Germany urged to grant Muslims days off for religious festivals

BERLIN (REUTERS) - Muslims living in Germany should be granted two days of official holiday a year to mark important religious festivals, a leading member of the country's Muslim community said, drawing criticism from within Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling conservatives.

Mr Aiman Mazyek told Thursday's edition of the regional Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ) that providing German Muslims with a legal holiday in the holy fasting month of Ramadan and another during the Feast of the Sacrifice would be"an important sign of integration".

"It would underline tolerance in our society," said Mr Mazyek, who is chairman of Germany's Central Council of Muslims, adding that Muslims in public services such as the police could stand in for colleagues over Christian holidays like Easter.

Germany has sometimes faced accusations of not doing enough to integrate its Muslim population, estimated to number around four million, mostly of Turkish origin. But some German conservatives say the onus is on Muslims to adapt to the traditions and customs of a mainly Christian-based society.

Mr Wolfgang Bosbach, a prominent member of Dr Merkel's traditionally Catholic Christian Democrats (CDU), rejected Mr Mazyek's call, saying there was "no Islamic tradition in Germany" and that religious holidays here reflected the country's Christian heritage.

Another CDU lawmaker, Mr Patrick Sensburg, urged respect among Germans for existing Christian holidays and more shopping restrictions on Sundays.

Mr Guntram Schneider, social minister in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia for the centre-left Social Democrats, expressed concern over the economic costs of giving Muslims two days off.

Friday and Monday will be public holidays in Germany marking Easter.

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