For a long time, there was “no Islam made in Germany”, says Linda Schlegel, a PhD candidate at Goethe-Universität. The imams at mosques in Germany were educated in foreign Muslim-majority states, often Turkey, where the instructors knew little of German culture or the Muslims population in Germany, a large and various community of five million people (6.5%). As such, the teachings were developed without relevance to the lives of German Muslims and young Muslims in particular struggled to find relevant religious guidance in mosques, sometimes turning to the internet, where radicals could take advantage of the impressionable. Even where imams in Germany are themselves local, they are often paid for from abroad.
Now, for the first time, there is an educational program for German imams, taught in German and based in Germany, in Osnabrück. The program is partially financed by the Interior Ministry, and there were more applications than there were available spaces, suggesting the program ministered to a felt need.
But there are problems, Schlegel explains, three notably. First, only 500 of the 2,600 mosques in Germany are participating, with all the Turkish-led organizations refusing, meaning it is questionable if the initiative can curb foreign influence. Second, though the educational program is financed for five years, it is unclear where the graduates are supposed to work, since no institutional structure a la “the Church” for Muslims. Third, some politicians framed the imam school in terms of counter-extremism and a critical engagement with the faith, and it remains to be seen if this framing helps or hurts the effort.
“Overall,” concludes Schlegel, this “sounds like a great idea” and initiative, but there are some issues to be ironed out to ensure that the program has the desired impact.
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