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

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.'


一四−一五世紀にマレー半島イスラムが伝えられたとき、そこに築かれたモスクはジャワ島などと同様に草葺の重層的な屋根をもつ木造の建物だった。その後イギリスの支配が始まり、インド人ムスリムが移住して、はじめて玉ネギ型のドームがつくられるようになったのである(「ソウルの建築――植民地化と近代化」 in 加藤祐三編『近代日本と東アジア』筑摩書房、pp.212-213)