December 28, 2009
French Mosque’s Symbolism Varies With Beholder
By STEVEN ERLANGER
MARSEILLE, France — The minaret of the new Grand Mosque of Marseille, whose cornerstone will be laid here in April, will be silent — no muezzin, live or recorded, will disturb the neighborhood with the call to prayer. Instead, the minaret will flash a beam of light for a couple of minutes, five times a day.
Normally, the light would be green, for the color of Islam. But Marseille is a port, and green is reserved for signals to ships at sea. Red? No, the firefighters have reserved red.
Instead, said Noureddine Cheikh, the head of the Marseille Mosque Association, the light will almost surely be purple — a rather nightclubby look for such an elegant building.
So is this assimilation? Mr. Cheikh laughs. “I suppose it is,” he said. “It’s a good symbol of assimilation.”
But as Western Europe is plunged into a new bout of anxiety over the impact of post-colonial Muslim immigration — reeling in varying ways from the implications of a recent Swiss vote to ban minarets altogether — some scholars see a destructive dynamic, with assimilation feeding a reaction that, in turn, spawns resentment, particularly among young Muslims.
Vincent Geisser, a scholar of Islam and immigration at the French National Center for Scientific Research, believes that the more Europe’s Muslims establish themselves as a permanent part of the national scene, the more they frighten some who believe that their national identity could be altered forever.
“Today in Europe the fear of Islam crystallizes all other fears,” Mr. Geisser said. “In Switzerland, it’s minarets. In France, it’s the veil, the burqa and the beard.”
The large new mosque, which its builders call “the symbol of Marseillais Islam,” is a source of pride here in France’s second-largest city, which is at least 25 percent Muslim. But it is also cause for alarm, Mr. Geisser said, embodying the paradox that visible signs of integration set off xenophobic anxiety. “All these symbols reveal a deeper, more lasting presence of Islam,” he said. “It’s the passage of something temporary to something that is implanted and takes root.”
The change has been significant over the last five years, Mr. Geisser said. “Now we’re at a crossroads,” he said, of a complicated European anxiety that stems from economic crisis; the fear of globalization; the perceived increase in immigration as European birthrates fall; and the subsuming of national states into an enlarged Europe.
“There is an angst over identity in Europe,” he said. “There’s a feeling that Europe is becoming smaller and less important. Europe is like an old lady, who whenever she hears a noise thinks it’s a burglary.” This generalized anxiety and fear is translated into a specific one, he argues: Islam, “a box in which everyone expresses their fears.”
The European Union is believed to have more than 15 million Muslims and perhaps as many as 20 million. France has five million to six million Muslims, the most in Western Europe.
In general, relations between Muslims and other Europeans have been good. But the terrorism associated with attacks in France in 1995 and 2001 in the United States has resonated through the years, reinforced by the Madrid train bombings in 2004; the killing that year of the Dutch film director Theo van Gogh, a critic of conservative Muslims; the London bombings of 2005; and the controversy over Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published the same year.
In 2004, France banned the head scarf (and other signs of religious affiliation) in public schools. It is now debating a ban on the burqa, by which the government seems to mean any full facial covering, including the niqab, which shows the eyes. That controversial measure is caught up in a government-sponsored debate over national identity, led by the ministry that also handles immigration.
Both measures have been widely criticized as political maneuvers by President Nicolas Sarkozy, capitalizing on social fears to unite the center-right and co-opt the far-right National Front before regional elections in March. He has tried to play down the religious element in the debate, but he has also urged Muslims to show “humble discretion” and avoid “ostentation and provocation”; a junior minister, Nadine Morano, said young Muslims should dress better, find jobs and stop using slang and wearing baseball caps backward.
The far-right and anti-immigrant parties did comparatively well in last June’s European elections, which had a low turnout. For the first time, Britain’s far-right party won two seats, and the Dutch Freedom Party secured 17 percent of the vote.
This year, the Danes and the Swiss have brought a new focus to mosques and minarets. Plans for Copenhagen’s first two large mosques have met with strong opposition from the right. The Swiss vote brought widespread condemnation of fear-mongering and racism, including from Switzerland’s own government.
Youcef Mammeri, a writer on Islam in France and member of the Joint Council of Muslims of Marseille, says that the debates over minarets, burqas and national identity have angered many French-born Muslims and brought them together in a defensive circle.
Asked about the source of “this anxiety about Islam,” Mr. Mammeri said: “I ask myself this same question.” He finds “a perverse aspect to all these questions asked Muslims, which are not coherent,” he said, but “liberate and dignify existing racism” and “stigmatize Muslims.”
Racism in France has moved from being anti-Arab to anti-Muslim, he said, “a terrible regression.”
If 10 years ago Muslims debated politics and assimilation, “today everyone agrees and reacts the same way,” Mr. Mammeri said. “They feel they are attacked. Today we realize being a secular Muslim or a moderate or a radical Muslim is not the right question. It’s about being Muslim.”
When he travels abroad, to New York, Barcelona or Algiers, Mr. Mammeri said, “I’m French; I feel French. But in France, in Marseille every day, you have these same questions, repeated stupidly: what about the burqa, the mosque, terrorism.”
An 11-city study of Islam in Europe by the Open Society Institute, published this month, found that 55 percent of Muslims believe that religious discrimination has increased in the last five years. Muslims are nearly three times as likely to be unemployed as non-Muslims and live more poorly, the study said, but it also found that most Muslims feel a strong connection to their current homelands and want to live in mixed communities.
In Marseille, the study found, 55 percent of Muslims and 68 percent of non-Muslims have a fairly or very strong sense of belonging to their city.
Still, the planned mosque, costing about $33 million, is not welcomed by everyone. Local politicians of the far-right Regional Front have vainly filed lawsuits trying to block construction of what they consider an effort to create an alternative landmark to compete with the city’s cathedrals.
At the Grand Bar Bernabo, a gritty cafe near the site of the new mosque, an older man who refused to give his name said, with a thin smile, “I’m going to bomb it when it opens.” Asked why, he said: “There are a lot of them already, and this will bring more of them, and there will be trouble.”
Jean-Claude, 49, a sanitation worker, said: “People in the area are flipping out, but when it’s done, it’s done. You can say whatever you want, but they’re going to build it.” He only hoped that the minaret — limited to just over 80 feet by local zoning laws — would not be taller than a nearby bell tower.
Gabrielle Martelli said Marseille had a good reputation for tolerance, “but things have been tense here for a long time.”
“There’s a lot of racism here” that goes both ways, she insisted. “When you’ve been insulted and called a ‘sale Française’ ” — a filthy Frenchwoman — “you think: ‘Wait, this is my country.’ ”
'Atheistic' Europe allowed rise of Islam: cardinal
Herald News Services
January 7, 2010
Europeans are allowing Islam to "conquer" the continent, a leading Roman Catholic cardinal has said.
Miloslav Vlk, the Archbishop of Prague, said Muslims were well placed to fill the spiritual void "created as Europeans systematically empty the Christian content of their lives."
He said: "Europe will pay dearly for having left its spiritual foundations."
This was the last chance to do something about it, and the opportunity would not last for decades, he added.
"The Muslims definitely have many reasons to be heading here. They also have a religious one -- to bring the spiritual values of faith in God to the pagan environment of Europe, to its atheistic style of life.
"Unless the Christians wake up, life may be Islamized and Christianity will not have the strength to imprint its character on the life of people, not to say society."
The 77-year-old cardinal made his remarks in an interview to mark his retirement after 19 years as leader of the Czech church.
He did not blame Muslims for the crisis, he said, because Europeans had brought it on themselves.
"Europe has denied its Christian roots from which it has risen and which could give it the strength to fend off the danger that it will be conquered by Muslims, which is actually happening gradually," he said.
Surge for Dutch anti-Islam Freedom Party
Page last updated at 12:38 GMT, Thursday, 10 June 2010 13:38 UK
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Geert Wilders said he wanted to be part of a new government A Dutch anti-Islam party has more than doubled its seats in parliament in a national vote, though it is unclear if it will take part in a coalition.
Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders said he wanted to be part of government.
The election saw the centre-right Liberal Party (VVD) emerging as the largest party, one seat ahead of the centre-left Labour Party.
The Christian Democrat party of outgoing Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende suffered a big defeat.
Weeks of coalition negotiations are expected to follow the election.
With more than 99% of votes counted, the VVD had 31 of 150 seats, while Labour had 30.
As the party with the most seats, VVD leader Mark Rutte could now become the first prime minister from his political camp since World War I.
The unexpected big winner was the anti-Islam Freedom Party, the PVV, which took its number of seats from nine in the last parliament to 24 - its best-ever finish.
The campaign had been dominated by a debate over the economy, which was thought to have eclipsed immigration as an election issue.
But the strong showing for the Freedom Party, led by the controversial Geert Wilders, is a sign that immigration was still a powerful theme, correspondents say.
Mr Wilders has campaigned to stop the "Islamisation of the Netherlands".
He wants the Koran banned, and has suggested a tax on headscarves worn by Muslim women.
"Nobody in The Hague can bypass the PVV anymore," he said on Thursday, AFP news agency reported. "We want to be part of the new government."
The Netherlands is the first country in the eurozone to vote since a crisis erupted earlier this year over the single European currency, amid concerns about debt in Greece and other southern states.
Germany Will Become Islamic State, Says Chancellor Merkel
Germany Will Become Islamic State, Says Chancellor MerkelChancellor Angela Merkel said that Germans have failed to grasp how Muslim immigration has transformed their country and will have to come to terms with more mosques than churches throughout the countryside, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily.
"Our country is going to carry on changing, and integration is also a task for the society taking up the task of dealing with immigrants,” Ms. Merkel told the daily newspaper. “For years we've been deceiving ourselves about this. Mosques, for example, are going to be a more prominent part of our cities than they were before.”Germany, with a population of 4-5 million Muslims, has been divided in recent weeks by a debate over remarks by the Bundesbank's Thilo Sarrazin, who argued Turkish and Arab immigrants were failing to integrate and were swamping Germany with a higher birth rate. The Chancellor’s remarks represent the first official acknowledgement that Germany, like other European countries, is destined to become a stronghold of Islam. She has admitted that the country will soon become a stronghold. In France, 30% of children age 20 years and below are Muslims. The ratio in Paris and Marseille has soared to 45%. In southern France, there are more mosques than churches. The situation within the United Kingdom is not much different. In the last 30 years, the Muslim population there has climbed from 82,000 to 2.5 million. Presently, there are over 1000 mosques throughout Great Britain - - many of which were converted from churches. In Belgium, 50% of the newborns are Muslims and reportedly its Islamic population hovers around 25%. A similar statistic holds true for The Netherlands. It’s the same story in Russia where one in five inhabitants is a Muslim. Muammar Gaddafi recently stated that “There are signs that Allah will grant victory to Islam in Europe without sword, without gun, without conquest. We don’t need terrorists; we don’t need homicide bombers. The 50 plus million Muslims (in Europe) will turn it into the Muslim Continent within a few decades.” The numbers support him. FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Paul L. Williams, Ph.D., is the author of The Day of Islam: The Annihilation of America and the Western World, The Al Qaeda Connection, and other best-selling books. He is a frequent guest on such national news networks as ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, MSNBC, and NPR. Visit his website at
Dutch consider banning religious animal slaughter
AP - Fri Apr 8th, 2011 1:57 PM EDT
AMSTERDAM - One of Europe's first countries to allow Jews to practice their religion openly may soon pass a law banning centuries-old Jewish and Muslim traditions on the ritual slaughter of animals.
In the Netherlands, an unlikely alliance of an animal rights party and the xenophobic Freedom Party is spearheading support for the ban on kosher and halal slaughter methods that critics say inflict unacceptable suffering on animals.
The far right's embrace of the bill, which is expected to go to a parliamentary vote this month, is based mostly on its strident hostility toward the Dutch Muslim population. The Party for the Animals, the world's first such party to be elected to parliament, says humane treatment of animals trumps traditions of tolerance.
Jewish and Muslim groups call the initiative an affront to freedom of religion.
By Melissa Kite, The TelegraphApril 24, 2011curriebarracks
British Prime Minister David Cameron is considering plans to create a "multi-faith" House of Lords where Muslim imams could sit alongside bishops.
The suggestion is contained in a paper drawn up by Tory officials which calls for a wide range of churches to be represented once reforms to the Upper House are carried out.
There are seats for 26 Anglican bishops in the Lords, but Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, is drawing up a draft bill that is expected to include provisions to evict hundreds of peers, including the bishops, while at least 80 per cent of new members are elected.
The Conservatives hope to counter Clegg's intention to abolish the Lords Spiritual by proposing that they become multi-faith.
The paper, by the Conservative Christian Fellowship, said: "Christians need to make it clear that we value the presence of the Lords Spiritual, but this doesn't have to mean unquestioning support for the status quo.
"There is a strong argument that our legislature would also benefit from the wisdom of leaders of Baptist, Catholic, Methodist and black-led congregations."
A Tory insider said it would be a "natural solution" to extend this to other faiths.
The prime minister is said to favour the idea because he is determined that the Lords is not turned into a secular institution.
Clegg's Bill, which is being negotiated with senior Tory ministers and the Labour front bench, was to be unveiled last month. However, the plans were delayed by the Alternative Vote referendum and Clegg is now understood to be preparing to publish the blueprint in the coming months.
Senior Conservatives are drawing up alternative proposals, amid fears that Clegg's changes will be too radical. Their plans would mean Christian denominations such as Roman Catholics and black Pentecostal leaders sit on a bench of "spiritual peers," whose numbers might also include representatives of other religions such as Islam.
July 23, 2011
Oslo Suspect Wrote of Fear of Islam and Plan for War
By STEVEN ERLANGER and SCOTT SHANE
OSLO — The Norwegian man charged Saturday with a pair of attacks in Oslo that killed at least 92 people left behind a detailed manifesto outlining his preparations and calling for a Christian war to defend Europe against the threat of Muslim domination, according to Norwegian and American officials familiar with the investigation.
As stunned Norwegians grappled with the deadliest attack in the country since World War II, a portrait began to emerge of the suspect, Anders Behring Breivik, 32. The police identified him as a right-wing fundamentalist Christian, while acquaintances described him as a gun-loving Norwegian obsessed with what he saw as the threats of multiculturalism and Muslim immigration.
“We are not sure whether he was alone or had help,” a police official, Roger Andresen, said at a televised news conference. “What we know is that he is right wing and a Christian fundamentalist.”
In the 1,500-page manifesto, posted on the Web hours before the attacks, Mr. Breivik recorded a day-by-day diary of months of planning for the attacks, and claimed to be part of a small group that intended to “seize political and military control of Western European countries and implement a cultural conservative political agenda.”
He predicted a conflagration that would kill or injure more than a million people, adding, “The time for dialogue is over. We gave peace a chance. The time for armed resistance has come.”
The manifesto was signed Andrew Berwick, an Anglicized version of his name. A former American government official briefed on the case said investigators believed the manifesto was Mr. Breivik’s work.
The manifesto, entitled “2083: A European Declaration of Independence,” equates liberalism and multiculturalism with “cultural Marxism,” which the document says is destroying European Christian civilization.
The document also describes a secret meeting in London in April 2002 to reconstitute the Knights Templar, a Crusader military order. It says the meeting was attended by nine representatives of eight European countries, evidently including Mr. Breivik, with an additional three members unable to attend, including a “European-American.”
The document does not name the attendees or say whether they were aware of Mr. Breivik’s planned attacks, though investigators presumably will now try to determine if the people exist and what their connection is to Mr. Breivik.
Thomas Hegghammer, a terrorism specialist at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, said the manifesto bears an eerie resemblance to those of Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders, though from a Christian rather than a Muslim point of view. Like Mr. Breivik’s manuscript, the major Qaeda declarations have detailed accounts of the Crusades, a pronounced sense of historical grievance and calls for apocalyptic warfare to defeat the religious and cultural enemy.
“It seems to be an attempt to mirror Al Qaeda, exactly in reverse,” Mr. Hegghammer said.
January 23, 2012
How to Integrate Europe’s Muslims
By JONATHAN LAURENCE
Chestnut Hill, Mass.
TWO weeks ago, dozens of cars were set alight in the French city of Clermont-Ferrand after a 30-year-old truck driver, Wissam El-Yamni, was roughed up and then died while in police custody. The uproar underscored the hostility of young minority men toward authority across communities in Europe, an antipathy that has at times led to deadly violence.
The failure of Islamic integration in Europe is often attributed — especially by right-wing parties — to an excess of tolerance toward the large-scale Muslim immigration that began in the mid-1970s. By recognizing Muslim religious requirements, the argument goes, countries like France, Britain and the Netherlands have unwittingly hindered assimilation and even, in some cases, fostered radicalism. But the unrest in gritty European suburbs stems not from religious difference, but from anomie.
Europeans should not be afraid to allow Muslim students to take classes on Islam in state-financed schools and universities. The recognition and accommodation of Islamic religious practices, from clothing to language to education, does not mean capitulation to fundamentalism. On the contrary, only by strengthening the democratic rights of Muslim citizens to form associations, join political parties and engage in other aspects of civic life can Europe integrate immigrants and give full meaning to the abstract promise of religious liberty.
The rise of right-wing, anti-immigrant parties has led several European countries to impose restrictions on Islamic dress, mosque-building and reunification of families through immigration law. These policies are counterproductive. Paradoxically, people for whom religion is otherwise not all that important become more attached to their faith’s clothing, symbols and traditions when they feel they are being singled out and denied basic rights.
Take, for example, the French debate over whether to recognize the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, and the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha as official holidays. Yes, the French state clings to the principle of “laïcité,” or secularism — but the state’s recognition of Easter and Christmas as official holidays feels, to some Jews and Muslims, like hypocrisy. It is Islam’s absence in the institutions young European Muslims encounter, starting with the school’s calendar, classroom and canteen, that contributes to anger and alienation.
In the last few months, there have been some signs that the right-wing momentum has slowed. A French bill to ban headscarves from day care centers was killed in committee. The Dutch Parliament voted down a bill to outlaw Islamic animal slaughter. And Germany’s most populous state helped offset a judicial ban on school prayer by announcing equal access to religion courses for Muslim students.
European countries could use a period of benign neglect of the Islam issue — but only after they finish incorporating religion into the national fabric. For too long, they have instead masked an absence of coherent integration policy under the cloak of “multiculturalism.” The state outsourced the hard work of integration to foreign diplomats and Islamist institutions — for example, some students in Germany read Saudi-supplied textbooks in Saudi-run institutions.
This neglect of integration helped an unregulated “underground Islam” to take hold in storefronts, basements and courtyards. It reflected wishful thinking about how long guest workers would stay and perpetuated a myth of eventual departure and repatriation.
In Britain, for example, race-based equality laws protected Sikhs and Jews as minorities, but not Hindus and Muslims, since they were still considered “foreign.”
Institutional exclusion fueled a demand for religious recognition, and did much to unite and segregate Muslims. Islamist organizations became the most visible defenders of the faith. It is crucial now to provide the right mix of institutional incentives for religious and political moderation, and the most promising strategy for doing that is for governments to consult with the full range of law-abiding religious institutions that Muslims have themselves established.
The French Council for the Muslim Faith, the German Islam Conference, the Committee for Italian Islam and the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board in Britain — all state-sanctioned Islamic organizations set up in the past decade — represent a broad cross-section of mosque administrators in every country. They have quietly begun reconciling many practical issues, from issuing mosque permits to establishing Islamic theology departments at public universities to appointing chaplains in the military and in prisons.
Ultimately, however, elected democratic institutions are the place where the desires of individual Muslims should be expressed. Ever since 1789, when a French legislator argued that “the Jews should be denied everything as a nation, but granted everything as individuals,” Europeans have struggled to resolve the tension between rights derived from universal citizenship versus group membership.
Over the next 20 years, Europe’s Muslim population is projected to grow to nearly 30 million — 7 to 8 percent of all Europeans — from around 17 million. Granting Muslims full religious freedom wouldn’t remove obstacles to political participation or create jobs. But it would at least allow tensions over Muslims’ religious practices to fade. This would avoid needless sectarian strife and clear the way for politicians to address the more vexing and urgent challenges of socioeconomic integration.
Jonathan Laurence, an associate professor of political science at Boston College, is the author of “The Emancipation of Europe’s Muslims: The State’s Role in Minority Integration.”
Tomas van Houtryve for The New York Times Shoppers walk through the Noailles market in Marseille, France.
The population of Marseille is changing, especially with the growing number of Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East. And yet, this demographic shift has not brought the growing pains familiar elsewhere in France, like the perennial riots in the Paris suburbs and the recent serial killings in Toulouse.
Why has Marseille been so quiet? Are we seeing a model of peaceful integration that could be repeated elsewhere in Europe and globally?
April 16, 2012
Koran Giveaway in Germany Has Some Officials Worried
By MELISSA EDDY and NICHOLAS KULISH
BERLIN — A drive by a fundamentalist Muslim group to give a copy of the Koran to every German, Swiss and Austrian household has tapped into the widespread anti-Islamic feeling in Germany and created an uproar among politicians and security officials concerned that the group handing out the holy books is using the campaign as a cover to recruit radicals.
There is nothing illegal about distributing religious works in Germany — it is a frequent practice of Scientologists and Hare Krishnas, not to mention Christians — but officials are worried about who is doing the distributing.
The Koran campaign is the brainchild of Ibrahim Abou-Nagie, a Palestinian who preaches a fiery conservative brand of Islam known as Salafism.
Mr. Abou-Nagie, who has lived in Germany for 30 years, has been on the radar of German security officials since 2005, when he set up a Web site that has been suspected of spreading extremist propaganda. An attempt to prosecute Mr. Abou-Nagie on charges of incitement of religious hatred failed this year.
The campaign to hand out the Korans drew nationwide attention — and widespread condemnation — last week after journalists who had criticized the effort were threatened in an online video. And on Monday, the interior minister in Hesse, a state in central Germany, called Mr. Abou-Nagie and his followers “pied pipers” and said that the danger from radical Islam had reached “a new dimension.”
But Rauf Ceylan, a professor of religious sociology at the University of Osnabrück, said that violent extremists represented “a minority within a minority” and that the discussion of Muslims’ participation in German society should not be focused on Salafists. “Politicians have a great responsibility for communicating the fact that Germany is now an immigration society,” he said, “and thus far they have failed at that.”
The role of Islam in Europe has been fiercely contested in the decade since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Moderate Muslims say that officials’ emphasis on extremist groups and terrorism helps contribute to a climate of fear that can lead to violence, like the killings last summer by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway.
A German security official who did not want to be quoted by name because of the delicacy of the issue said officials were worried that disaffected, directionless young people would be drawn to what he called the Salafists’ simplistic interpretation of the Koran and find inspiration in it for violent acts.
He cited Arid Uka, who opened fire at a bus carrying American airmen at a Frankfurt airport in March 2011, killing two and wounding two others. Mr. Uka, who was born in Kosovo but had lived in Germany since he was a child, said he had become radicalized by reading Web sites, including some linked to Salafist groups in Germany.
On a Web site set up to promote the Koran distribution campaign, Mr. Abou-Nagie said the goal was “to bring Allah’s word to every household.” The campaign began in October 2011.
On Saturday, a stack of Korans sat on a table under a white-topped tent in Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, a crossroads for tourists and shoppers, as several men greeted passers-by and offered them copies.
A few yards away, a handful of protesters stood with signs denouncing Islamic extremism. Two squads of police officers kept watch.
Yannick Salziger-Ouatain said he had heard about the giveaway on the Internet and was simply interested in the book’s contents. “Islam plays such a major role in the general political discussion right now,” he said. “I figured that as a democratic human being, I need to find out more about it and make up my own mind.”
July 13, 2012
In Germany, Ruling Over Circumcision Sows Anxiety and Confusion
By MELISSA EDDY
BERLIN — When the time came to have their son circumcised at age 4, Muhsin Sapci and his wife, Gonca, both first generation immigrants from Turkey, assumed they would simply take the boy to the nearby Jewish Hospital, used by many Muslim families who also prefer to have the procedure done by a surgeon.
But since a German court’s ruling that equated circumcision with bodily harm — and a criminal act — many hospitals across the nation have stopped performing the procedure. The Sapcis are determined to have their son, Asil, who turns 4 this month, circumcised, but they do not know where to go.
“Right now everything is controlled, most people go to a doctor and the child is covered by insurance,” Mr. Sapci said. “If they try to outlaw it, it will still be done, but differently, and that could have consequences.”
Their quandary is indicative of the confusion that has been sown by the ruling on June 26 by a court in Cologne that, while not enforceable outside that region, has sent ripples of anger and anxiety throughout the country and beyond. It has raised vexing questions about the boundaries of religious practice and freedom in an increasingly secular Germany.
“The often very aggressive prejudice against religion as backward, irrational and opposed to science is increasingly defining popular opinion,” said Michael Bongardt, a professor of ethics from Berlin’s Free University who added that the ruling reflected a profound lack of understanding in modern Germany for religious belief.
Jewish and Muslim organizations convened this week in Berlin and Brussels to protest the ruling vigorously, and they said they had been inundated with calls from confused parents. The German Medical Association condemned the ruling for potentially putting children at risk by taking the procedure out of the hands of doctors, but it also warned surgeons not to perform circumcisions for religious reasons until legal clarity was established.
On Friday, as the outcry intensified, the issue reached the highest levels of the German government. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said that discussions were under way between the chancellor’s aides and the justice and other ministries to find a legal solution that would protect the right to perform ritual circumcisions.
“It is urgently necessary that we establish legal certainty,” said the spokesman, Steffen Seibert. “It is clear this cannot be put on the back burner. Freedom to practice religion is a cherished legal principle.”
Germany’s Justice Ministry is “carefully examining” the ruling and will decide what, if any, consequences are necessary, including the possibility of proposing legislation, said Mareke Aden, a ministry spokeswoman. But she warned that because the ruling involves opposing constitutional rights, a review would take time.
The condemnation has also come from abroad, including from the American Jewish Committee and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Germany’s ambassador to Israel was called before a parliamentary committee to explain the ruling. Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s foreign minister, said Friday that he had been showered with questions and criticism surrounding the ruling.
“They are all greatly concerned about the ramifications of the ruling, but mostly for Jewish and Muslim life in Germany,” Mr. Westerwelle said. There are 100,000 Jews and four million Muslims living here.
Early on, Mr. Westerwelle tried to calm the storm, by insisting that “Germany is an open, tolerant country, where religious freedom is firmly anchored and where religious traditions, such as circumcision, are protected as an expression of religious pluralism.”
The reality has been less clear-cut. Bans on circumcision have existed throughout history, from ancient Roman and Greek times to the Soviet era last century. And while the Cologne court did not ban the practice and acquitted the doctor who performed a procedure that resulted in complications, it found that “the right of parents to raise their children in a religion does not override the right of a child to bodily integrity.”
That such a ruling would come from a court in modern, post-World War II Germany has caused many to wonder whether the judges were fully aware of the implications and would have ruled differently had the case involved a Jewish boy, instead of a young Muslim. The boy in question was 4 years old.
“I can’t imagine Berlin prosecutors ordering the police to enter a synagogue and arrest a Jew with a beard and yarmulke for carrying out a circumcision,” said Josh Spinner, an American rabbi who moved to Berlin 12 years ago and who now runs the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation. “Those are pictures that I don’t believe anyone here is ready for.”
After their meeting in Brussels this week, Muslim and Jewish leaders issued a joint statement calling on the German government to take action to defend the practice. “Circumcision is an ancient ritual that is fundamental to our individual faiths, and we protest in the strongest possible terms this court ruling,” it said.
Since the ruling, at least three ritual circumcisions have been performed in Berlin’s Jewish community, Mr. Spinner said. One was on the infant son of a 33-year-old man who moved to Germany from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, during an immigration wave of mostly Eastern European Jews who have helped the Jewish community here swell to more than 100,000.
“The circumcision was planned because it was eight days after his birth, the time was right,” said the boy’s father, who did not want to give his name for fear that he could face legal charges. “We did it because we had to do it.”
For the Sapcis, circumcising Asil is seen as both a practical step and a rite of passage. Mr. Sapci said he, too, was circumcised at age 4 in Turkey in a traditional celebration that is viewed among Turks as a boy’s first step toward becoming a man.
“To call circumcision into question is idiotic,” Ms. Sapci said. “Just as washing your face, your hands and behind your ears is a ritual in Islam, so is circumcision.”
This documentary tells the little-known story of three English gentlemen who embraced Islam at a time when to be a Muslim was to be seen to be a traitor to your country. Through personal journeys of still surviving relatives, the programme looks at their achievements and how their legacy lives on today.
Hamburg becomes 1st German city to recognize Islamic holidays
BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESSAUGUST 14, 2012
BERLIN - Authorities in Hamburg have become the first in Germany to officially recognize Islamic holidays so Muslim employees and students can celebrate them at home.
The decision forms part of an agreement between the north German city and local Muslim groups. Similar agreements exist with Christian and Jewish communities in the city. Hamburg's mayor, Olaf Scholz, said Tuesday that he hopes the deal will serve as an example for other German cities. Authorities estimate some 150,000 Muslims live the city of almost 2 million people. The growing public presence of Islamic culture in Germany has sparked anger among conservatives and far-right groups.
Police in Berlin are on alert for possible violence this weekend after a small far-right party said it plans to stage protests outside mosques in the German capital.
August 17, 2012, 9:16 amComment
The Fast and the Furious
By HUMA YUSUF
Muslims attending Friday prayers in east London on July 20, the first day of Ramadan.
LONDON — I stopped by my favorite fruit stall in Brixton earlier this week, only to find the seller fast asleep, with head propped against cart and face cupped in hand. I began sorting through various cartons of peaches, making just enough noise to wake Pervez Khan, a fellow Pakistani who has been based in south London for more than a decade. As I tossed the fruit into a basket, Khan awoke and began apologizing. “It’s terrible of me to sleep on the job,” he said, “but it’s so hard to stay awake when you’re fasting.”
Khan has been fasting from dawn to dusk since July 20, when the holy Muslim month of Ramadan started in Britain. The month-long fast is a spiritual and physical challenge for all Muslims who observe the obligation, but it has been particularly difficult for Muslims here and elsewhere in Europe and North America, places far from the equator with very long summer days.
Khan’s need to nap at his stall was a sad reminder that Western countries still routinely overlook the challenges faced by Muslims seeking to juggle their faith and professional responsibilities. Unlike in the Muslim world, where during Ramadan businesses work shorter hours or adopt a nocturnal schedule, Britain officially makes no workplace concessions for those who fast, even though Muslims account for roughly 4.6 percent of the population.
This shortcoming was unexpectedly highlighted here this summer by the Olympic Games, which coincided with Ramadan for the first time since 1980. The efforts of some 3,000 Muslim athletes to outperform competitors during 17-hour-long fasts were the subject of much curiosity and awe.
Many countries — including Egypt, Morocco, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia — granted their teams a special dispensation to put off fasting until they returned home. Some athletes continued to fast during practice but not on competition days. Others chose to give to charity in lieu of fasting: the British rower Mohamed Sbihi paid for 1,800 meals for Moroccan street children.
Setting a rare example for other Western institutions, the Olympic Village tried its best to accommodate the needs of fasting Muslim athletes. Its canteen remained open 24 hours a day in case Muslim competitors wanted to have suhoor, the pre-dawn meal taken before the daily fast commences.
This had some British Muslims wondering out loud why their employers couldn’t also make some concessions, like adjustments to work hours. Others, in an ongoing effort to close the cultural gap, tried to introduce Westerners to the rhythms of Ramadan. This year, Maryam Douale, a 25-year-old Muslim woman from Manchester, launched Dine@Mine Week, an initiative that has Muslim families host an iftar for non-Muslims, giving the latter a chance to freely ask questions about Ramadan and Islam.
Other Muslims still, with few expectations that the British government or public will empathize with their efforts to balance religious and professional obligations, are unfazed. As Khan handed me a bag of peaches and wondered aloud whether his wife would make a fruit salad for iftar, he said, resigned, “So what if it’s 17 hours long? This is just what we do — what we’re meant to do.”
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