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“Made in Germany” Imams: A Cultural Bridge or Government Overreach?

06 Dec 2023

“Made in Germany” Imams: A Cultural Bridge or Government Overreach?

06 Dec 2023

On September 30 this year in the northwestern German town of Osnabrück, 24 men officially became the first graduates of Islamkolleg Deutschland, a program started four years ago by the German government to train local imams.[1] The “made in Germany” training initiative aims to better integrate Muslim communities into society by ensuring religious leaders in the country speak German and are well-versed in the country’s customs and traditions.[2]

Another significant objective of the program is to reduce the influence of foreign governments, particularly Turkey, on the Muslim community in Germany, which is estimated to total 5.5 million or 6% of the population. Many foreign-trained imams are financially supported by their home countries, raising concerns about potential political agendas and conflicts of interest. The training programs intend to create imams who are free from external influences, contributing to the peaceful coexistence of religious and cultural groups in Germany.[3]

The imam training initiative has encountered resistance from leading Turkish groups such as the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs or DITIB, an umbrella organization of 900 mosques in Germany, and Milli Görüş, a religious political movement in Turkey. Some Islamic scholars[4] accuse the German government of “domesticating” Islam, arguing that the imam training program represents an effort by the state to influence religious affairs by controlling religious leaders.[5] The German Council of Sciences and Humanities is an independent body that advises Germany’s state and federal governments and helped devise a plan for the training of imams. They see the program as necessary to ensure that imams operate within the framework of German laws and values and that mosques facilitate integration and counter extremism.[6] Legal challenges could arise regarding the constitutionality of state involvement in religious training. 

From guest workers to political targets: A brief overview of Muslim immigration

The modern history of Islamic communities and the issue of Islamic extremism in Germany are intertwined, and they have evolved significantly in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The first significant wave of Muslim immigration to Germany occurred during the 1950s and 1960s when the country experienced a labor shortage. Many Turkish and Arab workers were invited to work in Germany as part of the “guest worker” program. These immigrants established the foundation for the Muslim community in Germany. Over time, Islamic organizations and mosques were established to serve the needs of the growing Muslim population. Some of these organizations are aligned with different Islamic traditions, such as Sunni or Shia. One of the prominent organizations is the DITIB, which is closely linked to the Turkish government.[7]

Germany welcomed half a million refugees in 2015 and another 750,000 the next year. Some of these refugees came from North Africa, but most came from Syria and Iraq, where Islam is the dominant religion. This influx raised concerns about integration and security, but it also demonstrated the willingness of Germany to provide refuge to those fleeing conflict. That said, xenophobes opposed to these immigration policies have been responsible for attacks on mosques and even people; pro-refugee politician Walter Lübcke was murdered in front of his home in 2019.[8]

In the 1990-2000s, Germany started experiencing issues related to Islamic extremism. Some radicalized individuals and groups emerged, leading to concerns about terrorism and the radicalization of youth. Several Germans played a significant role in the planning and execution of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. The so-called “Hamburg Cell” were a group of Islamist extremists based in the northwest German city. Mohamed Atta, the ringleader, helped plan the attacks and piloted American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Another member of the Hamburg Cell, Marwan Al-Shehhi, flew United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower. The group, which also included Ziad Jarrah, who was part of the hijacking team on United Flight 93, had a network of supporters and facilitators in Germany. Some of these individuals provided logistical support, including helping the hijackers with housing, finances, and false documents.[9]

While the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, monitors and keeps track of religious activities and religious radicalization in the Muslim community, the organization must respect the right of individuals to hold diverse religious and political beliefs, as long as they do not violate German laws or democratic values enshrined in the German constitution. The imam training initiative allows the government to proactively reduce the potential for Islamic extremism in the country by promoting a form of Islam that is in line with the country’s values of democracy, tolerance, and religious pluralism.[10]

Programs such as Islamkolleg Deutschland often involve collaboration between government bodies and academic institutions. Government agencies may have a role in overseeing or shaping the curriculum to ensure it aligns with state objectives, such as integration and social cohesion. Universities and academic departments of Islamic studies are often involved in designing and delivering the educational content and often have a say in the academic aspects of the curriculum. Training programs may also involve collaboration with Islamic associations or religious councils. The University of Osnabrück in northwestern Germany, for example, established a two-year course for imam training, which began in 2021. The University of Osnabrück’s imam college is run by an association independent from the university but supervised by its academics, indicating a close collaboration between the university and the program.

Ensuring the quality and standardization of imam training programs across different European countries can be complex. Variations in curriculum, accreditation, and oversight can lead to disparities in the education and qualifications of imams. There may be differences in the recognition of certification among different Islamic communities and organizations.[11] Some may not accept the authority of certain certifying bodies or institutions. Beyond formal training and certification, an imam’s credibility within their community is crucial. They must build trust among the congregants they serve. Germany’s approach to Islam can vary at the federal and state levels, as some issues related to religion fall under the jurisdiction of individual states or Länder.[12] This can lead to variations in policies and practices regarding Islamic religious education, mosque construction, and other matters related to Islam.[13]

There are also concerns about the financial support for imams and the question of who will pay their salaries once they are trained. Unlike the Catholic and Protestant churches in Germany, which are funded through a special tax, there is no similar system for Muslims. Unlike some Christian denominations with established systems of financial support, Muslim communities in Europe often rely on donations. Sustaining these programs and offering competitive salaries for imams can be a financial burden. This financial challenge may affect the sustainability of imam training programs and the ability to attract qualified candidates.[14]

Lastly, there is a practical challenge in finding job opportunities for the graduates of these programs. Imams are often poorly paid and rely on donations from the faithful. The salary range is from €1,000 to €2,000 a month. Job prospects in Islamic welfare work and other fields need to be expanded to provide viable career paths for trained imams.[15]


The concept of “Euro Islam” refers to a vision of Islam that is adapted to the European context and is characterized by its compatibility with European values, laws, and societal norms. It is often seen as a way to reconcile Islamic faith with the realities of living in European societies.[16] The notion of Euro Islam acknowledges the diversity of Muslims living in Europe and seeks to develop an Islamic identity that fosters integration, social cohesion, and peaceful coexistence with non-Muslim communities. Many Muslims, for example, either don’t believe in gender equality or have not been exposed to the idea. Imams are trained to promote this European value in their sermons and other teachings.[17]

The initiative to train local Imams in Germany represents a significant step towards fostering this type of integration; however, it is not without its complexities and challenges, ranging from concerns about religious freedom and government interference to issues related to funding, curriculum development, and ensuring the quality of religious education.

The imam training initiatives in Germany have significant implications for the country’s Muslim community and society as a whole. By producing locally trained imams, Germany aims to bridge the cultural gap between religious leaders and the younger, more German-speaking generations within its Muslim community. This could potentially lead to better integration and social cohesion. Reducing the dependence on foreign-trained imams can help diminish the influence of external actors, such as Turkey, in German mosques. It can also contribute to a more diverse and inclusive religious landscape in which imams reflect the realities of Muslims in Germany.

The success of these initiatives, however, depends on overcoming resistance from certain religious groups and addressing funding and job placement challenges. Additionally, it raises broader questions about the relationship between religious communities and the state, as well as the role of religion in a secular society.

To improve and strengthen imam training in Germany, the German government and relevant stakeholders should consider the following policy suggestions and recommendations:

Foster inclusive dialogue with representatives from various Muslim communities and religious organizations. Involve them in the decision-making process, including curriculum development and oversight, to ensure that the training programs are sensitive to the diverse perspectives within the Muslim community.

Establish transparent and sustainable funding mechanisms for imam training programs. This can include a combination of public funds, private donations, and support from religious organizations. Ensure that funding is allocated fairly to avoid perceptions of favoritism.

• Develop clear accreditation standards and mechanisms for monitoring the quality of imam training programs. Independent oversight bodies, which include experts in Islamic studies, can help maintain academic rigor and ensure that the programs adhere to established educational standards.

Integrate cultural competency and interfaith education into the curriculum. Imams should be equipped not only with religious knowledge but also with an understanding of the local culture, legal norms, and interfaith relations to promote peaceful coexistence.

Promote the placement of locally trained imams in public institutions, such as hospitals, prisons, and the armed forces. This can help bridge the gap between religious leaders and various segments of society, fostering social cohesion.

Create career pathways and opportunities for imams within German society. Encourage their involvement in educational institutions, social services, and community development beyond their roles as religious leaders. This can improve their long-term job prospects and financial stability.

• Ensure that the government’s involvement in religious training respects the principles of religious freedom and separation of church and state. Develop legal safeguards to prevent undue interference in religious affairs while supporting integration efforts.

• Understand that the benefits of locally trained imams may not be immediately apparent. It is a long-term investment in the social and cultural fabric of Germany, and policymakers should remain committed to the initiative even in the face of initial challenges.

• Collaborate with other European countries facing similar challenges and share best practices in imam training. Learning from the experiences of other nations can provide valuable insights and solutions.

[1] “Germany’s first cohort of locally trained imams graduates,” Deutsche Welle, September 30, 2023,

[2]Germany launches training centre for homegrown imams,” France 24, June 15, 2021,

[3] Alba Sanz, “Germany launches its first imam training centre,”, June 17, 2021,

[4] Lukas Wick, “Domesticating Islam?” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, April 21, 2011,

[5] “Turkish groups oppose Germany’s state-backed imam training center,” The Daily Sabah, June 16, 2021,

[6] Enes Bayrakli, Farid Hafez, and Leonard Faytre, “Engineering a European Islam: An Analysis of Attempts to Domesticate European Muslims in Austria, France, and Germany.” Insight Turkey, vol. 20, no. 3 (2018): pp. 131–156, 

[7] Ahmet Yükleyen & Gökçe Yurdakul, “Islamic Activism and Immigrant Integration: Turkish Organizations in Germany,” Immigrants & Minorities, vol.29, no. 1 (2011), pp. 64-85, DOI: 10.1080/02619288.2011.553134.

[8] Lacin Idil Oztig, “Islamophobic Discourse of European Right-Wing Parties: A Narrative Policy Analysis,” Social Currents, vol. 10, no. 3 (2023), pp. 225-244,

[9] Guido Steinberg, “The Threat of Jihadist Terrorism in Germany,” Elcano Newsletter, 2008

[10] “Germany set to train own imams to prevent extremism,” AhvalNews, January 4, 2021,

[11] Welmoet Boender, “Professionalizing the Imam in Europe: Imam Training Programs as Sites of Deliberative Engagement,” Religions, vol. 12, no. 5 (2021): p. 308,

[12] In the German political landscape, Länder refers to the 16 states that make up the Federal Republic of Germany. The Länder have their own governments, parliaments, and constitutions, and they have significant autonomy in areas such as education, culture, and policing. The Länder also have representation in the Bundesrat, the upper house of the German parliament, which represents the interests of the Länder at the federal level. The Länder play an important role in the German political system and are a key feature of German federalism; see: Eric Langenbacher, The German Polity, Twelfth Edition, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021)

[13] Dr. Niels Valdemar Vinding and Dr Raida Chbib, “Education and Training of Muslim Religious Professionals in Europe and North America,” Akademie für Islam in Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft, Goethe Universität, Frankfurt am Main, 2020,

[14]Jenny Berglund, “Publicly Funded Islamic Education in Europe and the United States,” The Brookings Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, vol. no. 21, April 2015,

[15] Zia Weise, “Wanted: Imams made in Germany,” Politico, December 17, 2019,

[16] Faruk Sen, “Euro-Islam: Some empirical evidences,” in Islam and Muslims in Germany, eds. Ala Al-Hamarneh and Jörn Thielmann, Brill Series: Muslim Minorities, vol. 7 (2008), pp.31-48.

[17] J. Nielsen, “The question of Euro-Islam: Restriction or opportunity?” in Islam in Europe: Diversity, Identity and Influence, eds. A. Al-Azmeh and E. Fokas, (Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 34-48.

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