BERLIN Aug 15 Hamburg has become Germany's
first city to recognise Islamic holidays, a move meant to
encourage the integration of a religious minority often vilified
by opponents of immigration.
Muslim employees and students will be allowed days off to
celebrate their holidays and Islamic classes will be allowed in
state schools, authorities and Islamic groups said after
negotiations lasting five years.
"We hope that the introduction of Muslim religious classes
in the northern city-state will be a signal for the other
fifteen German states," said Daniel Abdin from Hamburg's council
of Islamic communities. "This agreement is an important step
towards a recognition of Islam in the country."
The agreement will come into force next year, the first of
this kind in a country home to some 4 million Muslims, about
half of whom have German citizenship.
The total population is around 82 million in Germany where
religious and ethnic tolerance is a sensitive issue.
Federal conservative lawmaker Volker Kauder, a close ally of
Chancellor Angela Merkel, said earlier this year that Islam was
not part of Germany's tradition and identity.
A court in Cologne banned circumcision on young boys in
July, sparking criticisms from the Muslim and Jewish
Muslim groups in Hamburg, representing some 150,0000
Muslims, said the agreement was a historic sign of acceptance.
"Muslims consider Hamburg their home," said Zekeriya Altug,
from Hamburg's Turkish-Islamic Union of the Institute for
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)