Domes and Minarets? Not in My Backyard, Say an Increasing Number of Germans

By Jochen Bölsche

Part 4: Minarets 'By No Means Compulsory'


Cologne wants to prevent two associations from building a mosque in the district of Mülheim because they have contacts with the Islamic organization Milli Görüs. Norbert Fuchs, the district's mayor, certainly sees it as a "problem (when) political questions are dealt with by using building ordinances." For his part, though, Cologne's Deputy Mayor Guido Kahlen is convinced that: "In those cases where we have room for administrative discretion, we have to use it."

Seeing that this mindset appears to be catching on in other places, builders are apparently becoming more and more willing to exclude minarets from their architectural plans. As they see it, people living near these mosques view the minarets less as symbols of integration and more as demonstrations of power.

When Leggewie gives out advice, he says that mosques should be built without the classic soaring towers -- on practical grounds. "As soon as a mosque differs from the look of the city around it through its ‘foreign' form," Leggewie reasons, "you can count on greater resistance, which often necessitates more involved authorization procedures."

"The traditional style underscores, even unintentionally," Leggewie adds, "the orientation of Muslims toward the areas most important to Islam and toward their homelands." And lastly, he points out, the Middle Eastern style of a mosque with minarets is "by no means compulsory."

Indeed, a counterexample is the mosque of the Turkish parliament in Ankara, built in 1989, which doesn't have minarets. And than there's a "mosque for the future" planned for London's East End. Plans for the mosque envision space for 70,000 worshippers in a high-tech structure with a glass roof instead of a dome and wind turbines instead of minarets.

For the proposed Ahmadiyya mosque in Hausen, near Frankfurt, architect Mubashra Ilyas has designed a simple building with "Bauhaus elements" and one symbolic minaret that people passing by can only see from a certain angle. As Ilyas explains it, this is "because it's certainly easier for native Germans living in the area to live with it that way."

In any case, minarets are no longer needed for the muezzin's call. A call to prayer is redundant, according to Fazlur Rehman Anwar of the Ahmadiyya mosque in Eimsbüttel, Hamburg: "After all, there are watches."

On the other hand, when Muslim builders with financial backers in the Middle East insist on enormous, showy multipurpose centers in Turkish or Arab style, they must accept a high degree of political risk. The openly Middle Eastern style may lead to a flare up in the already smoldering debate about religious freedom in the countries that back these projects financially, since some are countries in which Christians are violently persecuted and prevented from building churches.

Representatives of both the Catholic and Protestant churches in Germany continue to emphasize that they have in no way made their approval of mosque construction contingent on Muslim countries' allowing Christians to build churches there. At the same time, however, they let it be known that they can't accept the status quo in the long run.

While Protestant Bishop Huber calls for "Muslims' unrestricted right to convert," his Catholic colleague Archbishop Meisner has appealed to the DITIB, who are building the mosque in Cologne, "to support a project in Turkey." As Meisner explains: "The Pope has declared 2008 to be the Year of St. Paul (as) we are celebrating of the 2000th birthday of the apostle Paul. Yet at his birthplace in Tarsus, we Christians have nothing … We need to campaign to be allowed to build a pilgrim center and a small church there. In return, that would be taken into account here in Cologne."

Less elegant than the cardinal's approach – which, admittedly, met with no success -- is the direct method used by some representatives of the CDU. While representatives of the Christian Social Union (CSU) the CDU's Bavarian sister party, were satisfied with the stipulation that minarets could not rise higher than church steeples, local CDU members in Castrop-Rauxel, a city in western Germany, recently agreed to a disproportionately radical resolution on the topic.

Of course mosque construction should be allowed, the CDU members say, but land usage must be strictly restricted: "We suggest applying the standards that are in effect for the construction of new Christian religious buildings in Turkey."

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