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German Court To Muslim Student: Praying At School Disturbs The Peace

The Federal Administrative Court in Germany has ruled against an 18-year-old Muslim student involved in a drawn-out legal quest for permission to pray openly at school. The decision, however, does not rule out all prayer at school, which pleased activists

For at least one Muslim in Germany,
For at least one Muslim in Germany,
Matthias Drobinski

MUNICH -- Yunus M., an 18-year-old Muslim high school student at Diesterweg Gymnasium in Berlin, Germany, has failed in his fight for the right to pray in the public corridors at school. The latest decision concerns this individual case only, judges at the Federal Administrative Court emphasized. But should the plaintiff, who is near graduation, opt to pursue the matter, the only further legal recourse open to him is the Federal Constitutional Court.

The question that the case raises, however, remains: should Muslim students be able to pray openly at school?

Four years ago, Yunus M. and seven friends gathered in the school corridor to bow in the direction of Mecca. The school's director forbid them to do it again, and the case went through a local court, then a court of appeal, before being heard at the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig.

According to chief justice Werner Neumann, students have a fundamental right to pray at school. He said, however, that religious freedom has its limits if it threatens to cause social friction within the school, as was the case here. The court agreed with the position of the school, whose director stated that there had been repeated religious conflicts at the school, and that at an establishment where 90% of the students were not German it was impossible for them all to claim a right to pray there publically. In addition, the director stated, Yunus M. had been offered a space where he could pray privately.

A case-by-case issue?

The case had previously resulted in contradictory court decisions. In September 2009, the Berlin Administrative Court decided in favor of Yunus M., a ruling which the Administrative Appeals Tribunal overturned six months later.

The Berlin Administrative court called in jurist Matthias Rohe, an expert on Islam, who said that the Muslim boy's stance was a "plausible opinion in the spectrum of religious freedom" and that Yunus M. was not an extremist. The Appeals Tribunal called in a colleague of Rohe's, Tilman Nagel, who stated that even the prophet Mohammed had put off praying to make community life simpler.

Yunus M."s case underscores a basic tension: Do state institutions have to accept strict, conservative, even fundamentalist practices when other interpretations are possible?

The Leipzig court avoided this debate by stressing the individual nature of its decision. For this the court earned praise from some Christian churches. Spokespersons for the Berlin-Brandenburg Evangelical Church and the Archdiocese of Berlin said the court's decision aligned with the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Yunus M."s lawyer said they were waiting for the written decision before deciding whether or not to go to the Supreme Court, a move he described, nevertheless, as unlikely.

Read the original article in German

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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