The Institut Buhara, housed in a former culture house for East German railway workers, hosted an open house last Friday to introduce their school to curious local residents and the media.
“We want to educate German-speaking Imams who are anchored in society and have a perfect command of the language,” the school’s 37-year-old founder Alexander Weiger said, adding that there is demand for such skills among believers as well as government officials.
The renovated three-storey building can accommodate up to 68 male students, although there will only be 29 in the first year. Students will attend for a total of six years.
Weiger, originally from the German state of Bavaria and a convert to Islam’s Sufism tradition, said he hoped the school would also help break down assumptions about the religion and help Muslims integrate into German society.
“I want to serve the community and become a cleric,” said 25-year-old Hamburg native Bayram Solmaz, explaining that his parents were pleased with his choice because “they are also very religious.”
Preparatory courses have been running for some time, but official instruction won’t begin until the school is accepted into Berlin’s school registry.
The institution has sought to cooperate with the district’s government and churches, according to city officials, but has still been the target of threats by the neo-Nazi NPD party, which distributed flyers warning of an “act of proselytisation.”
But Berlin police said dialogue with the institute has been positive. After holding security talks with leadership, police assigned two officers to remain within contact area of the institute.
“We will make sure that the community can live here safely,” police officer René Behrendt said.