One of the oldest universities in Germany has opened the country's first taxpayer-funded department of Islamic theology.

The Center for Islamic Theology at the University of Tübingen was inaugurated on January 16 and is the first of four planned Islamic university centers in Germany.

The German government claims that by controlling the curriculum, the school, which is to train Muslim imams and Islamic religion teachers, will function as an antidote to "hate preachers."

Most imams currently in Germany are from Turkey and many of them do not speak German.

German Education Minister Annette Schavan, who attended the opening ceremony, said the Islamic center was a "milestone for integration" for the 4.3 million Muslims who now live in Germany.

But the idea has been fiercely criticized by those who worry the school will become a gateway for Islamists who will introduce a hardline brand of Islam into the German university system.

The three professors who will be teaching at the department (eventually there will be six full professorships) had to satisfy an Islamic advisory council that they were devout Muslims.

One of the professors is Omar Hamdan, a Sunni Muslim, says that critical analysis into whether the Islamic Koran was actually written by God is "completely out of the question." Pointing to double standards, some of those opposed to the center say there should be critical distance between text and interpreter, as when Christianity is taught in German universities.

Critics also fear that conservative Islamic organizations will exert their influence over teaching and research at the center. There are only two independent experts on the advisory board of the Tübingen center. The other five individuals belong to groups such as the Turkish-Islamic Union for Islamic Affairs (DITIB), which is a branch of the Turkish government.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan uses DITIB to control over 900 mosques in Germany -- to prevent Turkish immigrants from integrating into German society.

During a trip to Germany in November 2011, Erdogan said that Berlin's insistence that immigrants who want to live in Germany must integrate and learn the German language is "against human rights."

In February 2011, Erdogan told a crowd of more than 10,000 Turkish immigrants: "We are against assimilation. No one should be able to rip us away from our culture and civilization." In 2008, he also said, "assimilation is a crime against humanity" and urged the Turkish immigrants there to resist assimilation into the West.

In March 2010, Erdogan called on Germany open Turkish-language grade schools and high schools, presumably to be controlled by DITIB.

Previously, Erdogan had said: "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers..." -- a declaration many interpreted as a call for the Islamization of Europe.

Aside from the center in Tübingen, Islamic theology departments are also set to open in 2012 in Münster/Osnabrück, Erlangen/Nürnberg and Frankfurt/Gießen.

The German government will pay the salaries for professors and other staff at all four Islamic centers for the next five years, at a total cost of €20 million ($25 million).

According to the Education Ministry, over the next few years Germany will have a demand for more than 2,000 teachers of Islam, who will be needed to instruct more than 700,000 Muslim children.

Germany is opening its doors to Islam at a time when its government is also cracking down on those who criticize Muslim immigration and the Islamization of Europe.

Less than a week before the Tübingen Islamic center was inaugurated, it came to light that the German domestic intelligence agency -- the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV) -- is looking into whether German citizens who criticize Muslims and Islam are fomenting hate and are thus criminally guilty of "breaching" the German constitution.

The BfV's move marks a significant setback for the exercise of free speech in Germany.

The issue has become part of the larger debate over the question of Muslim immigration and the establishment of a parallel Islamic society in Germany.

In November 2011, the German Federal Ministry of the Family released a 160-page report, "Forced Marriages in Germany: Numbers and Analysis of Counseling Cases," which revealed that thousands of young women and girls in Germany are victims of forced marriages every year. Most of the victims come from Muslim families; many have been threatened with violence and often death.

In September 2011, a new book "Judges Without Law: Islamic Parallel Justice Endangers Our Constitutional State," disclosed that Islamic Sharia courts are now operating in all of Germany's big cities. The book argues that this "parallel justice system" is undermining the rule of law in Germany as Muslim imams are settling criminal cases out of court, without the involvement of German prosecutors or lawyers, before Germany's law enforcement can bring the cases to a German court.

That same month, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich revealed that Germany is home to some 1,000 Islamic radicals who are potential terrorists. He said many of these home-grown Islamists are socially alienated Muslim youths who are being inflamed by German-language Islamist propaganda that promotes hatred of the West. In some instances, the extremists are being encouraged to join sleeper cells and one day to "awaken" and commit terrorist attacks in Germany and elsewhere.

Back in Tübingen, Education Minister Schavan says she is "placing a lot of trust" in the new Islamic center, which she hopes will "contribute to the further development of Islamic theology."

Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.

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