German Justice Failures Paving the Way for a Muslim Parallel Society
Part 5: The Camel Fatwa and other Letters from Absurdistan
This was an attitude that still prevailed in the minds of German judges one year after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
At the time, the higher administrative court in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia ruled that a female Muslim student in the 10th grade should be permitted not to take part in a school trip. The family had argued that Islam prohibits allowing girls to go on such trips without being accompanied by a male family member. The family also insisted that the girl was constantly worried about losing her headscarf. The judges found that such fears were "comparable with the situation of a partially mentally impaired person who, because of her disability, can only travel with a companion." This assessment was devastating because it accepted the rules of a camel drivers' society in the modern age -- literally, because a few years earlier, an Islamic legal opinion dubbed the "camel fatwa" had been added to the professional literature.
Amir Zaidan, the then chairman of the Islamic Religious Community in the state of Hesse, wrote the opinion. He argued that a Muslim woman could travel no more than 81 kilometers (50 miles) from the home of her husband or parents without being accompanied by a male blood relative. The opinion came to be known as the "camel fatwa," because this was the distance a camel caravan could travel within 24 hours in the days of the Prophet Mohammed.
Zaidan even defended this position at a 2001 conference of Germany's protestant churches in Frankfurt. His argument was that a woman who traveled farther would run the risk of being raped. Apparently one could spout such nonsense to the good church people who had gathered in Frankfurt without running the risk of being run off the premises for committing rape against religious freedom.
A bonus for polygamists
In another letter from Absurdistan, the Federal Ministry for Social Affairs issued the following announcement to German health insurance agencies in the summer of 2004: "Polygamous marriages must be recognized if they are legal under the laws of the native country of the individuals in question."
What the policy statement boiled down to was this: In certain cases Muslim men from countries where polygamy is legal -- like Morocco, Algeria and Saudi Arabia -- could add a second wife to their government health insurance policies without having to pay an additional premium.
Such excesses are rare today. Judges are increasingly accepting the responsibility that legal expert and Islam scholar Mathias Rohe demands of them: to use the law "to signal to a society what is allowed and what is not."
For example, in 2005 a Düsseldorf judge ordered that a Muslim boy could be required to attend school swimming sessions together with girls. In his grounds, the judge argued that in Germany Muslims are "confronted with more liberal values, which they must be able to handle. The same applies to required swimming instruction."
But this change of heart within the judiciary has not brought about fundamental social change. On the contrary, the genie that the courts once let out of the bottle continues to shape social reality. "More and more girls are not taking part in swimming instruction or are not going on class trips," says Christa Stolle of Terre des Femmes, a women's rights group. "Or they are simply taken out of school." The wearing of headscarves has also increased tremendously, says Stolle, who is convinced that "it's getting more difficult for girls."
- Part 1: Paving the Way for a Muslim Parallel Society
- Part 2: Does Germany already Have Sharia Law?
- Part 3: Violating the Principles of Equal Treatment
- Part 4: Giving the Muezzin Free Reign
- Part 5: The Camel Fatwa and other Letters from Absurdistan
- Part 6: "Integration Has Failed Here"
- Part 7: Forced Marriages and Servility
- Part 8: Europe at a Crossroads