At Friday prayers, the area around Berlin’s Sehitlik mosque can seem like a forgotten corner of Istanbul.
It’s not just the traditional Ottoman mosque, complete with dome, twin minarets and pierced screens, or the fact that many of the older faithful greet each other in Turkish.
Even the sermon, as it crackles over the loudspeakers, is in Turkish. But in recent months, the new imam has also started to preach in German.
It is the first time the Sehitlik, one of Berlin’s biggest mosques, has had an imam who speaks German. But he still comes from Turkey. He had to be recruited from another country because there is no way to train as an imam in Germany.
Things are about to change. Next April, Osnabruck University is set to open Germany’s first imam training course – a move Prof Rauf Ceylan, a leading Islamic scholar and one of the founders of the project, says is a vital step in combating extremism.
“Ninety percent of imams still come from abroad. They don’t speak German and the German culture is alien to them. Young Muslims want German-speaking imams,” says Prof Ceylan.
“The old type of imam was geared to the needs of first-generation Muslims, immigrants who came to Germany in the Sixties. Most third-generation Muslims no longer speak their grandparents’ mother tongue that well. The danger is that they turn to other German-speaking authorities such as Salafists [extremist preachers].
“These Salafists are usually German-speaking and understand how to cast Islam into a popular form. They speak the language of the young , while the imams from abroad are unable to understand the young people’s world.”
When Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, called for a European institute to train imams as a way of fighting extremism in November, he was widely ridiculed. But the idea has been gaining currency in European countries.
In Germany, the move to train imams has been led by the Muslim community rather than the government, although the state has agreed to provide funding.
The largest single employer of imams in Germany is Ditib, a Turkish government agency that trains them, pays their salary and decides when they leave Germany. In recent years, German politicians and commentators have begun to raise concerns at the influence this gives Turkey over Germany’s Muslim community.
The new course will not be confined to offering traditional imam training in German. While the students will be taught how to conduct prayers, funerals and the like, they will also attend classes on social plurality and be taught about extremism so they can protect young Muslims from it. The course will be open to both men and women. (© Daily Telegraph, London)