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Militant Islam Monitor > Articles > Muslim Classes For German Schools - "We are Germany"

Muslim Classes For German Schools - "We are Germany"

March 14, 2008


'Anyone Who Wants Integration Has to Provide Islam Instruction'

By Beate Lakotta


03/14/2008 12:28 PM

German-language Islam instruction for Muslim schoolchildren helps with integration and the development of language skills. Now the culture ministers of Germany's states want to introduce the subject for all students.

Lamya Kaddor was out sick for two weeks, but when she returned, the boys and girls in her class greeted the teacher as if she had been gone a year. "Ms. Kaddor, you're back!" Umut, Ebru, Sibel and Gülçin all shouted in unison. "Look, Ms. Kaddor, I was in the tanning booth and I have a sunburn on my nose," "Ms. Kaddor, please come here, Mario and Onur ..."

Kaddor, 29, could pass as the older sister of the girls who place their arms around her outside during break. Few teachers at the Glückauf Public School in the western German city of Dinslaken-Lohberg near Essen are so popular among students, even among boys going through puberty, with their baseball caps pulled deep down over their faces. "It's because she's one of us," a boy named Hüseyin explains proudly.

The local coal mine closed in Dinslaken-Lohberg two years ago, and those who could afford to moved away. The customers at the local supermarket are now almost all Turkish. The three mosques in the area are also well attended on weekdays. Many of the few Germans who live here came from Russia. Kaddor's parents once emigrated from Syria. "We landed in the ghetto," she says, "but my mother made sure that we got out of there."

Kaddor is married to a fellow teacher, a German who converted to Islam. She prays and fasts, just as her students do, and she speaks German, Arabic and Turkish. She also trains teachers in the teaching of Islamic religious studies at the University of Münster, the first program of its kind in Germany. Germany's integration officials dream of citizens like Kaddor.

At the Glückauf Public School, she teaches "Islamic Studies in the German Language," a subject that is still offered only at a handful of schools in Germany. But in these few places, it is already evident how beneficial the class is for immigrant children. It allows Muslim students to be experts for once, which helps to promote their self-confidence. Besides, discussing the afterlife or the purpose of alms in German helps the students practice their ability to express themselves.

A pilot study conducted in elementary schools in the northern state of Lower Saxony showed that there are fewer schoolyard fights between Arabs and Turks in schools where Islamic Studies is offered. At these schools the mothers, and sometimes even the fathers, of Muslim students have begun coming to parent-teacher conferences, bringing falafel to school events and working as chaperones on class trips.

For many Muslim parents in Lohberg, the new Religion teacher was a shock at first: a young woman who didn't wear a headscarf and was not of Turkish origin. Nevertheless, not a single child was taken out of the class, and Kaddor suspects she knows why. "Religion is often the only positive aspect of their own identity here," she says.

Women Are Entitled to Authority

This is why almost all students attend Koran school, where they are simply taught to recite Arab sounds, and are sometimes threatened with beatings. Kaddor compares this with the Latin liturgy. "Nobody understood it for centuries, either," she says. But now Islam instruction serves as supplement to the Koran school. Mustafa puts it this way: "We learn how to read the Koran at the mosque, but we learn everything else from her."

The first lesson is that women are entitled to authority. It is unlikely that Kaddor would allow herself to be subjugated by her husband. But most of all the children learn to ask questions, inconceivable in most Koran schools, questions like:

"Is nail polish forbidden in the Koran?"

"Do I have to wear a headscarf if my husband wants me to?"

"Is it true that infidels will go to hell?"

"What does the Koran say about honor?"

Kaddor also tries to make it clear that it is important to know something about the time in which the holy book was written, and that, as a modern Muslim, one can interpret things in the Koran differently today, such as the verse about infidels that reads: "Kill them wherever you find them." Kaddor explains that in this sentence, Allah is referring to the residents of a specific enemy village back in Muhammad's day. It was not a declaration of war against all non-Muslims, as preachers of hate would have their congregations believe.

'Is it the Duty of Every Muslim to Kill Jews?'

Sometimes even Kaddor reaches her own limits. When she and her students were discussing the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who had made a film that many Muslim consider to be blasphemous, some felt that it was okay that "the pig was stuck." Recently, a boy wanted to know whether it says in the Koran that it is the duty of every Muslim to kill Jews. "Good question," Kaddor replied, "but do you think Allah has nothing better to do than to stir up people against each other?"

Hans-Jakob Herpers, the principal of Kaddor's school, wants to know why no one thought of the subject earlier, especially since the first request for Islamic religious instruction dates from 1978. It probably has something to do with the fact that the Germans long believed that their country was not a land of immigration -- despite the fact that more than 3 million Muslims, with 800,000 school-age children, now live in the country.

But government officials prefer to blame the Muslims. They argue that although the people who immigrated to Germany brought their religions with them, their religious communities were not nearly as well organized as Catholic and Protestant congregations. Within the Muslim community, there are Shiites, Sunnis and Alevites, and they form local and regional organizations that often don't get along. Some are considered radical Islamist groups. But the vast majority of Muslims in Germany are not organized at all, because hierarchies are not traditionally part of Islam, which has no pope, no bishops and no synods.

A Dearth of Teachers

But if every imam can teach as he wishes in his Koran school, who should officials in the Education Ministry turn to to help develop lesson plans for religion classes, or even university curricula for teachers of religion?

But now there is movement on both sides. The Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany was formed in March 2007. And the education ministers of several German states are now announcing plans to expand Islam instruction to make it available to all students as a regular subject.

However, politicians involved with educational policy who no longer want to leave the field open to the mosques face a homemade problem: Where will the teachers come from, if only 2.3 percent of all Muslim high-school students finish school, and if the grades of these few high-school graduates aren't good enough to qualify for university admission?

Today there are only about 120 Islam teachers who teach in Germany, and 80 of them are in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia alone. Even there, eight times as many teachers are needed. And although a few dozen university students have already registered for Islamic religious studies programs in Münster, Erlangen and Osnabrück, it will take years before they graduate and are ready to teach.

Stop-Gap Measures

As an interim measure, Kaddor has developed a guideline for interacting with Muslim students. In the guideline she writes, for example, that from the Islamic perspective a girl can participate in swimming class -- wearing a full-body bathing suit, if necessary. She also writes that even strictly religious parents can be convinced to allow their children to go on class trips, as long as they are promised that the children will be able to pray and that they will not be forced to eat pork or drink alcohol. Of course, it doesn't hurt to reassure them that German parents are just as averse to sexual relations between boys and girls as Muslims.

In theory, teachers who have been giving "supplementary instruction in their native language" to immigrant children in German schools for decades could help out. But Turkey, for example, tends to send older men to Germany to provide this sort of instruction, men to whom their students' worlds are completely foreign and who usually speak no German. These teachers are also meant to provide some religious instruction, but more often than not they hand out maps of Turkey for the students to color, pull out the Turkish daily Hürriyet and spend the rest of the period reading the paper.

When Kaddor began teaching in Lohberg, some children believed that Muhammad was born in Istanbul and Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish nation, was a prophet.

Principal Herpers is now a convert to the new program: "Anyone who wants integration has to provide Islam instruction. We've ignored this for too long, but the Germans can't ..."

"I am German," says Kaddor.

"Yes, of course," says Herpers.

The teacher quickly organizes a stack of photocopies. Because a translation of the Koran suitable for schools doesn't exist, Kaddor simply went ahead and reorganized, translated and explained individual verses -- a rather revolutionary approach in the Islamic world. She hasn't had any trouble yet with the clerics at the mosques in Dinslaken. She hopes that this will not change when her Koran translation is published soon.

Today's discussion topic in her 10th-grade class is a difficult one: our understanding of God. According to Surah 112 of the Koran "He is the one God." " He begets not, nor is He begotten." The students look perplexed. What does beget mean, they wonder? "He can't have any children," Umut suggests. But why should God, especially God, not be able to do this? Lamya Kaddor reads her own translation out loud: "God had neither fathered children, nor was he fathered." The Surah, she says, alludes to Christians, who believe that God has a son who is also human.

"It's interesting, learning about other religions," says Gülçin, the only Shiite in the class. This has also been a topic of discussion, but in the end the students could not come up with a reasonable answer to the question of why Muslims elsewhere in the world are killing each other.

Another question that is currently on politicians' minds has long been resolved at the Glückauf School. "How would you feel if we did our Islam class in Turkish?" Kaddor once asked her students.

"No! German is incredibly important for us," Sibel said indignantly. "We have to learn to speak better, otherwise they won't take us later on, when we want to work." "I don't speak Turkish," said Sana, who is from Morocco. And then Hüseyin said: "Hey, guys, what's the deal? We are Germany!"

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


03/14/2008 02:18 PM


Germany's ongoing talks with its Muslim community continued on Thursday. In principal, everyone agreed to broaden Islam instruction in German schools. But deep divisions remain among the country's Muslims.

Germany weighs broadening Islam instruction in its schools. DDP

Germany weighs broadening Islam instruction in its schools.

It hasn't been easy. But on Thursday evening, after another session of the two-year-old Islam Conference led by German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, government representatives and Muslim leaders announced an agreement to work toward introducing Islam instruction in German schools. Furthermore, Schäuble expressed his support for the building of new mosques and the group likewise urged German states to change rules in order to allow Muslim burials.

"We have agreed that this should be the way forward," Schäuble told reporters after the conference. "We are moving ahead step by step."

Still, the parties to the conference were hesitant to play up the announcement due to the difficult negotiations and at times deep divisions that have characterized the ongoing conference. On the one hand, Schäuble's Christian Democrats have at times made their distaste for widespread immigration clear, with Roland Koch's recent re-election campaign in Hesse veering decidedly toward xenophobia. The recent fire in Ludwigshafen, in which nine people of Turkish background died, likewise increased tensions with Germany's immigrant community.

On the other, however, is a German Muslim community that has for years had difficulties uniting behind a single representative. Indeed, the weeks prior to Thursday's meeting were full of disagreement and recriminations as Germany's conservative Muslims fought it out with representatives of the secular Muslim community over the wording of a document declaring their allegiance to the German constitution.

And the divisions among Germany's Muslims may make it difficult to ultimately introduce Islam instruction, although a number of states already have Islam instruction in schools. In order to expand those offerings country-wide, Schäuble has emphasized the importance of having a Muslim representative in each state to which governments can turn. The Muslim Coordinating Council (KRM), which consists of four Muslim federations, hopes to be that voice -- but still only represents around 20 percent of Germany's Muslims.

More moderate Muslims accuse the KRM of espousing an extremely pious version of Islam. Necla Kelek, who represents a group of secular Muslims, was not shy about blasting the KRM on Thursday. "Social reality looks like this: already in kindergarten, little girls have to wear headscarves and we also have Shariah courts," Kelek said. She also accused KRM spokesman Bekir Alboga of hypocrisy, calling his voiced support of women's rights "hot air."

In short, there remains a lot to do before German schoolchildren have the option of taking classes in the Muslim religion. At present, schools offer instruction in Judaism, Catholicism and Protestantism, with non-religious children or those of other faiths having the option of attending ethics classes instead. Before Islam can be added, German politicians intimated that the Muslim groups have to increase their cooperation. Commenting on the tense nature of the Thursday summit and the accusations leveled by both Muslim camps against one another, Schäuble said such a tone was "anything but helpful."

German commentators on Friday turn their attention toward the Islam Conference.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung on Friday writes:

"One should be quite pleased with what is going on in Berlin: Germans and Turks are arguing with each other, as are Muslims and Christians, and conservative Muslims with secular Muslims. No longer is it ignored when someone claims that men and women have the same constitutional rights but nevertheless has a problem with Turkish girls attending swimming lessons."

"It is the Islam Conference brought into being by Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble that triggered this debate. It is a liberating argument -- one that finally confronts the problems that exist…. That's why the debate needs to contine."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung is skeptical of the Islam Conference on Friday:

"Despite disagreements among the Muslim participants in the Islam Conference, the paper writes, "it still makes sense for the dialogue to continue. Such a recognition of Islam as a self-evident part of German society is overdue. So is an agreement on how Muslim integration should look in everyday life."

"But one still should not expect binding, practical solutions from the conference. Not only will it take time to build trust after decades spent ignoring Germany's Muslims. But imposing Islam instruction in German schools will be difficult due to the fact that state governments are responsible for education. The conference will likewise be unable to provide a single point of contact within the Muslim community, one that the German state would so like to have. The conservative groups only represent a small portion of Muslims in Germany and the secular Muslims usually represent only themselves. It is unlikely that they will come together to speak with a single voice."

Center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Friday runs a guest commentary by Faruk Sen, the Director of the Center for Studies on Turkey in the western German city of Essen:

"Germany's shortcomings when it comes to integrating its immigrant population have a lot to do with the country's sense of self. The German identity has always been defined in ethnic-cultural terms. Indeed, that identity was anchored in Germany's citizenship laws until 2000 when the principle of place-of-birth was introduced. Germany's politics and population, however, remain markedly skeptical of the idea of a multi-cultural society in which people from a variety of backgrounds make themselves at home."

"Given the current debate over integration, German politicians should re-evaluate their concept of integrating immigrants and should introduce further legal anchors when it comes to their equal treatment. Such measures don't just advance integration by helping immigrants become part of society, but they also have strong symbolic effects by underlining immigrants' belonging in German society."

-- Charles Hawley; 12:15 p.m. CET


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