For Erol Pürlü, spokesman for the German Muslim coordination council, the signing of the contract with the city-state of Bremen marked a “day of joy”. Three Muslim associations were officially recognized as religious bodies. “That sends a clear signal that Islam belongs to Germany,” said Pürlü.
Bremen is the third German state to confer this status on Islamic organizations. Hamburg made a similar agreement last November, while Hesse officially recognized two Islamic organizations and allowed them to offer their own religious classes in schools in December.
The relationship between German states and Muslim associations had been stalled for decades until the breakthrough came in 2010. Large organizations like the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) and the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers (VIKZ) had been campaigning to be recognized as religious bodies for a long time.
Among other privileges, the status gave communities the right to offer their own religion classes in schools. But for a long time the state governments resisted all applications, on the grounds that the associations did not fulfill all the legal and structural preconditions. In order to still offer Islamic lessons and create Islamic theological professorships at universities, “advisory councils” were created, on which sit representatives of the state governments. These committees take the place of a recognized religious organization and approve teaching appointments.
Islamic holidays recognized
Now Hamburg, Bremen and Hesse have all gone one step further, though in different ways. In the two city-states, three different Islamic celebrations are now recognized religious holidays. That means school children and employees can take the day off if they want. Officially recognized religious bodies also have the right to minister to Muslims in prisons, hospitals and other public institutions. Also, Muslims are allowed – within certain legal constraints – to build Mosques and bury their dead by their own religious rites – in other words, without a coffin.
Essentially, the state contracts merely bring together and summarize a number of regulations that have been in practise for many years. Little will change in the everyday lives of the approximately 130,000 Muslims in Hamburg and the 40,000 in Bremen. And yet for Pürlü, the contracts are more than just a symbol. The new holidays regulation, for instance, has given the Muslims a whole new freedom, he explains. “It is no longer decided at the discretion of the authorities or the schools or the employers,” he said. “Muslims now have a legal right to a holiday.”