The German Interior Minister has proposed that the nation introduces public holidays during Muslim festivals. Thomas de Maiziere was quickly challenged by rival politicians after he made the remarks on 12 October.

The senior member of Angela Merkel's government said the holidays would only take place in regions with a large Islamic population. There are an estimated 1.5m Muslims living in Germany – just under 2% of the population.

"Why shouldn't we think about a Muslim public holiday in parts of the country where many Muslims live?" he asked during a speech in Lower Saxony.

Merkel and Maziere's Christian Democrats(CDU) remained the biggest party in recent German elections but lost almost a quarter of their vote share in part due to public resentment against an open-door refugee policy.

Maziere maintained that German holidays should "continue to be shaped" around the Christian calendar but pointed out that Catholic holidays, such as All Saints Day, are already celebrated in parts of the country with larger Catholic populations.

His comments were immediately rounded on by Alternative for Germany (AfD) deputy leader Beatrix von Storch who said, on Twitter: "NO NO NO to that!".

The AfD were the surprise package in the recent election, winning 13.5% of the vote and their first seats in parliament in the process. It is the first time a far-right party will be represented in the Bundestag since 1961.

"The CDU wants Muslim holidays – that is the difference to the AfD," Von Storch added.

Over a million refugees have made their way to Germany since 2015 – the lion's share of those taken in by the EU. Many of the new arrivals are from Muslim nations, although there were already well-established Islamic communities within Germany including a large Turkish diaspora.

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Angela Merkel has been criticised for her stance on refugees

Sawsan Chebli, a Berlin politician from the centre-left SPD, voiced support for Maziere's suggestion, adding that it was not unprecedented. She said: "I find the idea good. In Berlin there are already regulations for Ramadan and Eid."

Maziere acknowledged that Germany was still predominately a culturally Christian country but questioned the extent to which the average 'Christian' family was versed in their faith.

He said: "I do not know whether you can tell your children fluently what is the religious content of penance and prayer. Or Pentecost, if you know very well what was going on with the Holy Spirit?"