German State Plans Hijab

    Female Muslim teachers in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia will be banned from wearing hijab at schools from next summer, according to a German press report. Officials in the State told Wednesday’s edition of the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung that the hijab ban would take effect from August 2006, Reuters reported. “Female and male teachers are not allowed to express any world views or any religious beliefs, which could disturb or endanger the peace at school,” North Rhine-Westphalia schools minister Barbara Sommer said. “That’s why we want to forbid (female) Muslim teachers at state schools from wearing headscarves.” State officials maintained that the decision would be probed with the Muslim groups in the state. They denied that the hijab ban was targeting religious beliefs of the Muslim minority. Germany’s constitution obliges the states to maintain strict religious neutrality but it does not enshrine a formal separation of church and state. Islam comes third in Germany after Protestant and Catholic Christianity. There are some 3.4 million Muslims in the country, including 220,000 in Berlin, and Turks make up an estimated two thirds of the Muslim minority. Controversy The hijab ban in schools has been a controversial issue in Germany for several years. The superior administrative court of Bremen ruled Monday, August 29, to ban a Muslim teacher from teaching in schools for her refusal to take off her hijab. Germany’s highest tribunal, the constitutional court, ruled in 2003 that Baden-Wuerttemberg was wrong to forbid a Muslim teacher from wearing hijab in the classroom. But it said Germany’s 16 regional states could issue new legislations to ban it if they believe hijab would influence children. The states of Hamburg, Mechlenburg-Vorpommern, Sachsen, Sachsen-Anhalt and Thuringen still allow teachers to wear hijab. The state of Hessen also made amendments to its school laws, banning teachers from wearing any symbols of religious or political nature while allowing them a limited right to put on Christian or western symbols. In Bavaria, laws were enforced in 2004 banning teachers from wearing religious symbols that are not harmonious with Christian cultural values. The state of Brandenburg made the same amendments in 2003. Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations – unlike the symbolic Christian crucifixes or Jewish Kappas. France spearheaded anti-hijab European countries with its lower house of parliament adopting the controversial bill on February 10 last year with an overwhelming majority. The text, put forward by President Jacques Chirac’s ruling center-right Union for a Popular Majority (UMP) party and supported by the left-wing opposition Socialists, was adopted by a vote of 494 to 36. Shortly afterwards, other European countries followed the French lead. The French ban, described by international rights watchdogs as amounting to religious discrimination, prompted demonstrations across Europe. International figures also stood behind the Muslim right, including London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who said Paris’s move is an anti-Muslim measure and accused Chirac plays a terribly, terribly dangerous game.

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