Islamic education in Europe | bambinoides.com

Islamic education in Europe

Faith of our fathers –

Fearing extremism and lack of integration, European governments want more of the continent’s imams to be home-grown – –

 

FOR a snapshot of how Europeans, Muslim and non-Muslim, learn about Islam, visit the Centrum mosque near Hamburg railway station. A converted public bath, it is one of about 60 prayer spaces serving 200,000 Muslims in the city. This community’s roots are in a Turkish Islamist movement, Milli Gorus (National Vision) which flourished among German Turks before propelling a pious government to power in Turkey, in 1996, for one turbulent year. On weekdays it bustles with people seeking solace, or reading matter in German, Arabic or Turkish. On Saturdays children take Koranic lessons.

Hundreds of non-Muslim adult Germans also file through this battered building: they are teachers taking courses in Islam. Ozlem Nas, a spokeswoman for the Schura, Hamburg’s biggest mosque federation, explains: “They don’t know what to do when, say, a Syrian pupil and a Chechen call each other bad Muslims.”

For another picture of Islamic instruction, explore the redbrick streets of Nottingham in England’s East Midlands. The Karimia Institute, a religious and cultural centre, is a hive of piety and learning. Nearly 1,500 children flock to after-school Koranic classes. These madrassas are respected, but there are some bad, brutal ones elsewhere in England and the government has vowed to reform this hitherto unregulated sector. As well as three mosques, the institute has a kindergarten and a private primary school (pictured above) where, in the words of Karimia’s founder, Musharraf Hussain, children imbibe a “British Islamic” culture. The uniform is traditional (girls wear a body-covering jilbab) but the stress is on good interfaith relations and obeying British law. British royal events are celebrated keenly, but human links with Pakistan remain, thanks to satellite television and online learning.

European governments fret over these fast-evolving combinations of local and imported influences. With so many Islamic teachers and clerics whose roots and ethos are far from western Europe, they fear for social cohesion; at worst they see fertile soil for terrorism, although the internet probably inspires more extremists than any mosque or school. They dream of a home-grown Islam that is less reliant on immigrants’ countries of origin and sits well with democracy, led by teachers and administrators trained in national universities. In the background is wariness of Saudi Arabia, which sends few migrants or imams to Europe but finances mosques and literature reflecting its puritanical Salafi school of Islam. This is sometimes—though not always—a path to extremism.

One problem with “Europeanising” Islam is that home-grown need not mean emollient. Those Nottingham madrassas follow the relatively liberal Barelvi form of Islam, but that makes it harder to find British-schooled staff. The 50 teachers are mostly foreign-born. If they followed the stricter Deobandi school, they could hire graduates from more than 20 “seminaries” of that persuasion in Britain which boys can enter at 12 and stay in for a decade. But these copies of an Asian prototype, forged under the Raj, hardly foster integration.

As European countries tackle Islamic education, each confronts its own history and long-settled deals regarding the state’s relationships with Christianity and Judaism. Belgium, for example, was created as a Catholic kingdom; it subsidises both worship and teaching. Islam now benefits from that; more than half its imams are paid by the state. In state schools in Brussels, most children study the religion of their heritage; half select Islam. (Next school year, a civics course for all will partly replace these lessons, but some confessional teaching will stay.) A Muslim body advising the government is now led by a well-connected Moroccan; Morocco is almost co-managing Belgian Islam.

Bringing it home

Religious education in the Netherlands is shaped by an old compromise between Protestants and Catholics, entitling small groups to found confessional schools. This has facilitated the creation of more than 40 Muslim primary schools. Demand is surging, says Haci Karacaer, a Milli Gorus veteran who runs one. But he struggles to find Muslim staff who are qualified to teach in Dutch, although several Dutch universities excel in Islamic studies. Nor do many imams preach in Dutch. Government pressure to use the national language has been counter-productive, he laments. This suggests a worrying disconnect between government, academia, clerics and Dutch-speaking youngsters.

At the other extreme is France, where the regime of laïcité (secularism) instituted in 1905 bars religion from state education. But last month the prime minister, Manuel Valls, proposed some changes after the grisly murder of a Catholic priest. France, he wrote, must become a centre of excellence in Islamic theology, and strategies must be found to replace foreign financing of mosques with national sources.

Under laïcité, state universities cannot have theology faculties, though they can offer related courses, say on Arab culture or religious sociology. Universities in Paris and Aix-en-Provence do that, as Mr Valls approvingly noted, and in Strasbourg (exempt from laïcitébecause it was not French in 1905) theology is allowed. With the will to give Islam a prestigious place in French higher education, there is certainly a way.

But that will not solve the problems faced by poor Muslim communities across Europe who can hardly pay imams anything, let alone a graduate salary. Their mosques seek practical solutions; whether that is foreign financing, or unsophisticated clerics from their homelands who will accept modest remuneration.

At least 70% of the 2,000-plus imams in France are foreign nationals. About two-thirds get no regular wage. Of the rest, 150 are paid by Turkey’s government, 120 by Algeria’s and 30 by Morocco’s. France is co-operating more with these countries. Trainee imams from France now go to Morocco to attend a new Islamic seminary. A recent deal means that those in Algeria destined for France will study in both countries.

Germany’s main source of imams is Turkey; it hosts 1,000 who are paid by the Turkish government, serving a third of its mosques. They enter on five-year visas under a deal with Ditib, the external arm of Turkey’s religious-affairs directorate. But some Germans, including Turkish-descended ones, favour severing ties with Ditib, calling it a tool of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president. Since last month’s failed putsch, Ditib has echoed him in blaming Fethullah Gulen, a preacher based in America. A network of Gulen-related schools, cultural centres and newspapers say they feel under threat from Ditib.

Islam in Europe: perception and reality

Post-war German politicians never foresaw having to accommodate Islam within this framework. They viewed religion classes in schools, provided by Protestant and Catholic churches, as a bulwark against totalitarianism. Now German states, responsible for education under the federal system, are trying to fit Islam into the system. Their approaches vary. Schools in Berlin do not routinely teach religion, but a group close to Milli Gorus won a legal battle to offer Islamic education where parents want it. In 2012 Hamburg struck an accord with most Islamic bodies in the city, including Ditib, giving them a role in comparative-religion studies.

In several other states Ditib has in recent weeks been shunned. Three have gone slow on collaboration with the agency. This reaction risks creating a vacuum, says Jonathan Laurence, an American scholar of European Islam; instead the authorities should push Ditib’s German operation to loosen ties with Ankara.

Ditib’s departure would leave a gap. It discreetly backs another German project: fostering Islamic theology in higher education. Since 2010 the government has urged universities to help train future imams, teachers and chaplains. Places like Tübingen and Münster, famous for Christian scholarship, now offer Muslim studies.

Will Germany reap the desired harvest of home-grown scholars? Mohamed Taha Sabri, a Tunisian-born imam in Berlin, says Muslim communities may shun people who have studied Islam in liberal places under non-Muslims. Dietrich Reetz of Berlin’s Free University retorts that they will easily find work, say in mosque administration. However few will be imams, because most are women.

The vision of great European universities, some founded as Christian seminaries, helping to distil and domesticate Islam has appeal. But they move slowly, and needs on the ground evolve fast. Intensive vocational courses for anyone in charge of children, and strict monitoring of foreign teachers and preachers, might be the best focus. Governments cannot micromanage faith but they can regulate it better.

 

 

Source: HAMBURG AND NOTTINGHAM | From the print edition | The Economist


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