The University of Tübingen is starting a course leading to a bachelor's degree to train imams and teachers of Islam. Until now, only a small proportion of those teaching Islam in Germany have had any training. Sabine Ripperger reports
Germany's first centre for Muslim theology has started operations at the University of Tübingen. It's one of four centres which will teach the subject in German. Aside from Tübingen, there'll be Muslim theology departments at three sets of dual locations – Münster/Osnabrück, Erlangen/Nuremburg and Frankfurt/Giessen – but the other three are only due to open in 2012.
The federal government will take over the cost of salaries for professors and other staff at all four centres for the next five years, at a total cost of 20 million Euros.
According to the federal education ministry, the 700,000 Muslim students at German schools need a total of up to 2,000 teachers of Islam. There's an equally urgent need for imams who have been trained at German-speaking universities and who know something about life in Germany.
Currently, around 100 imams come to Germany from Turkey every year, without knowledge of the language or the country, and serve their mosques for five years at a time. That in itself is enough to show how necessary the new centres are.
Bachelor course starts
The first 24 students began their eight-semester course in Muslim theology in Tübingen on 10th October. Their studies will link theology with general cultural and social issues. The university's rector, Bernd Engler, says that, above all, he wants to attract the best-qualified students.
The four full professors will not be appointed immediately; junior and visiting professors, including some from abroad, will fill the jobs. Eventually, there will be six full professorships.
So far only one has been appointed: Omar Hamdan, previously of the Institute for Islamic Studies at the Free University of Berlin, where he researched the common history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He has links to Tübingen, since he studied Islamic and Arabic studies and comparative literature there, as well as in Jerusalem, and he took his doctorate at Tübingen in 1995.
Hamdan has written and edited a number of books in the field of Koran studies and Muslim theology, and he says he's looking forward to his new job: "It was always my dream to lead a centre for Muslim theology and to make my contribution there," he says.
High time to train a new generation
Omar Hamdan belongs to the Sunni stream of Islam. He learnt German years ago during a student exchange. He is an Israeli citizen and is married with three daughters.
But when he refers to "my children" he might also be talking about his many books. He has a library of over 3,000 volumes, and he plans to donate most of them to the new centre, since they'll be needed there. "It's high time for us to train a new generation in a properly academic way," he says. The new generation has to feel at home in Germany.
Omar Hamdan doesn't just see the main areas of his work as being Muslim theology and religious education, but also intercultural education and inter-religious dialogue. But his heart is really in research: "My research interests are above all the study of the Koran, including Koran manuscripts and the study of the hadiths." He is also particularly interested in early and pre-Islamic history.
"Muslims competent in their field"
Adnan Fetic was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1990 and has lived in Germany for the last 14 years. He's just completed his university entrance qualifications and has applied for a place at the Centre for Muslim Theology. He's been interested in Islam since he was a child, since there have been many imams in his family. Indeed, his father is an imam.
Fetic sees the new course at a major university like Tübingen as "a new possibility to educate a group of Muslims in Germany who are competent in their field, and who then will be in a position to support and represent Muslims in the Muslim groups, communities and associations, and thus to ensure a better image for Islam."
Adnan Fetic has not yet decided whether he wants to be an imam, a teacher, or an academic. But there certainly a need in all these fields.
© Deutsche Welle/Qantara.de
Translated from the German by Michael Lawton
Deutsche Welle editor: Klaus Krämer, Qantara.de editor: Lewis Gropp