Muslims in Berlin are planning to train Islamic clergymen at a soon-to-be-opened school, the first of its kind in the German capital.
The new school for imams could open by February
The project is the brainchild of Institut Buhara, an organization founded by a group of Muslims linked to the Sufi branch of Islam.
The move comes amid growing frustration by Muslims who have grown up in Germany at what they are learning from imams who generally come from outside the country and rarely speak German.
"Imams carrying out their work here lack the requirements needed for the future of Islam in Germany," said Ayhan Cosgun, deputy chairman of Institut Buhara.
If all goes according to plan, the first 35 students could begin their six-year training course next month. In all, the school has the capacity for 68 students.
Right-wing nationalists are campaigning against the new imam center
Located in Karlshorst, a suburb in the former communist eastern part of the city, the three-storey school has met with a mixed reaction from locals.
"Some people will have to get used to the idea of living with a different culture," Andreas Pruefer, the local councilor in charge of planning issues, told German newspaper Der Tagespiegel.
The far-right nationalist NPD party has already distributed leaflets referring to the new establishment as a "Koran school," saying that "Islamic brainwashing" would be carried out there.
The NDP in October 2008 sought to rouse opposition to the opening of East Berlin's first mosque catering to the city's Ahmadi community in the suburb of Pankow.
Around 3.5 million Muslims live in Germany, with 220,000 residing in Berlin. The country has some 160 mosques, with another 2,600 buildings converted into makeshift places of worship.
The new school, formally known as the Center for Education, Training and Culture, will be the second such school in Germany to train imams after the University of Muenster.
German Muslims says they want German-speaking imams
The goal of the new center is to "build a bridge between Islamic doctrine and today's society in order to encourage young people to live together peacefully with European culture."
The school's founders hope to train German-speaking Islamic clergy who will be able to work with young Muslims who have grown up in Germany and communicate with them in German.
The institute behind the school said it was clear in its goals in opening the school, but would remain "tolerant and open to ideas," according to its spokesman, Alexander Weiger, a German convert to Islam.
The Islamic Federation, which represents various Muslim groups in Berlin, said it welcomed and would extend its support to the new center.
The school is financed by private sponsors, according to Institut Buhara, which added that an open day would be held shortly after teaching at the center commenced. "We have nothing to hide," Weiger said.