Islam and Society26.09.2022

Customised continuing education for imams

Imams play an important role as bridge builders between the mosque and society. With its customised continuing education programs, the MOGA project aims to offer targeted support to Muslim caregivers. The first of a series of these workshops across Switzerland organised by the Swiss Center for Islam and Society was a great success.

The Swiss Center for Islam and Society (SZIG/CSIS) has trained 65 imams in the last twelve months within the framework of the project "Muslim Organisations as Social Actors" (MOGA). Thus, more than half the imams in Switzerland have been involved. Workshops were offered both to imams who had just started their work in Switzerland, as well as to those who had been providing pastoral care in Switzerland for some time. In this way, the imams’ differing educational requirements were catered for. The series concluded on September 26 with a workshop at the mosque in Wil SG where the discussion centred around the way mosque organisations can develop their relationships to other actors in society. Further workshops were held in Fribourg, Lausanne and Eastern Switzerland.

Important bridge builders
Imams increasingly see themselves as bridge builders with a broad range of religious and social objectives, so a central focus of the continuing education workshops was the question of how imams can satisfy the diverse expectations within their communities as well as those of society as a whole. Workshop topics included the religious landscape of Switzerland, generational change as well as the consequences and challenges of the Corona pandemic. The speakers included experts from universities, administration, social institutions and Muslim communities. For the first time, at one of the workshops, seven women working in spiritual care or teaching also participated and it became clear that imams are increasingly dependent on cooperation with female spiritualcaregivers as well as with professionals in the fields of education, integration and social welfare. In his presentation on communication within mosque organisations, one imam emphasised how important feedback from organisation members is for imams and that the imam's work today must be understood as one involving dialogue.

Imams show great interest in continuing education
More and more imams are giving their sermons in one of the Swiss national languages and many of the new imams, encouraged by attendance at the workshops, have now taken additional language courses. Some have taken the step of extending their competency through a Master's degree course or through continuing education in spiritual care. The workshops showed that generational change is also under way among the imams themselves and that there are even some who have grown up in Switzerland. The participating imams were unanimous in their desire for additional continuing education opportunities.

The MOGA project was funded by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), the Service for Combating Racism (FRB), as well as the Fondation Pierre et Laura Zurcher, the Ernst Goehner Foundation and the Paul Schiller Foundation. The Federation of Islamic Umbrella Organisations in Switzerland (FIDS) was a partner in the project together with Albanian, Turkish and Bosnian associations together with a several cantonal umbrella organisations.

The founding of SZIG as a Swiss-wide centre of excellence in 2015 was allied with the intention of providing continuing education for imams as well as for various professional groups in Swiss society. SZIG has also published several scientific studies on imams and Muslim organisations in Switzerland. In addition, it offers the Master's program "Islam and Society", which is unique in Switzerland and combines Islamic theological and social science perspectives.

> Results from the MOGA project as well as a wide range of information on Muslims in Switzerland can be found on the SZIG information website. SZIG studies and publications are available here.