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Who preaches Islam in Germany?

Imam does not officially exist as a professional category and is not therefore registered. We do know, however, that there are around 2,500 Islamic institutions in Germany. It can therefore be assumed that at least two thousand of these institutions are mosque associations. The number of imams can be inferred from the number of mosque associations. We can therefore say relatively confidently that some two thousand imams are working in Germany. If one assumes that around 150-250 Muslims per mosque attend Friday prayers (the number can rise if Friday also coincides with a public holiday in Germany or falls during the school holidays), then the two thousand imams reach three to five hundred thousand Muslims on one day a week alone.

The main countries of origin of imams

Between 3.8 and 4.2 million Muslims live in Germany. Whilst Maghreb-influenced Islam dominates in France and Indo-Pakistani-influenced Islam in England, Islam in Germany is clearly shaped by Turkish influences. At around 2.7 million, migrants of Turkish origin (Turks, Kurds) constitute the majority of Muslims. Their numerous religious structures dominate Islamic life in Germany. We can assume that approx. 70 percent of the imams are of Turkish origin. A large proportion of the remaining 30 percent is divided between the former Yugoslavia and north Africa. Over 90 percent of the imams in Germany continue to originate from abroad. Very few are used to social interaction in Germany.

Educational and training background of the Muslim authorities

Imams are not a homogeneous group. There are considerable social and intellectual differences among them. Against this background the educational and training background of imams can be classified as follows:

a) Imams who have graduated in theological studies. They have the highest qualifications of all imams. Of significance here, however, is in which Islamic country and at which university the studies were completed.

b) Imams who have been trained at a private educational centre belonging to an Islamic organisation (e.g. imams from the Association of Islamic Cultural Centres). Although they possess a solid basic education and are generally used to social interaction in Germany, they are not academics.

c) Imams who have undergone classic training in a madrasa (classic Islamic institution). Memorisation and imitation are among the essential basic elements of their educational methods.

e) Imams who have attended a religious secondary or upper school (Imam Hatip schools).

f) Imams who are autodidacts, i.e. they have taught themselves about Islam through selfstudy. This type of study is bound up with risks, however, as learning processes are only selective. The whole spectrum of Islamic theology is not covered.

Guest workers, tourists and officials – residency and employment status of imams

As with qualifications, there are differences in the nature of imams' residency and employment. The spectrum can be roughly illustrated as follows
a) Official: Imams from DITIB (Turkish-Islamic Union) for example are appointed officials of the Turkish state. They are rotated approx. every four years in a similar way to diplomats. As a rule they have the most secure contract of employment and are accordingly well paid. In the meantime, those imams who have achieved a high level of proficiency in German are given the option of extending their stay, in order to continue working for DITIB in Germany (e.g. as a religious attaché).

b) Salaried employee: Imams in this category are also relatively secure in terms of income and residence status. As a rule they grow up in the relevant organisational structures (e.g. VIKZ) and are also trained by them. They remain loyal to these organisations all their lives.

c) Commuter imams: Some imams come in on a tourist visa and have to leave every three months to be allowed back into the Federal Republic of Germany. The age profile of these imams is relatively high. Many retired DITIB imams are in this category. Their employment situation is rather insecure. As the mosque congregation generally pays the wage of the imam, conflicts often arise. The turnover of imams in this category is correspondingly high. Their salary also depends on the size and willingness to pay of the congregation.

d) Marriage migrants: This group of imams came on the basis of marriage to a woman from Germany. They have protected residence status through their wife. They subsequently find positions as imams in mosques as a result of their qualifications. They are appointed as full-time, part-time or supporting imams (weekends only). Their generally higher standard of education and their greater level of expectation mean that they are often dissatisfied with their situation.

e) Natives: A small number of imams have grown up in Germany, travelled to Turkey or an Arab country (generally Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Jordan) to study Islam, and returned to Germany after completing their studies. In spite of having studied, their situation is similar to that of the imams in the marriage migrants category. Many of them therefore hope to work as teachers of Islamic religious instruction in Germany.

f) Guest workers: These imams came in on the first wave. They came in the 1960s as guest workers and have played a central role in the organisation and training of Muslims. Their education mostly dates from attendance at a religious school or from private instruction in communities from their countries of origin. Right up until the 1980s, many of these guest worker imams assumed the role of the imam in mosques alongside their shift work. Now of pensionable age, they continue to be active as supporting imams.

Prof. Dr. Rauf Ceylan, 06.11.2009

Personal details: Prof. Dr. Rauf Ceylan is a social and religious scientist at the University of Osnabrück and trains imams in Turkey on behalf of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation for their service in Germany. He is the author of the study "Prediger des Islam – Imame in Deutschland. Wer sie sind und was sie wirklich wollen." [Preachers of Islam - Imams in Germany. Who they are and what they really want.] The book was published by Herder-Verlag early in 2010.

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