Hamburg moves toward official recognition of Islam

Tue Oct 19, 2010 10:44am EDT
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By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

HAMBURG (Reuters) - Hamburg may soon become the first German state officially to recognize Islam as a religious community and give its Muslims the same legal rights as Christians and Jews in dealing with the local administration.

Four years of quiet negotiations about building mosques, opening Muslim cemeteries and teaching Islam in public schools are nearing an end just when Germany is embroiled in a noisy debate about Islam and the integration of Muslim immigrants.

The deal seems set to go through, but the national debate on Islam and local political changes could make its approval more difficult than expected, politicians and Muslim leaders said.

"It's important for us that this agreement makes clear that we are part of this society," said Zekeriya Altug, chairman of the Hamburg branch of DITIB, a Turkish-German mosque network that is one of Germany's largest Muslim organizations.

"We're close to wrapping this up," said Norbert Mueller, a German convert who is a board member of Shura, the largest mosque association in this north Germany port city.

Germany has an estimated 4 million Muslims, most of them of Turkish origin, in its 82 million population. Long treated as migrant workers due eventually to return to their countries of origin, they have become an established minority that wants equal rights.

The agreement in Germany's second-largest metropolis, a city-state in the country's federal system, would set out their rights and also their duties, such as consulting neighborhood residents before building mosques or erecting minarets.

Altug said many rights were already allowed under various German laws, or granted as local exceptions. "This agreement should bring all this together in a single text," he said.   Continued...

<p>Muslims attend Friday prayers at the 'Centrum Moschee Hamburg' (Central Mosque) in the northern German town of Hamburg October 8, 2010. REUTERS/Christian Charisius</p>