German Muslim associations and Islam education

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For years, Islamic theologians and religious educators have been waiting to be officially allowed to continue doing what they have been doing for a very long time: training students universities across Germany to become teachers of Islam.

The problem is that conservative theologians receive the Ijaza, the Islamic teaching permit, directly after finishing their religious studies, while reformists or scientists who criticize some positions of the conservative Muslim associations in Germany, are waiting for the license to teach for years. Last year, the Sunni Council, which is responsible for overseeing Islamic teaching in some German states – in Germany education is in the responsibility of the 16 states – required a teaching permit for the first time. Most teachers and university lecturers got it, reformists were denied. The official justification by the council was that they were not trained Islamic theologians and religious educators.

This is the fact for most scientists in this new field at universities. Islamic theology is a young subject that is mainly pursued by sociologists and Islamic scholars. For the denied scholars, the refusal to teach is just an excuse to silence voices for reform. The two associations represented in the Sunni Council, the State Association of Islamic Cultural Centers and the Islamic Community of Bosniaks in Germany, are considered conservative and together represent only seven percent of the mosque communities in the southern state. It is therefore questionable what empowers them to be responsible, because its theological and scientific competence is at least questionable. According to state church law, the state is not allowed to oversee religious instruction itself, but unlike in Christian churches, it lacks an adequate contact person in the case of less organized Islam.

A scientist, who for years now teaches Islamic theology at a faculty in Baden-Wuerttemberg, told MENA Research Center that the Sunni Council withheld his license to teach. The delayed decision hindered the definitive establishment of Islamic theology at this university. Therefore, the first students have already left the seminar for Islamic theology because they fear that they could not be accepted as teachers by the responsible associations.

Some scholars had already lodged a complaint against the refusal of permission to teach last summer. The association promised to review the decision and obtain an external opinion. They haven’t heard anything since then. Even universities submitted new applications for teaching licenses of their professors in the first half of 2021, but did not receive any information as to whether the scientists will be allowed to teach Islamic theology in the future.

As a good example, a new structure for the education of teachers for Islam was formed in the state of Hessen with the Center for Islamic Theology. It is built on three pillars: the Frankfurt University offers a teaching degree in Islamic religion at secondary schools and high schools, the second is the professorship for Islamic theology and its didactics at the University of Giessen, where religion teachers for primary schools are trained, the third is the Institute for Studies in the Culture and Religion of Islam.

The structure of the centers includes cooperation with Islamic associations, analogous to the relationship between the churches and the theological departments. This is where arguments sometimes arise. In Hessen for example, the Turkish Ditib association and the Ahmadiyya community, as religious communities recognized by the state, have also a say in filling professorships in religious education. They approved the state’s decision to fund the centers. „We wish that theology gets enough space and time to gain a foothold in the country and that there is a solid development of Islamic theology.“

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