College Launches Disputed Islamic Program

Frankfurt University is the most recent German college to launch an Islamic studies program. But it's already under fire for working closely with Turkey's state religion authority. Vedat Acikgöz reports

photo: AP
Frankfurt students will be able to study Islam at the university soon

​​In only a few weeks the summer semester will begin at Frankfurt's Johann Wolfgang von Goethe University and for the first time students will be able to pursue Islamic studies at the college's theological faculty. Mehmet Emin Köktas and two professors of Protestant theology have been working on the curriculum for two years.

Köktas, a Turk, is able to teach in Frankfurt thanks to an agreement signed between the university and the Turkish Presidium for Religious Affairs (Diyanet).

Criticism followed public announcement of the cooperation, alleging Turkey meant to use the new degree program to influence the training of Islamic scholars in Germany. But its supporters vehemently deny the Turkish state plays any role in the project.

Diyanet, however, is a state agency, and it represents Sunni Islam as taught in secular Turkey, a modern, non-fundamentalist form of Islam - but that is strictly controlled by the government.

But the dean of the university's Protestant theology department, Stefan Alkier, can't understand the criticism of the cooperation with Diyanet. On the contrary, he's pleased that the deal to fund the position brought a renowned Islamic scholar to his faculty.

"We could have carried out the course of studies with our own resources, but it's much more interesting for students that we have Muslim professors," Alkier said. He stressed that Diyanet has no direct influence on who is appointed to the position.

While another new Islamic studies course, in Münster, focuses on training Islamic teachers, students in the Frankfurt program will concentrate on an academic examination of religion and receive normal master's degrees.

Training imams

But students could also use their degrees as the basis for becoming Islamic teachers. "Then they would have academic training that makes them capable of taking part in a dialog," Alkier said, adding that students pursuing Islamic studies will also be required to study Judaism and Christianity.

Köktas said Frankfurt Islamic studies graduates could have a positive influence on German society with its three million Muslims. He pointed out the imams in Germany usually come here without being familiar with the culture or the language.

"Naturally our course of studies here isn't a genuine alternative. We actually just want to teach students about Islam. But, in the future both Germany and the Turks in Germany will desperately need such well-educated people," Köktas said. "They will be experts on Islam, Islamic scholars who know Germany. That's why I think that, in this respect, we will make a great contribution."

Köktas suggested that Frankfurt graduates could eventually end up teaching Islam in school religion classes. So far, only very few of Germany's states allow for classes on Islam, but graduates may be able to apply for work in a project currently underway in North Rhine-Westphalia, where children in 100 schools receive Islamic instruction in German.

But job vacancies aren't yet a problem, since the first graduates won't complete their studies for at least four years.

Vedat Acikgöz


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