The University of Leuven (KULeuven) will begin a new course for the training of imams in February. The course lasts six years.
The training of imams was a point raised in the report of the parliamentary committee which looked into the terrorist attacks in Brussels and Zaventem in March 2016. It was recommended to offer a university course, in order to counter the influence of imams brought in from abroad, particularly the Middle East, who have been responsible for spreading hate messages and increasing the radicalisation of young Belgian Muslims.
According to Flemish minister Bart Somers, who is responsible for the official recognition of mosques, the import of imams from abroad is “undesirable and untenable”. Somers was reacting to a report, denied by the Turkish embassy, that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan had plans to send 40 imams to Belgium. Announcing the new course, federal justice minister Koen Geens said he hoped it would “hold back any possible foreign influence” on Belgian mosques. “It is important for us to know what trainee imams are studying.”
The course has been put together with the cooperation of the Muslim Executive and the federal government. It will be given in Dutch and in Arabic, and consist of two years of university study followed by four years of theological training at Afor, an Islamic studies centre.
The university, which has a long history of religious teaching despite have now dropped the word “Catholic” from its name, expects 30 or so students at the beginning of the course in February. When they have completed their course, the graduate imams will receive a certification from the federal government.
The new course was welcomed by the deputy chair of the Muslim Executive, Bayram Saatci. “It took some time to grow toward each other and create a bond of trust with the government, as well as among Muslims themselves,” he told Het Nieuwsblad. “Now there is a consensus that it is better from a social standpoint for young Belgian people to be trained as imams. They know the local context. At the same time, we have to be able to guarantee that their training will be of the same level of quality as that of imams from abroad.”
Update: The Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve is to offer a degree for imams starting in September next year. The course will consist of two modules covering social psychology, citizenship and European religious history as well as theology, a course taught like the one from KULeuven by Islamic research academy Afor.
Salah Echallaoui, president of Afor, said he was satisfied with the result of a case which goes back to 2016. “This forms part of our desire to install a Belgian Islam,” he told Le Vif. “Our wish is not to have to call on imams from abroad. And if we should have to in the future, we now can reuire them to have an equivalent diploma.”