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Under observation

August 6, 2010

Security agencies are watching with concern as a controversial Islamic school attempts to move to another location in Germany. They say the school threatens the German constitution and democracy.

A mosque and a church steeple
Security agencies are keeping a close eye on the Islamic schoolImage: AP

The town council of Moenchengladbach has put a temporary stop to the renovation of a building intended as the new location of a controversial Islamic school. A spokesman for the city of Moenchengladbach said that the school, which is attempting to relocate from Braunschweig, did not request the necessary building permit.

The school is affiliated with Salafi Islam and has been the subject of intense scrutiny in recent weeks. Marin Brandenburger, the press officer of Lower Saxony's Office for the Protection of the Constitution - the state's internal security agency, says her organization has been monitoring the school for some time.

"This strain of Islam denies the equality of men and women and considers democracy to be harmful to the religion; it mandates that all un-Islamic elements must be kept out of the religion and out of society," says Brandenburger.

A challenge to the constitution

Salafism is a strain of Islam that comes from the Arabic word Salaf, or "ancestor," and seeks to revive Islam as its followers believe it was practiced during the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

Hands typing at a computer
About 200 pupils are currrently enrolled in the Islamic school's online coursesImage: AP

Phillip Holtmann, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said that most Salafis are non-violent and practice their faith either through missionary work or political activity. However, one strain of Salafism believes that "neither propaganda nor political participation is enough" and advocates spreading Islam through violence.

The head of the school, Muhammed Seyfudin Ciftci, is a well-known Salafi leader and on the board of the organization "Invitation to Paradise," which Holtmann calls "an institution that introduces people to very, very radical mindsets."

Wanted: converts

The school offers both online and on-site tuition. Men and women are taught separately. According to the school's website, students must memorize 480 pages of the Koran and 2,500 Hadith - sayings of the prophet Mohammed - as well as improving their Arabic language skills.

The school's website is in German. That's because the target audience for the school might not speak fluent Arabic, says Holtmann.

A man reading a religous text
Tuition at the school costs about 90 euros ($120) per monthImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

"Their target audience is German, 100 percent. The more converts they get, the more they succeed," Holtmann told Deutsche Welle. "That's the real success in their eyes, to have converts from the West."

Watching carefully

Marin Brandenburg says a Salafi education is common to many individuals who later become radical. However, she emphasizes that Salafist schools are not in the business of training terrorists.

"Salafism in itself is not violent, but it can be an intellectual breeding ground for terrorists," she said. "It can - but it doesn't have to be."

Man praying
The school is open to pupils of all ages who want to learn more about IslamImage: picture-alliance / dpa

Meanwhile, in the state of North Rhine Westphalia, where Moenchengladbach is located, the local internal security agency is already watching the school as it attempts to relocate.

"We will be watching the further developments very carefully," its head, Mathilde Koller, told news agencies. "We want to prevent young people from being radicalized by the ideology that is spread through the future Dawa (mission) center."

Author: Sarah Harman
Editor: Michael Lawton