The biggest mosque in Germany opened in the city of Duisburg on Sunday and has already become a symbol of successful integration. Unlike other mosque projects in Germany, there was virtually no protest from the local community.
The tent next to the mosque in the Marxloh district of Duisburg, an industrial and mining town in the Ruhr region of Germany, can accommodate 3,500 people but it wasn't big enough for the crowd that turned out on Sunday.
Thousands of Duisburg citizens had to stand outside to witness this historic day on a giant public viewing screen. The biggest mosque in Germany has been opened and it includes a meeting center for the whole district -- an unprecedented project in Germany.
Politicians, church representatives and the board of the local Islamic community agree that the mosque sets a positive example of integration.
The governor of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Jürgen Rüttgers, said: "We need more mosques in this country, not in the back yards, but visible and recognizable." And Duisburg mayor Adolf Sauerland says his city has coped well with integration.
All the speakers praised what has distinguished the new Duisburg mosque from other mosque construction projects in Germany: in Duisburg, there was virtually no protest against the construction.
Elaborate Paintings and Gilt Bronze
"The fact that we can all come together to mark the opening is really like the small miracle of Marxloh," said Elif Saat, chairwoman of the Ditib Turkish-Islamic Union's education and meeting center in Marxloh.
Far-right parties failed to seize on the mosque to whip up anti-Islamic sentiment. There was one single demonstration by the far-right National Democratic Party. But the number of counter-demonstrations was far higher.
And the occasional grumbling that could be heard here and there from non-Muslims seems gradually to be giving way to civic pride in the prestigious building.
The dome is 23 meters (75 feet) high and the interior of the mosque, which can accommodate up to 1,200 worshippers, is decorated with elaborate paintings and gilt bronze.
The windows are of blue glass, and a gold-colored chandelier with a diameter of several meters hangs from the dome. In the prayer room, one's feet sink deep into the carpet.
Before, Marxloh's Muslims had to make do with a disused cafeteria as a place of worship. In its place there now stands a dignified, bright house of God.
The 7 million building has a meeting center in its basement that caters for all the people of the district of Marxloh. The state of North Rhine-Westphalia invested 3.2 million in the meeting center. The remainder of the money for the mosque came exclusively from donations.
No Fear or Prejudice
The building already appears to be benefiting the district. As soon as construction work had begun, the newly built residential houses on the other side of the street suddenly became easy to sell, and real estate prices in the area, which is marked by high unemployment and a high share of immigrants, is rising.
Of the 18,000 people living in Marxloh more than 6,000 have an immigrant background. More than 20 percent of residents live off welfare payments.
Why did everything pass off so smoothly in Marxloh? Is it because the 34-meter minaret is only half as high as the spire of the local Catholic church? Or because the Islamic community decided from the start to do without the muezzin call?
Those could be two symbolic issues that contributed to the success. But far more important is the simple fact that the people of Marxloh sat down and talked to each other. They talked openly without fear or prejudice, and without inhibitions.
It's people like Elif Saat and Zülfiye Kaykin, the manager of the meeting center, and press spokesman Mustafa Kücük who initiated the debate.
All three are second-generation immigrants, children of Turkish "guest workers" who were invited to Germany in the 1950s, 60s and 70s to overcome labor shortages as Germany performed its economic miracle.
Venue for the Locals
They feel German, are ready to shoulder civic responsibility and could easily appear in any TV talk show to make their case.
"We spend a lot of time talking to each other, not about each other," said Kücük, 39, while giving a tour through the mosque.
During the day he works at steel group Thyssen. In the evenings he works for the community. Now he's taken vacation from work and spends 16 hours a day showing journalists the miracle of Marxloh. He's always in a hurry, and has two mobile phones in the pockets of his gray suit. They're constantly ringing.
Kücük and his colleagues had the idea of building a meeting center in addition to the mosque, of merging a place of worship with a venue for for local people.
"We stand by one another, our generation is ready to take over responsibilities," he says. And because his generation believed that a building like that needed support from the whole community, it set up a panel to allow the whole district to discuss the project.
The panel also included Catholic priest Michael Kemper. His church, St. Peter's, is just 300 meters away from the mosque. "I was in favor of building the mosque from the start," said Kemper. "After all, it's a house of God."
The priest praised the friendly relations with the Muslim community. Many Muslim children visit the Catholic kindergarten, and Catholics and Muslims visit each other's festivals.
Guest Workers Have Arrived
"We've got to stick together," says the priest. He said there's a feeling of togetherness in the district. "The necessity to always communicate lies 1,000 meters below us, in the mines. German and Turkish miners worked side by side. They had to be able to understand each other, rely on each other. That feeling was passed on to the district."
But Kemper says there was also skepticism in the community. "There's a fear of being dominated. But there is growing acceptance in the community. And above all, there's gratitude that everything has gone off peacefully."
No one in Marxloh wants the kind of conflicts that happened in Cologne.
The chairman of the mosque, Mehmet Özay, emphasized that point at the opening ceremony: "I can assure you that this beautiful new mosque is quite safe, it is not a symbol of social division in Germany but a symbol of the benefits of human, religious, cultural and social interaction," he said.
The guest workers and their descendants, he said, have now fully arrived in Duisburg and Germany.
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