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Conclusion

There seems to be a positive correlation between the public recognition of the culture and identities of minorities, the degree of social and cultural autonomy available to them and their felt sense of self-assurance, and their integration into the wider society. A reassuring and enabling environment-free from xenophobia, mistrust and stigmatization-is likely to facilitate and strengthen their involvement with the wider society and to channel their capabilities, energies and resources in a socially productive direction. On the other hand, repressed identities are often the breeding ground of separatism, alienation and extremism. In Germany, the public recognition of ethnic and religious minorities, especially Turkish immigrants, has played a significant role in their integration into the host society. In the late 1980s, the Auslander Berauftragte (The Commission on Foreigners) offered a definition of community on the basis of religion. Like churches in Germany, which are recognized as a religious community (Religionsgesellschaft), Muslim associations also enjoy this status in several provinces. In Hamburg, for example, language teachers, even those with Turkish nationality, are treated as civil servants.

A positive development in European societies in recent years is the growing tendency on the part of immigrants to get their grievances redressed within the legal and constitutional framework, and not in the name of minority rights. In Germany, for example, Muslims, especially German-born Muslims, are seeking the resolution of their problems from within German society. For example, the German constitution allows religious instruction in state-funded schools. The demand by German Muslims to allow Islamic teachings in schools is legitimized in the framework of this constitutional provision. Similarly, the decisions by the Supreme Administrative Courts in Germany that allow Muslim girls in some cities to be exempted from coeducational sports lessons, or the recent court decision that grants Muslims the right to slaughter animals according to their religious ritual, were informed and guided by the basic principle of freedom of religion guaranteed by the German constitution. Significantly, the courts in Germany, as well as other European countries, are playing a highly important role in granting legal recognition to the religious and cultural rights of immigrants and minorities. In the Netherlands, the Committee for Equal Treatment, a state institution which has been created to deal with the issue of discrimination on grounds of race, gender or conviction, has recently ruled in favour of a Muslim woman whose registration in a teacher training programme was cancelled because she refused to shake hand with a male teacher on religious grounds.

Taking recourse to the legal and constitutional path, coupled with negotiation and dialogue, will go a long way not only in securing public recognition for the legitimate rights of Muslims and other minorities but also in drawing them closer to the host society and thereby facilitating their integration in the host society.

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