BERLIN - A Muslim leader has called for German authorities to grant two days of official holiday for Muslims to celebrate their religious festivals, inviting criticism from Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling conservatives.
"It would underline tolerance in our society," Aiman Mazyek, chairman of Germany's Central Council of Muslims, told the regional Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, Reuters reported.
He said German Muslims should be granted two official days to celebrate `Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, and `Eid Al-Adha, which marks the end of hajj.
He said the move would be "an important sign of integration".
Mazyek said that Muslims in public services such as the police could stand in for colleagues over Christian holidays like Easter.
Germans will have Friday and Monday as public holidays to mark Easter.
Germany has Europe's second-biggest Muslim population after France, and Islam comes third in Germany after Protestant and Catholic Christianity.
It 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.
A number of German states have recently signed agreements with Muslims bodies under which Muslim festivals were recognized as official holidays.
In December, the northwestern state of Bremen signed a contract with Muslim groups to allow Muslims to take days off work for their religious festivals.
It followed the signing of a similar contract in Hamburg between Muslims and authorities to recognize religious Muslim holidays.
But the proposal won flaks from within Merkel's ruling conservatives.
Wolfgang Bosbach, a prominent member of Merkel's traditionally Catholic Christian Democrats (CDU), said there was "no Islamic tradition in Germany".
He insisted that religious holidays in Germany reflected the country's Christian heritage.
Another CDU lawmaker, Patrick Sensburg, urged respect among Germans for existing Christian holidays and more shopping restrictions on Sundays.
Guntram Schneider, social minister in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia for the center-left Social Democrats, expressed concern over the economic costs of giving Muslims two days off.
Muslims in Germany have been in the eye of storm in recent years.
An earlier study in 2010 by the University of Munster found that 66 percent of western Germans and 74 percent of eastern Germans had a negative attitude towards Muslims.
A more recent study from the Allensbach Institute suggested that this had not changed over the past two years.
Asking Germans about Islam, only 22 percent said they agreed with Germany's former president Christian Wulff's statement that Islam, like Christianity, was part of Germany.According to a 2010 nationwide poll by the research institute Infratest-dimap, more than one third of the respondents would prefer "a Germany without Islam."