EU official backs training for imams

Berlin, Germany - Germany's interior minister said yesterday that parts of the Islamic world had yet to embrace the values of the Enlightenment, and the European Union should help integrate Muslims by promoting the training of imams.

Wolfgang Schaeuble told visiting Brussels journalists he would use Germany's six-month presidency of the 27-nation European Union to establish a dialogue with Muslim leaders to improve integration, defuse tensions and fight "home-grown terrorism."

"Part of the Islamic world has yet to implement the Enlightenment," the Christian Democratic politician said, referring to the 18th-century European movement to value freedom and reason over religious or social traditions.

"We should not be arrogant but only helpful. After all, Christianity waged terrible conflicts for a few centuries until the process of Enlightenment took root, and part of Christianity shows signs of falling back in that direction."

The Islamic world must accept that equal rights for women is a universal principle enshrined in the United Nations charter and not "some peculiarity" of Europe, he said. "Anyone who cannot accept the equality of men and women has not even come close to meeting one of the basic conditions for the 21st century. It's in Islam's own interest to make that very clear and decisive," he said.

Some forms of unequal rights for women, in divorce and inheritance for example, are enshrined in traditional Islamic law, and few Muslim scholars are prepared to challenge that.

Many of the scholars also reject the secularism associated with the Enlightenment.

Schaeuble said Germany and the European Commission would encourage initiatives to train Islamic preachers so they would help integrate Muslims into European society rather than promote separateness.