Muslim Group's First Mission Official Recognition of Islam in Germany?

A Muslim umbrella group formed in Germany last week aims to make Islam a "recognized" religion under federal law. That could mean Islamic instruction in public schools -- or even fundraising through the tax system.

The German-Islamic umbrella group launched last week  called the Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany (KRM) would like "a binding road map to put Islam on an equal footing" with Christian religions in Germany, said Aiman Mazyek, general secretary of the Central Council of Muslims, one of the groups represented in the new organization.

"Equal footing" could lead to Islamic instruction in German public schools, or even tithing of Muslims through the German tax office -- a feature of federal law that provides Christian churches in Germany an income stream. Germany's Jews have received federal funding since 2003.

Mazyek said he was looking forward to an Islamic conference in May with German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, where he hoped to hammer out a set of guidelines for official recognition of Islam "as quickly as possible."

The demand is far from uncontroversial, however. Some German politicians questioned whether the KRM can ever be on an equal footing with Germany's more established religions. Armin Laschet, a conservative Integration Minister in North Rhein-Westphalia, said the new umbrella group simply had too few members to speak for all German Muslims. "And there are no other negotiating partners," Laschet said.

Muslims aren't joiners, at least in Germany

KRM combines four Islamic organizations -- the Islamic Council, the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, the Central Council of Muslims, and the Association of Islamic Culture Centers -- but they represent, together, no more than a third of the estimated 3.3 million Muslims in Germany. (Some estimates put the number as low as one-tenth.) A spokesman for KRM, Ayyub Axel Köhler, says his group represents a full 85 percent of German "mosque associations," but a huge majority of Muslims in Germany aren't listed as members of any association.

This lack of organization may be KRM's stumbling block. To tithe Muslims through tax offices in Germany, the group would have to become a public corporation, which -- among other pre-requisites -- requires a membership process.

It might be easier to get Islamic instruction into German schools. Köhler has said the point of forming the group was to be "recognized under German law as a religious association." Simple federal recognition would be different from public corporation status, and it would force German states to offer classes for Islamic children to match the Christian courses already offered, "so that finally we can offer nationwide Islamic courses in school," as Mazyek put it.

That seems to be the group's first short-term goal. Schäuble, the Interior Minister, has said he wants to find ways for Muslims to "feel at home in this country." A spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry said the government will listen to KRM this May but wants a "rapid" solution to school integration problems, like the conspicuous absence of some Muslim girls from swimming or biology classes.


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