Catholic and Protestant pupils in Germany learn about their faiths in special religion classes at school. Muslim kids, however, are still waiting for lessons in Islam.
Muslims are waiting for the privilege of learning about Islam in school
Turkish-born Emin Alan has been teaching "Islamic instruction" at Hansa high school in Cologne for six years. He says it's important that Germany's 800,000 Muslim pupils learn about Islam in school, since it is part of their identity.
"I think it's also a constitutional mandate for the state to give pupils the chance to learn about their religion," said Alan.
The classes are offered at the same time as practical philosophy and Catholic and Protestant religious education. They are meant to help students explore their religion. In contrast to the Christian classes, however, they don't involve actual religious instruction. The kids learn theory and practical information. They don't deal with dogmas or religious truths, as in Koran classes or sermons.
In addition, non-Muslim children also take the classes. "I take part because I might learn something new here," said Toljan Eifler. "I hardly knew anything about Islam beforehand." He said he was surprised that the Muslims' creed was quite similar to that of Christians. "I used to think it was totally different."
Islamic schools teach kids about their religion
The courses are indeed meant to contribute to better understanding between kids with different backgrounds and religions. But Muslim organizations in Germany want more. For years they have been demanding that Islamic education be introduced to schools on a par with the Catholic and Protestant lessons -- that is instruction that's doesn't only inform kids about Islam, but communicates Muslim values and the Islamic faith.
But that's easier said than done. Germany's Muslims have so far been unable to agree on one organization to represent their interests and remain divided. The differences are both religious and political -- and often Muslim migrants' countries of origin play a role too. Also, Sunnis, Shiites and Alevis each want their own approach to Islam instruction.
In the meantime, one German college in Münster educates aspiring Islamic religious instructors -- as well as up-and-coming Catholic and Protestant teachers which all of the country's universities train.
Public schools could also provide Islamic teachings
The future of the teachers educated at the University of Münster depends on whether any of Germany's Muslim organizations succeed in being formally recognized as religious communities, said Sven Muhammad Kalisch, who heads the department that started offering the course of studies last year. Only such recognition would allow German schools to provide regular denominational Islamic religious lessons. And such instruction would have to take place in German, Kalisch said.
No one Islam
"In Germany there are Muslims with entirely different ethnic origins. There are German converts. And there are Arabic, Turkish, Pakistani, Iranian Muslims -- Muslims from all countries" said Kalisch. "Thus, our aim must be to give all Muslims who are interested such religious instruction. And that means it has to be in German."
The first class of Islamic teachers will graduate from Münster in 2008. And Kalisch is confident that the legal situation will have changed by then. After all, Germany is interested in regulated and, above all, transparent Islamic instruction, said Kalisch, adding that complaints arise again and again that too many children learn about their religion in private mosque organizations and Islamic schools whose teaching contents are usually unavailable to the public.