Islam Lessons at German Schools

"We Pretend You're a Church"

Because Germany's Muslims don't have a central institution to represent them, it is difficult to organise Islam lessons at German schools. One primary school has got round this problem with a clever trick, as Christiane Hawranek reports

Islam lesson in a primary school (photo: dpa)
Due to a lack of unity among Muslims in Germany, it is difficult to organise Islam lessons. The case of Erlangen is a rare exception

​​"I am a Muslim – I have to create peace" is written on coloured paper on the wall of a classroom at the Brucker Lache primary school in Erlangen, Germany. The school has offered Islamic religious education for the past three years.

"The Erlangen model is unique in Europe, because it is designed to comply with the German basic law," says Manfred Schreiner from the Nuremberg Education Department. This was only possible because Muslims in Erlangen set up an association to deal with the state. Negotiations are underway to export the model to other cities.

Compliance with basic law

The task of Islam lessons is to teach children so that they can enter into a dialogue about religions in German. Remzi Güneysu, the chairman of the Islamic Religious Community Erlangen (IRE), is convinced: "When children are taught about their religion, they are more likely to become part of German society." In other areas of Germany, he comments, the curriculum is dictated by the ministry of culture, without consulting the local Muslim communities.

The Erlangen curriculum, however, is drawn up by a commission made up of the former Bavarian culture minister Monika Hohlmeier, representatives of the churches, the education department and members of IRE, which was set up in 1996. In its strictest sense, German law does not foresee Christian religious education, but only "religious education in agreement with the basic premises of religious communities" (Basic Law, Art. 7.3).

The community in question provides the content, and the state can only check whether this is legal or not, and is responsible for organising and financing teaching. By founding IRE, Erlangen's Muslims set up the partner required for consultation by the law.

Makeshift solution or beacon project?

Poster made by pupils at the Brucker Lache primary school in Erlangen (photo: Christiane Hawranek)
Christians and Muslims on par - organisers say the Erlangen model emphasises tolerance and dialogue

​​But still – according to Manfred Schreiner from the Nuremberg education department, the Erlangen model is a makeshift construction: "We just pretend the Islamic Religious Community is a church." There are approximately 750,000 Muslim children in Germany, but only 12% are taught about their religion at school. Teachers are trained in Münster and Nuremberg, and curricula have been developed. But: "There is little unity among the Muslims. The Islamic Religious Community Erlangen is an absolute exception," says Schreiner.

Parents and pupils are very happy with the lessons, says Güneysu, an engineer. "We're more worried about the Turkish right-wing extremist party the Grey Wolves, which is supported by the Turkish consulate," he adds. The party would like to keep teaching about Islam in Turkish.

According to the Bonn-based Islamic scholar Michael Kiefer, who has compared all types of Islamic religious education offered across Germany, the general Bavarian model was developed "at random": "The Bavarian state used Turkish curricula without consulting local Muslims." Islamic religious education has been taught in Turkish in Bavaria since 1977: "When it was first introduced, everyone thought the children would be going back home again."

In Erlangen, however, Remzi Güneysu hopes to bring children up as "German citizens with Muslim values". According to the initiators, the core of the curriculum is inter-religious dialogue and open-mindedness.

Christiane Hawranek

© 2007

Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire

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