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The proposal would have Moslems pray in GermanImage: AP

Row Over Plan for German in Mosques

DW staff (win)
November 16, 2004

A proposal for the enforcement of German as a spoken language in mosques has erupted in Germany as politicians look for ways to reform the country's integration policy in the wake of violence in the Netherlands.


A regional politician's proposal that prayers in German mosques should be said in German was greeted with dismay on Monday amid fears that anti-Muslim attacks may spread over the border from the Netherlands.

Annette Schavan, the Christian Democratic education minister for the state of Baden-Württemberg and a contender for the state's premiership, made her radical proposal at the weekend because, she said, "we can no longer accept that prayers in mosques should be said in languages that cannot be understood outside the Muslim community."

Schavan's proposal comes in the wake of the torching of mosques, schools and churches in the Netherlands following the killing of film director Theo van Gogh, whose work was strongly critical of Muslims.

Moschee in Gelsenkirchen
Image: AP

Her suggestion drew a sharp reaction from the leaders of the more than two and a half million Turks who live in Germany.

"This is nonsense -- terror can be spread in any language," said Kenan Kolat, the co-president of the Turkish Community in Germany.

Cornelie Sonntag-Wolgast, a representative of the ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD) on the national parliamentary committee for domestic affairs also criticized the proposal.

"We cannot suspect each and every person... of violence just because they say their prayers in Arabic," said Sonntag-Wolgast.

Volker Beck, a spokesman for the Greens, the junior partner in the governing coalition, said Schavan's proposal was "completely exaggerated" while liberal FDP interior minister Max Stadler criticized Schavan, saying her proposal for the state to enforce the German language in mosques was "an offense against basic law."

Werner Schiffauer, a cultural professor said, Schavan's plan was "out-of-touch and impractical", a view supported by Jürgen Micksch, the chairperson of the intercultural council in Germany. Professor Schiffauer stated that there was little money available to provide language training for the large numbers of Islamic preachers in Germany and that, in addition, many foreigners living in Germany stayed for only a short time and were dependent on mother-tongue services while they were there.

Some support idea

However, Nadeem Elyas, the chairman for the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, agreed with the proposal. Elyas explained that a lot of mosques already translate their prayers and sermons and offer simultaneous audio feeds in both Arabic and German.

Die neugebaute Sehitlik Moschee in Berlin Neukölln am Dienstag (20.04.2004) aus der Luft.
The mosque in Berlin Neukölln.Image: dpa

The council, he said, is made up of 19 organizations and about 500 mosque municipalities in Germany, not all of which cater for purely Arabic speakers. Elyas added that German, Turkish, Arabian, Albanian, Bosnian and Persian Muslims all worship in Germany and many have different language requirements.

Call for Islamic holiday

The row over Schaven's proposal comes at a time when Germany seems desperate to define its integration policy and avoid copycat violence spreading across the border from the neighboring Netherlands.

Just a day after Schaven's proposal was revealed, a member of the Green Party in Germany called for the government to install an official Islamic holiday in the German calendar.

Hans-Christian Ströbele
Hans-Christian Ströbele.Image: AP
Hans-Christian Ströbele was quoted in the Die Welt newspaper on Tuesday saying that a holiday directly after the fasting period of Ramadan could be one possibility, an idea supported by environment minister Jürgen Trittin.

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