A rift has opened in Germany's Green party on the influence that Muslim associations should be allowed to have on the education system. Liberal Muslims argue that their input is being blocked.
Two of the Green party's most prominent national leaders intervened in the debate in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the government - a coalition of the Social Democratic Party and the Greens - intends to give four major Muslim organizations the status of "public body," allowing them the right to offer religious education in state schools, as German churches do.
Green leader Cem Özdemir and the party's religion spokesman Volker Beck published a paper criticizing the plan as "rash" on the grounds that the groups were "nationally, politically, or linguistically stamped," and that they only represented a fraction of the four million Muslims in Germany.
"We therefore see them as religious clubs, rather than religious communities," the two politicians wrote in the 12-page paper. "Against this background it would not currently be desirable either in terms of religious or integration policy to privilege the four large Muslim associations." Özdemir and Beck also argued that raising the status of the four groups would mean cutting other Islamic communities out.
This letter met with disappointment from the Green party's Muslim organization in NRW. In a statement posted on their Facebook page, the group criticized the paper by their own federal leaders. "From our point of view, the recognition of an Islamic religious community must be represented by the mosque communities," they said. "Over 80 percent of these communities are currently represented in one of the large umbrella organizations."
But the Liberal Islamic Association welcomed Özdemir and Beck's intervention. "Eighty percent of the mosque community associations doesn't mean 80 percent of Muslims," said Lamya Kaddor, spokeswoman for the Liberal Islamic Association and herself an Islamic scholar and teacher. "We're not obliged to belong to any particular mosque community. It doesn't matter which mosque we pray in."
"I think it's important that a broad spectrum of belief is reflected in the advisory council," she told DW. "At the moment it's only reflected in these associations. We have a part of the spectrum but not even close to the whole spectrum - that would include the liberals, the mystics, the Shiites. But I don't want to take away the legitimacy of the conservative associations - that's important, but they don't represent all of Islam."
Unlike in the United States, there is no constitutional separation between state and religion in Germany, and churches run some state schools and frame religious education within them. In 2011, NRW became the first German state to pave the way to allowing an Islamic element to religious education in state schools, by installing an advisory council made up of representatives of the major Muslim associations and experts appointed by the schools ministry. But since these appointments required the agreement of the conservative associations, Kaddor dismissed the move at the time as a "rotten compromise."
Another objection raised by the Green party leaders is that at least one of the organizations - the Turkish-Islamic Union Institute for Religion (DITIB) - is financially dependent on the Turkish state, which, they argue, raises constitutional concerns about the influence of non-state actors in domestic affairs.
In an email, DITIB General Secretary Bekir Alboga told DW, "The state can only decide for itself whether a religious community organization fulfills the criteria formulated by our constitution and the relevant supreme court decisions in relation to the status question. We fulfill all the criteria."
But Gökay Sofuoglu, chairman of Germany's Turkish community organization (TGD), disagrees. "These are groups that have not completely disconnected themselves from their home countries," he told DW. "In my opinion, an independent Islamic association needs to be founded in Germany, or these associations need to re-structure themselves. For instance, DITIB needs to detach itself, both ideologically and structurally, from Turkey. When the imams and the chairmen are sent from Turkey, and some of them are even Turkish civil servants, I think it makes it difficult."