CAIRO – A recent visit by the German President to one of the largest centers for teaching Islamic theology has reignited a religious battle over who is entitled to decide who and how the religion is taught.
"It's a great sign of appreciation," Mouhanad Khorchide, director of the University of Münster's Center for Islamic Theology, told Deutsche Welle, commenting on last week’s visit by the German Federal President Joachim Gauck.
"With our center we are pioneers, because there is no other place like it in Europe that offers such training."
Supported by the German federal government with about 20 million euros ($27 million), the Islamic theology centers have been facing criticism from Muslim organizations.
The criticism basically was related to how the religion is being taught; accusing its managers of putting too little focus on what is allowed and forbidden in Islam.
As a result, the German Central Council of Muslims is keeping its distance and questions the teachings of the Münster-based center.
The problems were not only related to the curriculum.
Over the past years, Germany's four largest Islamic organizations have complained about feeling betrayed by politicians.
They accused the government of denying them a role as advisor at the table in order to fulfill the same task that churches fulfill in advising Christian theological programs.
Recently, this advisory role has yet to come to fruition because the organizations continue to suggest potential advisors who are then rejected by authorities under Germany's Federal Constitution, allegedly for being suspected Islamic fundamentalists.
There are 400 Muslims registered in the Islamic theology and Islamic religious education courses of study
In the coming years, nearly 2000 Islamic religion teachers will be sought in Germany.
The political friction doesn't seem to bother the students who feel motivated to get more information about their faith.
"First and foremost I am motivated by personal enrichment and the acquisition of knowledge," Daniel Garske, a student at the University of Münster's Center for Islamic Theology, told Deutsche Welle.
"With the knowledge I gain here, I want to achieve great things in life. And also help Islam gain a different image in society," the 33-year old student added.
Garske is one of the few Muslim reverts who joined the center to get more knowledge about his new faith.
Studying at the largest Islamic theology center in Germany, he wants to stay at the university, teaching and researching.
In principle the Islamic theology program should also prepare imams, who come mainly from Turkey.
Same as Garske, Mariam Sarwary joined the center filled with hopes to work as an Islamic religion teacher someday.
Which is what I was missing a bit, this academic approach to the religion," Mariam, 25, said.
"With this course of study, I can find that missing piece. And I think it's great to be able to pass along to the children exactly what was missing for me when I was in school."
Germany has between 3.8 and 4.3 million Muslims, making up some 5 percent of the total 82 million population, according to government-commissioned studies.
In 2009, public schools allowed Muslims to study their faith for the first time in Germany.
German politicians have also called for recognizing Islam as an official religion in the Christian-majority country.
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