Reuters International

BERLIN (Reuters) - The head of the Protestant Church in Germany has called for Islam to be taught in state schools across the country as a way to make young Muslims impervious to the "temptation of fundamentalists".

Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm told the Heilbronner Stimme newspaper that teaching Islam in schools nationwide would give Muslim pupils a chance to take a critical approach to their own religion.

Seven of Germany's 16 federal states offer some form of Islamic religion classes in their schools, similar to the Catholic and Protestant religion classes they have traditionally had. Germany has about four million Muslims, about five percent of the total population.

Attitudes towards Islam have hardened following militant attacks in Europe and the arrival of more than a million migrants last year, most of the Muslims.

The influx has fuelled the rise of anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD), which maintains that Islam violates the constitution and wants a ban on minarets and face veils. Almost two-thirds of Germans think Islam has no place in their country, according to a survey published this month.

In addition, hundreds of Germans have left the country to join the radical Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq since 2012, according to the interior ministry, and

Bedford-Strohm said all faiths in Germany must be compatible with the country's democratic constitution. "Tolerance, religious freedom and freedom of conscience must apply to all religions," he said in the interview published on Friday.

He said Islamic associations in Germany should be responsible for these courses and hoped they would organise themselves to be a "clear partner" for the German state.

Rivalries and disputes among Islamic associations have complicated efforts to manage religious instruction for Muslims in some areas and strained relations with some universities that train teachers for existing Islam classes.

(Reporting By Francesco Canepa; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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