A child care center in the western German city of Düsseldorf has appealed to police after its plan to involve an imam in religious education lessons sparked a hostile backlash.
The Protestant kindergarten announced the pilot project last week, saying it aimed to teach children about different faiths and complement the regular visits they already had from a pastor.
Hartmut Wölk, the pastor behind the initiative, told German media he received dozens of abusive messages accusing him of being a "renegade," an "anti-Christ" and of "paving the way for Sharia law in Germany."
"We expected criticism, but I have never experienced anything like this," he told the Rheinische Post newspaper.
Youth welfare authorities said the hostile response prompted them to involve the police. It also caused the government of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), where Düsseldorf is located, to intervene.
Threats 'totally unacceptable'
Family Minister Joachim Stamp told the Catholic News Agency (KNA) that the threats and insults were "totally unacceptable," stressing that religious diversity should be seen "as enrichment and not as a threat."
The imam is due to start work at the kindergarten in April as part of the project — a cooperation between Diakonie, the social welfare organization of German Protestant Churches, and a Düsseldorf Muslim group.
The imam's job will be to talk to the 3- to 6-year-olds about Islam and important festivals that Muslims celebrate, including Ramadan and Eid al-Adha. Wölk's visits, which cover Christmas, Easter and Bible stories, will continue as usual.
Stamp said involving an imam in early religious education did not violate the principles of the Child Education Act, adding that the state government supported initiatives to further the religious openness of children.
"At kindergarten, children can learn, in a playful way, essential values such as tolerance, respect and fairness, which strengthen our social life," the minister said.
The kindergarten in question, located in the Reisholz district, was deliberately selected for the project. Of the 41 children who attend, nearly half have a Muslim background.
The southeastern district is also home to the city's first mosque with minarets, which is expected to open later in 2019.