In his Op-Ed, Save Liberal Democracy Founder Alexander Görlach argues that introducing an Islamic national holiday could be a sensible step towards more integration. It would also be a potent symbol of Germany’s liberal democracy, he argues.
The proposal came at an inopportune moment: Germany’s Conservative Secretary of the Interior Thomas de Maizière suggested introducing an Islamic public holiday. And indeed, it horrified his Conservative party colleagues. The party of incumbent Chancellor Merkel had suffered a major setback in the national election, primarily because of its migration policy. There was much talk of a political shift to the right. The extreme right-wing party, AfD, had gained 13% of the overall vote. In some constituencies, it managed to win up to 30% of the electorate. Especially in the eastern parts of the country.
Suggesting an Islamic public holiday at this very moment can be viewed as a principled and courageous decision. Our liberal values are more vigorous than ever, it seems to claim. It is a clear answer to those who prognosticate a decline of Germany’s liberal democracy. The European aversion to Islam, and particularly the German, is certainly not a novelty. It would be false to suggest that it grew out of the ‘refugee crisis’ that began in 2015 with the arrival of thousands of predominantly Muslim refugees on Europe’s shores. Since the 9/11 attacks, public attitudes towards Islam have been plummeting, both in Europe and in Germany. There were even opinion polls in European countries that came out in favor of a Trump-style travel ban on countries with Muslim majorities.
It is a clear answer to those who prognosticate a decline of Germany’s liberal democracy.
In Germany, public holidays are determined at the discretion of each of Germany’s 16 Länder (states). And except the national holidays on October 3rd and May 1st, all public holidays are of Christian origins: Easter, Christmas, Ascension Day and Pentecost. While Länder with historically Catholic majorities further added All Saints’ Day and Corpus Christi to their list, Protestant states retain Reformation Day on 31st of October and a Day of Repentance and Prayer in November as public holidays. Given the religious specificity of these festivities, Secretary of the Interior de Maizière suggests that Länder with large Muslim minorities could consider adding Islamic holidays to their holiday calendar.
Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant students can already be exempt from school during important religious festivities. This ruling is supposed to express appreciation and respect for the religious identity of pupils. Beyond that, however, Christian holidays are protected constitutionally. The respective articles of the constitution date back to the Weimarer Republic, a time when 95 percent of Germans were part of a Christian Church.
Until today, many Germans view their country and the European Union as a Christian domain. Some parties are less affine to this conviction than others, but a motion to abolish all Christian holidays would most certainly be doomed to fail. Just as an attempt to amend Germany’s constitution, which explicitly invokes the ‘individual responsibility before God and Man’ in its preamble. President, Chancellor and Ministers can conclude their oath of allegiance with the formula ‘so help me God.’
Germany, in this regard, is undoubtedly in the midst of a transition.
There are hundreds of mosques in Germany, and public schools offer Islamic religious education. Not on a national scale, but only because there aren’t yet enough qualified teachers. Germany, in this regard, is undoubtedly in the midst of a transition. In 2010, then president Christian Wulff claimed in a public speech that ‘Islam is a part of Germany.’ That lead to an uproar and much debate. But his claim was no more than a representation of reality: approximately four million Muslims live in Germany. They belong to Germany, with their religion. Simultaneously, however, Islam plays no role in German history. Sooner or later, Germans will have to come to terms with this new reality. A regional Islamic public holiday could be a sensible first step and a potent symbol of liberalism.