Germany to stop accepting imams from Turkey, train clerics internally

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Germany will stop accepting imams sent from Turkey and instead train the Muslim clerics on home soil in a bid to encourage integration, the interior ministry said on Thursday.

An agreement has been reached with the Turkish-Islamic umbrella group DITIB to phase out foreign imams and train 100 a year in Germany to replace them, the ministry said in a statement.

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DITIB is the largest Islamic association in Germany and manages 900 mosque communities. Critics have accused the association, a branch of the Presidency of Religious Affairs in Ankara, of acting as an extended arm of the Turkish government in Germany.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said the agreement was “an important milestone for the integration and participation of Muslim communities in Germany.”

“We need religious leaders who speak our language, know our country and uphold our values,” Faeser said.

“We want imams to get involved in the dialogue between religions and discuss questions of faith in our society.”

There are around 5.5 million Muslims living in Germany, according to the German Islam Conference (DIK) -- around 6.6 percent of the population.

The country has around 2,500 mosque communities.

Until recently, the vast majority of imams in Germany had been trained abroad, mainly in Turkey.

Former chancellor Angela Merkel first spoke in favor of training imams on German soil in 2018, telling parliament it “will make us more independent and is necessary for the future.”

In 2016, DITIB was accused of spying on members of the Turkish diaspora in Germany following a failed coup against Erdogan’s government, though the case was later dropped due to insufficient evidence.

The association launched a training program for imams in Germany in 2020.

In 2021, Germany also launched a state-backed training center for imams, the German College of Islam in the north-western city of Osnabrueck.

The training of the 100 imams per year in Germany will take place as part of the existing DITIB program, as well as through an additional program, the ministry said.

To this end, “cooperation with the German College of Islam (IKD) is being sought,” it said.

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