CAIRO - A severe shortage of teachers in Islamic studies and lack of appropriate materials are hindering efforts to provide a proper religious education for Muslims in Germany.
"But what is the alternative? Sylvia Lohrmann, education minister of the North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), told Deutsche Welle on Wednesday, March 6.
We could not have trained the teachers before knowing whether we were going to have the classes in the first place.
There are nearly 100,000 Muslim students in elementary schools in NRW, the most populous German state.
However, there are only enough teachers to educate just 2,000 students about the religion.
NRW has incorporated Islamic religious education in the curriculum this school year, becoming the first German state to take such a move.
But the start of the program has been weak because of the shortage of Islamic education teachers.
Worse still, courses to train teachers in Islamic studies at German universities have just started.
The first graduates from the University of Munster will not be ready until the spring of 2017.
Trying to solve the problem, the NRW education ministry is offering special courses to train educators on Islamic religious studies.
"On the one hand, career changers - that is, Muslims who were enrolled in Islamic studies programs - are being trained to teach religion classes, said Mouhanad Khorchide, from the University of Munster.
But, more importantly, the other group is Muslim teachers who have been teaching something else.
The lack of appropriate religious materials is further complicating the problem.
"There is a book for the five and sixth grades, but there is simply no material for higher levels, Aziz Fooladvand, who teaches in Bonn, told Deutsche Welle.
I select the topics for all the grades myself, but that takes a lot of time and effort.
He complains that there is no harmonized syllabus for the upper grades.
Despite the problems, optimism is running high that appropriate religious education will be provided to German Muslims.
"This is seen as a sign of recognition for Islam and Muslims as equal citizens in this country," he said.
Three German states have recently recognized Muslim groups as official religious bodies, paving the way for Muslims to offer their own religion classes in schools.
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.
Germans have grown hostile to the Muslim presence recently, with a heated debate on the Muslim immigration into the country.
A recent poll by the Munster University found that Germans view Muslims more negatively than their European neighbors.
Germany's daily Der Spiegel had warned last August that the country is becoming intolerant towards its Muslim minority.According to a 2010 nationwide poll by the research institute Infratest-dimap, more than one third of the respondents would prefer "a Germany without Islam."