France reiterates concern over treatment of Rohingya Muslims

French officials have once again expressed “deep concern” over the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and urged the government to find a peaceful solution. French Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Agnes Romatet-Espagne said France had been concerned for some time about “violence and forced movements” of people in the state of Arakan, “notably against the Rohingya community.”

“We are calling for an end to violence and demanding the Burmese security forces assure the protection of the civilian populations and their property and that they guarantee the re-establishment of safe, humanitarian access,” she said.

French Judge Rules: Jewish and Muslim Students Must Have Non-pork Option for School Lunch

A French court ruled that schools should provide an alternative to lunches containing pork for Muslim and Jewish students.

The decision on Monday came after the Muslim Legal Defense League sued the local authority at Chalon-sur-Saône in Burgundy, challenging its 2015 decision to stop providing a non-pork alternative in its school cafeterias.

The Muslim Legal Defense League had called the decision to stop providing a pork alternative “illegal, discriminatory and a violation of the freedom of conscience and religion.”

The judge said he made the ruling because, due to the lack of an alternative, many local Muslim children went without lunch, which is “not in keeping with the spirit of the international convention on the rights of children” and not “in the interests of the children.”

He said religion was not a consideration. French National Front party leader Marine Le Pen said in a 2014 interview that non-pork options for Jewish and Muslim students will no longer be offered in school menus in the 11 towns where France’s far-right National Front party won local elections.

Beaucaire mayor accuses Morocco of terrorism, calls for banning Arabic in schools

Julien Sanchez, who serves as the mayor of the city of Beaucaire in South France, recently released a video in which he expressed his opposition to teaching Arabic in schools.

Sanchez accused Morocco of “becoming in recent months a country of origin for terrorist organizations, which exposes French schools to danger” because many of the Arabic teachers are originally from Morocco.

“We are asked to secure our schools, but we don’t know exactly who penetrates them”, he said.

The FN mayor said he will not allocate money for such a project and will instead give a symbolic Euro.

Muslim workers at Paris airport sue after fired for refusing to shave beards

An industrial tribunal will hear the case of four Muslim former security guards at Orly airport who say they were discriminated against when sacked for refusing to shave off their beards in the wake of the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris.

Soon after those jihadist attacks that left 130 dead, management from the Securitas security firm summoned several male staff members working for it at Orly, all of them Muslim and all of them bearded.

They were told that with passengers on edge, it would be appreciated if they could all trim or shave off their beards to adhere to the firm’s strict grooming policy.

Most of the men, who worked at the security points where passengers and their hand luggage are screened, complied, but four did not, and launched discrimination complaints.

Their case is to be heard at an industrial tribunal in Bobigny.

The men were suspended a week after refusing to shave and some months later received a letter telling them they were sacked. Securitas denies any discrimination, and argues that the ex-employees simply refused to adhere to company rules stating that facial hair needed to be kept short and well-groomed.

The tribunal hearing is likely to be dominated by arguments over what length of a beard is “acceptable” and whether a beard can be considered a religious symbol.

The European Court of Justice ruled in March that companies should be allowed to to ban their staff from wearing visible religious symbols.

Security was tightened at Orly airport in the wake of the November 13th attacks in Paris, with authorities screening all workers at the two Paris airports – Charles de Gaulle and Orly.They decided to revoke “secure zone access” to almost 70 workers, with the head of Aeroports de Paris citing the main reason as “cases of radicalization”.

 

One Nation senator Pauline Hanson’s Burqa-wearing ‘Stunt’

Just last month, on 17 August, Pauline Hanson, a member of Australian political party One Nation, entered the Senate chamber wearing a burqa. Taking her usual seat, her choice of dress was met with gasps from her fellow senators, one of whom was heard to say, ‘Oh, what on earth?’

When invited by the Senate president to speak, Hanson, after removing the burqa, asked the Attorney-General, George Brandis, whether or not he would, in light of relevant national security concerns, move to ban the burqa.

In response, Brandis scolded Hanson for what he described as a ‘stunt’, before affirming that the government would not ban the burqa. Brandis qualified that the majority of Australia’s 500,000 Muslim population ‘are law-abiding, good Australians.’ Brandis added that each director-general of security and each commissioner of the Australian Federal Police with whom he has worked has maintained that it is in the national interest to maintain healthy relations with the Muslim community. Hanson’s stunt, conversely, constituted ‘ridicule’ in Brandis’ eyes, and he implored Hanson to ‘reflect on what [she had] done.’

Hanson responded by asking why anyone wearing ‘a balaclava or helmet’ who enters ‘a bank or any other building or on the floor of a court’ is ordered to remove that balaclava or helmet while a Muslim woman wearing a burqa is not. Hanson asked Brandis if the government would therefore consider changing the country’s laws in light of this apparent inconsistency. Brandis assured the Senate that the government would make no such change. Hanson, however, moved a private members’ bill on the floor of the Senate that day with regard to a proposed ban of the burqa in Australia.

A day later, while appearing on breakfast television program ‘TODAY’, Hanson spoke with host Karl Stefanovic. Stefanovic asked Hanson if she was proud of her actions. In response, Hanson said, ‘’Proud’ is not the word I’d say… Not at all. Why should I feel proud of what I did? I did it to actually prove a point here. ’ Hanson explained that the proposal to ban the burqa ‘is based on national security and social cohesion.’ Hanson also explained that it was her belief that ‘there are a lot of women out there wearing the burqa who would dearly love not to have to wear it.’ When Stefanovic asked Hanson how she had felt wearing the burqa on this occasion, Hanson responded, ‘Terrible. It is horrible. It is a horrible feeling. I really feel for these women that are made to wear it or have to wear it.’ Hanson then told Stefanovic that she had received a text message from someone in Saudi Arabia applauding her for speaking out and wearing the burqa in parliament.

Hanson also explained that she believes Australian laws that permit freedom of religion and expression are being used by certain members of society to further their own ideological agenda. Hanson continued, stating that 15 Labor Party seats are controlled by Muslim MPs, which is why Labor is ‘bending over backwards to appease the Muslim population.’ Hanson clarified, ‘I have no problems with the religion. I have a problem with the political ideology that is incompatible with our culture and our way of life and is shutting down a lot of things that are dear to our hearts as Australians.’

On 21 August, during a debate on another morning television program, ‘Sunrise’, Greens’ senator Sarah Hanson-Young chastised Hanson for her actions, labelling them an ‘absolute disgrace’ and telling Hanson she was ‘doing ISIS’s work for them’. Hanson-Young then told Hanson, ‘The next ISIS attack will be on your head, Pauline.’

A day later, and in response to this ongoing discourse, political commentator and former Labor politician Graham Richardson wrote an opinion-piece for national newspaper, ‘The Australian’. An advocate for the banning of the burqa, Richardson qualified that he believes the burqa could and should only be banned in Australia, however, following substantive dialogue with the Muslim community. Richardson was also critical of Hanson’s burqa-wearing stunt, while labelling Hanson-Young a ‘serial idiot’ for her comments attributing a future terrorist attack to Hanson’s decision to wear the burqa in the Senate chamber.

Interestingly, a recent vote among members of conservative political party The Nationals rejected the motion to ban the burqa, 55 to 51. The symbolism of the burqa and the debate about whether or not it is compatible with Australian culture and values will, however, no doubt continue. Whether or not it informs the decisions of Australians next year at the federal election ballot box is, however, unlikely.

More Young Dutch Muslims Are Travelling To Mecca For the annual Hadj

With the annual Hajj starting on the 30th of August this year, the Dutch pilgrims have become increasingly younger. In the past, the Hajj was usually undertaken by elderly Muslims. Nowadays, elderly Muslims are still the main age group among Hajj pilgrims, but there has been an increase in younger Muslims fulfilling this important religious obligation. Marjo Buitelaar, a Dutch academic on contemporary Islam, has done research on the developments regarding the Hajj and also noticed this important shift in age demographics.

“The pilgrimage used to be seen mainly as a final religious obligation one had to fullfill, and ask for forgiveness of the sins you have committed. Young Muslims also feel the need for this, but because they are standing in the midst of life, they experience the Hajj and the period after differently,” Buitelaar stated. She added that young people are practicing their faith more and do not longer want to wait until they are in their sixties and seventies before fulfilling this religious obligation. In addition, she believes that not only is the individualization of religion a factor in these new developments, but ‘identity issues’ are also playing a role: as most young Dutch Muslims have a Moroccan or Turkish ethnical background, they are confronted with questions as to where they belong. Since they are not  only not fully accepted in the Netherlands, but also not in Morocco or Turkey, they appreciate the feeling of being ‘just’ a Muslim in Saudi-Arabia.

A few travel agencies can attest to the fact that more young Dutch Muslims are deciding to set out for the pilgrimage. Zaakaria Bouhkim, a 29-year-old Muslim from Amsterdam, runs a travel agency with his father. While they guide a group of 235 pilgrims to Mecca this year, Bouhkim also noticed that the pilgrims are becoming increasingly younger. He states that more than half of these pilgrims are younger than 40 years old. In addition, he claims that the ‘umrah is becoming increasingly popular among young Dutch Muslims. He believes that a lower threshold to go to Mecca is contributing to the trend. In addition, the younger Muslims with these ethnic backgrounds have more money than their parents had, which also contributes to a lower threshold. Naoufal El Ghaouty, the owner of travel agency Diwan Travel, has about 200 people going with him to Mecca each year. He confirms that the typical Dutch pilgrim is getting younger: “In the past, only ten or fifteen percent of the pilgrims were young people, now that has become between forty and fifty percent: a big difference.”

Because the Dutch Muslim pilgrims are becoming increasingly younger, the travel agencies see the need to change their offer accordingly. They offer outings for example; like crossing through the desert with squad cars. It also becomes clear that there is a strong influence of social media in how these young Dutch Muslims experience their Hajj. Muslims post ‘snaps’ on Snapchat for example, where one can temporarily share images and video’s. A young Muslim from Rotterdam, the 20-year-old Hoedayfa Flillou, also agrees that social media plays an important role in the contemporary Hajj experience of young Dutch Muslims. He claims that young Muslims have more access to actual images of the Hajj through social media, because of the ‘selfies’ young Muslims make when they are in Mecca. He also believes that the modern Mecca has become more attractive city-wise for young Muslims, with the new buildings that have been built.

Sources:
https://nos.nl/artikel/2190474-je-hoeft-niet-meer-zestig-te-zijn-om-naar-de-hajj-te-gaan.html https://fd.nl/werk-en-geld/1212837/verplicht-op-reis https://www.rtlnieuws.nl/nederland/steeds-meer-jongeren-naar-mekka-ze-zijn-nieuwsgierig-geworden-door-selfies-van-anderen

Masked Men Occupy Roof of Islamic High School in Amsterdam

In Amsterdam Nieuw-West, where an Islamic high school was opened recently, two men with balaclava masks have climbed its roof and hung an anti-Islam banner. The men were eventually talked off the roof by the police and arrested for alleged disrupting public order.

The two men of 29 and 32 years old, were identified as members of the campaign group ‘Identitarian Resistance’ (Identitair Verzet). The group tries to ban immigration and ‘islamization’ and promotes the preservation of the ‘Dutch identity’. The extremist right group was founded in 2012 and have since then threatened to physically demonstrate at the ‘Refugee Church’ (Vluchtkerk) in Amsterdam for refugees whose asylum applications have been refused. The municipality of Amsterdam decided that the group was not allowed to do that because of the potential disturbance risk, but the group managed to catch the media’s eye. While on the roof, the men first hung a banner at the front of the school with the text “Salafism not welcome” (Salafisme niet welkom). After this banner was removed by one of the school’s employees, the men hung another banner which said: “Who sows Islam, will harvest Sharia” (wie Islam zaait, zal Sharia oogsten). They were also heard shouting: “Salafism, terrorism.”

While lessons at the school would start the next week, there were students present in the building for an introductory day. While Identitarian Resistance also ‘protested’ the installment of a new mosque in the city of Venlo recently, Pegida members in Leiden prevented children from an Islamic primary school from entering their school at the beginning of the new schoolyear. They hung a padlock around the fence, accompanied by a note and a picture of a skull that said: “The Islam is causing terrible attacks in Europe. You have to tackle the roots of the problem. That would also be closing Islamic schools.”

Sources:
http://www.hartvannederland.nl/nieuws/2017/politie-beeindigt-demonstratie-op-dak-islamitische-school/ https://www.metronieuws.nl/nieuws/buitenland/2017/09/mannen-protesteren-op-dak-islamitische-school https://www.metronieuws.nl/nieuws/binnenland/2017/08/islamitische-basisschool-leiden-doelwit-van-pediga https://kafka.nl/identitair-verzet-ontmaskerd/

Restraining Order Against Syrian-Dutch Imam Fawaz Jneid

Fawaz Jneid, a Syrian-Dutch imam who preached until 2012 in the As-Soennah mosque in The Hague, became a controversial figure after cursing Islam-critics Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Theo van Gogh in a speech at the mosque. The years after, Fawaz was heavily criticized for being considered part of the Salafi branch in the Netherlands and for preaching an ‘intolerant message’. Recently, the imam was given a restraining order for six months in certain areas of The Hague. This is possible because of a new anti-Terror law  that makes it possible for terror-suspects to be detained longer without rock-solid evidence.

According to the Dutch security services, because Fawaz preaches an ‘intolerant’ message in a neighborhood prone to radicalization, he is a potential safety danger. The security services received support from Paula Krikke, the mayor of The Hague, who in addition requested the restraining order against Jneid. She stated: “(…) Together with many citizens of The Hague, I work hard to make living in the city as free and safe as possible for everyone. A stage for Fawaz Jneid and his extremist opinions is at odds with this. Because of that, we try to do everything to prevent him from getting a foothold in this city.”

Not only did Fawaz Jneid himself appealed against the sentence, a few Dutch Muslim organizations and (Salafi) Muslims have protested against the restraining order. Fawaz called the restraining order ‘propaganda against Islam’ and argues that he has worked with the security services to prevent young people from radicalization. The organizations and individuals that protested Fawaz’s sentence, have called the restraining order an “illegitimate form of oppression” and targeting Fawaz in particular a ‘witch hunt’.  The sentence is considered illegal by the protesters, because Fawaz was never convicted of sedition or hate-speech. They also believe – like Fawaz – that in reality, the sentence is a concealed anti-Islam measure. In a pamphlet circulating on the Internet, an anonymous writer stated: “We regret to note that this is a case of (…) a selective anti-Islam measure that does not only affect imam Fawaz, but also the Dutch Muslim in his rights and freedoms.”

Sources:
https://www.ad.nl/den-haag/imam-fawaz-krijgt-gebiedsverbod-vanwege-haatpreken~ad986312/ https://www.ad.nl/den-haag/fawaz-naar-rechter-om-gebiedsverbod-dit-is-propaganda-ik-ben-geen-terrorist~a0262b8e/ https://www.ad.nl/den-haag/salafisten-schieten-haatimam-te-hulp~ad9c136a/

German TV debate between Merkel and Schulz focuses on migration and Islam, catering to populists

German voters will choose a new chancellor on September 24 in an electoral contest pitting incumbent Christian Democrat Angela Merkel against Social Democrat Martin Schulz. After a brief surge in the polls earlier this year, Schulz’ SPD now looks set to lose the election to Merkel, trailing her CDU by about 15 percentage points in recent polls.

Four journalists steering the debate

Against this backdrop, the campaign’s only TV debate took place on September 03. Seen as the highlight of a previously rather lukewarm electoral contest, the debate was supposed to discuss four main topics in equal measure: migration, foreign policy, social justice, and internal security. Yet it was the first item on the list that took up nearly 60 of the debate’s 90 minutes.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/medien/tv-duell-die-angst-der-moderatoren-vor-dem-mob-1.3652046 ))

The four TV journalists hosting the programme – and particularly Claus Strunz of the Sat. 1 TV network – honed in on questions of immigration and integration, giving the discussion distinctly populist overtones.

It was above all the hosts who presented refugees and migrants as a threat to internal security and as a drain on Germany’s resources; who insinuated that Islam was inherently irreconcilable with German constitutional principles; and who claimed that Muslims were unwilling and unable to participate in German society – in spite of scientific evidence to the contrary.

Populist demeanour

In order to pressure the two candidates into conceding that politicians were unable to take effective control of migration and to ensure migrants’ integration, the hosts (again with Strunz in the lead) resorted to all available means. Shortly after the onset of the broadcast, Strunz appeared to deliberately falsify a quote by Martin Schulz, in which the SPD politician had stated that refugees were “more valuable than gold” – a fact that Schulz managed to call out.

Other misrepresentations went unquestioned, however – such as the claim that Germany was home to 226,000 people who had no legal right to stay and remained in the country only due to politicians’ failure to expulse them.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/claus-strunz-internetnutzer-empoert-ueber-tv-duell-moderator-a-1165932.html ))

One-sided discussion of migration

Summing up the TV event, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper noted that it was as if the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) had been a prominent guest in the studio. It also castigated the complete failure to discuss the issue of migration from any other but the most myopic of all perspectives.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/medien/tv-duell-die-angst-der-moderatoren-vor-dem-mob-1.3652046 ))

For instance, not one of the hosts’ questions dealt with the deplorable conditions faced by migrants in Libyan camps or with the deaths of thousands of men and women in the Mediterranean. Neither did anyone inquire about the hundreds of attacks on refugee shelters or the resurgence of right-wing terrorism plots in Germany.

Negative Muslim reactions

The reactions of the targeted ‘foreigners’ and ‘Muslims’ were, predictably, negative. Author and activist Imran Ayata summed up their sentiment when he asserted that the “clear winner” of the debate had been the AfD.(( https://twitter.com/ImranAyata/status/904416160086716417 ))

The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, noted that the hosts had fallen for the own “populist trap”. While moderator Claus Strunz had recently claimed that “populism is the Viagra of a flailing democracy”, Mazyek asserted that “populism is the Viagra of a flailing and ever more shallow media coverage”.(( http://www.huffingtonpost.de/aiman-mazyek/merkel-schulz-muslime-_b_17907854.html ))

Luay Mudhoon, renowned commentator on Islamic affairs, deemed the TV duel a “black day for German TV journalism” and bemoaned the “AfD-leaning leading questions”.(( https://twitter.com/Loay_Mudhoon/status/904426758325366785 )).

“Islam is a part of Germany”

Yet some Muslim observers chose to concentrate on the – rare – positive elements in the debate. The German-Turkish Journal welcomed the fact that both Chancellor Merkel and her challenger Martin Schulz had stressed the positive contributions of many Muslims to German society and that they had agreed to the statement that “Islam is a part of Germany”, albeit in a somewhat roundabout manner.(( https://dtj-online.de/angela-merkel-bekraeftigt-der-islam-gehoert-zu-deutschland-tv-duell-87597 ))

This question – “Is Islam a part of Germany” or “Does Islam belong to Germany” (“Gehört der Islam zu Deutschland?”) – has been a staple of public controversy since a 2010 speech by then-President Christian Wulff. Wulff asserted that Islam was indeed part of Germany’s social fabric.

A question of belonging

Ever since, commentators have argued about whether ‘Islam’ can belong to Germany or whether only ‘Muslims’ can (but not ‘Islam’). The same discussion regularly resurfaces and never yields any conclusion, in part because the question is itself a non-starter and any answer to it always seems to degenerate into nothing more than semantic sophistries.(( An entire academic literature has focused on this debate. For an overview see Spenlen, Klaus (ed.) (2013), Gehört der Islam zu Deutschland? Fakten und Analysen zu einem Meinungsstreit. Düsseldorf: Düsseldorf University Press. ))

Many have nevertheless rejected the notion of allowing either Islam or Muslims any part in German identity, citing the country’s inherent and primordial ‘Judeo-Christian’ make-up. (There is always something slightly odd about this claim, given that not too long ago Germany thoroughly erased Judaism from European lands by killing six million of its adherents.)

The Muslim ‘other’

Responding to these pressures, some Muslim voices seek to highlight that they are ‘more German’ than others, also in order to advance their own agendas. Ercan Karakoyun, leader of the Gülen movement in Germany, tweeted during the debate: “A form of Islam that can be reconciled with the Basic Law? There is one! #Gülen movement.”(( https://twitter.com/ercankarakoyun/status/904417326442962944 ))

Ultimately, however, the enduring lesson of an evening spent in front of the television remains that people of Muslim faith are still seen as ‘other’ in significant parts of German society: ‘they’ really do not belong to ‘us’. The TV debate between Merkel and Schulz did nothing to challenge this perception and almost everything to reinforce it.

Islamic theology at German universities: successes and limitations of an unprecedented experiment

For many decades after the arrival of Muslim ‘guest workers’ from Turkey, Morocco, and other Muslim-majority countries, German authorities were happy to outsource the provision of religious services to Imams and preachers sent by the Muslim immigrants’ countries of origin. Since the Muslim workforce would ultimately return home, it was unnecessary and even counterproductive to grant Islamic religiosity a permanent presence – or so the reasoning went.

‘Domesticating’ Islam

It was only around the turn of the millennium that perceptions changed. After the events of September 11, 2001, authorities took a securitised perspective on Islam. Fears about the uncontrolled flourishing of a radical underground religious scene appeared to call for the creation of more transparent structures of Islamic learning.

Members of the Muslim community also began to voice a critique of the prevailing arrangement: they bemoaned the fact that Imams knew little about life in Germany or Western Europe and could not provide guidance on many issues that mattered to believers, and especially to younger audiences.((See Ceylan, Rauf (2009). Prediger des Islam. Imame – Wer sie sind und was sie wirklich wollen. Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder. ))

Establing new chairs

In 2011, then, the German government – taking cues from the country’s ongoing Islamkonferenz, an (often controversial) forum bringing together state authorities and various Muslim figures and organisations – decided to fund the creation of several university departments of Islamic theology.

Subsequently, several university chairs were established – at Tübingen, Frankfurt/Gießen, Münster, Osnabrück, and Erlangen/Nuremberg. State funding, initially granted for five years, has since been renewed. Overall, the Ministry for Education and Research has spent € 36 million on these new faculties.(( https://www.bmbf.de/de/islamische-theologie-367.html ))

Training school teachers

Yet while the formation of Imams for Germany’s mosques has been on the agenda of these university departments, their main focus has been the training of teachers for Islamic religious education classes in public schools.

The understanding of secularism anchored in Germany’s constitution is not marked by a laic attempt to cleave apart public and religious life in a stringent manner. Instead, the German ethos is one of cooperation of state and religious bodies in the public sphere. Consequently, the country’s public schools offer confessional courses in religious education adapted to the pupils’ faith.

Expanding employment opportunities for graduates

Many of Germany’s 16 federal states – who are each individually responsible for their own educational sectors – rapidly expanded their offerings of Islamic religious education in the 2000s. Ever since, they have been in dire need of skilled teaching personnel to fill vacant positions.(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/07/islamische-theologie-universitaet-fach-studium-bilanz/komplettansicht ))

Of the currently 2,000 students enrolled in degree courses in Islamic theology, most will seek employment as secondary school teachers. Others might staff the ranks of Germany’s expanding Islamic social welfare sector. Confessional institutions run by large Catholic and Protestant charity organisations play a pre-eminent role in various fields of pastoral care, including in care for the elderly. Now, with the ‘guest worker’ generations ageing, there is a growing demand for Islamic offers in this domain.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/wohlfahrtspflege-der-religionsgemeinschaften-muslimische.886.de.html?dram:article_id=346493 ))

No progress on the formation of Imams

What the centres for Islamic theology have not accomplished so far, however, is to foster a new generation of Imams that could preach in German mosques. In fact, students themselves express little desire to pursue this career – a stance for which a number of reasons can be adduced.(( http://www.rp-online.de/panorama/deutschland/imam-ausbildung-in-deutschland-studierende-wollen-nicht-imam-werden-aid-1.6046869 ))

First of all, given their lack of firm legal status in Germany – they are not recognised as a ‘corporations of public law’ and thus do not hold a status comparable to Christian churches or Jewish congregations – many Muslim communities have extremely limited financial wiggle room. They are, consequently, at times not in a position to pay the salaries of a fully-trained Imam – and students of Islamic theology are reluctant to accept employment with extremely meagre pay.

Continued reliance on clergymen from abroad

The organisation that could most easily avoid this financial trap is DİTİB, the country’s largest Islamic association with roughly 1,000 Imams. Yet DİTİB is a subsidiary of the Turkish government’s Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) and as such only employs Imams trained in and funded by Turkey.

To be sure, DİTİB spokesman Zekeriya Altuğ has affirmed that the mosques of his organisation will gradually move towards relying on German-trained Imams.(( http://www.rp-online.de/panorama/deutschland/imam-ausbildung-in-deutschland-studierende-wollen-nicht-imam-werden-aid-1.6046869 )) Altuğ has also stressed DİTİB’s overall willingness to emancipate itself from its Turkish superiors.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/f-a-s-exklusiv-ditib-will-unabhaengiger-werden-14386218.html ))

Yet it remains doubtful whether the organisation will be either willing or capable to accomplish such a manoeuvre in the near future, particularly given the recent reassertion of central control from Ankara.

Distrust between theology chairs and associations

Scepticism about the suitability of potential Imams trained at German university extends beyond DİTİB, however. The 300 mosques of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) do fund their Imams through private donations, without relying on a financially strong state backer. Nevertheless, they have not embraced the idea of turning to graduates of Germany’s Islamic theology seminaries.

It seems likely that this reticence is linked to disputes over personnel choices and over the content of the curricula at Islamic theology faculties. On both of these matters, the more liberal-leaning faculties (with backing from universities and public authorities) and the more conservative Islamic associations have often clashed bitterly.

‘Liberals’ vs. ‘conservatives’

Generally, the liberals have had the upper hand, to the chagrin of their opponents. Consequently, Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the ZMD, criticised the tendency to “see university institutions as counter-models to the mosques”.

He claimed that the dichotomisation into “enlightened” university Islam and “backward” practices of mosque communities “does particular harm to the reputation of university institutions. For after all it is the congregations that are supposed to employ the graduated Imams one day.” In other words, the ZMD’s constituent communities continue to be suspicious of the ideological orientation of the university degree holders.(( http://www.rp-online.de/panorama/deutschland/imam-ausbildung-in-deutschland-studierende-wollen-nicht-imam-werden-aid-1.6046869 ))

Managing students’ expectations

At the same time, members of the ‘liberal’ university teaching staff have themselves expressed some dissatisfaction with their students and their outlook on the Islamic theology curriculum.

According to Harry Harun Behr, Professor of Religious Education at the University of Frankfurt, many students “seek to deepen their faith, not to work scientifically. When I tell them that the Qur’an is the result of a theological discourse, they don’t want to hear.”(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/07/islamische-theologie-universitaet-fach-studium-bilanz/komplettansicht ))

Professor Mouhanad Khorchide of Münster University concurred: Many students “want to have their faith confirmed”, he asserted, “but university is a place to reflect on faith”. According to him, it would take at least two or three additional generations of students for this point to be accepted across the board.(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/07/islamische-theologie-universitaet-fach-studium-bilanz/komplettansicht ))

Positive results

A little more than five years after the creation of the new faculties, policymakers as well as Islamic scholars and theologians nevertheless continue to see the experiment in positive light.(( https://en.qantara.de/content/europe-and-its-muslims-islamic-theology-in-germany-spanning-the-divide?nopaging=1 ))

Academic observers have stressed that, among other beneficial contributions, the establishment of departments of Islamic theology has helped to bring a more adequate and more intellectually sophisticated Muslim voice to current debates; debates which are all too often controlled by questionable “Islam experts” without any solid theological credentials.((Antes, Peter and Rauf Ceylan (2017). “Die Etablierung der Islamischen Theologie: Institutionalisierung einer neuen Disziplin und die Entstehung einer muslimischen scientific community”. In Antes and Ceylan (eds.), Muslime in Deutschland: Historische Bestandsaufnahme, akutelle Entwicklungen und zukünftige Forschungsfragen. Wiesbaden: Springer VS. )) Indeed, Muslim theologians have not shied away from weighing in on controversial issues.

Islamic theology’s struggle for independence

Thus, there are encouraging signs. They might enable Islamic theology at German universities to transcend its twofold challenge: first, like any new academic discipline, it needs to establish itself and find its own turf – institutionally as well as intellectually. This, by itself, is not an easy feat to accomplish.

In the case of Islamic theology, a second and more particular hurdle presents itself, linked to the inherently contested nature of the study of Islam itself. The most powerful factions seeking to gain definitional authority and dominance over the field are conservative Islamic associations on the one hand and public authorities on the other hand.

While the latter are ostentatiously more liberal than the former, they are nevertheless bent on enforcing their security agenda and on creating a state-backed ‘moderate’ Islam. If Islamic theology wants to come of age in Germany, it must shake off the demands of both sides and strive to cut its own path.