Teach Islam at German universities – academic council report

February 2, 2010

Humboldt University in Berlin, 8 Jan 2010/Friedrich Petersdorff

Germany should set up centres for Islamic studies at two or three state universities to educate Muslim scholars, teachers and pastoral workers for its large Muslim minority, an academic advisory council has said. The Council on Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat) said the lack of such institutes at universities, which already teach Christian and Jewish theology, “does not do justice to the importance of the largest non-Christian faith community in Germany.”

Muslim organisations should join advisory boards to help develop Islam institutes and choose faculty members and all main Muslim views in Germany should be represented, it said in a report (here in German) on Monday.

“For me, this is part of a modern integration policy,” Education Minister Annette Schavan told Deutschlandfunk radio in Berlin. “The main question will be who the partner is in developing this.”

Since the September 11 attacks in the United States, several European countries have been seeking ways to educate Muslim imams and teachers in Europe rather than importing them from Islamic countries out of step with modern western societies.  France has set up an imam training course in Paris run jointly by the Grand Mosque and Catholic Institute, which stepped in after the Sorbonne university declined to join because it might violate the separation of church and state.  Private schools operate in several countries, but the German report advised against this option, saying Islamic studies needed to be in the university system to ensure they met the same academic standards as theology studies of other faiths.

hamburg mosque

Imam Ali Mosque in Hamburg, 22 Aug 2006/Christian Charisius

The report said Germany, where around four million Muslims live, has about 700,000 Muslim pupils and would need 2,000 Islam teachers if all states offer religious education for them. Only a few states now teach Islam, often with teachers from Turkey.

Many German universities teach about Islam in Middle Eastern studies or history courses, but none teach its theology, law and languages in an academic curriculum similar to that used in their Christian theology faculties.  The only German university training Muslim teachers is in Münster, but several Muslim organisations have criticised it because one professor — a German convert to Islam — has questioned whether the Prophet Mohammad actually existed.

The report said the advisory councils meant to help universities develop Islam studies should be made up of representatives of the main Muslim organisations, which are often organised along ethnic or political lines.  “Various theological schools of Islam should be represented,” it said.

This would include non-affiliated Muslim academics and minority groups such as the Alevis, “insofar as they consider themselves as belonging to the Muslim religion,” it said. The Alevis, a Sufi group based mostly in Turkey, are considered heretics by many mainstream Muslims.


Tübingen University's Old Aula, 19 May 2006/Profoss

UPDATE: The council’s proposal was widely welcomed in German political parties, teachers’ unions, Muslim organisations and the Catholic Church, according to Die Zeit and Die Welt. DITIB, the association of Turkish mosques that is the largest Muslim group in Germany, has denied reports that it said it did not need German-educated imams itself because it has imams from Turkey, but has not yet clarified its stand. The Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that several universities, including Tübingen with its famous faculties of Protestant and Catholic theology, have expressed interest in setting up institutes of Islamic Studies.

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