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Germany

German universities enroll to school imams

Germany's mosques may no longer be led mainly by Turkish-trained imams. That's the goal of a government-funded initiative to bring Muslim religious teaching to four German universities by next autumn.

The German map and flag with a superimposed Muslim cresent

Four German universities will soon train Muslim religious leaders

German universities will soon train Muslim religious leaders, the country's education minister Annette Schavan announced Thursday in Berlin.

Berlin has earmarked some 16 million euros ($22.5 million) for four universities to establish new Islamic theology faculties over an initial five-year period. The goal is that German-trained imams will help integrate the country's approximately 4 million Muslims into mainstream German society.

"We wish to train as many Imams in Germany as possible, because we are convinced they are able to build bridges between their congregations and society," Schavan said, adding, "Muslim priests will have an increasing role to play, so it's important they know about life in the country where they preach."

A first contingent of up to 500 new students could be enrolled in academic courses aimed at training imams and Islamic religious teachers by September 2011, Schavan announced. The new faculties will be established at universities in Tuebingen, Muenster/Osnabrueck, Erlangen and a fourth university which has yet to be named.

A minaret with Turkish and German flags

Most of Germany's imams were educated in Turkey

The establishment of Muslim theological faculties at German universities is also intended to halt the spread of Islamist fundamentalism. The majority of imams in Germany are hired and paid by the Turkish state, and are regarded by many as having too little knowledge of German society.

Establishing a German Muslim discourse

The new institutions are intended to help Muslim theologians advance the debate about Islam in modern life, according to the University of Bern's Reinhard Schluze, a member of the academic panel that selected the universities.

"The university has the task to establish a critical discourse on religion from the point of view of the Muslim community itself - a sort of critical perspective of their own tradition so that [the university] can contribute to discussions in the fields of ethics, norms in society, of democracy, pluralism, etc.," he said.

Schulze also admits that the potential emergence of an academic elite of German-trained Muslim teachers and imams would be a welcome side effect, allowing Germany to put its stamp on Muslim discourse and hopefully curb the rise of Islamist fundamentalism.

"Up to now political Islam is the main form of interpreting Islam in Germany," Schulze said, adding, "We want to supplement this political discourse with a theological discourse in order to prevent that political Islam becomes the major point of reference for Muslims in Germany."

Critics unsure if Muslims will respond

Yet it remains to be seen if German-trained imams and teachers really will fulfill such expectations.

The University of Muenster

The elite University of Muenster will soon host a faculty of Muslim theology

Although education minister Schavan believes German universities' experience in training Christian theologians will boost their ability to train Muslim leaders, some critics fear that Muslim communities may not want imams trained in the secular atmosphere of a German university.

Critics also fear that efforts to enroll women in the courses could undermine the credibility of the new institutions among Muslims in Germany and beyond.

Author: Uwe Hessler (dl)

Editor: Rob Turner

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