German Muslims raise alarm over 'headscarf ban through the back door'

Critics say new law on tattoos could pave the way for ban on religious coverings

Two young women wearing headscarves at Germany's border with Poland. Getty Images 
Two young women wearing headscarves at Germany's border with Poland. Getty Images 

Muslims in Germany are alarmed over a new law that they say could lead to a ban on Islamic headscarves through the back door.

The law, which comes as France debates a hijab ban for under-18s, would allow for German civil servants to be banned from displaying symbols that “reduce trust in their neutrality”.

Although the measure is aimed primarily at tattoos rather than religious symbols, Muslim women fear that it could be used against them.

Germany’s Muslim Co-ordination Council raised the question of whether the move could lead to “a headscarf ban through the back door”.

“The proposal gives federal and state authorities a tool with which they can ban government employees from wearing headscarves and kippahs,” it said.

“In practice, it will especially affect Muslim women who wear a head covering – regardless of their skills and qualifications.

“Because of this law, Muslim women will be confronted with the choice of either wearing their headscarf or pursuing a career without one. That is the wrong signal to the many Muslims in our country.”

A major survey of Islam in Germany published last week found that about 30 per cent of Muslim women and girls wear a head covering.

The figure rose to 62 per cent among Muslim women aged 65 or older, the report said.

It was also higher among women with roots in the Middle East or North Africa rather than other regions, such as south-eastern Europe.

Another Islamic organisation in Germany, the Coalition for Muslim Women, said the new law “encourages a prejudicial view of people who are visibly religious”.

“Instead of defending social diversity, trusting in the quality of state education and giving everyone an equal chance, the law promotes the division of society into us and them,” it said.

“It sees visible religious practice as something that is negative and therefore as something to be avoided.”

Despite these objections, the law was approved by the upper house of Germany’s parliament on Friday.

One politician, Benjamin-Immanuel Hoff, told the chamber the bill traced its origins to a case involving a far-right police officer with extremist tattoos.

But he echoed the concerns of Germany’s Muslims and said a wider social debate was needed about religious head coverings.

“There is the fear that this law is bringing in powers to ban the wearing of headscarves and kippahs, without a wider social discussion,” he said.

Hijab ban proposal sparks anger in France

A similar debate is taking place in France, where a so-called anti-separatism bill is making its way through parliament.

French senators added an amendment to the bill that would ban under-18s from wearing a hijab in public areas.

The amendment may yet be scratched when the bill is debated by a joint committee from the French parliament’s two chambers.

But it has already caused anger, with Amnesty International calling it a “serious attack on rights and freedoms in France”.

“This is what happens when you normalise anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim hate speech, bias, discrimination and hate crimes – Islamophobia written into law,” said US Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, one of the prominent voices to condemn the plan.

In Germany, the survey played down fears raised by migrant-sceptic politicians about a “parallel society” brought about by immigration.

The far-right Alternative for Germany party surged into parliament for the first time in 2017 after declaring that “Islam does not belong to Germany” and raising fears of “segregation by parallel Islamic societies”.

It came after Chancellor Angela Merkel opened Germany’s doors to migrants during the 2015 refugee crisis, in a decision that turned Islam and integration into a major political flashpoint.

But the new survey found that nearly half of Muslims are German citizens, and most have close friends without any migrant background.

More than 80 per cent of Muslims in Germany said they were religious, the study found, but their level of integration hardly differed from other migrant groups.

The report described a growing diversity among Germany’s Muslim population, with people of Turkish origin no longer making up the majority.

Updated: May 7, 2021 06:25 PM


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