Culture / Sahar Said

Integration in Germany – Introducing Islam

Textbook to teach Islam

In hopes of generating patriotic fervor, German politicians have asked that their national football team to be compelled to sing the national anthem before each match. Players, such as Mesut Özil and Lukas Podolski, have been criticized for not participating in the ceremonious singing of the Deutschlandlied before each national match. Why? Özil is a third generation Turkish-German and Podolski first generation Polish-German. The problem lies in the hyphenating.

It began in the 60’s when Germany signed various recruitment agreements inviting migrant workers to move to West Germany as a part of the Gastarbeiterprogramm, or the “Guest Worker Program.” The children of the Gastarbeiter (‘Guest Workers’) now form just under 10% of the German population, most having immigrated from Spain, Turkey and Yugoslavia. Although most of them are third generation Germans, religious and cultural divides do not allow them to completely integrate into society; forever identifying them with where they came from, hyphenated with where they are now – which ought to be their home and their identity in its entirety.

Some suggest that it is the immigrants themselves who refuse to integrate. Thilo Sarrazin, former senator of Finance for the state of Berlin, wrote a controversial book Deutschland schafft sich ab (“Germany Eliminates Itself”) in 2010, which sparked debate about the idea of multiculturalism adopted by Germany as a result of its immigration policy. Within two months of its publication, Sarrazin’s book became the highest sold book on politics by a German-language author in a decade. In his book, Sarrazin accused Arab and Turkish immigrants of being unwilling to integrate. He made a provocative assertion that Muslim immigrants were “associated with taking advantage of social welfare state and criminality” and that “a large number of Arabs and Turks in (Berlin)…have no productive function other than in the fruit and vegetable trade”  and were, therefore, making Germany “dumber.” “There is no other religion [except Islam] with such a flowing transition to violence, dictatorship, and terrorism” he said; seemingly stating that it is just the Muslims that are refusing to integrate.

Sarrazin may have spurred debate, but Chancellor Angela Merkel categorically stated that “the statements from Mr. Sarrazin are completely unacceptable….They are exclusionary in a way that shows contempt for entire groups within our society.” His comments were later the reason Sarrazin had to resign from his position on the board of Germany’s Bundesbank.

The German government has for long been trying to promote integration of the Gastarbeiteras an equal and integral part of Germany. For this reason, the government launched various integration campaigns, one of which has been debated since 2006, and aims at the inclusion of Islam in primary school curriculum.

Germany has a 99% literacy rate and almost all children attend state run schools, where polices are determined by each individual state with little to no interference form the federal government. There have been several pilot projects to teach principlesof the faith to German pupils, who are offered the option religious instruction in most state run schools. For decades, these classes taught Protestant and Catholic Christianity, stemming from the fact that churches used to provide free education to the children of Germany in the past and it wasn’t until 2003 that a Jewish religion class was introduced.

Chancellor Merkel has said that Germany should be more tolerant of its 4 million Muslims and understand that Islam was a part of the country’s makeup. In recognition of Muslims forming approximately 4% of the population and as a part of the integration program , the parliament of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia  (home to one third of the Muslim population in Germany) last year adopted a law to introduce Islam in its curriculum for religious studies.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s Education Minister, Sylvia Löhrmann, said the parliamentary vote represented a “sign of more integration” adding that North Rhine-Westphalia could be “a good example” for other states. Experts have said that inclusion of Islam in the public schools will test the governments’ integration efforts and hopefully help the Muslims feel more at home. He added, “It is better instruction in Islam is under the supervision of the state rather than allowing the emergence of educational institutions of the Koran which is under the management of Islamist institutions.”

Miteinander auf dem Weg (On the Way Together), the new textbook proposed for teaching this class, is centered on two main characters: Sarah and Bilal. The book attempts to show that Muslim children go through a daily routine much like non-Muslims. A segment in the book focuses on inter-faith harmony, introducing basic concepts of Christianity and Judaism alongside Islam. Sarah and Bilal are children of immigrants and some critics have said that they would have preferred more emphasis on Islam and less on immigration – as all this is defeating the purpose. Critics have also pointed out that the use of the Arabic term for God, ‘Allah’ is counter productive because it may leave the kids to believe that the Muslim God is different from that of other faiths. A balanced view of the basics of Islam is to be taught, and as time goes on, issues will rise as to the loopholes in this curriculum; which shall be directed to the head of the Center for Islamic Theology in Münster and relevant adjustments will be made until 2018, when the program is set to be evaluated for effectiveness.

In the process of writing this book, the author Mouhanad Khorchide and six other authors were guided by members of four of Germany’s the largest Islamic associations, scholars, community groups, parents and students. Every detail was studied and examined in light of traditions of Islam and laws of Germany. For instance, the authors wanted to show the teacher wearing a headscarf, but because the headscarf is banned for state-employees, the writers worked around this hurdle by using a male teacher. Other characters in the book are shown donning the veil at certain times and not at others, emphasizing the freedom of each to decide for themselves. Supporters of this curriculum believe that it will encourage a more moderate version of Islam among the youth, and to ensure this, only specially trained teachers are permitted to teach it.  The legislation enabling the teaching of this class ensures that no particular sect of Islam is promoted or overlooked.

A study commissioned by the Ministry of Interior of Germany discussed whether Muslims in their society even wanted to be integrated. Peter Holtz, one of the writers of the study, discussed the problem with generalizing; saying when you assign pre-conceived characteristics to 4 million people, you’ve already lost the game. In his article earlier this year, he talked about how the people he interviewed talked much like anyone else: about their hobbies, their families and their jobs – trying to humanize Muslims and lift away the stereotypes that are built around single stories of extremists within this segment of society.

Author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, has said that “the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” The German government seems to be interested in the entire story; and seems to be working to weave different cultures and religions into the fabric of its existence, shedding the hyphen that distinguishes between its citizens, one school program at a time.

Sahar Said


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