The German Muslim community embarked Wednesday on its first collective talks with the government in Berlin, with both sides saying there had been frank differences but they were keen to get down to detail.
Germany has finally engaged in a dialogue with its Muslim community
German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble hosted the "Conference on Islam" in Berlin that brought together the federal government and 15 representatives of the 3.2 million Muslims in Germany for the beginning of a two-year dialogue. The government wants the talks to result in a contract between the two sides that will improve integration in Germany and quell the growing influence of Islamist extremists.
The meeting was overshadowed by controversy about a Berlin opera house that cancelled a production showing decapitated heads of the Prophet Mohammed and Jesus. The Deutsche Oper said it had been worried it might be attacked by Muslim extremists.
Schäuble said the meeting's participants had all told him the controversial production of Mozart's "Idomeneo" should go ahead.
"We want this production to be performed as soon as possible," he said, adding that they would then go together to watch it.
Schäuble and Ayyub Köhler, one of the Muslim leaders
His talks with the German Muslim community were "not always harmonious" but proceeded "in a tolerant tone," Schäuble said. There was disagreement over the questions of who were appropriate representatives of the Muslim community, women's rights and whether girls should be allowed to take part in school swimming lessons, but the participants had gotten along, he added.
"It will be difficult and it will be a lot of work," Schäuble said of the talks, which are to be resumed by three working groups on values, religious questions as well as business and the media on Nov. 8. An additional group will discuss questions of domestic security and preventing Islamist violence.
Badr Mohammed, a secular Turkish leader who heads the European Integration Center in Berlin, said the meeting had the nearly three-hour meeting had been "a historic breakthrough in the intercultural opening of society."
The leaders of Islamic religious groups who took part were more cautious in welcoming the talks, but stressed their devotion to Germany's democratic constitution.
The Ditib, which is associated with Turkey's Religious Affairs Ministry, said it and three other national Islamic associations in Germany had agreed to work more closely with one another in future.
The talks took place in Charlottenburg Palace
This is the first time federal authorities have ever launched a dialogue with the country's Muslim minority. Muslims make up more than 4 percent of Germany's 82-million-strong population. They are not only divided into secular and religious camps, but also by country of origin and theological differences.
The government has been calling for all Muslims in Germany to adopt the German language, affirm their support for democracy and help catch violent Islamists. Some Muslim leaders hope their faith can win equal treatment to that given in Germany to Christian churches. Germany's Jewish community has also negotiated an agreement with the government regulating their relations.
Religious groups complained before the meeting that they were only allocated five of the 15 Muslim seats at the table, with the rest distributed among secular and other groups.