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ISLAM

Imams ‘made in Germany’: country’s first Islamic training college opens its doors

Germany has launched a state-backed training centre for imams to help reduce the number of Islamic leaders coming in from abroad, but the initiative has been shunned by leading Turkish groups.

Imams 'made in Germany': country's first Islamic training college opens its doors
Books at the German College of Islam. credit: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler

Around 40 aspiring religious leaders attended their first classes at the German College of Islam in the north-western city of Osnabrück on Monday, with the official inauguration on Tuesday.

The centre’s two-year imam training programme will be taught with the help of some 12,000 books imported from Egypt.

Open to holders of a bachelor’s degree in Islamic theology or an equivalent diploma, it offers practical teaching in the recitation of verses from the Koran, preaching techniques, worship practices and politics.

With between 5.3 and 5.6 million Muslims in Germany – around 6.4 to 6.7 percent of the population – the role of Islam in society occupies a prominent place in political discourse.

The new training centre is being partly funded by the federal government, as well as local authorities in the state of Lower Saxony.

Chancellor Angela Merkel first spoke in favour of training imams on German soil in 2018, telling parliament it “will make us more independent and is necessary for the future”.

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The German College of Islam is unique in two ways, according to chairman Esnaf Begic: all lessons are in German, and it aims to “reflect the reality of the life of Muslims in Germany”.

‘Made in Germany’

 “We are German Muslims, we are an integral part of society and we now have the opportunity to become imams ‘made in Germany'”, said student Ender Cetin, who already works as a volunteer imam in a youth detention centre in Berlin.

Until now, the vast majority of imams in Germany have been trained abroad, mainly in Turkey, and are also paid by their home countries.

About half of the 2,000 to 2,500 imams in the country are provided by the Turkish-Islamic umbrella group DITIB, a branch of the Presidency of Religious Affairs in Ankara that manages 986 mosque communities in Germany, according to a study by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

The rest come mainly from North Africa, Albania and the former Yugoslavia.

These religious leaders tend to come to Germany for four or five years, some on tourist visas, and know very little about the local culture and customs.

“These imams don’t speak the language of the young people, who often don’t even understand Turkish very well,” said Cetin, himself born in Berlin to Turkish immigrants.

“It is important that they are in touch with the realities of a multicultural society where Christians, Jews, atheists and Muslims live side
by side.”

‘Political agenda’

Many of the leaders are also officials of the Turkish state who “pursue a political agenda” in Germany, he said.

The influence of Ankara has long been a thorny question in Germany’s Muslim community, especially since the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016.

In 2017, German police raided the homes of four imams, members of DITIB, suspected of spying on opponents or critics of the Turkish government.

But the training of imams with support from the German state is also controversial because it conflicts with the principle that religious
communities alone are entitled to train their leaders.

For this reason, both DITIB and Milli Gorus, Germany’s second-biggest Islamic organisation, chose not to participate in the creation of the German College of Islam, with DITIB launching its own training programme in Germany last year.

Milli Gorus believes that the training of imams should be “free from external influences, especially political ones”, according to general
secretary Bekir Altas.

But college chairman Begic says the institution was created with “absolutely no influence from the state, which did not interfere in the
development of the programmes”.

As for job opportunities, imams remain poorly paid and dependent on donations from the faithful. But Begic insists: “We are not an employment agency.”

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ISLAM

Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday

The mayor of Cologne has announced a two-year pilot project that will allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer on the Muslim day of rest each week.

Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday
The DITIP mosque in Cologne. Photo: dpa | Henning Kaiser

Mosques in the city of the banks of the Rhine will be allowed to call worshippers to prayer on Fridays for five minutes between midday and 3pm.

“Many residents of Cologne are Muslims. In my view it is a mark of respect to allow the muezzin’s call,” city mayor Henriette Reker wrote on Twitter.

In Muslim-majority countries, a muezzin calls worshippers to prayer five times a day to remind people that one of the daily prayers is about to take place.

Traditionally the muezzins would call out from the minaret of the mosque but these days the call is generally broadcast over loudspeakers.

Cologne’s pilot project would permit such broadcasts to coincide with the main weekly prayer, which takes place on a Friday afternoon.

Reker pointed out that Christian calls to prayer were already a central feature of a city famous for its medieval cathedral.

“Whoever arrives at Cologne central station is welcomed by the cathedral and the sound of its church bells,” she said.

Reker said that the call of a muezzin filling the skies alongside church bells “shows that diversity is both appreciated and enacted in Cologne”.

Mosques that are interested in taking part will have to conform to guidelines on sound volume that are set depending on where the building is situated. Local residents will also be informed beforehand.

The pilot project has come in for criticism from some quarters.

Bild journalist Daniel Kremer said that several of the mosques in Cologne were financed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “a man who opposes the liberal values of our democracy”, he said.

Kremer added that “it’s wrong to equate church bells with the call to prayer. The bells are a signal without words that also helps tell the time. But the muezzin calls out ‘Allah is great!’ and ‘I testify that there is no God but Allah.’ That is a big difference.”

Cologne is not the first city in North Rhine-Westphalia to allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer.

In a region with a large Turkish immigrant community, mosques in Gelsenkirchen and Düren have been broadcasting the religious call since as long ago as the 1990s.

SEE ALSO: Imams ‘made in Germany’: country’s first Islamic training college opens its doors

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