The Centers for Islamic Theology: Pioneers with International Impact

With a total of around 44 million Euros, since 2011, the BMBF has been funding seven centers centers for Islamic theology, including, since 2019, the Institutes for Islamic Theology at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and at the University of Paderborn. After ten years of funding, they are recognized both nationally and internationally.

More than five million Muslims currently live in Germany - for many years they have been the third largest religious group after Catholic and Protestant Christians. In order to "create the institutional requirements for adequately taking into account the plurality of Islamic faiths in the Federal Republic of Germany," the German Council of Science and Humanities had already recommended the establishment of such centers in 2010.

"Thanks to the BMBF funding, it has been possible to implement the idea that making Islam at home in Germany also includes producing Islamic knowledge for the local context," emphasizes Prof. Dr. Bekim Agai, Director of the Academy for Islam in Science and Society (AIWG) and Executive Director of ZEFIS Frankfurt/Gießen, and adds: "Being qualified to speak about Islam, about theologically or socially burning issues, interdisciplinary, intra-religious or inter-religious, has thus been enhanced in Germany. Graduates today contribute their knowledge in the context of schools, in institutions of civil society, communities, and universities and beyond."

The centers have established themselves as nationally and internationally recognized places of Islamic theological research and promote the next generation of scholars in Islamic theology - for schools and universities. The aim is to train Islamic religious education teachers for confession-oriented school teaching and to enable academically sound studies of religious scholars in the state university system in the German language. Approximately 2000 students are enrolled at the BMBF-funded centers, and the number is growing.

Permanent structures

After ten years of BMBF funding, at all seven locations permanent organizational structures have been established. And even though BMBF funding for four centers in Frankfurt/Gießen, Münster, Osnabrück and Tübingen ended in 2021, they will continue to operate. The University of Münster, for example, has decided to establish a separate faculty out of the center. The Institute for Islamic Theology at the University of Osnabrück will also continue to be an institute within the Faculty of Education and Cultural Studies, entirely on an equal basis with the other two Christian institutes. The Center for Islamic Theology (ZITh) at the University of Tübingen and ZEFIS Frankfurt/Gießen will also be maintained. Such permanent structures at the universities can contribute to a further objectification and refinement of the debates about Islam.

Lively academic exchange

Through numerous conferences and publications, media presence and international contacts, a lively scientific dialogue is taking place. This ensures both the professional quality and the visibility of the centers and BMBF funding - well beyond Germany. "The establishment of the Centers for Islamic Theology ten years ago was a pioneering achievement," according to AIWG Director Agai, who explains, "Since Germany was the first Western European country to establish Islamic theological studies at public universities and to work with a considerable number of universities and chairs, Germany acts as a test case and a model for other countries. Through projects such as the AIWG International Program, we in Germany act as a hub and provide a space where scholars and people with practical interests in Islamic knowledge production in Europe can come together." New approaches to research and practice on important questions of Islamic religion and Muslim life can thus also be developed in comparative international terms.

Prof. Dr. Bekim Agai

Prof. Dr. Bekim Agai, Director of the Academy for Islam in Science and Society (AIWG) and Executive Director of ZEFIS Frankfurt/Gießen
"Establishing Islamic Theological Studies at public universities in Germany about ten years ago was a pioneer task. But at the same time, it addressed a common issue in Europe as the future of Islamic knowledge production within the European context was discussed within the public discourse. According to the differing legal and cultural frameworks, Islamic Theological chairs or departments emerged in other neighbouring countries as well.
The German experience has positively resonated in other European countries, not only within university circles. Universities are viewed as a suitable context creating the opportunity to address theoretical questions as well as practical issues and to offer a place somewhat detached from political considerations and organisational positions. This allows for a critical and productive discussion about the future development of Islam in Europe without being apologetic. This is at least how we perceive it from our activities in Frankfurt.

Julius Matuschik

Prof. Dr. Zishan Ghaffar

Prof. Dr. Zishan Ghaffar, Head of the Paderborn Institute of Islamic Theology, Chairman of the Centre for Comparative Theology and Cultural Studies
"The Paderborn Institute of Islamic Theology has been uniquely established with a focus on comparative theology and cultural studies. It is strongly connected to the Centre for Comparative Theology and Cultural Studies, which is now lead by a Muslim Theologian. This programmatic approach has helped the Institute to cooperate and connect to academic experts and leading scholars from a wide range of disciplines and theological backgrounds from all over the world. Together with the International Center for Comparative Theology and Social Issues at the University of Bonn, we are organizing an annual international conference, the “International Meeting on Comparative Theology”, since 2016. With this event, we offer doctoral students and young scholars of comparative theology a platform for worldwide scholarly exchange and promote networking."

Büşra Yalaman

Prof. Dr. Maha El Kaisy-Friemuth

Prof. Dr. Maha El Kaisy-Friemuth, Speaker of the Department of Islamic-Religious Studies at the University Erlangen-Nürnberg - Chair of Islamic-Religious Studies with Practical Focus
"The Department of Islamic Religious Studies (DIRS) at the University of Erlangen was founded in 2012 and now enjoys an excellent international reputation. A majority of our academic staff holds international university degrees (from Iran, Morocco, England and France). Therefore, we are well connected with these universities. Since 2012, we have organized numerous international conferences and published in various international publishing houses in German, French and English. We have also established Erasmus contacts with Egypt, Morocco, Bosnia and Ireland (Dublin). In addition, we have hosted international visiting professors and some of us have been invited to teach at several international universities as well as review books and articles for international publishers."

Prof. Mohammad Gharaibeh

Prof. Mohammad Gharaibeh, Chair of Islamic Intellectual History of the Post-Classical Period, 1200-1800, Berlin Institute for Islamic Theology, BIIT
International visibility of the Berlin Institute of Islamic Theology at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin:
"The Berlin Institute for Islamic Theology is despite his young age already international visible, recognized and internationally well connected. The professors and the academics of the institute hold several international cooperation with universities and research institutions in the US, Canada, England, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Israel, and Turkey. Its visibility stems from the reputation and the productivity of its professors and academics, who organize common workshops, lecture series, international conference, and reading groups, invite international scholars for a research stay in Berlin, visit international conferences, and supervise international PhD students."

Matthias Heyde


  1. To establish internationally recognized centers of Islamic-theological and Islam-related interdisciplinary research at universities
  2. To provide excellent education for the next academic generation
  3. The training of Islamic religious education teachers for confession-oriented religious teaching in the school sector
  4. The representation of ethnic and religious diversity of Muslim faith and life in Germany