Saturday, 26 November 2011

Germany stimulates critical Islamic thinking with new postgraduate programme for Muslim theologians

The Germany-based Qantara website, which covers news from the Muslim world and 'diasporas' in the West, draws attention to a German initiative that seeks to stimulate critical Islamic thinking through a new postgraduate programme intended for Muslim scholars with an ambition to specialize in Islamic theological thought. Published under the adamant title 'Muslim theologians are instigators of change', the article argues that the 'advancement of research from below wll provide new perspectives on Islam and produce new insights so that Islam may establish itself within a German context'.

The nation-wide project will in first instance enable fifteen young researchers from seven universities to meet regularly at workshops and conferences to exchange ideas. The programme is financed with a 3.6 million Euro grant from the Mercator Foundation, which also organized this years Young Islam Conference in Berlin.
Islamic theology is still a very new academic discipline at German universities. It is hoped that a new nationwide post-graduate programme will boost its development, lead to increased representation of Muslims in Germany, and lay the groundwork for the training of state schoolteachers of Islam.
Mouhanad Khorchide
The project is coordinated by the Lebanese-Austrian scholar of religion Mouhanad Khorchide, currently associated with the Wilhelm University in Westphalia in Münster. Says Khorchide.:
The programme is promoting the same aim that the federal government has been pursuing since last year with the creation of four Centres of Islamic Theology. The political expectations are obvious. It's all about an appropriate integration policy and creating the conditions for "the necessary dialogue of cultures", as the Federal Ministry of Education has put it on several occasions.
Another scholar involved in the project is Professor Harry Harun Behr of the Interdisciplinary Center for Islamic Study or Religions (IZIR) at the University of Erlangen, who observes that:
Harry Harun Behr
Muslim theologians move along borders in order to be able to translate between different systems of knowledge management. [...] Muslim theologians should also have an effect within the Muslim community. Cautious provocation is part of the trade. Muslim theologians are instigators of change.
The fifteen academics involved are all young immigrants of the first or second generation addressing subjects such as They include subjects such as feminist Islamic theology, the re-discovery of forgotten early Islamic theologians, the historical-critical study of Koran manuscripts, or the role of language, script and reason in the interpretation of the Koran and the prophet's sayings. All are using critical methods and approaches:
many of the projects question overly simple concepts of a literal understanding of the canonical sources and might well end up angering conservative Muslims.
Just as with controversial subjects, the young academics show little fear of making contact with Christian traditions of theology and religious educational theory.
Also other prominent Muslim scholars of Islam currently based in Germany have weighted in with their support for the initiative:
Ömer Özsoy
The establishment of Islamic theology (in Germany) can no longer be undone (Ömer Özsoy, Professor of Exegesis, University of Frankfurt). 
Katajun Amirpur
There is certainly an underlying expectation that this discipline will make Islam compatible with democracy and help reduce problems with Muslim,s [...]: We're not engaging in contract research here and won't invent some kind of integrated Islam for you. (Katajun Amirpur, Professor of Islamic Theology in Hamburg)

The young researchers involved in the project include Serdar Kurnaz(New philological, theological, and legal phiolsophical approaches to Islamic jurisprudence); Nimet Seker (Gender-equitable approaches to the Qur'an); Tolou Khademalsharieh (Early textual history of the Qur'an); and Fahimah Ulfat (Islamic religious educational theory). Watch this space for more news on their future academic exploits.