German state government defends headscarf ban for children

North Rhine-Westphalia's government is on the defense after a plan to legally ban girls from wearing headscarves in school sparked controversy. Germany's anti-discrimination head said a ban could marginalize Muslim kids.

Serap Güler, the undersecretary in the integration ministry for the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), has fiercely defended a proposal to ban girls under the age of 14 from wearing headscarves or hijabs in school.

The ban, proposed by state's Christian Democrat (CDU) and Free Democrat (FDP) coalition government, has divided teachers, school experts, religious organizations and even ministers within German Chancellor Angela Merkel's own party.

Read moreGerman headscarf ban for children met with mixed response

What the integration undersecretary said

  • "This is about the free development of a child. That's why this isn't a debate about religion or integration, but rather a debate about the best interests of the child," Güler, a member of the CDU, said in an interview with ZDF's "Morgenmagazin."
  • She noted that according to Islamic custom, girls should only begin wearing a head scarf after the start of puberty, arguing: "Therefore, no one can invoke [the argument of ] exercising religious freedom, since the religion doesn't even call for it at this age."
  • Güler also took issue with the custom that headscarves are intended to conceal women's "charms" from men, stating: "That daycare and elementary school-aged girls must conceal their attractiveness from men — that's what sexualizes the child."
  • "When a young woman then says: 'I want to wear a headscarf,' that is her right, which we also have to accept and respect," she added.

Read moreGood Friday ban on Muslim circumcision parties in Germany raises larger religious questions

Burqa, hijab or niqab? What is she wearing?

Hijab

Most Islamic scholars agree that the hijab, which covers the head and neck, and comes in any number of shapes and colors, must be worn by Muslim women. American teen Hannah Schraim is seen wearing one here while playing with her brother.

Burqa, hijab or niqab? What is she wearing?

Chador

The chador, which is usually black, is a body-length outer garmet often worn in Iran and among modern-minded women in the Gulf States, as here in Saudi Arabia. It is not fastened with clasps or buttons and therefore has to be held closed by the wearer.

Burqa, hijab or niqab? What is she wearing?

Niqab

A niqab is a veil and scarf that covers the entire face yet leaves the eyes free. It covers a woman's hair, as it falls to the middle of her back and some are also half-length in the front so as to cover her chest. Here it is being worn by women attending a rally by Salafi radicals in Germany.

Burqa, hijab or niqab? What is she wearing?

Abaya

An abaya is a loose-fitting, full-length garment designed to cover the body. It may come in many different styles, as seen here at an Arab fashion show, and is often worn in combination with hijab or niqab.

Burqa, hijab or niqab? What is she wearing?

Burqa

The burqa is the most extensive of all Muslim garments, covering the entire body from head to toe. It traditionally has a woven mesh area around the eyes to allow women to see. In this case enabling them to cast their ballots in Pakistani parliamentary elections.

Burqa, hijab or niqab? What is she wearing?

No veil

Queen Rania of Jordan says that Islam does not coerce women to wear any head coverings, and that it is more important to judge a woman by her ethics and values, rather than what she wears. She is seen here meeting with refugees in Greece.

Where do others stand on the proposed ban?

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the secretary general of Merkel's CDU, said she hopes the party will be able to convince parents to not have their children wear the head coverings, "but we aren't ruling out a ban as a last resort."

Her comments conflicted with other CDU members, including federal integration commissioner Annette Widmann-Mauz, who said that such a ban raises several constitutional questions.

Christine Lüders, the head of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, warned against banning individual religious symbols, arguing: "Whoever wants to ban the Muslim headscarf at schools isn't solving any integration problems, rather they are contributing to students feeling marginalized and discriminated against."

FDP head Christian Lindner defended NRW Integration Minister and FDP member Joachim Stamp's plan for the ban, saying: "If children already have to wear headscarves in elementary schools or even in Kindergarten, this strongly influences the personal development of minors."

Read moreMistrust and Islamophobia see dramatic rise in Germany's melting pot

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

How successful is linguistic integration?

Three quarters of German-born Muslims grow up with German as a first language. Among immigrants, only one fifth claim that German is their first language. The trend of language skills improving with successive generations is apparent across Europe. In Germany 46 percent of all Muslims say that their national language is their first language. In Austria this is 37 percent, Switzerland 34 percent.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

How do Muslims view interreligious relationships?

According to a 2017 study by Religion Monitor, 87 percent of Swiss Muslims have frequent contact with non-Muslims in their free time. In Germany and France it is 78 percent, while in the UK it's 68 percent and Austria, 62 percent. A large majority of Muslims in succeeding generations are found to have constant contact with non-Muslims, despite existing societal hurdles.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

Do Muslims feel connected in Europe?

Ninety-six percent of French Muslims feel connected with their country. The percentage of Muslims feeling the same way is equally high in Germany, while Switzerland has the highest levels, at 98 percent. Yet despite its relatively longer history of institutional openness to religious and cultural diversity, fewer Muslims, (89 percent) report feeling close ties to the UK.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

How important is religion in the daily life of European Muslims?

Muslims from immigrant families maintain a strong religious commitment which continues across generations. Sixty-four percent of Muslims living in the UK describe themselves as highly religious. The share of devout Muslims stands at 42 percent in Austria, 39 percent in Germany, 33 percent in France and 26 percent in Switzerland.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

What percentage of Muslim students pursue a degree?

According to data, 36 percent of German-born Muslims finish their education by the age of 17, without pursuing further studies. In Austria too, this proportion is around 39 percent. On the other hand, owing to a more equitable school system in France, Muslims there register significantly better educational outcomes. Only one in ten Muslim students leaves school before reaching 17.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

What percentage of Muslims are in the job market?

About 60 percent of all Muslims who moved to Germany before 2010 now hold a full-time job, while 20 percent work part-time jobs. The figures are similar to those of non-Muslims. Muslims in Germany had higher employment rates than in other European countries. In France, the unemployment rate among Muslims is 14 percent, far higher than the 8 percent reported for non-Muslims.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

How widespread is the rejection of Islam?

More than one in four non-Muslims in Austria do not want Muslims neighbors. This percentage is remarkably high in the UK as well, at 21 percent. In Germany, 19 percent of non-Muslim respondents say that they would not welcome Muslim neighbors. The figure stands at 17 percent in Switzerland and 14 percent in France. Overall, Muslims are among the most rejected social group.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

‘Muslims in Europe - Integrated but not accepted’

The information included in this picture gallery is from the Bertelsmann Foundation’s study titled ‘Muslims in Europe - Integrated but not accepted?’ Conclusions are based on a representative survey of more than 10,000 people in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France and the UK. Muslim refugees who arrived in Europe after 2010 were not surveyed for the study.

Why the specific age limit? In Germany, children can freely choose their religion starting at age 14. The age is protected under a 1921 law granting young people aged 14 and up the right to freely choose their religious beliefs.

Is there any data on the issue? Güler said there's currently no concrete figures on how many young girls wear headscarves.

Austria eyes similar move: In early April, Austria's conservative government announced a similar plan to ban girls aged up to 10-years-old from wearing headscarves in kindergarten and elementary school. The previous Austrian administration passed a law banning all face coverings in public, but allowed women to wear the regular hijab.

rs/jm (dpa, epd, KNA)

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