Turbulent times at Münster: high expectations for the chair of Islamic religious education

The University of Münster, being the first to offer teacher training for Islamic religious education, does not come to rest. While the university has selected a most suitable candidate for the chair, the Lebanese Austrian Mouhanad Khorchide, the decision has to be approved by the Islamic associations. Some therefore claim that the associations have too much influence over this position at a state university, after they have already urged professor Sven Muhammad Kalisch at the same department to step down, after he had doubted the existence of Prophet Mohammed.

Meanwhile, Khorchide has taken up teaching on a temporary position. One of his main goals is to bring Islamic theology in harmony with a modern life and to show that there are no contradictions. School children should not have to make a decision whether to be Muslim or European, but should feel that they are both.

Islam professor Muhammad Kalisch is no longer a Muslim

Germany’s most prominent and, for some, controversial Islam professor has declared that he is no longer a Muslim. Muhammad Kalisch, who converted to Islam when he was a teenager, is the first chair of Islamic education and teacher training in Germany at the University of Münster. Controversy started when he declared that according to scientific sources, there is no proof that Prophet Muhammad ever existed. Islamic associations demanded his stepping down and discouraged Muslim students to study at this department.

Kalisch secession will not have any legal consequences for his teaching, as it is not a requirement to be a Muslim in order to be a professor of Islamic studies. He might, however, move on to a different department. Only recently, a new colleague has taken up a position in the department of Islamic education, Muhammad Khorchide from Vienna. Khorchide, who is very liberal and calls himself an “Islamic humanist”, without questioning the foundations of Islam such as the Quran or the historic figure of Prophet Muhammad, will take over the professional training for Islam teachers.

Mouhanad Khorchide to become successor for the chair of Islamic religious education in Münster

Austrian-Lebanese Mouhanad Khorchide is top short-listed candidate for the chair of Islamic religious education at the University of Münster in Germany. Khorchide, who studied sociology and Islamic studies and taught religious education in Austria, caused a heated debate with the publication of this PhD thesis in 2009. One of the results of his thesis on Islamic religious education in Austria was that one fifth of Muslim religious teachers in Austria are radical in that they reject the compatibility of Islam and democracy. Politicians demanded stricter guidelines and some Muslims accused him of defamation.

The chair in Münster is the only one for Islamic religious education in Germany and has its own special history. Predecessor Sven Muhammad Kalisch has stirred controversies by doubting the existence of the Prophet Mohammed. Islamic associations vehemently criticized Kalisch and despite significant public support he had to step back from the chair in 2008. The reoccupation is to take place soon, but depends on the approval of the Islamic associations.

German education of Islamic schoolteachers and imams remains source of conflict

Educating Islamic theologians – schoolteachers and imams – at German universities has caused a lot of discussion in the past. Now the Wissenschaftsrat (German Council of Science and Humanities) has proposed a concept to grant both universities and Muslim associations a say in the education, but it is still likely to stir controversy.

So far, Muslim associations had little influence on the curriculum of Islamic education at universities, but some faculties do seek advice with local mosques or national Muslim associations. In 2008, a case at the University of Münster has caused a large debate: Muhammad Kalisch, Professor of Islamic Religion, publicly doubted the real existence of Prophet Mohammed, which in turn caused an outcry among Muslim associations. They called for Prof. Kalisch to step down and discouraged students to take up Islamic teacher training in Münster. Because they had no say, Kalisch still continues to teach.

The new proposal seeks to guarantee acceptance of Islamic teachers and Imams among the believers, and therefore allows associations to have more influence. Together with the universities, they may take part in decision-making on what will be taught and by whom. While it is certainly necessary to consult Islamic expertise in this matter, the question is whether the largely conservative associations would be the best partners. In the case of Kalisch, this would certainly have lead to his replacement by a very conservative scholar, which undermines independent academic research and teaching. On the other hand, it is a positive sign of the Wissenschaftsrat to incorporate Islamic theology into German state universities instead of leaving it to the Muslim associations or even to Islamic countries.