A government-sponsored Islam Conference aimed at fostering the integration of Germany's Muslims agreed to allow public schools to introduce religion classes on Islam in German.
It's hoped the new subject will also promote the integration of Muslims in Germany
The third official Islam Conference held in Berlin on Thursday, March 13, agreed on adding Islam to the school curriculum in public schools amid heated debate and controversy about Muslims embracing Western values and the acceptance of Muslim immigrants in Germany.
"In the not too far future, we -- where there's wish and need for it -- will have Islam religion classes at German schools," German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who initiated the conference, told journalists.
Schaeuble said the conference had been "very drawn-out and painful" and added that the meetings would continue beyond 2009.
Plans hobbled by lack of teachers
Ahead of the conference, Schaeuble said religion classes on Islam would help deter parents from sending their children to informal religious lessons taught by instructors who had not been vetted by the state.
It's hoped teaching Islam in schools will do away with the need for informal lessons
"We're going up against hate preachers any way we can," Schaeuble said Thursday in an interview with Stern Online. "With Islam religion classes, we'd create competition."
The aim is to offer Islam as a regular subject in schools taught in German by teachers trained in Germany. So far, the content of religion lessons in Germans schools is coordinated between schools and officials from Christian and Jewish faiths.
However, an acute lack of teachers qualified to teach the subject may mean it could take years before the project can be implemented.
Bekir Alboga, head of a German Muslim Council, said children should be taught about Islam throughout the country and criticized the dearth of teachers.
"This is a failure in Germany -- a failure of the state," Alboga told regional daily Ruhr Nachrichten.
Feeling like unwanted guests
The Islam conference, which brings together representatives of the country's Muslim community and senior German lawmakers, has been dogged by criticism in the past for being little more than a debating forum that lacks clear goals.
The conference is designed to smooth tensions with the country's estimated 3.4 million Muslims and promote their integration into German society. The majority of Germany's Muslims are Turks, who were either born or have lived in German for decades yet do not feel particularly welcome. A survey published ahead of the conference suggested that over half of Turks living in Germany feel like unwanted guests.
The fire sparked tensions between Germans and Turks
In an interview with a German newspaper ahead of the conference, Turkey's Prime Tayyip Erdogan stoked the debate further by urging Berlin to take measures to counter discrimination against its large Turkish population and criticizing Chancellor Angela Merkel for not joining him for an event in Cologne last month attended by thousands of Turks.
"The German government must take severe measures," Erdogan told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "I have relatives in Germany and they tell me: 'we are scared.'"
The Turkish leader was responding to a question about a fire at a building last month that killed nine people of Turkish origin in the German city of Ludwigshafen. Erdogan was accompanied by Merkel during a visit to the site.
Though the Turkish media has speculated that the fire was a racially-motivated attack after Nazi symbols were reported to be painted on the building, German investigators have ruled out arson as the cause of the blaze.
German or Turkish?
During a trip to Germany to meet with survivors and relatives of the victims of the fire, Erdogan also addressed a crowd of 16,000 people of mainly Turkish origin in Cologne. He sparked a storm of protest in Germany by calling assimilation "a crime against humanity" in his speech and urging the crowd to safeguard their culture. Merkel reacted furiously, saying that the millions of people in the country of Turkish origin owed their primary allegiance to the German state.
Merkel was angered by Erdogan's comments
Erdogan reiterated the remarks in the interview, saying immigrants should not face pressure to sacrifice their cultural roots while accepting the language and customs of their adopted home.
In an interview with German newspaper Suedeutsche Zeitung, Schaeuble acknowledged that more needed to be done to make Muslims feel at home in Germany. But he criticized Erdogan for telling Turks to resist becoming part of German society.
"I'm not insisting that all Turks become Germans -- but when they want to become German citizens they cannot remain Turkish," Schaeuble said.
Erdogan also said Merkel had missed an opportunity by not attending the Cologne event with him.
"If we had stood together on the stage it would have sent a message to German society and inspired Turks living in Germany," he said. "We can do that anytime Mrs. Merkel wants to."