Friday, 31 March 2017

GERMANY: ''Islamic Law'' Proposal Debate

There is a fierce debate within German government rather Germany should introduce an ''Islamic law'', as it is the case in neighboring Austria, or implement laws that curtailed mosques from foreign aids. There are more than 4 million Muslim in Germany and only 1 million of them are German citizens.

The proposed ''Islamic Law'' would include cutting off foreign aids to mosques, the registration of all mosques in the country, the training of imams, language test for all Islamic clerics and a compulsory use of German language in their teachings.

The proponents of the proposal argue that the introduction of ''Islamic Law'' in Germany would insure transparency into wider Muslim community practices, in a country whose imams come from abroad and financed from foreign sources. The opponents, however, claim that the country's constitution allows religion communities to organize and administer their own affairs. 

Both proponents and opponents of this proposed introduction of ''Islamic Law'' agree that the training of imams is paramount for clear understanding of German's democratic values and religious freedom. The training of imams would provide Muslim congregations with spiritual leaders who know both the language and the realities that German Muslims face in their everyday lives – knowledge that imams coming from abroad may not be able to provide in sufficient measure.

Compared to the status of other Muslim communities in Europe, Germany's constitution contains some very notable rights for Muslims within state institutions such as the army or prisons, e.g. the right to halal food and the right to spiritual guidance by imams. But Germany’s proposal of Islam Law is  nevertheless controversial, especially when it comes to cutting Muslim communities off from foreign payments and it is being criticized by the large Muslim organizations in Germany for promoting an air of suspicion towards Muslims. 

Germany's Muslim organizations  are already threatening to take the matter to the Supreme Court, to stop the proposal becomes law. The representatives of Muslim communities disapprove of being treated differently compared to other religious communities, the main problem being that the proposal would  ban financing from abroad, which means cutting money coming mainly from Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Germany's Muslim organizations’ criticism may be understandable to a certain extent. Being recognized as a historical part of the society makes it easier to negotiate and voice concerns and problems. The proposal and the ban of foreign financing are a way of acknowledging that Germany’s Muslims are exactly that: Germany’s Muslims and not Turkey’s or Bosnia-Herzegovina’s or Saudi Arabia’s. The spirit of this proposal operates on the rationale that they are there to stay, a historical and natural part of Germany.

Germany's Muslim community organizations point out what is missing and where the proposal falls short. The main criticism – Muslim communities will be banned from financing themselves with foreign money whereas the same rule does not apply, for instance, to Russian Orthodox communities – is valid to the extent that the proposal does not treat all religious communities the same. But it does not necessarily mean that the thought behind the proposed ban on foreign financing is false. Eventually, the solution could be to also extend the ban to all religious communities. 

The problem of foreign financing for Muslim communities may also be a different one than for Russian Orthodox ones. Russian Orthodox Christianity is already fully acknowledged and integrated into all Western societies as it is part of the faith that is supposedly common to all European societies, namely Christianity. Islam has not arrived at this point yet.

If the proposal becomes law, ( I don't see that happening very soon), Germany's Muslims will have to make a choice. It is in their own interest to cut off foreign payments that are hindering both their own integration and acceptance by the larger non-Muslim German society. They can be Erdogan’s plaything in his fights with Europe, perceived as Turkish and incapable or unwilling of being integrated. Or they can emancipate themselves from this patron that can do little for them as he is not the prime minister of the country they actually live in, and pledge belonging to their actual home, Germany. This is where their lives and futures lie.

The wave of proposal of the introduction of Islamic law or Islamic law in some European countries stands as a unique reminder in Western European societies: Islam and Muslims have been part of the continent for over one hundred years. The definition of the continent’s identity as predominantly Christian may be correct, but it is incomplete. Through their geographical vicinity and also through various wars with the Ottoman Empire, Islam and Muslim communities have been part of European societies for centuries. 

European Union members such as Bulgaria or future candidates such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, both countries with large Muslim or Turkish communities, remind us that the continent has always been much more diverse than we like to tell ourselves. The sooner we start acknowledging this, the sooner we can create more inclusive societies and develop a new, more complex and historically maybe more accurate European identity.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst/Author

Photo-Credit: AFP-Getty Images photo