The German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maiziere, has excluded the Islam Council from the next round of talks, saying it is dominated by militant Turkish nationalists.
The integration of Muslims is a major challenge for mainstream German society
The next round of integration talks between the government and representatives of Muslim communities, scheduled for May 17, will now take place without the participation of the Islam Council.
The suspension follows the launch of an investigation concerning major tax fraud against the leaders of Milli Gorus, an organisation accused of promoting a fundamentalist brand of Islam. With 27,000 members, it is the dominant force within the Islam Council.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere is unwilling to hold talks with radical Muslims
“The charges are so serious,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said, “that I cannot sit at the same table as these people.”
In a statement issued on Friday, the leadership of the Islam Council rejected the suspension, and said the Council would withdraw from the talks altogether.
Council head Ali Kizilkaya said he believed the suspension was a reaction to the decidedly critical stance of the organisation during the talks so far.
On Thursday, the German interior minister announced that a number of new participants would be invited to the integration talks, which are being held under the title “German-Islam Conference.”
The talks began in 2006, with the aim of improving the integration of Germany's estimated 4 million Muslims into mainstream society.
Critics say the talks have so far clearly failed to reach this goal. They blame a lack of credibility and unity on the part of the Muslim representatives.
Thomas de Maiziere wants the next round of talks to produce concrete measures.
His efforts focus on the introduction of Islam as a regular subject in German schools, in order to “drag religious teaching out of the backrooms,” as he put it.
The Conference is also meant to come up with guidelines for the training of Islam teachers, who, in the opinion of the Interior Minister must teach in German and possess a proper university degree rather than come from abroad.
De Maiziere also wants progress on issues such as gender equality within the Muslim community, including a debate about arranged marriages and so-called “honor killings” of Muslim women striving to break away from traditional values.
Hatin S. was the victim of an "honor killing" in Berlin in 2005
Defining a strategy designed to curb the influence of Islamist fundamentalism on Muslims in Germany is another issue to be discussed.
In an effort to broaden the outreach of the Islam Conference, Thomas de Maiziere has increased the number of participants from the current 30 to 32.
At the talks in May, there will be six organisations and ten individual members representing the Muslim community.
The ten individuals are all new to the panel and will include mostly Muslims critical towards fundamentalist views of Islam.
Among them are the Egypt-born political scientist Hamed Abdel-Samad, Turkish female lawyer Gonul Halat-Mec, and Islam expert Armina Omerika, who is a Muslim of Bosnian origin.
Among the organisations taking part are the Alevite Community of Germany (AABF), the Turkish-Islamic DITIB organisation, as well as the Central Council of Muslims in Germany.
Aiman Mazyek (centre) believes the exclusion of the Islam Council is counter-productive
Aiman Mazyek, the president of the Central Council, criticised the exclusion of the “Islam Council” from the talks.
He told Friday‘s edition of the German daily Der Tagesspiegel that the suspension was “a blow to efforts to bring about a critical dialogue between the state and Muslims.”
“The state must talk with everyone,” he said. “It amounts to collective punishment if the members of 300 mosque groupings represented in the Islam Council are barred from taking part in this dialogue”.
Editor: Susan Houlton