Berlin agrees to Islamic teaching

GERMANY: In terms of RE, Muslims are now on a par with Christians, but Turkish parents are worried. Yojana Sharma reports.

Islam is to be an option in religious education in Berlin schools, following a landmark high-court decision.

It is the first time that a German Muslim organisation - the Islamic Federation - has been given equal recognition with the Protestant and Catholic Churches.

The decision ends a legal battle that has raged since the early 1980s to allow Islam to be taught alongside Protestant, Catholic and "secular" studies. More than 32,000 or 7.5 per cent of Berlin pupils are of Turkish Muslim extraction, and the city is also home to Muslims from the former Yugoslavia.

However, some Turkish parents worry that the court decision may give the green light tofundamentalist teaching. They fear that "their children will be forced to fast and pray five times a day," said Kazim Aydim, the chairman of the Turkish Parents Union.

The union says only a fifth of Turkish children would be interested in the lessons. The liberal Alavite Muslims, who make up about a third of Turkish Muslims in Berlin, are unlikely to attend lessons run by the Sunni-dominated Islamic Federation, which is linked to Turkey's fundamentalist Welfare party.

The court's decision is likely to fuel calls for religious studies to be made genuinely compulsory nationwide.

Religion is nominally compulsory in German schools except in Berlin, Brandenburg and Bremen. In practice, however, many pupils choose a humanist ethics option or remain in the class, but opt out of the lesson.

In Berlin, Brandenburg and Bremen, the Churches provide their own teachers and dictate the content of the RE lessons without interference from the state.

The Berlin state education authority provides subsidies of around Pounds 25 million a year to the churches and the Humanist Association, which teaches secular studies. The Islamic Federation will now qualify for similar subsidies and says it has up to 40 teachers of Islam. Several schools in the district of Kreuzberg, where Turks are a majority, have been identified for a pilot project, although no start date has been fixed.

Paradoxically, the Churches have backed Islamic teaching. "Islamic religious education should not be relegated to the back streets," said Reinhard Stawinski, a spokesman for the Evangelical Church.

In Catholic Bavaria, the Turkish government is responsible for the content of Islamic teaching and provides teachers, although most Turks opt for "ethics" rather than religion. Elsewhere in Germany, Islam has only been offered as part of the Turkish studies curriculum, and is taught by non-religious teachers.

The Islamic Federation'steachers will be vetted by the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

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