Cologne's Religious Conflict Getting Catholics and Muslims To Cooperate

Cologne is home to large number of Christians and Muslims as well as controversial plans to build a mosque that will be Germany's biggest. While some fear an Islamic incursion, others in the Catholic-dominated city are donating Sunday's collection to the mosque building project.

By Juliane von Mittelstaedt

If there was a religious conflict in Germany, then it would surely be visible in Cologne -- the city is the capital of Germany's religious Turkish population as well as a bastion of Catholicism. Because here, Catholic numbers are dropping and Catholic churches appear to be turning into retirement homes while Muslim numbers are growing and Muslim followers are building one of the largest mosques in the country.

The mosque, which has been a subject of controversy because of its size, will be able to accommodate up to 1,200 worshippers. The Oriental-style building itself, which was designed by a Christian architect, will consist of two minarets, each 55 meters (180 feet) high. These will flank a dome that is a stylized version of the globe. It is likely to be Germany's biggest mosque as well as one of the most controversial sacred structures in the country. Protest groups have campaigned against the mosque and controversial Jewish intellectual Ralph Giordano has even described it as a Muslim "colonization of foreign territory."

Photo Gallery

6  Photos
Photo Gallery: 'You Are Alone, We Are Together'

Islam Could Be Strongest Religion in Cologne

From the offices of Werner Höbsch, 58, director of the department for interreligious dialogue and proclamation for the Archdiocese of Cologne, you can see the city's famous cathedral. And with his white beard and blue sweater, Höbsch himself looks a little bit like a sea captain on shore leave. In many ways he is something of a captain -- one who is seeking to chart the course of Christianity through a stormy sea of religious diversity: Höbsch's task is to define how Christians and Muslims can live together in this cathedral city. And in his line of business he has managed to compile some interesting figures. The city is home to 120,000 Muslims and 400,000 Catholics. Last year, 2,500 Catholics left the church, there were 3,588 burials and only 2,965 baptisms. If these trends continue, then by the end of the century, Islam could be the strongest religion in Cologne.

Höbsch, however, does not fear Islam. On the contrary, he believes that Christians could learn a thing or two from Muslims -- for example, reverence and self-assurance in one's own faith. As he sees it, the real adversaries to his faith do not come out of Islam. No, his real adversaries are indifference and lack of belief.

He also sees the crisis in Catholic numbers as an opportunity. "In terms of visibility, the Christians here have been on the retreat," he says. "But now we must become more involved in public life as Christians. Islam challenges us to remember the roots of our own religion."

Muslims Not Willing to be Tolerant at Home

When it comes to interreligious dialogue, there is little official friction between the Christians and the Muslims here. Rather, any dialogue is characterized by conciliation, mutual assurances of respect and requests instead of demands.

The only fly in the proverbial ointment has been the long standing wish of the archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meisner, for a Catholic church to be established in the Turkish city Tarsus, the birthplace of the Apostle Paul. The former Catholic church in the city in southeastern Turkey is used as a museum and the Turkish government has said it wants to keep it that way. Meisner has caused waves by pointing out that leaders of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) -- who are also largely responsible for the Cologne mosque project -- are happy to demand tolerance from their German neighbors. But they don't seem as willing to dispense religious tolerance at home.

Mostly though, interreligious dialogue usually consists of bishops sending their good wishes at the breaking of the Muslim fast after Ramadan and the Muslims sending Christmas greetings to the Christians. Representatives of the two faiths have signed a joint commitment to peace and each year Jews, Christians and Muslims get together to pay for a seesaw on a Cologne playground -- a symbolic gesture, since two people are needed to use a seesaw.


All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH

Die Homepage wurde aktualisiert. Jetzt aufrufen.
Hinweis nicht mehr anzeigen.