HAMBURG  - Hamburg concluded a “historic” accord with its Muslim communities on Tuesday becoming the first German state to recognise certain Islamic holidays as days off. The agreement signed by Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz and religious associations is seen as putting the northern port city’s Muslims, on a more equal footing with Christian residents. Hamburg is also one of Germany’s 16 federal states. As well as handing them the right to take off some religious holidays, it allows the communities to take part in developing religious teaching in schools and the future employment of Muslim religious studies’ teachers.

Muslims for their part undertake to respect fundamental rights and support equality between the sexes. Scholz described the signing at the city hall as a “milestone” while Zekeriya Altug, chairman of the Hamburg branch of the DITIB Turkish-Islamic association, called it a “historic day” for both Hamburg and Germany. “With it, Hamburg has today set a precedent for the future of our country,” his association, which was one of three Muslim groups to sign the treaty, said in a written statement. Under the accord, Muslims in Hamburg will have the right to three religious holidays but will have to take them as part of their overall holiday entitlement as is the case for some regionally observed Christian holidays. Until now it was down to employers to decide whether to grant Muslim staff religious days off. “Many Muslim employees didn’t dare ask for days off on those days for fear of being seen badly,” Altug has said. “Now they will be able to say: it’s my holiday, it’s governed by law. “That makes an enormous difference,” he added.