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Germany: Social Democrats and Greens demand equality for Islam

Leading members of the opposition Social Democrats and Greens called on Thursday for Islam to be recognised by the state as a religious community, similar to Christianity and Judaism.

The calls came as the peak Jewish body in Germany blasted recent conservative criticism of President Christian Wulff’s reunification speech, in which Wullf acknowledged that Islam was now part of Germany alongside the faiths of Christians and Jews.

In the wake of Wulff’s speech, the centre-left parties hit back against conservatives who had previously attacked Wulff’s remarks as undermining the core values and traditions of Germany.

“Islam needs a fair chance in Germany,” Dieter Wiefelspütz, interior affairs spokesman for the Social Democrats’ (SPD) parliamentary group, told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. “It would be an important signal to the four million Muslims in Germany if the state recognised Islam as a religious community.”

At present, Christianity and Judaism are recognised by German law as statutory bodies, meaning they can be taught in state schools and have tithing fees collected by the German Finance Ministry as church tax.

Integration policy spokesman for the Greens, Memet Kilic, told the paper: “The recognition of Islam as an equal religious community before the law would convey to Muslims the feeling of being welcome in Germany. The (conservative Christian Democrats) must end their neurotic navel gazing immediately.”

In his speech last Sunday, Wulff said: “Christianity is of course part of Germany. Judaism is of course part of Germany. This is our Judeo-Christian history … But now Islam is also part of Germany,” he said in his speech. “When German Muslims write to me to say ‘you are our president’, I reply with all my heart ‘yes, of course I am your president’.”

Secretary general of the German Jewish Council, Stephan Kramer, also slammed the conservative response to Wulff’s speech as “close to hysterical” and said it showed “that apparently many politicians even today are shutting themselves off to the reality of an immigrant community.”

He added: “The Muslims living here are part of our society. So of course their religion also belongs in this country.” Ultimately the right to exercise freely one’s religious beliefs was anchored in the constitution, he said.

The Local, 7 October 2010

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