Mosque stirs racial passion in Germany

While Muslims see a 20m building for Cologne as test
of a nation's tolerance, critics fear the rise of a
parallel, repressive society 

Jason Burke in Cologne
Sunday July 15, 2007
The Observer,,2126622,00.html

This weekend the mosque is overcrowded, the cafe
grubby, the social centre and offices scruffy and
uncomfortable. Not for long, hopes Kilic Iqbal, 27,
who works for the Turkish religious and cultural
association that runs the complex. 'It will be
beautiful, but much more too,' said Iqbal. 'The
Muslims of Germany have been here 40 years, there are
more than 120,000 in Cologne, it will show we are part
of society.

'It' is Germany's biggest Islamic centre, to be built
in a suburb of the cathedral city. Costing 20m,
raised through bank loans and donations from 884
Muslim associations, its focal point will be a huge
mosque complete with 183ft-high minarets, a glass dome
and enough space for up to 4,000 worshippers. Next
week the plans for the project will be finalised and
submitted to the city council.
But though almost every party has approved the project
in theory, the construction is still controversial.
'People are scared,' said Fritz Schamma, the Christian
Democrat mayor. 'But the mosque will be built, that's
certain. For me it is self-evident that the Muslim
community needs a prestigious place of worship.'

Not everyone is of the same opinion. Last week the
mosque project hit the headlines again against the
background of a major row over a government-organised
conference of 'national integration', the main plank
of Chancellor Angela Merkel's strategy to integrate
Germany's 15 million immigrants. A prominent survivor
of the Holocaust said he feared the creation of a
'parallel [Muslim] society' where women were
repressed. A writer pledged to read chapters from The
Satanic Verses inside the mosque.

Bekir Alboga, the 45-year-old cleric who heads the
mosque, was surprised by the resistance to the plan.
'We live in a democratic state,' he told The Observer.
'The right to worship is protected. Given recent
German history, we thought extremism was a thing of
the past.'

Serious opposition has only come from the far right
and church figures. Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the
leader of Cologne's Catholics, said the project gives
him a 'bad feeling', alleging the minarets would
'change the skyline of the city', although they would
be far smaller than the spires of the massive
12th-century Gothic cathedral. For his part Alboga
accuses the churches of stirring up anti-Muslim
sentiment to boost dwindling congregations. The
fiercest resistance has come from Pro-Koln, an
extreme-right group with five seats out of 90 on the
city council. Manfred Rouhs, a leader, said Islam's
'social model' was not one 'that has any place in the
middle of Europe'. Pro-Koln has called on right-wing
allies such as the Austrian Freedom Party and Vlams
Belaang, a Belgian extreme party. Right-wing
demonstrations against the mosque turned violent last
month with 100 arrests in running battles with police.

Coverage of the 'national integration summit', meant
to be a triumphal launch of 500m of measures ranging
from compulsory language and culture training for
immigrants to sports and educational funding for
marginalised youth, focused instead on the boycott by
groups representing many of Germany's Turkish
community. They were protesting against a law
decreeing that foreign spouses must be over 18,
proficient in German and have solid financial support
before being granted entry. Kenan Kolat, chair of the
Turkish Community in Germany, claimed the legal
provision, aimed at stopping forced marriages, was
'discrimination'. In Berlin, unemployment in the
Turkish population is 40 per cent. One study found
that only 80 people of Turkish origin held political
office in Germany. Ehrenfeld, where the mosque is to
be built, bears little trace of ethnic tensions,
however. 'We get along fine,' said office worker
Christoph Becker, 35. 'There's never any trouble.'

For Alboga, the stakes are high. 'This is not just
about Cologne. It is a test for Germany, Germans and
German democracy,' he said. 'The world is watching.
This is about setting an example for Europe and for
the Islamic world too.'

Turkish groups snub Merkel's bid to improve
By Melissa Eddy in Berlin 
Published: 13 July 2007

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, defended her
government's programme to improve the integration of
immigrants after Turkish groups boycotted a meeting on
the issue. 

Three immigrant groups snubbed Ms Merkel's invitation
to yesterday's "integration summit", saying planned
changes to immigration law were discriminatory. Ms
Merkel hailed the summit, attended by about 90
participants, as "a milestone in integration policy"
and insisted that in follow-up talks the government's
"hand remains outstretched" to all groups - including
those who took part in the boycott.

Efforts to integrate Germany's estimated 15 million
citizens and foreign nationals with an immigrant
background have been a focus of Ms Merkel's coalition
government. She held the first "integration summit"
last July and another, to check the progress on goals
laid out yesterday, is planned for 2008.

On Wednesday, the cabinet committed itself to spending
750m (510m) a year on measures, including language
and culture classes, youth sports and education

But representatives from key Turkish groups insist the
measures are little more than window dressing. They
argue that a recent immigration law, requiring that
foreign spouses already have a basic knowledge of the
German language and proof of solid financial support
before they are granted a visa, discriminates against

They said they would not participate in the summit
unless the law was changed, a demand that prompted Ms
Merkel to say: "The German government does not respond
to ultimatums."

Roughly 2.6 million people of Turkish origin live in
Germany, which has a total population of 82 million,
many of them now second and third generation German
citizens. In the past, the government has made little
effort to try to integrate them into German society,
leading to large, predominantly Turkish-speaking

"Simply Racism" screamed the Turkish daily Hurriyet on
its front page, under a picture of Ms Merkel, in a
comment on the new legislation.


Back To Islam Awareness Homepage

Latest News about Islam and Muslims

Contact for further information