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Germany’s Integrated Imams

Published: 25/05/2012 12:18:35 PM GMT
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CAIRO - German Muslims have welcomed the introduction of new Islamic theology departments in the country's public universities as supporting integration of the religious minority into the German society, offering them imams f (more)

CAIRO - German Muslims have welcomed the introduction of new Islamic theology departments in the country's public universities as supporting integration of the religious minority into the German society, offering them imams from the same culture, language and homeland.

“We live in Germany, so we have to be able to represent our religion in German,” Aysen Yüsra Yilmaz, who has enrolled in Germany's first publicly funded university Islamic theology department, connected to Tübingen University, told Christian Science Monitor.

For Yilmaz, the daughter of Turkish immigrants who came to Germany as guest workers, the new course in one of Germany's oldest universities answered the demands of thousands of German Muslims who wanted to have German imams.

The bachelor's degree program is the first in a series of other programs which would be launched in Osnabrück, Nürnberg and Frankfurt.

The new programs, funded by the government to the tune of €20 million ($25.4 million) for the next five years, are aimed at qualifying a new generation of Islam religious leaders and scholars in German culture.

Playing the role of counselors, community organizers, and youth workers, imams have been forming a bridge between mosque and day-to-day life in Germany.

With most of Germany's 2,000 imams coming from abroad, mostly Turkey, some critics said the predominance of foreign imams in the education of Germany's Muslims might add difficulties to integrating Muslims into German society.

“Most deal with their home culture, their home language, their homeland,” says Bülent Ucar, a professor of Islamic religious education at the University of Osnabrück, which last year pioneered a crash course for foreign imams on German society and language.

“Imams have good intentions but they can't fulfill their jobs. They can't fulfill the conditions to bring about integration because they don't speak German,” says Mr. Ucar.

The rarity of German-speaking imams who can connect with young German Muslims is also a problem in Germany.

“Young people don't know anything, and ignorance is dangerous. When you can't explain something you become aggressive,” said Zahic Sicic, who enrolled in the Tübingen program.

“That's why young people should know more about Islam - so that there isn't this aggression potential.”

New Germany

Introducing new theological programs, the German government sees religious institutions as contributing to the public good.

“Look, we are now a part and parcel of a world famous university,” said Omar Hamdan, a professor at Tübingen University.

“Islam no longer stands on the outside.”

In a country that sees religious communities as partners to the government, the new centers are evidence that Islam is increasingly accepted as part of Germany's social fabric.

“We stand on equal footing with the other theology schools. We're just as central as the other religions,” added Hamdan.

Germany has between 3.8 and 4.3 million Muslims, making up some 5 percent of the total 82 million population, according to government-commissioned studies.

The European country has been gripped by controversy spurred in 2009 by central banker Thilo Sarrazin, who accused Muslim immigrants of undermining the society which is becoming less intelligent because of them.

Chancellor Merkel weighed in, saying that multiculturalism has failed in Germany.

But the remarks have drawn angry reactions, with German president Christian Wulff stressing that Islam is part and parcel of German society.

German politicians have also called for recognizing Islam as an official religion in the Christian-majority country.

The new concept of German government towards different theologies was welcomed by Christine Langenfeld, a law professor at Göttingen University who specializes on church-state relations.

She calls the creation of publicly funded Islamic theology centers a “milestone.”

“The hope is that at some point soon it won't be necessary to import imams anymore … That Islamic theology centers will bring about a modern understanding of Islam that makes it possible for Muslims to live in Europe side by side with many other religions,” says Ms. Langenfeld, who is a member of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration, an independent foundation that advises policy makers on immigration and integration policy.

“[The theology centers are] a path towards integration, equality and acceptance.”

Reproduced with permission from