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Germany's first cohort of locally trained imams graduates

September 30, 2023

Germany set up its own training school for imams due to the large number of foreign-trained Islamic religious leaders. The issue now is the lack of jobs for the graduates.

Managemennt stand with several graduates of the Islamkolleg as they show completion certificates at a ceremony in Osnabruck, Germany on September 30, 2023
Germany announced the creation of an imam college in 2019Image: Friso Gentsch/dpa/picture alliance

Twenty-four Muslims from across Germany formally passed their imam training at the country's new Islamkolleg Deutschland in the northwestern city of Osnabrück on Saturday.

The graduates, who included men and women, received their first certificate of completion after attending a two-year part-time course.

"This is a historic day," said the chairman of the Islamkolleg's board of trustees, former German President Christian Wulff during a press conference. 

For the first time, imam aspirants completed their practical training in Germany, in the German language and with academic support, he added.

"This has not happened before, but was long overdue in view of the millions of Muslims in our country," Wulff said, adding that the college was making an important contribution to peacebuilding and integration.

Some 5.5 million Muslims live in Germany — around 6% of the population.

Wulff said the Islamkolleg is now a recognized training center and receives many inquiries, even from abroad.

Why did Germany create its own imam training?

Germany announced four years ago that it would create a state-backed training center for Islamic leaders to help reduce the number of imams coming in from abroad, mostly Turkey.

Germany currently has between 2,000 to 2,500 Islamic religious leaders, who tend to come to Germany for four or five years, are often paid by their home countries and know very little about the local culture and custom

Many of the imams are also officials of the Turkish state who pursue a political agenda in Germany, officials have said.

Ankara's influence on the Muslim community has long been a thorny issue, especially since the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016.

An imam reads the Koran, Islam's holy book
The Islamkolleg Deutschland was announced in 2019 and opened two years laterImage: Hans-Juergen Bauer/epd

Where are the jobs?

The former German president expressed his confidence that the difficulties graduates may face in finding employment could be resolved in the coming years, especially if jobs in Islamic welfare work, including chaplains, can be created by the state.

The Catholic charity Caritas and its protestant equivalent Diakonie both receive state funding.

Germany's Defense Ministry has spoken favorably about employing Muslim chaplains in the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, in the future.

The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, expressed his delight at the first graduates. But said the state should not be allowed to finance religious personnel, directly or indirectly.

He said he could imagine job-sharing arrangements for imams who could additionally work as religious teachers at schools. 

Bülent Ucar, the director of the Islamkolleg Deutschland said would like to see imam training "become mainstream" and said he was confident that job prospects would improve.

mm/lo (AFP, dpa, EPD)

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