Expatica.com, April 12, 2007
An umbrella group set up this week by Muslims in Germany called Thursday for Islam to be granted many of the same legal privileges as the main Christian churches and Judaism.
Ayyub Axel Koehler, the German Muslim leader who is taking the first, six-month turn as spokesman for the Muslim Coordination Council, said in Cologne, “Islamic instruction in public schools, running Islamic cemeteries: you have to have legal status first.”
Germany has more than 3.2 million residents of Muslim heritage in an overall population of 82 million. Their mosques are owned by incorporated societies with no especial religious status under German law.
“We are concerned about the integration of Islam and Muslims into the German legal system,” said Koehler, who heads the German Council of Muslims, one of four rival bodies that established the umbrella group.
He said that wherever German law granted rights to a “religious community,” a legal term embracing the Catholic and Lutheran churches and the Jewish community, Islam ought to be included as well.
German officials have to date rejected this, arguing that only tiny numbers of Muslims are dues-paying members of Islamic societies such as mosque councils, so their federations are not representative.
Hans-Peter Uhl, an interior-policy spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, said this week many German Muslims would never grant the umbrella group the authority to speak in their name.
“Islam is not organized like a church,” responded Koehler, adding that Germany had to accept that far more Muslims prayed than joined mosque assemblies.
“When the call to Friday prayers goes out, almost all of them come in,” he said.