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.
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.