Spiegel: A Parallel Muslim Universe

Excerpts from an article in Spiegel: A Parallel Muslim Universe

Germany's Muslim population is becoming more religious and more conservative. Islamic associations are fostering the trend, particularly through their work with the young -- accelerating the drift towards a parallel Muslim society.

Surveys in the country have charted a significant increase in fundamentalist attitudes, particularly among younger Muslims. The experiences of Ekin Deligöz, a member of the German parliament representing the Green Party, underscore the potential dangers. Having called on Muslim women to remove their headscarves, Deligöz faced death threats and now receives police protection.

Disturbing as this trend may be, it cannot be pinned exclusively on Muslim groups. Under the guise of religious tolerance, German society stood blithely by as some parts of its Muslim communities began turning into parallel societies. For years, the country's courts have been excusing Muslim girls from coed swimming lessons and class outings - citing the most absurd reasons for their rulings.

In the following years, the German courts stuck to their guns. In another regional case, the judges had to decide whether a class excursion was mandatory for a Muslim girl. In their ruling of 2002, they parroted the language of a fatwa issued two years previously. The former chairman of the Islamic Religious Community in Hesse had stipulated that a Muslim woman not accompanied by a mahram, a male blood relative, must not stray more than 50 miles from her home - because this is the distance a caravan of camels can travel in 24 hours.

Camels are something of an anomaly on the German autobahn these days. Sympathetic judges nonetheless recommended sending the 15-year-old brother along as a mahram. Given her fear of losing her headscarf or violating other religious laws, the schoolgirl's condition, they argued, was comparable to that of a "partially mentally handicapped person." She therefore needed somebody to accompany her; otherwise, she should not be forced to take part in the trip, they reasoned.

University of Marburg professor and VIKZ expert Ursula Spuler-Stegemann is even more outspoken. The Islam expert was commissioned to review the association's institutions by the region's social services authority. "I failed to find a single home where there were no major misrepresentations," she concluded.

That is "definitely untrue," Sam retorts. While there might have been errors "now and then" - in clear contravention of instructions from the VIKZ executive - "there has certainly been no deception of the authorities or deliberate breaches of the law."

But in her 2004 report, Spuler-Stegemann presents detailed proof of her allegations. Despite assertions to the contrary, the homes were "almost exclusively devoted to Islamic teaching and practice of the faith," she wrote. They were "an unequivocal obstacle to integration." The pupils were "indoctrinated" into a "rigidly sharia-oriented" form of Islam and "immunized" against Christianity, the West and the German constitution. She described VIKZ as an elitist organization within Islam that made sure its pupils were trained to accept strict obedience and an even stricter segregation of the sexes.

VIKZ refutes these censures as "factually incorrect" and "biased." They represent a "blanket condemnation," says Sam, adding that his association had never been subject to surveillance by Germany's security agencies.

Yet the regional government was so alarmed by the concerns that it halted approvals of new VIKZ homes. "The VIKZ officials are full of promises but end up doing whatever they want," says Hanspeter Pohl, who is responsible for children's and adolescents' homes in Hesse's social services department. Religious instruction took place "on a much larger scale" than was admitted, and children were regularly woken up in the middle of the night for prayers, he said.

Criticisms that the VIKZ is keen to challenge: "Prayer is voluntary; no child is ever coerced to join in." A junior-high school teacher from North Rhine-Westphalia, whose school is in the catchment area of an unofficial VIKZ home, has been observing the situation for years. She witnessed how the pupils suddenly adopted "extremely anti-Semitic and anti-American attitudes." English was seen as the enemy's language. "Today, some of them refuse to speak it at all, even if it means failing their exams." They reject the theory of evolution in biology lessons, the age of the Earth as discussed in geography, and anything remotely satirical in their German classes, she said.

The teacher made a further observation. When the boys in the home "had been reciting the Koran until 11 o'clock at night, as they did regularly," they were so sleep-deprived the next day that they simply dozed off during class. Sam rejects these complaints as well: "That is alien to the VIKZ's work, and the very opposite of its teaching practices." In some VIKZ homes, he claims, you can "even find books by the Jewish satirist Ephraim Kishon."

Source: Spiegel (English)

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