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Schoolbook on Islam

Zoran Arbutina (df)
February 14, 2009

"My Book About Islam" is the first schoolbook on the Muslim faith to be approved for young children in Germany. The authors hope it will help foster understanding by dispelling myths about the followers of the Koran.

Religious instruction about Islam in a German primary school
Religion is a standard part of the school curriculum in Germany.Image: AP

"My Book About Islam" is intended for Muslim children, who come from different ethnic backgrounds and offers different interpretations of the Islamic faith, according to Evelin Lubig-Fohsel, one of the textbook's authors.

"We're going on the assumption that there is no such thing as the absolute correct Islam and believe that this book can be the basis for various strands of the faith," she said.

The book made its appearance this past week at the opening of the annual "Didacta" educational book fair in the northern city of Hanover. It has also been introduced to primary schools in two German states, Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia, which has a large Muslim minority.

In an educational system where religious instruction about Christianity is a standard part of the state-run school curriculum, the move is intended to promote greater tolerance and understanding of other faiths, according to the Munich publishers of the textbook, Oldenbourg.

"Young children can learn about and respect other world religions," the publishers said in a statement.

Fostering religious identity

My book about Islam in German
The textbook has just been approved in two German states.

"The point of the book is to foster the religious identity of Muslim children in a country that is predominantly Christian so they don't wind up being manipulated by the media, and not just the media, but perhaps even by their own mosque or community," said one of the book's authors, primary school teacher Gül Solgun-Kaps.

Since the majority of Muslims in Europe practice the Sunni as opposed to the Shiite faith, which differ in their beliefs as to the rightful heirs of the Prophet Muhammad, the textbook emphasizes Sunni Islam and discusses differences in national practices, but looks for common ground between the two branches.

An appreciation of the different strains within a religion also helps to further dialogue with other faiths, such as Christianity and Judaism, according to Solgun-Kaps.

"It's important for kids to know the core message of other religious faiths," she said, adding that an understanding of such growing diversity in Germany fosters peaceful co-existence not just in school, but in life too.

A Bosnian child for instance would have the chance to talk about how Ramadan is celebrated in his country, which is different from the fasting rituals of a Pakistani or Turkish family.

Gender roles discussed

Turkish women in Berlin's Kreuzberg district shopping, some with a headscarf.
The book also depicts Muslim women without a headscarf.Image: dpa

The role of religion in daily life is a thread that runs through the book. Gender roles are also addressed and here the book is modern in its outlook. A young boy is just as likely to set the dinner table as his sister, Muslim women are depicted without head coverings and even men are laboring over the stove preparing family meals.

One of the book's aims is to show children the compatibility of Islam with democratic and egalitarian values, since Muslim pupils and their parents, as well as Christians or secular Germans, often perceive the religion as being the antithesis of modernity.

"We want to reduce the fear factor about Islam with this book, and show that Muslims and non-Muslims can live peacefully side by side," said Lubig Fohsel.