GlobalBelgium still fails to train imams

Belgium still fails to train imams

At first glance, they seem very thin. On the Flemish side as on the French-speaking side, training of imams “was organized for this purpose with a double component: a civil component provided by a university and a religious component provided in collaboration with [l’Exécutif des musulmans de Belgique]”, said last week, in the Parliamentary Commission, the Minister of Higher Education Françoise Bertieaux (MR). Last year, however, there were “Only one registered for KULeuven training. It is no longer organized. The training courses provided at UCLouvain – and independent of Ipfi – had been ready since 2020, but they never took place due to a lack of candidates”. Since then“the situation has become more complex”regretted the minister again.

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At the federal level, it’s at a standstill

To understand these difficulties in training the country’s imams, we must remember that neither Ipfi nor the Wallonia-Brussels Federation (which includes Higher Education) are the only players involved. Such training also requires the involvement of the federal state (and its Ministry of Justice which finances the imams and the representative body of the Islamic religion to the state). This Belgian architecture is one of the first factors explaining the difficulties and delays.

If we focus on the federal level and its responsibilities, the Minister of Justice Koen Geens (CD&V), in office from 2014 to 2020, had released a budget, and asked KULeuven and UCLouvain to organize, in partnership with the Executive of Muslims of Belgium (EMB – then representative body of Islamic worship) training modules for imams. These modules, because they are optional for imams, have never attracted crowds. And structurally, they were never able to take off: the successor of Koen Geens, Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD – Minister of Justice from 2020 to 2023) in fact deprived the EMB of its recognition by the State for “amateurism” And “shenanigans”. The same minister also eliminated subsidies, which ended up sinking these training modules. Especially since Vincent Van Quickenborne had set up a (temporary) successor to the EMB, the current Muslim Council of Belgium (CMB), without charging it with this question relating to the training of imams.

European experts

Considering the failure of this project at the federal level, Ipfi, which was working on its other mandates (French as a foreign language course for imams, interuniversity chair of Islamic theology, etc.) wanted to resume – at the French-speaking level – the reflections necessary for the training of imams. To do this, the institute is currently interviewing European experts in whose countries training for imams is organized. “This is the case in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Francespecifies Louis-Léon Christians, professor of law at UCLouvain and Co-president of Ipfi. No model stands out, but we can draw from each of these experts on good practices to design future training that offers theological and scientific knowledge. Furthermore, we are going to recruit project managers who will speak to imams (from recognized or unrecognized mosques) to encourage them to support future training and ask them about the needs on the ground.”

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A Way of the Cross

Seven years after the vote of the decree, the establishment of training for imams is therefore akin to a real station of the cross: articulating academic and religious communities, political wishes, levels of power is definitely a priesthood in Belgium . However, Louis-Léon Christians, on behalf of Ipfi, refuses to fall into fate. As proof, he says, the reflection is progressing in his Institute, while the representatives of the new Muslim Council of Belgium have joined the Ipfi to work together.

Where will salvation come from? From the Ipfi, as long as this structure, determined but very humble (it has a full and a half time and an annual budget of 400,000 euros) can result in solid and lasting training, that Flanders follows suit (it does not there is no equivalent of the Ipfi in Flanders) and that the future representative body of the Islamic religion (which the CMB has the mission of setting up) officially collaborates in it, in order to oblige the imams of recognized mosques to form.

There is therefore still a long way to go, but the stakes are high, maintains Islamologist Gregory Vandamme. “As long as real training for imams, capable of generating a theological discourse specific to Belgium and the 21st century, is not organized, all other initiatives will only be plasters on wooden legs. The gap between the discourse of imams trained abroad and young Belgian Muslims will remain significant and damaging.”

Until then, other projects are progressing, maintains Louis-Léon Christians. French as a foreign language courses organized by Ipfi have reached 40 volunteer imams, and an inter-university chair in Islamology (which is not specifically aimed at imams) is in its third season.

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