German University Starts Training Imams

Kirsten Grieshaber, WTOP-FM (Washington, D.C.), October 13, 2010

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Now Sami’s [Ahmed Sami, a Morrocan imam] part of a pilot program at the University of Osnabrueck that started this week to train imams–not only in the German language but also to steer them to preach about Islam in a way consistent with Germany’s democratic values and religious tolerance.

It comes at a time of growing concern about some young German Muslims becoming radicalized in extremist mosques and turning to terrorism. {snip}

“We need imams who are socialized and at home in Germany,” said Rauf Ceylan, a professor for Islamic religious education and one of the founders of the new program in Osnabrueck, in northwestern Germany. “They influence the religious orientation of Muslims in Germany, they have a big impact on whether young Muslims will practice a tolerant, conservative or extremist version of Islam.”

Other European countries have been taking new measures as well. In France, which has a Muslim population of at least five million, the Catholic University of Paris began courses to train French imams in 2008; several imams have been expelled in recent years for what was deemed dangerous teaching.

Experts say the new German academic initiative is much needed. So far, over 90 percent of the more than 2,000 imams in Germany barely speak any German. Most come from Turkey and only stay here for a couple of years before going back home. {snip}

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Later this week, the federal government is expected to announce the establishment of up to three new university departments for Islamic studies in Germany that will include several new professorships. The goal is to educate a new generation of imams and school teachers for Islamic religious instructions who believe and teach that western values and Islam are compatible.

“We need mosques that are transparent, in order to create an atmosphere of trust,” among Germans and Muslim immigrants, the integration minister of Lower-Saxony, Aygul Ozkan, said at the opening ceremony in Osnabrueck earlier this week. {snip}

For Sami, learning to preach in German is one of the main attractions of the state- and federally-funded Osnabrueck program. While he has already started translating parts of his Arabic sermons into German, he still feels the need to improve his overall language skills.

Sami, one of thirty students enrolled in the one-year, tuition-free program, said he also looked forward to classes about Germany’s political system.

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Avni Altiner, the head of the Shura in Lower Saxony, a Muslim association made up of 80 communities that supports the new program, also stressed the need for more German-speaking preachers at mosques in Germany.

“We don’t want foreign, fundamentalist preachers in this country, we want German imams,” Altiner said.

The Osnabrueck imam training will cost the public euro300,000 ($418,000) to fund through 2013. Starting in 2012, the university is also going to offer a three-year bachelor degree program for imams. The university has long made religious instructions an academic focus and also offers Protestant and Catholic educational courses.

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