The project of a Faculty of Islamic Theology
First of all, I would like to emphasize that the history of this region is a very specific one. Until the end of the 17th century, she was part of the German Empire, then annexed by France. She identified then herself with the French revolutionnary ideals, but kept jealouly her own language, German, which is still spoken by a part of the population here.
When the separation between State ans Church occurred in France at the beginning of the 20th century, she was again German, from 1870 onwards up to the end of the First World War.
Alsace succeeded in maintaining ans sometimes in developping certain specific laws und customs, especially in the fields of religion, university and social welfare.
So the Faculty of Protestant Theology, which was founded 1538, went unharmed across the turmoil of the French Revolution and the successive changes of sovereignty.
Furthermore, during the second German period in 1911, the Germans founded in Strasbourg a second Faculty of Theology, this time a catholic one, to keep the balance between both confessions.
So when Alsace went back to secularized France, where all the public theological faculties had been sismantled, Alsace was proud to possess two faculties of theology. This situation remained unchanged up to now.
So people around me, and especially the former president of the University, Etienne Trocmé, thought a few years ago: why not a third one ? Why not an Islamic one ?
By so thinking, we took into consideration a certain number of elements:
1) The mMslim community of Alsace is about 7% of the total amount of the population (1,500,000), that is about 110,000 persons.
2) This community does not enjoy visible religious or cultural structures, which seemed to us an abnormal and dangerous situation in terms of lack of democracy in a state which claims to be the avant-garde of democracy in the world.
3) If we build visible mosques, they must be deserved by adequately trained personnel.
4) Among the Muslim youth in Alsace and in whole France as well, there is a great thirst for Islamic knowledge.
This thirst is to be considered a sound one. Giving no satisfactory answers to this great thirst for Islamic knowledge would damage the harmony and cohesion of the whole society.
5) There are in every area of Strasbourg where Muslim people live a great lot of social workers who do a marvellous job among young Muslims. This job must be relayed on the University level, if we want to enjoy lasting efficient results in terms of social cohesion.
Let's come back to the problem of visibility of Islam.
Our conviction is that it is normal, just, sound and salutary that Islamic theology should be as visible as Christian theology at the University. The contrary would be the sign of an unsound and sick university and society.
The goal of such a Faculty would be to provide Muslim theologians and scholars with a high quality Islamic knowledge based on the scientific tradition of academic knowledge in order to promote the emergence of a French Islam.
At the present time, there are about 1,000 imams in France, but most of them have been, so to speak, imported from the outside, less then 4% have the French citizenship.
This a major inconvenience, because these imams have not benefited an adequate training adapted to the French environnment and to the French way of life.
What about the reception of this project by local and national authorities ?
This project has been welcomed by the French government especially by the Home Office. So I have received May 1998 a letter from the Home Office saying:
The Home Office will never discourage such efforts to create a Faculty of Islamic Theology within the frame of the university of Strasbourg.
So difficulties are obviously not in Paris, nor in the Strasbourg Town Hall: it backs totally this project. The obstacles and resistances lie inside the university of Strasbourg itself. For some of my colleagues, two faculties of theology is already enough, and already hard to bear. For them, there is no legitimacy for theological faculties in public universities. The two theological faculties are a legacy of past times, thery just agree to keep them alive in the name of Alsatian identity, which for them is quite naturally turned towards the past. There is no future for theology in public universities in their eyes.
As far as we are concerned, we deny the accurateness of such a vision of the future.
We think, the 21st century will be the century of dialog between the great world religions, and there is a geat role in such a dialog for the University and especially for the university of Strasbourg.
Prof. Dr. Ralph Stehly
Nov. 1998 / Feb 1999