Islamic Religion Education in Europe, Problems and Prospects

Since the beginning of the Islamic call, teaching the Islamic religion and understanding its meanings and rulings has been a Quranic imposition, and a “group” of believers has been unique to teach the religion, consolidate its foundations, and spread the Islamic religion among people. Companions learned the Qur’an on the authority of the Prophet in Mecca and then in Medina by various means, as Ibn Khaldun asserts.

There was a group of hadiths about the Prophet urging the Companions to use mosques as a place to teach the Qur’an, to form the first nucleus of Qur’anic teaching sessions, receive religious knowledge provided by jurists in mosques, preserve the identity of the “nation”, and to provide religious interpretations of the Qur’an and the hadiths of the Prophet.

 Since the Islamic expansion, these lessons have been arranged in an organized and continuous framework, under the control or tutelage of rulers

Since the 19th and 20th century until the contemporary era, the concept of religious education in many countries of the Islamic world has taken shape in its “institutional” form alongside public education, and is practiced within the framework of formal education supervised by the state, and non-formal education run by associations and non-governmental organizations, and financed by the Benefactors.

This education, in all its fields, has faced widespread “criticism” regarding the conduct of the educational process, “pedagogy”, the “Didactic Method”, its knowledge aims, the absence of contemporary in what students learn about religion matters, politicization in favor of governments and building religious conglomerates that allow the spread of ideology and projects Political and others.

However, these criticisms of religious education have turned into real problems in European countries, as Europe reached centuries ago to neutralize the issue of religious education from the heart of the religious and political conflict, without canceling the role of religion and its traditional institutions, on the one hand. On the other hand, Islamic education in Europe constitutes an overlap with the issue of religious identity and with the necessity of integration, and how to create a clear, open and imbued system saturated with human values to reduce extremism following the increase in terrorist in Europe.

Therefore, the importance of rethinking the methods and mechanisms of teaching the Islamic religion constituted different responses in European countries, according to the prevailing political and national culture in them.

The reality of Islamic education and its problems in Europe.

With the increasing Islamic presence and the transformation of Islam into the second largest religion, accounting for 6% of the total population, or about 24 million people, freedom of belief was guaranteed as one of the rights of the Muslim minority in European countries. The majority of European countries have tended, within the framework of equal treatment of all religions, to open the way for Muslims in all European countries to establish private Islamic schools interested in the Arabic language and Sharia sciences. In addition to the sciences taught by the European country, and the training of teachers there on modern methods of teaching.

Some countries taught Arabic language and Islamic sciences in their public schools, and this teaching is undertake by Muslims residing in predominantly Christian societies, and the establishment of departments in universities to teach the Islamic religion, such as: Germany, Austria, UK and Sweden. Others, such as France, teach the Islamic religion indirectly through “art, history and literature,” with the presence of a number of free “private” Islamic schools. France recently established educational entities such as the “National Federation for Private Islamic Education in France” in order to coordinate between Islamic schools Private and the French government.

This flexibility in teaching the Islamic religion in its various ways did not limit the “objections” on both sides, nor did it eliminate the existence of many “problems” related to Islamic education, and the methods that Muslims follow in raising and educating Muslim youth to preserve their identity, and its multi-faceted effects.

The most important of them are:

First: The absence of an Islamic agreement: the “religious” difference and the presence of Muslims from different countries and sects, Putting European countries in front of one of the important problems in the issue of “Islamic education”, related to the absence of an Islamic identity that unites Muslims. The lack of Islamic agreement on objective educational content that everyone should follow, has been reflected in all teaching methods, and on the adoption of educational curricula that include the Muslim minority in all its spectrums.

This is what led to taking two approaches to dealing with religious teaching: either presenting it as an ethical education based on universal foundations. Or following “neutrality” to avoid sectarianism, in the sense of applying the principle of “silence” to topics that Muslims are not agreed upon, or reducing the teaching of religions for a minimum, according to the philosopher “Régis Debray”

Second: The difference in Islamic values ​​and the imposition of following the values ​​of general consensus: There are many issues that contravene the constitutions of countries or the basic principles and core values of society, cannot be taught, such as: polygamy, the preference of Muslims over the followers of other religions, and the call for physical punishment. It cannot be taught outside the official framework of countries in private or parallel education. This requires greater control over the content of teaching and the establishment of “Islamic” educational staff to present values ​​in line with the consensus: respect for others, tolerance, equality, freedom of belief, etc. In order to spare Muslim children from entering into conflict of identities, and the incompatibility between what they adopt religiously and what is forbidden in society. The majority of Muslims to this day have not sought to create a different horizon with regard to religion, its meaning and its goal.

Third: Problems related to religious education in the countries of origin: The disconnect between “values ​​and knowledge” in addition to the absence of evaluation, tracking and continuous development of religious lessons, especially in “parallel” education in most Islamic countries. This disconnect has spread to European countries in multiple ways, especially in the case of importing these curricula, where they depend a lot on “indoctrination” without attention to analysis, deduction, and dialogue, it creates a superficial closed personality that does not recognize difference or plurality of opinions.

This made the development achieved in European countries – for some Muslims – part of imposing a reality different from what they wrote, and that it is based on the principle of censorship of what is presented and the result of the security obsession only. Instead of considering it a development of curricula that are not formulated according to correct “didactic” for Islamic education.

Religious education and the problem of integration and terrorism

The increase in terrorist operations, the fear of the spread of Islamic extremism and the challenges of the integration of Muslims into European societies constituted a direct reason for considering all Islamic issues, including religious education. Through the institutionalization of religion through different methods and models that generally tend to create a “pluralistic” reality that does not accept the authority of religion over social life, but it is keen on its role as a spiritual, moral, cultural resource, and sometimes political, while respecting individual freedoms and democratic pluralism, in the sense of getting out of religious identity to common humanity.

However, this did not cancel the existence of violent extremists “Islamists”, for various reasons, one of which is education, as it intersects with the absence of a correct understanding and goals of religion , and  its abbreviation in what “Sheikh”  presents,  which establishes “ignorance of religion.”

But fixing it alone will not be enough for various reasons, such as:

First: There are many postulates that have been entrenched over time from which teachers of religion have derived their “preaching” information and their perceptions of religion.

Second: The absence of Islamic agreement on the interpretation of the origins of their religion, which created a “religious pluralism” that was not resolved over the ages, but was rooted on the basis of atonement and rejection of Muslims amongst each other, which led to the formation of the paradox that (everyone is a Muslim and no one represents Islam).

Third: What is being established in the issues of “objective” Islamic religious learning interferes with a broad market. This market is governed by the flow of information on social media, “inflating sectarian and irrational whims” and the flow of funds and people supported by extremist movements to invest in the “Islamic” religion for various purposes. Consequently, objective Islamic learning cannot be entrenched in the minds, or in the way of life and dealing, and facing this mobilization and “governmental institutions will not be able to impose alone the rules of the game and determine what should be offered to future citizens.”

In addition, the failure to neutralize religion from the “state policies” reflects on Muslims in Europe, as any political problem between the host country and the original country may lead to the exploding of a religious-political problem, based on identity and existence. This is what makes education reform in Europe slow in reducing religious extremism

All these reasons put us in front of the question: What are the prospects for solutions? and how to access it.

Prospects and solutions.

Several proposals were made about what religious education could teach to curb extremism and consolidate coexistence through:

First: Adopting the Qur’an instead of the religion of the jurists: the interest in the Qur’an and the human principles in religion rather than the excessive interest in historical figures such as sheikhs or imams and considering them as a reference. In addition to the adoption of “interpretation of the Qur’an by the Qur’an” that keeps the door of ijtihad open and enables the discovery of ways of renewal, and appropriate solutions based on the method of proof and the speech.

Second: Exiting the intellectual stagnation in education: Since the beginning of the call, Islamic societies have witnessed diversity and pluralism, and previously managed to coexist with everyone to some extent. However, Islamic societies over time have established a state of intellectual and cognitive stalemate that needs knowledge of the other before coexisting with him, and search for an intellectual rapprochement with him, which can be applied by studying all other religions “Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism …” from its official sources. In addition to focusing on common foundations with religions, to reach conclusions of rapprochement between them as a single message for all, and to overcome the perversions feeding ideologies of hate.

Third: Transforming the religious lesson into an “interactive” cultural field: considering it as a way to get knowledge, possess competencies, and critically debate through dialogues, or engage in a comparison of religions based on “recognition of human dignity and rights.” These critical discussions contribute to knowing and recognizing the cultures of others, learning the literature of free dialogue, respecting dissenting opinion, and consolidating the principle of recognition of religious freedom and non-religious freedom for all, and the abdication of the belief of superiority. This solidifies the personal decision of faith, and allows the students to form their own view of the world, and consider the religions as a set of facts related to the same phenomena, which we all share.


Despite the many models for teaching the Islamic religion objectively and rationally, teaching Islam to future generations within cognitive frameworks based on the flexibility of religion will remain dependent on the ability of Muslims to form an Islamic “religious realism” and create a religious education reconciled with the world. In order to build people who can reconcile their religious identity with their working lives, find their internal balance in reading their religion, and the recognition that religions and cultures are changing facts, their content are subject to debate, and sometimes to objection.

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