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Harry Harum Behr {*}

An Ordinary Subject?

New Way Marks for Islamic Religious Instruction


From: Herder-Korrespondenz, 6/2007, P. 298-303
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    In some Lands of the Federal Republic there are school experiments with Islamic religious instruction; the training of Muslim RI teachers is being built up. What is the state of the discussion about Islamic religious instruction, what are the problems from Muslim view?


At the end of March in Stuttgart a professional convention on Islamic religious instruction took place promoted by the Robert Bosch Donation and organized by the Academy of the diocese Rottenburg-Stuttgart and the interdisciplinary centre for Islamic religion teaching in Erlangen (IZIR; see On that occasion - differently to the preceding conference in spring 2005 - constitutional and administrative doubts against Islamic religious instruction, which lies, as it were, crosswise to currents and wind, were no longer a matter of priority (see HK, May 2005, P. 239 FF.). This time the question about its contents and procedures was the focus of attention, for despite the still pending legal questions in some Lands of the Federal Republic interesting experiments have begun. To remain in the picture: One has understood that a ship can only be manoeuvred under thrust. One tries - on the way over local and regional clusters of school- and instruction experiments - to go round the shallows. Particularly the Lands Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria temporarily set on the virtual maintenance of the religious instruction by Muslim parents, in common responsibility with the actors on the spot. Virtually for that reason, because de jure only the respective Land of the Federal Republic, in form of the relevant institutions, is responsible for school experiments. The relevant constitutionally fixed elements of religious education - the possibility of the religious community to take influence on what is taught and by whom - have here still the character of a simulation.

To the Islamic religious education the registration mode applies: Muslim pupils are not automatically assigned (parents' report that one's child does not take part), even if the pupil lists, as they are compiled in the procedure of school registrations, have a relevant note of religion. But also in those Lands of the Federal Republic where the Islam instruction models have a stronger state signature (Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia), the progress of the whole is anchored in partial successes on the regional and local level. On the part of Muslims success is, by the way, judged by the extent of their part in the organization, and less by the school pedagogical question of instruction success.

Islamic religious education is to be located at the intersection of two constitutionally protected areas: School and instruction as subject of state administrative policy, and religion as matter of a religiously motivated title to arranging. Here it is about the balancing of maximum demands, and about the overcoming of a dilemma: The state is interested in results of this process, without being allowed to take actively part in its realization. Result should be a religious education that is based on a scientifically adaptable theology and pedagogy of religion, that promotes positive integration, and that immunizes the Muslim pupils against forms of ideologically motivated or dogmatically fixed claims - without losing by it its profile as Islamic theologically authentic religious education.



Where the participants got involved in it - without precautionary tabooing to discuss thoroughly also the hot potatoes of the publicly fought out Islam debates -, they are further ahead with the arrangement of their model than elsewhere. For core of the progress was also to learn a changed discourse culture, which up to now was not a matter of course: to constantly imply that the vis-à-vis' taught differently than s/he pretended. From this point of view it becomes clear how much the debate is causally related to the whole society. Actually it is about the question how Muslims and non-Muslims want to arrange their future living together in the context of a society that is founded on the rule of law.


Successful Processes of Building Up Trust

How are improved dealings between state institutions and Muslims to be achieved? One agrees on in common reachable goals and on the areas of the currently relevant competence - "without muddling the responsibilities" (Martin Heckel, Religious Education for Muslims? Juristenzeitung 54 [1999] 754). For it the political signals are of inestimable value that stand for the serious political will to continue with determination the "way taken to Islamic religious education in German language" and to replace the current interim models "by a regular Islamic religious education" - the structures legally necessary for it presupposed, so the Bavarian Minister of State for instruction and cultural affairs, Siegfried Schneider, at the Stuttgart conference.

In spring 1999 the introduction of Islamic religious education in Germany was - on the part of the conservative political camp - still formulated as concession to those "German Turks" who relinquish double nationality and let themselves naturalize. In the meantime a return to the intrinsic value of religion took place instead of its mere usefulness - as institution with socially relevant function. For some areas of the social living and working together of Muslims and non-Muslims the question about the moral education may be asked. Also on security-political interests a special emphasis is placed.

The local and regional projects can be seen as result of successful processes designed to build up trust between all persons involved, who have known each other for a long time: Muslim parents and teachers, representatives of education authorities and Ministries for education and cultural affairs, integration figures from Muslim communities, who are able to moderate over borders of language and culture, familiar faces. The currently constructed curricula (for Bavaria for example as Download under must be read in this regard as documents in which the best possible consent and not the least possible compromise have taken shape.

The rejection of all forms of ideological one-sidedness is important: Islam can neither be introduced as the humanity-despising message of the Antichrist, nor as the only valid message of salvation. "Islam" is a generic term for very plural life drafts, with a certain common basis of faith contents (supported by empirical findings; see Yasemin Karaksoglu Aydin, "Muslimische Religiosität und Erziehungsvorstellungen", Essen 1999, or Nikola Tietze, "Islamische Identitäten", Hamburg 2001). Muslims belong to a rather heterogeneous remembrance community, which in its history as umma already often proved that it is able to handle ambiguities and to integrate new perspectives without monopolizing or the feeling to be monopolized (a leitmotiv of Muhammad).

But the worry about loyalty conflicts, which can be presumed behind the demand for naturalization and levelling out, remains as topos; such questions belong to the core of religious rhetoric of old prophetical criticism of power - not only in Islam by the way. The debates on Islamic religious education provoke also a renewed thinking about the role of the religions in the context of modern societies, the cultural history of which has been influenced by the secularization - what by the way applies also to some Muslim cultural areas.

A decisive share in the progress on the way to Islam instruction is the linking of the projects with suitable academic reference sciences: theologies related to Islam, jurisprudence, humanities, Islam and religious studies, the diverse educational and sociological disciplines and others more. For a success scientific accompanying is essential, for Bavaria even the precondition for an approval of the appropriate parents' application. That by this register procedure the parents' role is strengthened is not always to the taste of the school and its superstructure. But also beyond Islam and religion it can be observed that school-referred projects work lastingly better where the parents - also with critical attitude - stand behind them. The Islamic religious education is anyway more interesting for those schools that in this way want to outline their fundamental educational profile.


Islamic Religious Instruction as Ordinary Subject

In the debates on Islam instruction, as they prevailed between the beginning of the eighties and in the middle of the nineties, Muslims occasionally asked what they actually should exert themselves for: One expected from them a good measure of 'Verkirchlichung' (to become a church-like institution), without the state concretely - in the sense of a clearly articulated self-obligation -, holding out the reward for these troubles.



The forerunner models of "Islamic instruction" stood to date without exception under the migration-politically justified option: return to the former dispatch country Turkey; and that although already the second generation of Muslims in Germany tinkered with the 'Schultüten' (cardboard cones of sweets) of their children.

Since that time something changed, not least also in the perception of "Islam" as a global construction in New York, Madrid, London, in Holland or France. In the meantime there is talk about Islamic religious education, to which preventive tasks are assigned. There is talk about scenarios that are perceived as threatening not only by non-Muslims but also by Muslims: the missing perspectives which push young people out into the cold, particularly young Muslims - who far away from education - are the losers of modernization.

The new Islam curricula show this dimension in all clarity: they lay emphasis on the citizen-social ethos they can only secondarily be identified as authentic Islamic. Accordingly a clearly system-stabilizing objective is prescribed for them, what by the majority of the Muslims in Germany is apparently accepted without protest. But for it a workable institution is needed, consequently Islam instruction as ordinary subject with, as it were, state guarantee that it also really comes. What then is to be understood by "ordinary", if it is about a simulation?

Instruction- and contact language is to be German. This applies also to the materials used in instruction. The pupils are also obliged to communicate with each other in German. One of the central educational interests is to improve the ability to talk German, in particular in the area of religious language. The forming of concepts is a particularly important element of any subject related to Islam. Contrastive elements are allowed - to take into account so-called languages of origin or first languages. The obligatory German is not an instrument of "forced Germanization", but on the contrary strengthens the instruction in the mother tongue by a clear definition of the respective areas of responsibility.



Furthermore this underlines the inter-religious approach of the Islamic religious education: The pupils are to be enabled - with the view on Islam - to transcend the borders of languages, cultures and religions and to moderate between them.

It applies also to the school experiment: It is relevant for moving up. The teachers are obligated to establish the individual achievements and to collect the learn-group-related achievements, to observe the pupils and to have lists of marks. For the half-yearly and yearly reports both a number mark is given and a short profile written that can be used by the class teacher for the formulations on the school report. Religious education is embedded in the morning timetable. It is to be avoided that art and music, sport- or RI are burdened with the fringe hours. The same teaching load applies to the Islamic as to the Protestant or Catholic RI or to ethics.

It is given by a teacher qualified for it, who furthermore is to actively profess Islam as personal religion and way of life. A genuine religious education should beside elements of information have also such of preaching as well as of behaviour: One discusses with the pupils about the sense of praying, forms of Muslim prayer handed down are illustrated, and one works on individual approaches to a freely and personally formulated prayer. Beyond that the offer is made to learn the ritual Muslim prayer (ablution, order of prayer, speaking of certain texts); what - according to the experience - is enthusiastically taken up by pupils as well as parents, independently of whether the parents bear themselves with great confidence in the mosque or live rather in distance to it. There it is not about religious instruction but head, heart and hand are so to be united that the greatest possible success in learning results from it.


No Imports from Ankara or Cairo

The Bavarian curricula for instance for the Islamic religious education in the primary school as well as in the secondary- and secondary modern school are made consistent with each other and are already conceived as curricula for religion as ordinary subject in the sense of the Basic Law (article 7, paragraph 3). As education-theoretical leitmotiv it is regarded, "to arrange the meeting between Muslim pupils and the religious teachings of Islam in such a way that the knowledge and competence necessary for a free individual orientation and faith decision are communicated and trained" (subject curriculum for the school experiment 'Islam instruction at the Bavarian secondary modern school', approved by the ministry for education and cultural affairs on 7 November 2006, No. III.6 - 5 O 4344 - 6.89430).

The question about the leitmotiv of the confession-oriented religious education raises the question about its subject profile. In this regard the role of theology is divided into two: It is to be seen as pedagogy of religion in the context of socialisation theory and development psychology but also as academic reference science, which is articulated free from school-educational expectations.

Both approaches are important for the Islamic religious education in Germany, but understaffed in the academic concert. Also imports from Ankara or Cairo are here not helpful; here a theology is sought-after that can again be applied to the context in which it originates. At present the following problems from Muslim view can - with due brevity - be named.

Two or three lessons are not enough time to achieve all goals Islamic RI has been approached with in the past years, as there are: to strengthen the Muslim identity, to manage the integration, to promote the inter-religious dialogue, to empty the Koran schools, to prevent terrorist attacks, to stabilize the Christian RI, to make out of immigrated followers of a foreign religion now naturalized value-conservatively and neo-liberally minded voters. What were still missing were all the expectations which could be derived from the deficits of domestic religious education or were to promote the education career of the pupils. The Muslims involved in the school experiments wish that the educational planning in matters of Islam proceeds more from the real situation of the pupils.



Furthermore in the question of an authentic theological profile and of being at home in one's own (religion / culture) - as paradigms of a RI that is oriented towards denomination -, double standards are still used. The temptation is great to domesticate Islam in Germany by means of Islam instruction. When for instance in one of the curricula it is said, "Muslims respect the legal order of the country in which they live", there was consent about this sentence in the commission responsible for it. But it provokes various inquiries: Can this imperative be theologically substantiated? Does it apply then also to Muslims in systems of injustice? Has this been the core message of prophetical criticism of power in the Koran? And on the part of prominent representatives of evangelically aspirated Christianity one criticizes: "Respecting is too little - they are to commit themselves for it." That was taken up by Muslims and corresponding to the Koran-Arab term dschihâd in its primary non-martial meaning developed as "dedication to the good thing". But there it was said: "Please, no dschihadism!"


The Profile of Islamic Religious Education

For the time being these seemingly still loose threads can be referred to a central aspect: The Islamic RI is aimed at enabling Muslims who are growing up in Germany, and who can be classed as belonging to those people whose religious way of life is - in the strict sense - Islam, to participation in the sense of a civilian-social commitment.

That seems to be on the one hand rather formulated with regard to an instruction oriented at the confession - necessary for its education-theoretical profile, but is not enough for its religion-pedagogical profile. From the theological content of a pedagogy of religion also normative impulses can be expected (see Harry Harun Behr, "Curriculum Islamunterricht", dissertation, Universität Bayreuth 2005, 339-490; "Grundriss islamisch-theologischen Denkens im Kontext der Bundesrepublik Deutschland", in Zeitschrift für die Religionslehre des Islam, Jahrgang 1, Heft Nr. 1, Nürnberg 2007, 2-9).

For Islamic RI just for faith considerations the informative elements are of more importance than so far assumed. One could discuss whether the large scripture-related Revelation religions, perhaps even religion in itself, live more on questions which are taken up and continued by them and less on the concrete answers offered by them. Muslim pupils ask three kinds of philosophical orientation questions - independently of whether they take part in the South German Islam instruction or in the North German Islam science: How is it actually, how is it really in Islam? What is your personal relation to it? What does all that mean for me, for my life (see Silke Pfeiffer, "Philosophische Horizonte von Kinderfragen", in: Astrid Kaiser und Charlotte Röhner [editors], "Kinder im 21. Jahrhundert", Münster 2000, 141-150).

Islamic RI is according to its conception of itself an educating instruction. A view into classical texts of Islam refers here to theology-historical standards. In the 13th century the theologian and caliphate theorist Ibrahim Ibn Jamâca for example demanded clarity in the educational objectives of religious education in a form that is suitable as theologically provable leitmotiv: "All depends on educating the children to make good decisions and to act accordingly" (The memoir of the listener and the speaker in the training of teacher and student [reprint], Islamabad 1991, 11 ff.).

RI is to make transparent the historical, social or cultural relation of the corresponding knowledge. With it it is to be warned against the unfounded optimism that the religious theory rightly communicated in the lessons will already produce the right faith.

For knowledge the emotional part of episodic memory contents plays a very important role. The report on experiences does not, as all parents know, replace the experiences made in one's own life, but both must be referred to each other. That's why the theological contents of the Islamic RI are grouped around topics of immediate social localities and then often acquired - by primarily inductive learning ways - as far as this is possible.

For RI as science the aspect of behaviour is certainly more contentious than that of preaching. But it is generally wanted by many Muslim parents who deplore a domestic break of tradition. In the context of school instruction with it emphasis is laid on internalization, the outward performance of the religious, ritual action is to lead to an inner, mental and thought through 'representation'. But it is also to support the principle of concept formation, since it is accompanied by a trained and systematically achieved ability to put religious matters in words.


Competence for the Change of Perspective

What applies to school religious education, conditionally applies also to teaching Islam in the context of the university: On the campus, too, it is important to arrange meetings, to moderate discussions, to present Islam in its structure as religious doctrine, as philosophy, as way of life in its respective cultural relation and as the subject of public discourses, but also as the subject of neighbouring related fields of study.



Also many of the young Muslim students show, as has been presented above with reference to Muslim pupils, a decidedly formulated, personal interest in getting orientation in religious questions. In this connection they do not first think of their parents or of the Imam in the mosque as contact. For some of them the seminar room is the first opportunity to inform themselves about Islam - in their view at the same time theologically authentically and potentially without sanctions.

An Islam scientist talks about Muhammad differently from a theologian, a religious scholar works with other instruments than a historian; a pedagogue attaches another importance to him than a sociologist. The in Germany now starting courses of studies on the religion of Islam take this into account, if they are laid out interdisciplinary. That means: The students must collect their information bit by bit, and the theological core sector supports them to integrate it meaningfully. The competence of perspective change, of the code-switch between scientific reference disciplines, which is to be practised during the studies, is to train the necessary abilities to act as moderator in the professional discourse (instruction discussions, discussions with parents, with the teaching staff, and in the further/ wider social field of reference). Sometimes it is less important how much one knows, but whether one has learnt to understand what the other person really wants to know.

That has consequences for the theology of Islam. It has already been referred to the aspect of re-contextualization of Islamic theology in Germany. In concrete terms this means: Islamic theology, as it is at present done at universities, particularly in the training of Muslim teachers, is taught in a discursive way and as process by supporting in situations of radical change in society, in the social and political field. By interpretation of the traditions it gives new sense, and so helps people to produce continuity in their specifically religious relations to the surrounding world (concrete contents according the order of study, e.g. for the course of studies Islamic religious theory at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg can be consulted under


    {*} Harry Harun Behr (born in 1962 in Koblenz)is since 2006 Professor for Islamic religion teachings at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. In his thesis "Curriculum Islam Instruction" he analysed curriculum drafts for Islamic RI in the primary school.


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