Educating Imams In Germany: The Battle for a European Islam

July 18, 2010

Author: Paul Hockenos

Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education

In the snow-swept courtyard of the white-marble Sehitlik Mosque, Berlin's largest Islamic prayer house, the resident imam greets the faithful with handshakes and embraces. A slightly built, cordial man wearing an open parka, Mustafa Aydin is a Turkish civil servant on a four-year posting abroad, as are many of the Islamic preachers in Germany, where the Muslim community is overwhelmingly of Turkish heritage. Aydin understands basic German, which he's been learning, but he communicates with me through a Turkish-to-German interpreter. The services' prayers are in Arabic, he says, but his sermons and chats with congregants—including those born and schooled in Germany—are in the language of their parents' Turkish homeland, and that, he assures me, is perfectly adequate for his parish's needs. "We don't have any problems with Turkish," he says.

In a Germany struggling to come to grips with its burgeoning, four-million-strong Muslim population (about 5 percent of the populace), the use of imams sent from Turkey and other foreign countries, including Saudi Arabia, has come under sustained fire from integration-minded critics. After all, argue some intellectuals, politicos, and other citizens across Germany's political spectrum, including the more moderate currents in the Muslim community, how can the foreign clergy advise believers—many of whom grapple with profound disadvantage in Germany—without mastering the lingua franca and knowing the world they live in? The imams have, in part, been held responsible for Muslims' ghettoization, as well as fundamentalism in some pockets of the country.