German University Takes Step Toward Integrating Islamic Education

The northern German state of Lower Saxony announced recently that it was establishing the country’s first academic department of Islamic theology. The department, to be based at the University of Osnabrueck, will provide a place for theological research and will offer training for future imams. The move reflects fresh efforts across Germany to address concerns about Islam that threaten to overshadow decades-old achievements in integrating Muslims into German society. Those fears have mounted since the events of 9/11 and their aftermath stirred anxiety among many Germans over a perceived rise in radical Islam. A perception has persisted that some immigrant-based population groups have already developed “parallel societies” that are inaccessible to the German mainstream but particularly susceptible to outside influence — in this case, international Islamist groups. Resulting demands for stronger efforts to integrate Germany’s Muslim communities have grown louder and more frequent. Nowhere have they been more acute than in the debate about whether and how to integrate the Islamic religion into the German educational system. Osnabrueck’s new department of Islamic theology looks like one step, then, on what could be a very long road. Germany is home to about 4 million Muslims, or about one in 20 people. Many are immigrants who’ve been in the country for decades and have watched the debate over integration rage the entire time. A teacher of Islamic religion at the Johann-Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt upon Main since 2006, Oemer Oezsoy, says the notion of opening German academia to Islamic theology is an idea whose time has come. Bernd Volkert reports.