The training of imams is also moving apace in other parts of Belgium, where Muslims now comprise roughly 6% of the total population, one of the highest rates in Europe.
In northern Belgium, the Antwerp University and College Association (AUHA) is launching a pilot project in which imams and imams-in-training will earn college credits for taking courses such as introduction to Belgian law, introduction to Belgian social and political history, intercultural communication, and Western ethics.
In neighboring Holland, the government has financed several programs in Islamic theological training.
The first Dutch government-sponsored program in Islamic theology was a €2 million ($2.7 million) grant to teach Islam at Holland’s largest Protestant Christian university, the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU), where students can earn bachelors and master’s degrees by taking courses in Islamic theology, Arabic language and religious studies with a focus on Islam in the Netherlands and pastoral care.
The Dutch government has also awarded a €2.4 million ($3.1 million) grant to the University of Leiden to launch an Islamic theology program there.
Both of these programs have suffered from an inherent disconnect between the demands of Dutch politicians to promote a “moderate” form state-sponsored Islam, and the demands of local Muslim leaders to teach the authentic and true Islam.
In addition to the Islamic theological offerings at VU and Leiden, the Dutch Ministry of Education has also awarded public funds to the Amsterdam-based Hogeschool InHolland, a practical training university that prepares Islamic educators for work in Dutch secondary schools.
In Sweden, the University of Uppsala in November 2012 hired its first professor of Islamic theology and philosophy. According to the dean of Uppsala University’s Faculty of Theology, Mikael Stenmark, “The idea is to develop a new profile at the Department of Theology, and in the long-term offer a complete degree program in Islamic theology.”
In Germany, Islamic theology courses at German universities are so popular that they are “changing the German religious landscape,” according to the news service Deutsche Welle.
The Center for Islamic Theology at the University of Tübingen — the first taxpayer-funded department of Islamic theology in Germany — was inaugurated in January 2012 and is the first of four Islamic university centers in the country.
In addition to the center in Tübingen, Islamic theology departments have also recently opened at universities in Erlangen/Nürnberg (September 2012), Münster/Osnabrück (October 2012), and Frankfurt/Gießen (June 2013).
The German government will pay the salaries for professors and other staff at all four Islamic centers for the next five years, at a total cost of €20 million ($25 million).
According to the German Ministry of Education, Germany has a demand for more than 2,000 Islam teachers, who are needed to instruct more than 700,000 Muslim children.
The German government claims that by controlling the curriculum, the school, which is to train Muslim imams and Islamic religion teachers, will function as an antidote to “hate preachers.”
Most imams currently in Germany are from Turkey and many of them do not speak German.
German Education Minister Annette Schavan says the Islamic centers are a “milestone for integration” for the 4.3 million Muslims who now live in Germany.
But the idea has been criticized by those who worry that the Islamic centers will become a gateway for Islamists who will introduce a hardline brand of Islam into the German university system.
In Tübingen, for example, the three professors who will be teaching at the department (eventually there will be six full professorships) had to satisfy an Islamic advisory council that they were devout Muslims.
One of the professors, Omar Hamdan, a Sunni Muslim, says that critical analysis into whether the Islamic Koran was actually written by God is “completely out of the question.”
Pointing to double standards, some of those opposed to the Islamic center say there should be critical distance between text and interpreter, as when Christianity is taught in German universities.
Critics also fear that conservative Islamic groups will exert their influence over teaching and research at the center. There are only two independent experts on the advisory board of the Tübingen center. The other five individuals belong to groups such as the Turkish-Islamic Union for Islamic Affairs (DITIB), which is actually a branch of the Turkish government.
About the Author: The writer is the Senior Analyst for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group, one of the oldest and most influential foreign policy think tanks in Spain.
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