TUEBINGEN, Germany - One of Germany's oldest university has opened the country's first department of Islamic theology to educate a new generation of enlightened Muslim preachers, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) reported.
Religion needs to be thought through, Education Minister Annette Schavan, who is herself a graduate in Catholic theology, said.
Opening the theology department at Tuebingen University, Schavan said the department was a milestone for integration of Muslims who make up 5 percent of the population.
The course, to start at the University of Tubingen, will offer bachelor programs in Islamic studies.
Students will be offered advanced Western academic qualifications.
Though the teaching will be conducted in German, Arabic, the language of the Qur'an, will be a compulsory subject.
The three professors at the department had to satisfy an Islamic advisory council that they were devout Muslims.
Tubingen department is one of four new centers in Germany dedicated to the study of Islamic theology.
Tuebingen, a public university where tuition is free, is one of Europe's leading centers of academic Christian theology.
The University started in 1477 with around 80 students. Now the student strength of the university is 24,000 which includes German and international students.
Being one of Germany's oldest universities, internationally noted in medicine, natural sciences and the humanities, the university is associated with some Nobel laureates, especially in the fields of medicine and chemistry.
Facing resistance from conservatives, the Education Minister rejected claims that a hardline brand of Islam would dominate at the school.
Germany would now contribute to advances in Islamic theology, Schavan said.
Yet, she argued that graduates would be the best antidote to hate preachers.
The government of Chancellor Angela Merkel has been facing criticism over the funding of the department, the first of four around the country.Tuebingen University is not the first public funded institute to teach Islam in Germany.
In 2009, public schools allowed Muslims to study their faith for the first time in Germany.
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 government move comes as the Western European country is gripped by a fierce debate on immigration and integration.
The controversy was 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.