CAIRO - Three German states have recognized Muslim groups as official religious bodies, paving the way for Muslims to offer their own religion classes in schools and win a wider recognition in the European country.
"That sends a clear signal that Islam belongs to Germany," Erol Purlu, spokesman for the German Muslim Coordination Council, told Deutsche Welle.
Three German states have recently recognized Islamic organizations as official religious bodies.
The northwestern state of Bremen was the latest state to sign a contract with representatives of Muslim groups in this regard.
Under the contact, Muslim holidays as `Eid Al-Fitr and `Eid Al-Adha will be recognized as official vacations.
Purlu described the signed contact with the state of Bremen as a day of joy.
The Bremen contact followed similar documents that recognize Muslim organizations in Hamburg and Hesse.
The official recognition of Muslim groups as religious bodies allows them the right to minister to Muslims in prisons, hospitals and other public institutions.
Muslims are allowed - within certain legal constraints - to build mosques and bury their dead by their own religious rites.
The contracts are a milestone in the relationship between German states and Muslim associations.
Muslim groups like the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) and the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers (VIKZ) have long campaigned for recognition as religious bodies.
Germany has between 3.8 and 4.3 million Muslims, making up some 5 percent of the total 82 million population, according to government-commissioned studies.
Muslims hail the contacts as a major breakthrough that gives new freedoms to the minority.
For instance, Muslim religious holidays are now recognized as official vacations.
"It is no longer decided at the discretion of the authorities or the schools or the employers," Purlu said.
"Muslims now have a legal right to a holiday."
The contract gives also Muslim groups in Hesse like DITIB the right to introduce one religious class orientated to their faith.
Muslims hope that other German states will follow suits in recognizing Muslim groups as religious bodies.
DITIB spokesman Bekir Alboga believes that similar contracts are likely in Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Baden-WÃ¼rttemberg, and Lower Saxony.
Now, Muslims are putting their eyes on North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state where some 1.3 million Muslims live.
There is already an Islam-oriented religious class there, which began in 2012, but it is still under the remit of an advisory committee.
Purlu says Muslim groups see this as just a temporary solution and want the NRW state government to recognize them as official religious bodies and then introduce religious classes without state intervention.
Legal expert Heinrich de Wall sees this possible.
"If Bremen and Hamburg say the DITIB is a religious body, then it will certainly be more difficult for the NRW government to say it isn't one.
Alboga hopes the new contracts will give the Muslim associations access to more public money to support their work, which is mainly done on a voluntary basis.
"We really do good work," said Alboga."But it has to be guaranteed and supported, not just through membership fees, which aren't enough to expand this work and make it more multi-faceted."