Excerpt:

Imams have a strong influence on Muslims living in Germany. One of their tasks is the issuing of fatwas -- religious opinions on Islamic law which can serve as behavioral guidelines for Muslims in specific situations.

For years now, the teachings of imams in Germany have been hotly debated.

The vast majority (90 percent) are of Turkish origin, but there are also imams from Morocco and Iran. Frequently, imams speak little or no German, nor are they acquainted with the political, social and cultural norms in Germany. Many politicians -- as well as many Muslims living in Germany -- are now demanding that this situation change.

Ferid Heider grew up in Berlin and serves as imam at two of the city's mosques. "Every Muslim can decide for himself who he recognizes as an authority figure," Heider said.

As a Muslim and an imam, Heider is under no obligation to follow the fatwas issued, for example, at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo -- one of the most significant educational institutes in the Islamic world -- or any other scholarly community for that matter.

His task, he said, is to do the best he can according to knowledge and his conscience. For him, that means taking the German way of life into account when offering opinions and advice. A fatwa, he stressed, should always refer to a specific case and set of circumstances.


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