Berlin schools in the multicultural Neukölln district face growing religious intolerance. Conservative Muslims pressure liberal students and teachers to adapt their behavior to stricter interpretations of Islam, according to a survey conducted by the Association for Democracy and Diversity in Schools established by the federal government.
The research, supported by the Ministry for Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth at the request of the Neukölln district office, focused mainly on confrontational manifestations of religion and lasted three months.
“In recent years, we have repeatedly received calls for help from educational institutions because some religious interpretations do not allow tolerance for other opinions or even scientific knowledge,” said Neukölln Mayor Martin Hikel.
“A peaceful community can only exist if everyone has the right to be an individual, with free opinion, and free decision-making,” he added.
The survey took place mainly in areas where more than 90 percent of children come from predominantly Muslim families of German descent. However, the study did not mention specific schools due to the “fear atmosphere” that prevails in them.
Researchers have studied practices and behaviors which aim to provoke or humiliate others or establish dominance. They found that orthodox religious interpretations currently dominated the school playgrounds and common rooms of Berlin schools. Proponents of these practices exert strong repressive pressure on the more liberal believers.
In half of the ten schools that participated in the study, students and teachers claim that the confrontational manifestations of religion are deeply rooted in everyday reality. Four schools stated that complaints about this type of behavior were only sporadic. Only one school reported no problems in this regard.
Girls face growing hostility
The pressure of the conservative part of Muslims on others mainly applies to clothing. For example, one Muslim student told a teacher of Arab descent that he would not listen to her because “she is a very bad Muslim woman.”
The woman did not wear a headscarf.
According to the management of one of the educational institutions, women and girls face growing sexual hostility. Another school said that although two-thirds of the pupils are girls, boys dominate there, attacking students with liberal attitudes. They mainly target girls and force them to behave according to traditional Muslim values.
In a questionnaire, some secular and liberal Muslims said that their daughters were wearing a headscarf to school to gain recognition, although women in the family did not wear headscarves at all. The girls, who until recently played football, stopped because they took on a new role.
Tilmann Kötterheinrich-Wedekind, director of the Ernst Abbe grammar school, also admits that there have been more frequent conflicts recently, and some conservative Muslim parents of students cause problems. For example, they forbid girls to participate in physical education unless they wear long robes to play sports. However, such clothing is unsafe during sports activities, he notes.
During Ramadan, parents often force their children to go to the toilets at certain times and pray there. Schools also often see students leaving online classes during prayer times. The school principal points out that if children are unable to concentrate due to religious regulations, they achieve worse academic results.
The researchers intend to continue their work. They hope that next year, they will be able to open a center where teachers and students could report cases of religious confrontation. The Association for Democracy and Diversity already offers teachers training to prepare them for such situations and prevent conflicts.