German state to teach Islam in public schools

Berlin, Germany - Public elementary schools in a southern German state will begin offering classes on Islam, and an education official in Baden-Wuerttemberg described the program as part of an effort to better integrate Muslims, many of whom are immigrants.

Already 235 children have signed up for the classes, which will be taught in German following a syllabus drawn up by the state's Education Ministry and members of the Islamic community, state officials said Tuesday.

Religion classes on Islam are also available to students in the states of Hamburg, Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia.

The classes are part of a move to better integrate Germany's roughly 3.5 million Muslims, many of whom live in immigrant communities that have little contact with other parts of society.

"Muslim girls and boys need to learn that their beliefs bind them to, not keep them from, our society," said Helmut Rau, a state minister in Baden-Wuerttemberg responsible for education.

German pupils are required to attend religion classes, but usually have only Christianity and Judaism as their options. Those who do not choose to attend may take ethics classes instead.