Germany: Muslims seek clarity on religious law

Germany: Muslims seek clarity on religious law

Imams have a strong influence on Muslims living in Germany. One of their tasks is the issuing of fatwas -- religious opinions on Islamic law which can serve as behavioral guidelines for Muslims in specific situations.

For years now, the teachings of imams in Germany have been hotly debated.


The vast majority (90 percent) are of Turkish origin, but there are also imams from Morocco and Iran. Frequently, imams speak little or no German, nor are they acquainted with the political, social and cultural norms in Germany. Many politicians -- as well as many Muslims living in Germany -- are now demanding that this situation change.


Ferid Heider grew up in Berlin and serves as imam at two of the city's mosques. "Every Muslim can decide for himself who he recognizes as an authority figure," Heider said.


As a Muslim and an imam, Heider is under no obligation to follow the fatwas issued, for example, at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo -- one of the most significant educational institutes in the Islamic world -- or any other scholarly community for that matter.

His task, he said, is to do the best he can according to knowledge and his conscience. For him, that means taking the German way of life into account when offering opinions and advice. A fatwa, he stressed, should always refer to a specific case and set of circumstances.


Challenges of life in Germany


Heider said he's often asked by those in his religious community about which behaviors should be permitted or forbidden for Muslims. Everyday life in Germany is not without conflict for Muslims. Prayer times and working hours often don't mesh, nudity -- whether in parks, gyms or the media -- is pervasive, and alcohol is freely available.


The imam listens to people's problems, and then refers to the Koran and examples from the life of the prophet Mohammed. Based on these sources, he then issues an Islamic legal opinion.


For fatwas issued in Europe, Heider said it's important to have "Islamic scholars in Europe that have either grown up here or have lived here for a long time." In his view, only those who are intimately acquainted with the political, social and economic situation of a place can issue adequate fatwas.


Fatwas issued in Germany often vary greatly from those issued in countries with a majority Muslim population. That's in part due to the nature of a fatwa, says Bettina Graef, an Islamic scholar at Berlin's Center for Modern Oriental Studies (ZMO). A fatwa may be a ruling in an individual case, but its significance is often much larger.


"Everything that's not forbidden is, in principle, allowed," said Graef. "And so of course people try to push the boundaries."


Fatwas are of central importance to the Islamic identity, says Graef -- an identity that has become particularly important in Europe and the US since the 1990s.


Source: DW World (English)

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