Islam on the Curriculum

Until now, only Koran schools have offered lessons in the Islamic religion to Muslim children in Germany. Now, pilot programmes are to be carried out at German schools, too. Max Bönnemann reports


photo: AP
Turkish schoolgirls wearing headscarfs take part in a lesson in science of Islam at a school in Bremen, northwestern Germany.

​​Around 3.5 million Muslims live in Germany, two-thirds of them Turks. Approximately six percent of all school pupils in the country are Muslims - in the region of Lower Saxony alone, 40,000 children follow the Islamic faith. Hitherto, they have received their religious instruction in independent Koran schools. These are not subject to state control, and they are widely seen as antagonistic to integration.

In seven of the German Bundesländer, however, state schools have been running pilot projects offering lessons in the Islamic religion. While North Rhine-Westphalia offers "Islamic Instruction" in German, the regions of Bavaria, Hamburg and Rhineland-Palatinate provide such lessons in the children's native languages. In Berlin, the controversial "Islamic Federation" performs the task of religious teaching.

In Lower Saxony and Bremen, some primary schools have also been offering Islamic religious lessons in German. In contrast to North Rhine-Westphalia, however, they are not merely offering factual knowledge about Islam, but instruction in their religion to children brought up in the Islamic faith. And indeed, as provided for in Article 7 (III) of Germany's Basic Law, this religious instruction will be a normal subject on the school curriculum. If this experiment is successful, it will be extended to all other schools.

Lessons in the Islamic Religion, despite disagreements

The biggest problem was that the German state could not find a single contact organisation with which to negotiate this plan, for the various schools of Islamic thought have no single institutional form in common.

In Lower Saxony, however, the Shura (or Council of Islamic Communities) was formed. It claims to represent 90% of the Muslims in the region, and this made it possible to work out an acceptable standard teaching plan for all Islamic pupils in the region.

Professor Peter Graf is an educationalist at the University of Osnabrück. In his view, this is a development that's long overdue: "Muslims form the second-biggest religious community in Germany. It's simply unacceptable that Muslim children have to be sent out of the classroom or offered special lessons because their parents don't want them to take part in Christian religious instruction. Muslim children should be treated in exactly the same way as children from the majority population."

Further education for Muslim teachers

Graf is starting up a training programme for Muslim teachers of religion. There is nothing quite like it in Germany. Up to now, Islamic religious instruction at German schools has been provided by Muslim assistants only poorly prepared for the classroom, rather than properly-trained teachers.

The Osnabrück training course is part of a joint project undertaken by an international network of academic institutions. Participants include the partner universities of Hanover and Erfurt, which are developing teaching modules for religious instruction, and for Islam in particular. In addition, there are contacts to Cairo, Teheran, Ankara, Cannakale, Granada and Sarajevo, which will host summer academies and conferences on dialogue amongst the religions. In Austria, such "lessons in Islam" are already well-established

The Academy for Islamic Religious Education in Vienna is working out the practical details of Islamic instruction for the course in Osnabrück. This institution already has six years' experience in training teachers of Islamic religion for state schools.

In charge of the Academy is an Egyptian scholar of Islam: Elsayed Elshahed. "The legal situation in Austria differs from that in Germany", says Professor Elshahed. "In Austria, the Islamic religion has already been recognised since 1912. In 1978, the Islamic Congregation was formed as a foundation under public law. Since then, it has been working to introduce Islamic religious instruction in state schools.

Ensure that Muslim teachers receive proper training

The postgraduate course in Osnabrück begins on the 1st of April. Applicants should already be qualified teachers or currently studying to that end. In addition, they should be adherents of the Islamic faith and have excellent written and spoken German.

Some basic computer skills are also required, as a large part of the course material will be provided via the Internet. From 2006 onwards, the actual M.A. course in Islamic Religious Education should be up and running.

If the trial run at the primary schools in Lower Saxony and Bremen proves successful, the Catholic bishops of Hildesheim and Osnabrück will support the training of teachers of Islam.

"With the introduction of Islamic Religious Education as a recognised course of study for teachers of a normal subject on the school curriculum, we feel it’s also appropriate to ensure that Muslim instructors in the Islamic faith are properly trained for their task."

Max Bönnemann © 2004

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