Schools in Germany may start offering classes on Islam - according to the German Islam Conference (DIK) held last March at the capitol - in Berlin.
Islam to be Taught in German Public Schools
"We all agree that this is the way that should now be followed," Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble, who hosted the conference, told journalists.
It was an unexpectedly long and heated debate. But after four hours of discussion, the 30 participants of DIK, a round- table launched by Schauble in 2006, announced their support for introducing classes on Islam at public schools in Germany. Participants also agreed to support the construction of more mosques in Germany and fight against Islamic radicalism.
"In the not too far future, we - where there is a wish and a need for it - will have Islam religion classes at German schools," Schauble said. Classes are to be held in German.
There are approximately 800,000 Muslim children in Germany, but only 12 percent are taught about their religion at school. So far it has been difficult to organize Islam lessons at German schools because Germany's Muslims do not have a central institution to represent them. Education regulations in Germany are decided according to each state. Muslim associations are expected to provide the content of the classes while the state is responsible for organizing and financing the teaching.
In the past, most federal governments have had no contact points among the Muslim community. "There is little unity among Muslims," said Manfred Schreiner from the Nuremberg education department. Schauble appealed to Muslims in Germany to form major associations in each federal state which can represent the many scattered Islamic groups.
"It is a huge step toward integration," said Remzi Guneysu, a Turkish-German engineer and founder and chairman of the Islamic Religious Community Erlangen (IRE). The Bavaria-based IRE is one of very few examples where Muslims in Germany set up an association to cooperate with the state. Six years ago, the IRE was thus able to introduce Islam classes at a German school. "Our teachers have build bridges of integration between the religions," said Guneysu in an interview with the Turkish Daily News. "The classes help to abolish prejudices." Guneysu added that the behavior of children changed after religion classes were introduced. "They treat each other with more respect. And they are able to discuss Islam and other religious issues with their school friends in German."
A model project at a school in Lower Saxony showed that there were less fights between students of Turkish and Arabic origins in school yards after Islam lessons in German were introduced. Also, parents felt more encouraged to participate at meetings or events held at their children's schools.
"After only a few years of experience in Erlangen we can already say that Islam lessons do not block the integration of Muslims into our society but instead foster tolerance and an understanding of each other," said Guneysu. "The overall positive effects cannot be overlooked."
The major aim of the new approach is to increase tolerance between Muslims and non-Muslims, but also to fight tendencies of radicalism among young Muslims. Schauble, who earlier this week had expressed concerns about "the emotional gap" between Muslims and non-Muslims in his country, said he was confident that Islam classes at German schools will lead to changes in the religious practice in mosques. "We are determined to fight hate mongers with all means. By introducing Islam lessons at schools we are more or less entering competition with them," Schauble told German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung.
Islamic religious education in Turkish has been taught in some parts of Germany since 1977: "When it was first introduced, everyone thought the children would be going back home again," said Michael Kiefer, an Islamic scholar who has published a book on "Islamic studies in the German language in Northrhine-Westfalia." Meanwhile German society has understood that the sons and daughters of the first generation of Turkish immigrants are children of the German state. The new model laid out by the German Islam Conference this week therefore aims at bringing up children as German citizens with Muslim values.
When exactly Islam lessons will be introduced to German schools remains open. "This is not yet foreseeable," said Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, president of the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs, and member of the Christian Democratic Union. It will take "several years." The University of Munster offers a study program for Islam teachers since 2004.
German education ministers have announced plans to expand classes on Islam to include all students, but the plan faces a shortage of teachers. Officials seeking to open the Islam classes to non-Muslim students face hurdles in finding qualified instructors -- only 2.8 percent of Muslims in German high schools eventually graduate, Der Spiegel reported Friday.
Only about 120 Islam teachers are currently working in Germany -- one-eighth of the estimated number needed.
In their interim report, the 30 members of the conference committed themselves to the German legal system and the national constitution. As Bekir Alboga, spokesman for the Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany, explained, this means the acceptance of equal status between men and women - before the law as well as before God.
Dorte Huneke, "Classes on Islam at German schools" Turkish Daily news March 15, 2008
"Germany faces Islam teacher shortage" United Press iNternational March 14, 2008