Germany is starting an imam training pilot project under a civilian structure to be employed within the country with the aim of educating those that will be employed in mosques in Germany. The project, set to be launched at the University of Osnabrück, will be collaborative in nature, bringing together associations such asthe Association of Islamic Cultural Centers (VIKZ) and the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DİTİB).
Indicating that the "Islamic college" project will be carried out with the cooperation of Islamic communities and associations, Bülent Uçar of Osnabrück University told Anadolu Agency “the state, including universities, will not have the right to intervene in the project; this project will be a civilian formation completely,” adding that in the case of intervention he would quit the project.
The project, with funding from Germany's Interior Ministry, will be open to applicants chosen by Islamic communities or those who have a related degree in the field. The project, at the end of which 20 to 30 students will be provided employment, will last two years, and have 10 instructors. According to the German Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, the budget given by the government is 400,000 euros.
Following criticism regarding the large number of imams coming from Turkey, with some claiming that they represented the Turkish government, DİTİB decided to provide imams from within Germany. The main goal behind the move is to increase the number of imams trained in Germany and reduce the number provided by Turkey.
Indicating that some associations had similar projects of their own, Uçar added “There are some communities of other nationalities that do not have the means. Thus, such a formation was created. Our main audience is small communities. We try to cooperate with those that have their own training programs such as DITIB and VIKZ in joint fields.”
It was also reported that the courses for imams will last two years, and all the courses will be provided with DİTİB's own equity. The first two months of the training are expected to be the preparation period, which will be followed by training in the mosques. Some 70 students will be accepted each year to be trained as imams, and the training will be conducted in German. People who were raised in Germany and then received an education in theology in either Turkey or Germany are eligible to apply for the courses.
The Cologne-based DİTİB is one of the largest Islamic organizations in Germany. It was founded in 1984 as a branch of the Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), Turkey's top religious body. Among Germany's nearly 4.5 million Muslims, around 3 million are of Turkish origin. Germany, a country of over 81 million people, has the second-largest Muslim population in Western Europe after France.
DİTİB runs more than 900 mosques. For many years, it was a partner in many government-supported counter-extremism and integration projects.
Previously, the German domestic intelligence agency, BfV, had reportedly decided to scrutinize the activities of DİTİB in order to decide whether to put the organization under official surveillance or not.
Some academic institutions including Humboldt University of Berlin and Tübingen University already offer Islamic Theology courses, yet this education lacks a practical side that could be solved through this new initiative.
“It did not seem possible that university graduates could work in mosques with their degrees. The goal of the project in question is to close this gap with practical information,” Uçar said.