MUSLIMS IN MUNICH – problems and challenges (part1)

While sitting here several days ago and looking at my “Neo-Counter”, I suddenly realized that eleven of the thirty-six counties mentioned there, are either exclusively or at least partially countries in which Islam is the dominating religion. This fact gave rise to the idea to tell you about the Muslim population here in Munich, their daily problems and as well about the challenges they are facing while living in a country which does – utterly unjustly I might stress – often look upon them in skepticism and even fear, not different to many other countries after 9-11-2001.

In order to get correct numbers and to hear the situation authentically from someone who knows, I called the “Islamic Center” which is located at the northern edge of Munich, at Freimann, Wallnerstrasse 1-5 and made an appointment with Mr. Ahmad Khalifa who was kind enough to give me almost two hours of his precious time and most patiently answered all my questions. A heartfelt THANKS to you, Mr. Khalifa, for having been so cooperative!

The “Islamic Center”, founded in 1973 and today the biggest in Munich, is a center for Sunni Muslims who constitute roughly 93% of the Muslim population of Munich which is with its ~ 85,000 souls remarkably smaller than the one in Berlin with roughly half a million people! There are approximately 600 Shiite Muslims in Munich, which make up for the left over 7%.

As one can probably imagine, the daily life of a devout Muslim in a predominately Christian environment is not easy. It starts, one can expect, with food products!
The majority of Muslim women are compelled to work in order to make ends need (like most women around here) and so there is frequently not enough time left in the evening to prepare full meals for the family. Logically, the idea to get, at least occasionally, some convenience food to the table, would be tempting … but NO, it is not possible! You may ask why … well, the small-print on the ready-food packages do NOT mention which kind of fat was used for preparation and so, fearing it might contain pork-fat, it is not permitted and consequently NOT used.

Another factor is anything containing gelatin, which is produced from bones but as it is not mentioned from which animals – it is impossible to use nor to buy products, which contain even a trace of it.
A hint for the manufacturers … wider consumer-satisfaction would be guaranteed if it were mentioned, WHICH KIND OF FAT was used for producing the food-items. That way it would be safe for Muslims to consume and would certainly boost the sales of the particular brands!

The second main-problem is the coordination of prayer time with work-time, predominantly on Fridays! Large companies, so I was told, do show more readiness to “allow” prayer times to be kept than small ones, which perceive it as loss of working time.
During the two great feasts, “Ramadan” together with “Id al-Fitr” or “Seker Bayram” for Turkish Muslims and two and a half months later, “Id al-Adha” or “Kurban Bayram”, the absolute necessity to have time off, is mainly ignored. Mr. Khalifa told me, due to the importance of the occasions, people would even agree to take unpaid-leave, but mostly not even this is being granted, creating an almost impossible situation for every devout Muslim.

I was eager to know as well about education and asked about the classes taught at the Islamic School located not far from the Mosque … but Mr. Khalifa sadly shook his head, telling me with great regret, the school had been closed down in August 2005. Official argument: Mosques can be supervised, schools not. Considering the fact that around 175 children from class 1-4 (consequently age 6-10) were taught there, Egyptian school-books which were approved by the Bavarian government, were used and the school was under supervision of the education authority, it seems utterly absurd to me and lacking any solid foundation for such an action. The children – kindergarten included – were consequently compelled to join the regular German schools of the vicinity and thus deprived of classes in Arabic language, which made up some 50% of the lessons.

After that much negative information I must add some positive in order to at least attempt to create a balance and rescue the reputation of my hometown.
Munich is, in comparison to other German cities a few steps ahead in reference to Muslims by …
· Being the ONLY city, which gave THREE building licenses for Mosques with a fourth in planning!
· Having given permission to create something similar to a cemetery exclusively for Muslims WITHIN three of the large local ones (Mr. Khalifa: “People seem not to have realized previously that Muslims do die as well”!)
· Having as ONLY city in Germany Muslims as experts in the city council!

So much for today! Any questions you might have are certainly most welcome!
Next time I will write about the seemingly ever-present hijab-or scarf issue and about the general feeling of Muslims around here after 9/11/2001 … so – stick around!

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