Algiers — The Algerian ministry of religious affairs seeks to train imams to better understand the demands of the times and ward off extremist ideologies.
The role of mosques is currently the subject of a hot debate in Algeria.
Authorities want to eliminate extremist ideology from places of worship and protect them from the influence of political parties and community organisations.
Political parties and other organisations will no longer be permitted to preach or make speeches inside mosques. So says a draft decree on religious organisations drawn up by the Algerian government.
Places of worship must revert to their main role, said Algerian Minister of Religious Affairs Bouabdallah Ghlamallah.
"Mosques embody the unity of the nation in the sense that they represent the crucible in which the character of society is forged," he said during a seminar held in Algiers on January 1st.
In his view, imams are not just "officials" but also preachers who instil human and spiritual values. He argued that imams "must be cultured and aware of the role that they must play in passing on the educational message of the mosque and instilling human and spiritual values into young people".
Ghlamallah added that an imam's task is to pass on this legacy to the next generations and show good judgement and unity of thought.
"In Algeria, imams are an integral part of the nation, which is why they must be mindful of the respect shown to social authorities and work in complete harmony with all other state institutions," the minister said.
The first step towards this goal is to invest in better training for imams. Future imams will have to "change in line with social development and changes", Ghlamallah noted.
To this end, the minister vowed to implement a "high-quality" training programme for imams.
The goal is to train imams to understand "the realities of the society in which they live so that they are better placed to counteract proponents of fundamentalist ideology", he concluded.
Institutes train an average of 1,200 imams each year.
According to the January 8th addition of Echourouk, Ada Fellahi, an aide to the minister of religious affairs, issued a warning about the infiltration of salafists into Algerian mosques. She noted that they "have been given a great deal of room for manoeuvre so far".
The Algerian government is now getting tough. The draft law on religious organisations stipulates that the latter will be disbanded in cases of "interference in the work of officials in mosques and Qur'anic schools".
"The Algerian government wants to close up the legal loophole which, at the beginning of the 1990s, allowed the now-dissolved Islamist FIS party to control mosques and so-called charities," explained academic Ilham Saadi.
The FIS "turned Algerian mosques into recruitment grounds for thousands of terrorists who were manipulated by pseudo-imams who preached hatred of all those who did not share their political stance," she added.
Politics student Hadjer Mohamdi agreed. She told Magharebia that the Algerian government wanted to regain control of mosques to protect them from political manipulation.
Members of the Algerian public have welcomed the new measures.
"Mosques must get back to doing their job. They are holy places which must spread messages of peace, brotherhood and unity," said Amar Mehdi, a public-sector worker.