COLOGNE, Germany - The introduction of new Muslim imams trained in Germany has promoted co-operation between the West European state and Muslims, playing a central role in the debate about Muslim culture, religion and identity.
"Considering the fact that Muslims have been living here for 50 years, this is a most welcome decision," BÃ¼lent Ucar, Professor for Islamic Religious Education of the University of OsnabrÃ¼ck, told Common Ground News Service.
Over the past few months, Islamic theology departments in German public universities started offering studies for Muslim imams from the same culture, language and homeland.
The new programs, funded by the government to the tune of â¬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.
"It was high time religious teachers, imams and Muslim theologians were trained here in Germany, Ucar said.
Now Islamic studies are taught at university - on par with Jewish, Protestant and Catholic courses of study," he concluded.
The main challenge for these programs is to combine the teaching of Islamic traditions with Western academic and pedagogical standards.
"I'm not sure we will earn universal praise for what we are doing, but it will certainly trigger a debate," says Professor Mathias Rohe, Germany's most renowned academic expert on sharia (Islamic principles of jurisprudence) who also helped set up the university's Islamic theology program.
Living in Germany for six decades, Muslims were becoming a part of Germany.
All across the country, young German Muslims were defining how Islam is already part of Germany and how it can continue to be in the future.
For example, Sineb El Masrar, a German woman of Moroccan descent, founded Gazelle, a magazine geared towards German women of many cultural backgrounds.
Nimet Seker, a German woman of Turkish heritage recently launched Horizonte, a magazine for intellectual debate on issues relevant to Muslims in Germany.
Afghan-born philosopher and poet Ahmad Milad Karimi was highly praised for his translation of the Qur'an into German.
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 Western European country is gripped by a fierce debate on immigration and integration.
Earlier in May 2012, Germany's new President Joachim Gauck has sparked a storm of criticism by contradicting his predecessor's view that Islam is part of Germany
Last October 2010, German President Christian Wulff said that Islam is part and parcel of German society alongside the traditional faiths of Christianity and Judaism.
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.