officially to recognize Islam as a religious community and give its Muslims the same legal rights as Christians and Jews in dealing with the local administration.

Four years of quiet negotiations about building mosques, opening Muslim cemeteries and teaching Islam in public schools are nearing an end just when Germany is embroiled in a noisy debate about Islam and the integration of Muslim immigrants.

The deal seems set to go through, but the national debate on Islam and local political changes could make its approval more difficult than expected, politicians and Muslim leaders said.

Germany has an estimated 4 million Muslims, most of them of Turkish origin, in its 82 million population. Long treated as migrant workers due eventually to return to their countries of origin, they have become an established minority that wants equal rights.

Photo: Central Mosque in Hamburg, 8 Oct 2010/Christian Charisius

The agreement in Germany’s second-largest metropolis, a city-state in the country’s federal system, would set out their rights and also their duties, such as consulting neighborhood residents before building mosques or erecting minarets.
Mr. Altug said many rights were already allowed under various German laws, or granted as local exceptions. “This agreement should bring all this together in a single text,” he said.

Equal status with Christians and Jews could be more controversial when the agreement comes up for discussion in the local assembly for Hamburg, a traditionally Lutheran city where Muslims make up about 5 per cent of the 1.7 million population.

President Christian Wulff set off a heated debate by saying in his Oct. 3 German Unity Day address that the country had Christian and Jewish roots but the presence of a large Muslim minority meant that Islam too now “belongs to Germany.”

A Muslim woman wearing a headscarf walks past a Turkish religious organization called the "Turkish-Islamic Union Institute for Religion" in Berlin's immigrant-heavy district of Kreuzberg on Sept. 21, 2010

Conservative leaders argued Germany had a “Judeo-Christian heritage” that Islam did not share and demanded Muslims do more to integrate into German society.A leading lay Roman Catholic leader said Muslims could not be partners for an agreement with the state because Islam did not have a hierarchy and structure like established churches.

“Of course Muslims have the right to live out their religion and the state must guarantee their religious freedom,” Alois Glueck, head of the Central Committee of German Catholics, told Deutschland radio. “But there is no organized church or authority in Islam … that could be a partner.”



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