Germany, home to 4 million Muslims, officially opened its first university department of Islamic theology today, with 36 students enrolled for bachelor's degrees.
The government of Chancellor Angela Merkel faced resistance from conservatives to funding the department at Tuebingen University, the first of four to be opened around the country, but argued that graduates would be the best antidote to self-taught "hate preachers".
Education Minister Annette Schavan, who is herself a graduate in Catholic theology, said at the opening the school was a "milestone for integration" of Muslims who make up 5 per cent of the population.
"Religion needs to be thought through," she said, rejecting claims that a backward brand of Islam would dominate at the school. She said Germany would now contribute to "advances in Islamic theology."
The three professors at the department, by the Qur'an specialist Omar Hamdan, had to satisfy an Islamic advisory council that they were devout Muslims. They also have advanced western academic qualifications. All teaching will be conducted in German, but Arabic, the language of the Koran, is a compulsory subject.
Tuebingen, a public university where tuition is free, is already one of Europe's leading centres of academic Christian theology.
Germany already has departments of Islamic studies, which take an academic view of the religion, but has never had an advanced institution where professors teach the faith.
President Christian Wulff angered many conservatives in 2010 by saying Islam now belonged in Germany. A 2010 book by a former central bank governor, Thilo Sarrazin, which criticized Muslim immigrants, sold more than 1 million copies.
The graduates of the 4-year bachelors degree program are expected to seek employment as imams or teachers. The Federal Ministry of Education estimates that in the coming years, around 2,000 Islamic religious teachers will be needed for 700,000 Muslim pupils.
Jean-Baptiste Piggin & Marc Herwig, "Germany opens first university department of Islamic theology" Monsters & Critics January 16, 2012
"Islamische Theologie startet an UniversitÃ¤t TÃ¼bingen" Dom Radio January 16, 2012
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today