Berlin Muslims to train imams at new school

Berlin, Germany - Muslims in Berlin are planning to open a school to train Islamic clergymen, the first of its kind in the German capital. The project is the brainchild of Institut Buhara, an organization founded by a group of Muslims linked to the Sufi branch of Islam.

The move comes amid growing frustration by Muslims who have grown up in Germany at what they are learning from imams who generally come from outside the country and rarely speak German.

"Imams carrying out their work here lack the requirements needed for the future of Islam in Germany," said Ayhan Cosgun, deputy chairman of Institut Buhara.

If all goes according to plan, the first 35 students could begin their six-year training course next month. In all, the school has the capacity for 68 students.

Located in Karlshorst, a suburb in the former communist eastern part of the city, the three-storey school has met with a mixed reaction from locals.

"Some people will have to get used to the idea of living with a different culture," Andreas Pruefer, the local councillor in charge of planning issues, told the newspaper Der Tagespiegel.

The extreme right-wing NPD has already distributed leaflets referring to the new establishment as a "Koran school" and warning that "Islamic brainwashing" would be carried out there.

The NDP also sought to channel opposition to East Berlin's first mosque, which opened in October 2008 in the suburb of Pankow to cater to the city's Ahmadi community.

An estimated 3-3.4 million Muslims in live in Germany, 220,000 of them in Berlin. The vast majority are of Turkish descent. There are also 160 mosques, alongside a further 2,600 buildings converted into makeshift places of worship.

The new school, formally known as the Centre for Education, Training and Culture, will be the second in Germany to train imams after the University of Muenster.

The goal of the new centre is to "build a bridge between Islamic doctrine and today's society in order to encourage young people to live together peacefully with European culture."

One of the ways towards this is to train German-speaking Islamic clergy who will be able to work with young Muslims who have grown up in this country and communicate with them in German.

The institute behind the school is deeply religious, but "also tolerant and open to ideas," according to its spokesman, Alexander Weiger, a German convert to Islam.

The Islamic Federation, which represents different Muslim groups in Berlin, says it welcomes the new school and has promised to extend its support to the centre.

The school is financed by funds from private sponsors, according to the Institut Buhara. After it opens the institute plans to host an open day so that locals can see for themselves what it is like.

"We have nothing to hide," said Weiger.