Imams ‘made in Germany’: country’s first Islamic training college opens its doors

Germany has launched a state-backed training centre for imams to help reduce the number of Islamic leaders coming in from abroad, but the initiative has been shunned by leading Turkish groups.

Imams 'made in Germany': country's first Islamic training college opens its doors
Books at the German College of Islam. credit: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler

Around 40 aspiring religious leaders attended their first classes at the German College of Islam in the north-western city of Osnabrück on Monday, with the official inauguration on Tuesday.

The centre’s two-year imam training programme will be taught with the help of some 12,000 books imported from Egypt.

Open to holders of a bachelor’s degree in Islamic theology or an equivalent diploma, it offers practical teaching in the recitation of verses from the Koran, preaching techniques, worship practices and politics.

With between 5.3 and 5.6 million Muslims in Germany – around 6.4 to 6.7 percent of the population – the role of Islam in society occupies a prominent place in political discourse.

The new training centre is being partly funded by the federal government, as well as local authorities in the state of Lower Saxony.

Chancellor Angela Merkel first spoke in favour of training imams on German soil in 2018, telling parliament it “will make us more independent and is necessary for the future”.


The German College of Islam is unique in two ways, according to chairman Esnaf Begic: all lessons are in German, and it aims to “reflect the reality of the life of Muslims in Germany”.

‘Made in Germany’

 “We are German Muslims, we are an integral part of society and we now have the opportunity to become imams ‘made in Germany'”, said student Ender Cetin, who already works as a volunteer imam in a youth detention centre in Berlin.

Until now, the vast majority of imams in Germany have been trained abroad, mainly in Turkey, and are also paid by their home countries.

About half of the 2,000 to 2,500 imams in the country are provided by the Turkish-Islamic umbrella group DITIB, a branch of the Presidency of Religious Affairs in Ankara that manages 986 mosque communities in Germany, according to a study by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

The rest come mainly from North Africa, Albania and the former Yugoslavia.

These religious leaders tend to come to Germany for four or five years, some on tourist visas, and know very little about the local culture and customs.

“These imams don’t speak the language of the young people, who often don’t even understand Turkish very well,” said Cetin, himself born in Berlin to Turkish immigrants.

“It is important that they are in touch with the realities of a multicultural society where Christians, Jews, atheists and Muslims live side
by side.”

‘Political agenda’

Many of the leaders are also officials of the Turkish state who “pursue a political agenda” in Germany, he said.

The influence of Ankara has long been a thorny question in Germany’s Muslim community, especially since the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016.

In 2017, German police raided the homes of four imams, members of DITIB, suspected of spying on opponents or critics of the Turkish government.

But the training of imams with support from the German state is also controversial because it conflicts with the principle that religious
communities alone are entitled to train their leaders.

For this reason, both DITIB and Milli Gorus, Germany’s second-biggest Islamic organisation, chose not to participate in the creation of the German College of Islam, with DITIB launching its own training programme in Germany last year.

Milli Gorus believes that the training of imams should be “free from external influences, especially political ones”, according to general
secretary Bekir Altas.

But college chairman Begic says the institution was created with “absolutely no influence from the state, which did not interfere in the
development of the programmes”.

As for job opportunities, imams remain poorly paid and dependent on donations from the faithful. But Begic insists: “We are not an employment agency.”

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Al-Azhar university calls for Sweden boycott over Koran burning

The Sunni Muslim world's most prestigious educational institution, Al-Azhar in Egypt, has called for the boycott of Swedish and Dutch products after far-right activists destroyed Korans in those countries.

Al-Azhar university calls for Sweden boycott over Koran burning

Al-Azhar, in a statement issued on Wednesday, called on “Muslims to boycott Dutch and Swedish products”.

It also urged “an appropriate response from the governments of these two countries” which it charged were “protecting despicable and barbaric crimes in the name of ‘freedom of expression'”.

Swedish-Danish far-right politician Rasmus Paludan on Saturday set fire to a copy of the Muslim holy book in front of Turkey’s embassy in Stockholm, raising tensions as Sweden courts Ankara over its bid to join Nato.


The following day, Edwin Wagensveld, who heads the Dutch chapter of the German anti-Islam group Pegida, tore pages out of the Koran during a one-man protest outside parliament.

Images on social media also showed him walking on the torn pages of the holy book.

The desecration of the Koran sparked strong protests from Ankara and furious demonstrations in several capitals of the Muslim world including in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and Yemen.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry “strongly condemned” the Koran burning, expressing “deep concern at the recurrence of such events and the recent Islamophobic escalation in a certain number of European countries”.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson condemned Paludan’s actions as “deeply disrespectful”, while the United States called it “repugnant”.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday said the burning was the work of “a provocateur” who “may have deliberately sought to put distance between two close partners of ours – Turkey and Sweden”.

On Tuesday, Turkey postponed Nato accession talks with Sweden and Finland, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Stockholm for allowing weekend protests that included the burning of the Koran.