An imam is a religious leader, especially the leader of a Muslim community or the person who leads the prayers in a mosque.
The Turkish embassy claims that reports that 40 Turkish imams were being imported into Belgium is based on an erroneous interpretation of exam information published by the Turkish department for religious affairs, the Diyanet. Depending on demands from mosque associations and not-for-profit organisations imams who pass the exam can be sent abroad. There are no precise plans to send them all to Belgium. The embassy explains that assigning Turkish imams to Belgium depends on requests from Belgian mosques and is co-ordinated together with Belgium’s Muslim executive and the Diyanet. It adds that the appointment and activities of imams occur with the approval of the Belgian authorities. The embassy also stresses the role imams play in curbing radicals and points to the fact that nobody from mosques led by Turkish imams has joined extremist organisations.
Minister Somers is eager to see imams trained in Flanders. He would like to see all foreign imams following integration courses too. At present Turkish imams who join recognised mosques are obliged to do so, but not if they join mosques that are not recognised. Entry visas are issued by the federal authorities. Mr Somers stresses the need for proper screening before visas are issued.