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Islam and the West ( 24 Jun 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Europe Focuses on Imams for Combating Terrorism

By S. Arshad, New Age Islam

24 June 2021

A New Generation of Indigenous Imams in Germany Has Come Up Who Are Born and Trained In Germany

Main Points:

1. European Union proposes setting up of Imam Training Institute.

2. 90%of Imams of Germany are from Turkey and other Islamic countries.

3. Imams from Turkey work in half of 2500 mosques in Germany.

4. Focus on imams in Europe turned on after Vienna terrorist attack last year.

5. A new generation of home grown imams taking place of foreign imams in European mosques.

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Imams, the preachers and prayer leaders in mosques play a pivotal role in the Islamic society. They are equipped with the knowledge of Islamic theology and guide Muslims in their day to day affairs from birth to death. Therefore, they wield great influence on the common Muslims.

They also deliver sermons before Friday prayers and on special religious occasions outside mosques as well.

However, many of the imams subscribe to a particular sect or ideology and often use their position as an imam to propagate their ideology among the Muslims.

In Islamic countries there are various schools of Islamic thought. Some believe in an inclusive approach and secularism while others believe in a supremacist and violent interpretation of Islam. The latter has become a cause of concern for governments of European countries where Muslims live in large numbers and have established their mosques and religious institutions.

 

Imam training is in the spotlight of this year's German Islam Conference. (Photo courtesy: DW Made for minds)

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Since the last few years, more prominently, since the emergence of the ISIS in 2014, European countries have witnessed a rise in terrorist attacks and lone wolf terror attacks. For example, Paris attack on 13 November 2015 killing 137 people, Nice attack on 14 July 2016 killing 86 people and Vienna lone wolf attack on 2 November 2020 killing 5 people turned the focus on imams of mosques in European countries.

After the Vienna attack, Austria made registration of imams compulsory and as a member of the European Union called on the European Union countries to make registration of imams mandatory because the imams working in European countries keep travelling to various countries.

French, British and Dutch governments have already spoke of launching imam training programmes to prepare Euro-friendly imams.

The European governments have increasingly felt that imams subscribing to extremist ideology or political Islam propagate their extremist ideology through their sermons in mosques and their sermons drive Muslim youth towards extremism and even to terrorist actions. Therefore, the European countries are trying to launch imam training programmes in their countries. These training programmes are aimed at preparing imams who know and understand the needs and requirements of a modern pluralist society. The modern European imams will not only possess the knowledge of Islamic theology but also skills that will help them answer questions Muslims face in a new social and political milieu.

In his article titled "Professionalising the imam in Europe: Imam training programmes as sites of deliberate Engagement", Welmoet Boender writes:

"As one important policy strategy, they point at an active promotion of a "moderate" and "tolerant" Islam that is more attuned to European policies and values and efforts to create a Euro-friendly imam corps that include re-educating the imams in schools with government ties."

The European governments know that imams from Egypt, Qatar and Turkey who belong to Muslim Brotherhood work in European mosques and preach exclusivist interpretation of Islam among the younger generation of Muslims in those countries. These preachers present the European countries as enemy territories and their inhabitants as enemies of Islam who need to be dominated in order to establish the supremacy of Islam.

Therefore, in November 2020, President of European Union Council Chrles Michel said that the EU should quickly set up European Imam Training Institute to oversee the training of imams to fight against extremist ideologies, violent extremist messages of hatred and messages of rejection and make sure that their messages to Muslim followers do not contribute to spreading an ideology of hatred.

The political parties and also most of Islamic associations in these countries worry that foreign imams hinder integration and promote a sense of alienation among immigrant Muslims.

Therefore, the liberal and secular minded Muslims of Europe welcomed the proposal of training of imams to end dependence on foreign imams and prepare imams who are aware of the cultural values of Europe. Chems-Eddine Hafiz (Shamsuddin Hafiz?) a prominent Muslim cleric of France said that the suggestion was a noble idea. But other hardline Islamic figures opposed the proposal. The Rector of Grand Mosque of Paris said that the training programme of imams was not feasible.

Germany has taken a few steps for the training of imams. An Islamic theology program was held in the German city Osnabruck during German Imam Conference. Germany is trying to prepare imams who speak German language and can connect to the German Muslims. 90% of the imams of Germany are trained abroad particularly in Turkey's contentious institution Diyanet and deliver their sermons in a foreign language.

Osanbruck University of Germany even announced a two year training program for imams but two of Germany's largest Islamic groups ---Turkish Islamic Union of Religious Affairs and Islamic Community Milli Gorus that represent almost half of Germany's 2500 mosques declined to participate in the program citing potential government interference. Obviously such training programmes will end Turkish influence on 5 million Muslims of Germany. However, gradually a new generation of indigenous imams in Germany has come up who are born and trained in Germany.

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Sohail Arshad is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com.

URL:   https://www.newageislam.com/islam-west/europe-imams-terrorism/d/125012


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