Germany launches its first imam training centre

The initiative seeks to put an end to the "importation" of imams from other countries who are allegedly spreading extremist ideas in Germany
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AFP/INA FASSBENDER  -   Classroom lesson at the Islamkolleg Deutschland in Osnabrueck

n an attempt to reduce the percentage of foreign clerics and imams, Germany has launched a programme to professionally train the next religious leaders. The initiative is intended to follow in the footsteps of neighbouring France, which announced last November an agreement with Muslim institutions to create a council of imams to control the number of clerics who officiate Koranic principles in France.

The project aims to control and limit the number of foreign imams after several religious figures, of Turkish origin, propagated ideas of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and campaigned on his behalf. They also accuse Ankara of the presence of officials who are allegedly spying in Germany. 

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AFP/INA FASSBENDER - Teaching sermons, Qur'an recitation, pastoral care and church pedagogy are some of the subjects in the curriculum.

The first efforts towards this goal have begun by hosting 40 future Muslim leaders at the College of Islam in Osnabruck, in the northwest of the country. The training offers a theoretical and practical cycle over a two-year course of study. Among the first practices, classes will be given in Qur'an recitation, preaching techniques, worship exercises and political education. In addition, this educational enclave is dominated by a vast library of Arabic literature comprising 12,000 volumes acquired in Egypt.

The initiative is supported by the federal authorities and the province of Lower Saxony, which is financially backing the programme. This funding has been criticised because it is in conflict with the principle that only religious communities are allowed to train their staff. The president of the College of Islam stressed that this initiative "has had absolutely no state influence" as the state "has not been involved in the development of the programmes".

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AFP/INA FASSBENDER - Half of them will start with imam training, the other Muslim clerics want to continue their training in cooperation with a university on a practical basis.

In this vein, Angela Merkel, speaking at a parliamentary plenary session, said that it was necessary to establish a centre for this purpose because the measure "will make us more independent and is necessary for the future". In this context, it is estimated that the number of Islamic believers in Germany varies between 5.3 and 5.6 million inhabitants.

The president of the College of Islam, Esnif Begic, explained to AFP that this new apprenticeship "is distinguished by two particularities: we want to reflect the reality of Muslim life in Germany and the lessons take place exclusively in German". In this sense, one of the trainees, Ender Cetin, said that "we are German Muslims, we are an integral part of society and now we have the opportunity to become imams". 

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AFP/DAVID GANNON - Omar Mosque in Berlin's Kreuzberg district

Until now, a high percentage of imams in Germany have been seconded from Muslim countries, especially from Turkey, who are reportedly educated and paid by the Ottoman country. Initially, they come to Germany for a period of four to five years, without knowing the social and cultural environment of the country. In the same vein, some of them have a tourist visa.

According to a study by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, half of the 2,000 imams in Germany belong to the Turkish organisation DITIB, which reports directly to the Turkish Ministry of Worship and manages around 986 local communities. Along these lines, the German judiciary suspects that in 2017 four imams who are members of the DITIB allegedly spied on opponents critical of the Erdogan government.

However, both the DITIB and Milli Gorus, the second largest Islamic community in Germany, were not involved in the establishment of the Osnabruck institute. In this regard, the DITIB itself launched a training academy in Germany last year. 

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AP/MARTIN MEISSNER - Muslim believers pray at a mosque in Hanau, Germany.

According to Milli Gorus, the training of new imams "should be free from outside influences, especially political ones", according to the organisation's secretary general, Bekir Atlas.

Last November, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer reported that Ottoman imams who do not speak German and who spread radical jihadist doctrines would be restricted from entering the country. At the time, Macron had already urged the European Union to adopt a series of measures revolving around "coordinated and rapid responses to terrorism" in the wake of the terrorist attacks in France and Austria.

In this way, the French president welcomed the new measures adopted by Germany so that religious freedom and freedom of worship can continue to be exercised in the country, without the need to depend on external funding that may be tinged with interests promoted by extremists and radicals.