As part of its anti-radicalisation plan, the Belgium state unlocked 3.3 million euros to pay the salaries of 80 new imams, doubling the number of Muslim clerks who already receive subsidies from the state.
“This strategy corresponds to our philosophy opting for a more integrated Islam” said the Belgian minister of justice Koen Geens, who deals with the remuneration of religious leaders. “To combat radicalisation, it’s important that young individuals don’t turn to radicalised mosques. This also give us more interlocutors”.
Since its creation, the Belgian state adopted an “organised secularism”, which means that contrary to France, where the state is totally separate from religion and hence isn’t allowed to support it in any way, in Belgium all recognised faiths have to be treated equally. This implies the Belgian state finances religious buildings, but also pays the salaries of cult servants of the Catholic, Protestant, Israelite, Anglican, Orthodox and Islamic religions.
Currently, there are around 300 imams in Belgium but only about 160 of them are recognised and hence remunerated by the state. Their role is particularly important because they are religious guides and moral counselors to their community. Therefore, recognising more Imams is crucial to a better integration of the Muslim community in Belgium.
Following a report called “Modern Islam in Belgium” commissionned by the government, eight proposals were made by Jean-Claude Marcourt, minister of higher education of the government of the French speaking community, to educate Imams in Belgium. At the moment, imams are educated abroad and recognised by the Belgian council of Muslim theologians.
Many policy-makers and specialists such as Michael Privot, Islamologist and director of the European network against racism, believe imams should be trained in Belgium to learn the language, culture and to preach an Islam in harmony with European values. “If the imam is not trained here and does not speak the language of the country, he will take a long time to understand the specificities of Belgium. He has different standards than those born here because he evolved in a different cultural context” said Privot.
Commenting on the new proposals to educate imams in Belgium, Nouredinne Smaili, president of the Belgian Muslim executive said “we are in favour on the condition that Muslims would be the principal actors of this initiative, supported only morally and financially by the Belgian state”.