Parallel Justice? Germany Says No To Sharia Law

In the region of Bavaria, there is an often hidden parallel justice system, where imams and self-appointed judges circumvent the German legal system and Islamic law prevails.

A Berlin stroll (Libertinus)
A Berlin stroll (Libertinus)
Peter Issig

MUNICH - Imam Sidigullah Fadai gives other imams lessons in civic duties. He believes it would be un-Islamic not to obey the laws of the country you live in.

But he also has an insight into what goes on in many mosques, and who is saying what. And German laws are not always the measure of things, he says: "Insiders say that there's a parallel justice system pertaining to all areas of life." Particularly when marital or family problems are at stake, what imams or self-appointed "judges' have to say often provides the moral compass, he says.

Fadai himself knows of young Muslim women who are divorced and would like to remarry but cannot because they are obeying the law imposed by a local religious figure. He also says that money conflicts -- for example, when a worker without papers has a salary issue with the person who's hired him -- are sometimes solved in backroom situations within the Muslim community to protect all concerned, none of whom wish to put the matter before a Bavarian court. In such instances, a judge is called in.

In other words: "the state doesn't have the monopoly on justice," says Imam Fadai.

But that monopoly is precisely what Bavaria's Minister of Justice, Beate Merk, wishes to ensure: no, sharia courts should not be tolerated. "A parallel justice system that circumvents our system is not acceptable," she says.

Merk asked state prosecutors, lawyers, integration officials, and others familiar with immigrant communities for their input, and was alarmed by the feedback: judges and imams promulgating their own laws are very common, but it's also very hard to prove.

However, whenever cases of "parallel justice" have come to light, they were shown to be in serious violation of prevailing legislation. The Justice Ministry received reports of court cases in which judges exercised behind-the-scenes influence on both parties so that both the defendant and the accused -- who had already given accounts of events to police – suddenly refused to talk in court, or gave false testimony.

These "mediations' worked out by judges require the parties to stay silent or lie so that charges against the accused are dismissed and the victim is paid compensation money. There's something in it for the imams, too: donations are more than welcome. "For many imams, often without much other education, these deals constitute a significant portion of their income," says Bavarian integration commissioner Martin Neumeyer.

Shadow justice

The most common cases that come up are civil: family issues but mainly marital problems. And here the danger is particularly acute for women, whose interests may well not be fairly represented as when a judge bases himself on traditional Islamic law or espouses patriarchal interpretations of the law or morality.

"The arbitrators are men, and their decisions are always in favor of the men," says Joachim Wagner, author of a German-language book Richter ohne Gesetz (Lawless Judges) that portrays Islamic parallel justice as a threat to the state.

The actual level of activity of imams and judges in Bavaria is unclear; the Ministry of Justice has no reliable figures. Achieving any sort of clarity is also difficult because those involved are careful to act in secret. Nevertheless anonymous information points to enough activity to warrant investigation.

Munich's district attorney Christoph Strötz is also certain that "shadow justice" is at work in various ways: "but whatever form it takes, there should be zero tolerance," he says.

He has told his prosecutors to pay close attention when a witness suddenly refuses to talk or a complaint is withdrawn. He also stresses the importance of getting witness testimony heard quickly in the presence of an investigating judge, and securing material evidence.

Justice Minister Merk says that no changes to existing laws are necessary to deal with the problem. The awareness program she has launched aims "to create a climate of trust and to talk with, not about, all those concerned," she said.

In 2011, a "Parallel Justice Round Table" was created with both state and Munich city representatives of the law, education authorities, Islam specialist Mathias Rohe of Erlangen University, and Bavaria's integration commissioner Martin Neumeyer.

A working group was created to promote confidence in the German legal system among Islamic communities. Another group was created to work on sensitizing and educating judges and state prosecutors. "Immigrants often have the feeling the state doesn't understand them, oppresses rather than helps them," says Rohe, an Islam expert who acts as a consultant on the issue for the Ministry of Justice.

Merk stresses that the issue of parallel justice is not a religious or Islam-specific issue, but an integration issue. And while measures being undertaken focus on the Muslim community, there is no suspicion of any targeted activity against the law – the problem of imams handing down the law can be ascribed to lack of knowledge and information.

She also cited the positive case of an imam in Munich who talked a young man out of killing his wife because she wore western clothing in order to allegedly seduce other men. The imam told the young man that in Germany he had the option of divorce – which would save a life, and prevent him from going to jail. The man followed the imam's advice.

"That's an example of just how easy it can be to persuade immigrants of the advantages of following the law," said Merk.

Read the article in German in Die Welt.

Photo - Libertinus

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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