Germany's integration commissioner wants imams who come to the country from abroad to have a knowledge of German and German society. It's one part of a 20-point strategy for fighting extremism and promoting integration.
Commissioner Beck, center, at Sunday's Muslim march in Cologne
Muslim spiritual leaders should serve as "social bridge builders," according to Marieluise Beck, who released her 20 action points in Berlin on Tuesday in the wake of the newly charged debate over the integration of Germany's 3.2 million Muslims.
Beck did not agree with suggestions from some quarters, most prominently by the education minister in Baden-Württemberg, Annette Schavan, that imams should be required to preach in German at mosques. But she did say it would be sensible if before their arrival in Germany, foreign imams received training for work and life in the country, including language lessons and education in German cultural and legal norms.
Many imams who come to Germany from abroad, mostly Turkey, do not speak German and have little if any knowledge about the country or its mores.
Theo van Gogh
Beck's strategy paper comes at a time when discussion over Muslims' place and integration into German society has heated up following the killing of Dutch filmmaker Theo von Gogh (photo) on Nov. 2 by a Dutch-Moroccan Islamist in the Netherlands and subsequent attacks on mosques and churches in the country. Over the past few weeks, many in Germany have expressed fear that the violence could spread across the border.
A rash of media reports depicting the formation of parallel societies in Muslim enclaves and anti-German preaching being conducted in some mosques sparked both anger and concern over the desire of Germany's Muslims to integrate and the willingness of Germans to accept them.
The strategy paper said that Islamic extremism must be fought with all the powers that the German state has at its disposal, adding that the police and other law enforcement bodies should have the appropriate language and cultural skills. Beck said the distribution of fundamentalist materials, such as printed or spoken word material, in the areas around mosques should be stopped, adding that mosque associations also had responsibilities in this area.
Children at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Berlin during Islam instruction
Islamic religious education in German should be offered on a voluntary basis by schools, Beck suggested. Many Islam classes in public schools are currently offered only in Turkish, since most of Germany's Muslims are of Turkish origin.
No step backwards
The integration commissioner warned against pushing relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Germany a step back through an integration discussion marked by accusations of intolerance and misunderstanding.
"We run the danger of destroying the progress we've already made in living side by side," she said.
A recent study by the think tank RWI showed that among the children and grandchildren of the first wave of Muslim immigrants to Germany, a sense of pessimism and feelings of exclusion are on the increase. Such developments are alarming, Beck said.