Islam in German schools

Saphir, a textbook for Islamic religion classes, presents the fundamental issues of Islam in 15 chapters for fifth and sixth grade pupils. Themes include the concept of God, the Prophet Mohammed, and the structure of the Quran, as well as issues such as the rights of children and social responsibility. Editions for grades seven to 10 are currently being prepared.

The textbook is part of an initiative to better educate Muslim students at Germany’s public schools about their Muslim faith. Saphir stands at the forefront of contemporary religious education. For Islam in Germany, the new schoolbook is a step away from the fringes and into the mainstream of society.

The book “does not aim to educate pupils to believe, but rather to make responsible decisions concerning faith,” stressed Harry Harun Behr from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. Behr, a German convert to Islam, teaches aspiring religion teachers at the Interdisciplinary Center for Islamic Religious Education. He is one of the authors of the teaching plan for classes in Islam at the Bavarian model schools in Erlangen, Bayreuth, Fürth, Nuremberg and, since the beginning of this school year, also in Munich. Behr maintains that classes in Islam at school should encourage a “critical distance to one’s own religion.” The university lecturer feels that a literal understanding of the Quran as an instruction manual is “not a sustainable model.” He regards the Quran as a literary text with a historical point of origin and development.

Islam as a regular subject at German public schools has, until now, only taken place on a trial basis. According to Article 7, Paragraph 3 of the German constitution, Muslims have a right to religious education for their children under the supervision of the state, just as Christians do. Yet for many decades, this right has not been implemented due to the lack of suitable partners on the Muslim side. Since 1999, North Rhine-Westphalia has offered Islamic instruction in approximately 140 schools to some 10,000 Muslim pupils. However, the Islamic instruction does not correspond to religion courses as prescribed by the German constitution. Such a course curriculum is only now being prepared in collaboration with Islamic associations.

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