Berlin-Islam talks have been frank: minister


Berlin : Seven months of talks to ease frictions between Muslims and the German government have been “frank”, but German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Wednesday he took that as a sign of sincerity.

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Schaeuble was meeting 15 Muslim leaders who were chosen by Berlin last year to speak for the splintered Islamic community, mainly Turkish in origin, which is facing pressure to conform to the German way of life.

Since late September, working parties have discussed calls for free Islam classes for Muslims in German public schools.

Saying the talks so far had been “fruitful,” Schaeuble said the conference might last several years.

Ayyub Axel Koehler, the German-born spokesman for the Muslim Coordination Committee representing four main mosque groups, also said the talks had been fruitful.

“The frankness that we had with one another in the inaugural session has taken root as the regular mode in the German Islam Conference,” Schaeuble told the Islamic leaders behind closed doors in Berlin.

“We are at the beginning of a stony path,” Schaeuble said. “But I want all the people, whatever their faith, to want to be a part of a society that respects them in turn.”

In a bid to head off the risk of disaffection in the Islamic community, the government has picked five figures representing mosques and 10 secular Muslims to voice the concerns of an estimated 3.5 million German residents.

The first one-day round of talks was held in September last year, with working parties taking over the discussions since then and reporting back Wednesday.

Earlier, Schaeuble repeated his insistence that mosque groups could not speak for the Islamic community as a whole, saying only 10 percent of the German population of Muslim heritage were formal members of mosques.

Mosque leaders say the outreach of the mosques should be measured by the numbers attending Friday prayers, not by the smaller number who pay dues to the associations.