Hamburg may soon become the first German state officially to recognize Islam as a religious community and give its Muslims the same legal rights as Christians and Jews in dealing with the local administration.
Four years of quiet negotiations about building mosques, opening Muslim cemeteries and teaching Islam in public schools are nearing an end.
"It"s important for us that this agreement makes clear that we are part of this society," said Zekeriya Altug, chairman of the Hamburg branch of DITIB, a Turkish-German mosque network that is one of Germany"s largest Muslim organizations.
"We"re close to wrapping this up," said Norbert Mueller, a German convert who is a board member of Shura, the largest mosque association in this north Germany port city.
In Hamburg, Muslims make up about 5 percent of the 1.7 million population.
President Christian Wulff stated that the country had Christian and Jewish roots but the presence of a large Muslim minority meant that Islam too now "belongs to Germany."
The Hamburg agreement would integrate Muslims in several practical ways. For example, city schools would have to hire Muslims to teach Islam in religion classes all pupils attend. Muslim pupils would be free to skip school on 2 or 3 Islamic holidays and Muslim chaplains could be posted in prisons.
Two other states, Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia, are also considering recognizing Islam.