The past few years have been troublesome for Muslims in Europe. In November of 2009, the Swiss passed a ban on minarets- the first major piece of Islamophobic legislation in Europe. In late 2010, and into 2011, France was embroiled in a controversy over legislation that eventually banned the niqab and burqa.
Germany, a country whose Muslims (the majority of whom are Turks) comprise 5.0% of its population, has taken steps, however, to help its Muslim population. In his article for Brookings, Jonathan Laurence wrote about a variety of “gestures of institutional inclusion” by the German government, including “local schools making space for Islam within their religious curriculum.” He went on to discuss examples of states offering “Islamic instruction…for its Muslim public school students” as well as discussions by scholars and experts. Unfortunately, Laurence did not mention if German non-Muslim students receive any sort of education about Islam (its beliefs, culture, rich history, etc.). If German society is going to truly accept its Muslim population, they need to be educated. Additionally, the roundtable discussions held by academics and organizations should be open to society at large; they should not be closed meetings. The more Germans there are in engaged in constructive dialogue, the better for Germany.
Germany has also helped Muslim women with its “Saba program,” according to Soua Mekhennet. The program “is designed for women between 18 and 35 who don’t have roots in Germany and seek a school diploma. The fellows get money for school fees, child care, Metro tickets and coaching lessons.” In giving these women a chance to improve their situation, they are also helping them improve their families’ situations. That, in turn, will be beneficial for German society.
Both stories are examples of Germany seeing an opportunity to come to grips with a potentially divisive issue while working towards a positive solution. Germany’s neighbors, France in particular, would do well to pay attention.
For more information on the dialogue between Muslims and the German government and Germany’s policies, you might want to take a look at the website for the German Islam Conference and the Migration and Integration page on the Ministry of the Interior website.