Follow Us

Conference Invitation: Imams in Western Europe – Authority, Training, and Institutional Challenges, Rome 5-7 N ovember 2014

Imams in Western Europe – Authority, Training, and Institutional Challenges

5-6-7 November 2014

LUISS Guido Carli University &

John Cabot American University

Rome, Italy

Conceptual Framework

The social facts of globalization, transnational migration and the various interpretations of secularism have challenged the visibility of religion in the public sphere in “Western” societies. This has most importantly and urgently required religious authorities to revisit their organization, governance and internal hierarchy, which link believers and their community to God. Islamic religious authority is no exception. All over the Islamic world and Europe, Islamic religious authority is still struggling to negotiate its place among the institutions of the modern state. The imamate is one of the institutions that is experiencing a shift in roles and functions in society amidst these institutions.

The religious affairs of the early Muslim community in Europe after WWII were hardly institutional, and consequently lacked state recognition and its support, as well as professional and trained Imams. Without formal prayer spaces, they were also poorly organized and officially “Imam-less.” Muslims themselves had either to choose a respected believer to become their leader of prayers or, afterwards, sought to import an Imam from their own village or city in the country of origin. Because the situation of religious education in the wider Islamic world was still in the making in the postcolonial era, these imported imams had either a conservative education and were not open to modern state institutions or to liberal multicultural society, or they were not trained as Imams at all, but were lay men who had learnt the Quran, or part of it, by heart at the madrassas (al massid or al kuttab), and not at modern schools or universities.

On arrival in Europe, these Imams faced considerable problems. They often lacked the mastery of the language of the host country, and mostly lacked the understanding of the place of religion in the public space, and the role of religious authority within the community of believers. Also, the economic difficulties of these early “guest-workers” contributed to making institutionalized religious training and schooling unthinkable. The international rise of political Islam, the flow of funds of the Muslim communities from the countries of origin (through embassies and international religious movements), and the internal increasing “fear of Islamism” and the “feel of Islamophobia” made the idea of home-grown Imams beyond the scope of policy-making and state institutions at first. However, terrorist attacks (9/11, 7/7, etc.), increasing state surveillance of Islamic religious affairs, as well as the Muslim community need for recognized religious authority in European societies have made the idea again thinkable.

The last decade witnessed a remarkable increase in debates over the necessity to ground European Islam on the European soil, and through state institutions. Islamic representatives and schools are building partnerships with prestigious universities in the UK, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, for co-designed religious curricula and for the training of home-grown imams and the establishment of a domestic religious authority.

Conference Themes

· Imams in Islamic scholarship: intellectual requirements and the scope of action within religious scholarly authority

· Muslim religious authority and their representative bodies in Western Europe

· The Muslim community’s authority over the Imam: the social stratum

· The importation of Imams and their geographical distribution in Western Europe

· The prospects of developing “home-grown” Imams: mosques, Islamic schools, university departments of theology, and possible partnerships

· Imams’ training and the job market

· Imams, politics, and the media

· Imams and civic engagement: ethics, spirituality, environment, social justice, multiculturalism, etc.

· Comparative perspectives: best practices of religious national institutions and Imam training in Western Europe

Keynote speakers

Hilary Kalmbach (Sussex University, UK)

Jasser Auda (Faculty of Islamic Studies in Doha, Qatar)

Jonathan Laurence (Political Science at Boston College, USA)

Marco Ventura (Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium)

Olivier Roy (European University Institute, Italy)

Stefano Allievi (University of Padova, Italy)

Confirmed speakers

Abdullah Sahin (The Markfield Institute of Higher Education, UK), Cedric Beyloq (Mundiapolis University, Casablanca, Morocco), Domenico Melidoro (LUISS University, Rome), Mansur Ali (Cardiff University, UK), Egdunas Racius (Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania), Evrim Ersan Akkilic (Universität Wien, Austria), Farid El Asri (Louvain University, Belgium), Francesco Alicino (University LUM Jean Monnet University of Bari, Italy), Goran Larsson (University of Gothenburg, Sweden), Imam Yahya Pallavicini (Italy), Jan Jaap de Ruiter (Tilburg University, Netherlands), Jorgen Nielsen (University of Birmingham, UK), Juan Ferreiro Galguera (Universidade da Coruña, Spain), Khalid Hajji (CEOM, Belgium), Melanie Kamp (Zentrum Moderner Orient, Germany), Paolo Branca (Università Cattolica del S. Cuore, Italy), Redouane Abdellah (Islamic Cultural Center of Rome, Italy), Renata Peppiceli (LUISS university, Italy), Riem Spielhaus (Erlangen Centre for Islam & Law in Europe, Germany), Romain Sèze (Reims University, France), Sara Silvestri (City University London, UK), Stefano Allievi (University of Padova, Italy), Tuomas Martikainen (Åbo Akademi University, Finland), Valentina Gentile (LUISS University, Italy)

Organizing partners

The Department of Political Science and the School of Government at LUISS Guido Carli University of Rome,

The Department of Cross Cultural Studies at University of Copenhagen

John Cabot American University (JCU) of Rome

The NordForsk Research Network “Norms and Narratives in the Nordic Countries” (NONA),

The European Council of Moroccan Oulema (CEOM) in Brussels,

The Netherlands Interuniversity School for Islamic Studies (NISIS)


Mohammed Hashas, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Political Science, LUISS University of Rome.

Niels Valdemar Vinding, Assistant Professor, Department of Cross Cultural & Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen

Khalid Hajji, Secretary General of the European Council of Moroccan Oulema in Brussels, & associate professor at Mohamed I University in Oujda, Morocco.

Jan Jaap de Ruiter, Associate professor, Department of Cultural Studies, Tilburg University in the Netherlands.


Tom Bailey, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Business Administration, JCU

Michael Driessen, Assistant Professor of Political Science & International Affairs, JCU


Attendance is open and free but registration is required for space management (please write to Mohammed Hashas, hashasmohammed, or Niels Valdemar Vinding, lbm993). A small amount of grants are available for doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers to help with accommodation. To apply for a grant, contact the conveners above.

N.B. The conference programme will be circulated in due time.