Six facts you didn't know about mosques in Germany

By | Posted by Tapatrisha Das
Oct 04, 2022 11:07 AM IST

On Open Mosque Day, Germany's many mosques open their doors to the public.

Germany has thousands of mosques, most of them tucked away in backyards or industrial parks. On Open Mosque Day, they open their doors to the public.

Sehitlik Mosque in Berlin(Thomas Trutschel/photothek/picture alliance )
Sehitlik Mosque in Berlin(Thomas Trutschel/photothek/picture alliance )

Open Mosque Day has been held in Germany on October 3 every year since 1997. This year, about 1,000 mosques across Germany opened their doors to bring Muslim and non-Muslim people together. The 2022 motto is "Scarce resources — great responsibility." The "effects of the climate crisis can be observed in our country and in many parts of the world, as most recently with the devastating floods in Pakistan," said Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD).

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Here are six facts about mosques in Germany — and no one knows exactly how many there are. Estimates range from 2,350 to 2,750. According to a study by the German Islam Conference, 24% of the 5.5 million Muslims living in Germany visited these mosques at least once a week in 2019.

German Empire trained jihadis in Germany's first mosque

The Wünsdorf Mosque in Brandenburg, built in 1915 at the request of the Mufti of Istanbul, was considered the first Islamic building in Germany and all of Central Europe. Erected in the center of a prisoner of war camp for Muslims, the mosque was nicknamed the "half moon camp." It was a place for peaceful prayer, but the German Empire also used the mosque to stir up Muslim prisoners' sentiments against their colonial powers, France and England. "Revolutionary strategy" is what the German Empire called it. Here, jihadis were sworn in and eventually sent to fight the "holy war."

The Muslim POWs were also abused for research purposes that included language recordings and anthropological measurements. These later became part of a pseudoscientific area of study that the Nazis called "racial science." In 1928, a new mosque was built in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, and the Wünsdorf mosque lost its importance. It was demolished in 1930, less than 15 years after its inauguration.

Resemblance to the Taj Mahal

The mosque in the Berlin neighborhood of Wilmersdorf is the oldest in existence in Germany today. The building strongly resembles a world-famous monument in India: the Taj Mahal. Two minarets, each more than 30 meters high (98 feet), frame the building. It was designed by German architect Karl August Herrmann for the Lahore Ahmadiyya community from what is now Pakistan and whose members came to Germany in 1920. They founded the German-Muslim Society in cooperation with German Muslims. The mosque in Berlin-Wilmersdorf became the center of Muslim life.

Women preach in one Berlin mosque

In 2017, a very special kind of Muslim place of worship was established in the German capital: the Ibn Rushd-Goethe Mosque. There, men and women pray together, women are allowed to preach, and queer people are not excluded. "The Ibn Rushd-Goethe Mosque represents a progressive, contemporary Islam that is compatible with democracy and human rights. We live an Islam in which women and men are equal," the mosque's website reads. It also says all faiths of Islam are welcome: "With us, all the faiths of Islam are welcome, Sunnis, Shiites, Sufis and Alevis feel a sense of belonging in our community."

Seyran Ates, a lawyer, author and women's rights activist who co-founded the mosque, has paid a high price for the progressive stance — she receives death threats and is under around-the-clock police protection.

Controversial mosque associations

In Germany, mosque associations run the mosques. Probably the best-known and largest Islamic association in Germany in terms of the number of mosque congregations is the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (Ditib). The association is criticized because it is subordinate to the Turkish religious authority Diyanet, the state presidium for religious affairs. The union's imams, who are installed in German mosques for several years, are mostly trained in Turkey and funded by the Turkish state.

For years, critics have been warning about the Turkish state's influence on the congregations. The 2018 Turkish presidential election showed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has many supporters in Germany, as have his visits to Germany, where he has been warmly welcomed and frenetically cheered by his supporters.

Mostly hidden away

While sacred Christian buildings are very visible in German cityscapes and the vast majority of villages were built around a church, mosques are hardly noticeable. Most of them are barely recognizable as such from the outside and often, only a sign indicates that there is a mosque behind an inconspicuous entrance to a home in a residential area or in commercial areas outside the city centers. The term coined in German for such tucked-away mosques is "Hinterhofmoschee," or "backyard mosque." While descriptively apt, it can have a denigrating connotation.

One exception is the Cologne Central Mosque, part of Ditib. Designed by German star architect Paul Böhm and open since 2017, the modern and imposing Islamic sacred building, made primarily of glass and exposed concrete, is flanked by two 55-meter-high curved minarets that rise well above the surrounding buildings. It was originally intended to be Germany's largest mosque, but the design was changed after criticism of the building plans. It can accommodate 1,200 worshippers, as many as the Ditib mosque in the Marxloh district of the western German city of Duisburg.

Few use the muezzin call to prayer

In Islamic countries, a muezzin traditionally calls out daily prayers, as well as Friday's public prayers from the minaret. Mosques may do so as well in Germany, but they rarely do. Most mosques in Germany don't have a minaret. In addition, the practice is not widely accepted in society. Opponents of the muezzin call consider it a noise nuisance and criticize the religious confession it expresses. They argue that unlike church bells, the call has a theological meaning. The muezzin's call is heard regularly from only about 30 mosques in Germany.

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