Foundation of a Muslim Academy

Forty-three years after the start of an immigration wave to Germany, the country's first Muslim Academy has been formed in Berlin. The institute is meant as a platform for Islamic religious and societal discourses. By Abdul-Ahmad Rashid

Forty-three years after the start of an immigration wave that has brought millions of Muslims to Germany, the country's first Muslim Academy has been formed in Berlin. The institute is meant as a platform for Islamic religious and societal discourses. By Abdul-Ahmad Rashid

photo: bpb
Christian Abdul-Hadi Hofmann, chairman of the Muslim Academy

​​Barbara John, Berlin's former commissioner for foreigner issues, is one of the brains behind the new Muslim Academy, which is modelled on other church academies in Germany. John feels strongly that forty-five years after the first Muslim immigrants arrived in Germany, the establishment of a Muslim Academy is long overdue.

She also feels that although a Muslim infrastructure has been built up in Germany over the years, there are still some gaps that need to be filled.

Furthering the equal status of Islam in Germany

"Islam is not treated as the equal of other religious communities before the law and does not enjoy the privileges that are available to other major religious communities", John asserts.

The recently established Muslim Academy now aims to close this gap. After 14 months of preparation, 14 founding members came together to elect the members of the founding committee and draft a manifesto. The Essen-based expert in Islamic studies Yasemin Karakacolu is one of the committee members:

"We spoke to people who we know are not linked to any association and do not represent any specific organisation, and we asked them if they would be interested in getting involved in the Muslim Academy."

The former CDU politician Christian Abdul-Hadi Hofmann was elected chairman of the committee. Yasemin Karakacolu emphasises that the new academy will be neither an institution that seeks to represent Muslims in Germany, nor competition for the other existing Islamic organisations there.

There will be no fatwahs

"We consider ourselves to be an institute of education for adults; as a supplement. It will be our job to advance educational issues, and to provide, absorb, and improve educational impetus. In view of this fact, we will not be responsible for issuing things like fatwahs."

The new academy will receive support from the Federal Centre for Political Education. Its chairman, Thomas Krüger, warmly welcomed the foundation of the academy. Said Krüger:

"Germany urgently needs an institute like the Muslim Academy in order to create a public platform for general public discussions about life as a Muslim in Germany, about Muslim history, and the variety and pluralism that goes with it."

The academy is open for a wide variety of opinions and attitudes and hopes to encourage debate about such opinions. It also hopes that Muslims will start getting involved in shaping political and social opinions in Germany. Says Riem Spielhaus from the Muslim Academy:

"We will seek to provide information on politics and society: for example, an introduction to local political work, planning laws, school assistance, young people's politics; seminars about democratic bodies at local and global level; visits to parliaments, state parliaments, the Bundestag, the European Parliament etc."

Aiming to stay independent

Initially, the Academy would like to be funded by independent means. According to chairman Abdul Hadi Christian Hoffmann, however, the Muslim Academy's coffers are bare at the moment. The media consultant, who converted to Islam many years ago, hopes that this will soon change:

"We would like to approach the major foundations in Germany", Hoffmann said. "I would just like to mention one foundation that has been very involved in inter-religious dialogue: the Quandt Foundation. It already has many books about building mosques, the portrayal of Islam in German schoolbooks etc. In short, we will be starting our first initiatives in this area."

Even though it has no budget as yet, the new Muslim Academy hopes to hold its very first event in October of this year.

With debate over Turkey’s possible entrance into the European Union continuing after the meeting of the G8 in Istanbul this week, Europe may face an influx of Muslims in the next few years. In the meantime, the Muslim Academy in Berlin is opening doors for debate for Muslims already in Germany.

Abdul-Ahmad Rashid, 2004

Translation from German: Aingeal Flanangan