The gulf between Europe's 16 million Muslims and the secular societies in which they live all too often breeds misunderstanding, resentment and even violence. And while there's plenty of blame to go around, one reason for many Muslims' difficulty integrating in the European Union countries is that their clerics are usually imported from Turkey or the Arab world, and have such poor language skills and weak knowledge of their host country that they struggle to help their fellow community members adapt and fit in.
But this month, an experimental new school for imams opened in an outlying eastern district of Berlin that may help provide a model for the nurturing of a distinctly European strand of Islam. The daunting mission of this new school, and a growing handful of similar initiatives in Europe, is to cater to the needs of Muslims in Europe while negotiating between the cultures of Islam and the West. The 29 students enrolled this year, all of them born or raised in Europe (and all of them men), will take Arabic language and Muslim theology classes along with German and civics. Their study will combine the principles of Islam with those of contemporary European culture, including, most critically, democracy and human rights.