Speaking on YLE news at the weekend, German expert on Islam Mounir Azzaoui suggested that imams leading prayers at mosques should be given third level education in Finland.
Anas Hajjar, imam from the Islamic Society of Finland, also supports higher education for imams. This would help the integration of Muslims into Finnish society.
There are around 40 to 50 imams in Finland both teaching and conducting religious services at mosques and prayer rooms. Many of them have no formal education in Islam.
Hannu Mustakallio, Professor of Church History at the University of Eastern Finland in Joensuu, says that future imams could be trained at his university’s School of Theology. Mustakallio thinks that such education is a good idea, especially if this is also supported by Muslims. In Mustakallio’s view, the new training should be state-funded.
Academic approach to Islam
The idea of third-level education for imams was also welcomed at the Faculty of Theology at the University of Helsinki. However, the dean of the faculty Aila Lauha emphasised that, in line with general university standards, such education should be based on research rather than on religious faith. Drawing comparisons to the education of Lutheran priests, Lauha noted that the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran church does not get to determine the contents of their education.
Lauha supports high-quality professional research on Islam, as well as its inclusion as a university subject. The research should focus on the history, doctrine, faith and present-day realities of Islam.
Universities are ready for a dialogue with the Muslim community about the contents of such education, although in the final analysis this needs to conform to university standards.
As Lauha points out, third-level training for school teachers of Islam already exists. Should university training be formulated also for imams or other workers for the Islamic Society, a dialogue with the Muslim community would certainly be needed.