On a Tuesday morning, there isn’t much going on at the Hamburg Islamic Center (IZH) located at a prime address on Alster Lake. Two elderly men sit on a wooden bench and converse in Farsi. Another man stands in front of the mosque’s small bookstore and peers at the treatises laid out on the table in several languages and featuring titles like "They Will Be Done – The Most Beautiful Islamic Prayers" and "The Family in Islam."
In the latter, readers learn that "homosexuality, sodomy and adultery are diseases of modernity." In addition to information about this "swamp of sexual dysfunction," it also contains instructions for husbands. For example, in the chapter titled "Obedience or Slavery?," it says, "According to religious regulations, the wife must ask her husband’s permission if she wishes to leave the house." It also states that, no matter what kind of operation he runs, it is the boss’s job to monitor the comings and goings of his staff and to monitor whether they are fulfilling their duties.
This kind of misogynistic and homophobic exegesis of the religion alone would be reason enough to be bothered by the Blue Mosque, as the center is also known. But this isn’t the only reason. According to reports, the IZH is also used by Iran’s mullah regime to spread its propaganda and exert influence over Shiite Muslims.
The parliamentary group of the center-right Christian Democrats recently introduced a resolution in Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag, to support the Iranian protest movement. Among other things, the resolution calls for closing the IZH and prohibiting the organization from working with German government agencies in any capacity.
A "Significant Center of Propaganda"
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which is charged with keeping tabs on all forms of extremism, has been observing the IZH community for many years and describes it, besides the Iranian Embassy, as "Iran’s most important representation in Germany and a significant center of propaganda" in Europe. Officials there claim that, with the help of the IZH, Iran is seeking to "bind Shiites of different nationalities to it and to spread the basic social, political and religious values of the Iranian state in Europe." Behind the center is the Islamic Community of the Shiite Communities in Germany (IGS), an umbrella organization that claims to represent 150 mosque communities.
For many exiled Iranians who once fled the brutal Islamists, it is intolerable that the German government hasn’t taken action against the Blue Mosque. Many suspect that the government is afraid to make any such move because it might worsen its diplomatic relations with Iran.
On its website, the Iranian Community in Germany, a secular organization, calls for the European Union – and the German government, in particular – to "monitor and legally prosecute the agents and religious institutions acting here on behalf of the regime." At solidarity rallies, "there are often regime informers spying on us and photographing those participating in the demonstrations."
Active Agents in Germany
Iranian agents in Germany are thought to be particularly active. Sources in German security circles in Berlin say that the "handling of opposition figures is a prioritized goal of Iranian intelligence services." In some cases, it is done in a highly professional manner. The Quds Brigade, the elite foreign unit of the Revolutionary Guards, "don’t only rely on their own countrymen" for its activities in Germany. According to information obtained by DER SPIEGEL, they also try to recruit Shiites from other countries.
Demonstrations are currently being held in a number of German cities. And demonstrators have also repeatedly protested in front of the Blue Mosque. Last week, dozens of immigrant associations, academics and politicians from various parties jointly wrote an open letter to the parliament of the city-state of Hamburg. In it, they wrote: "Cooperation with an extremist institution is an affront for a democratic urban community and a threat to domestic security." They added that IZH should not remain a partner of the city.
The organization is still a member of Schura, the council of Islamic communities in Hamburg. Schura works together with the city and helps to shape religious education in the schools. At the moment, an arbitration committee is "deliberating on the further course of the IZH and whether it can remain a member," sources at Schura said.
Umbrella Organization Denies All Allegations
Susanne Schröter, director of the Frankfurt Research Center on Global Islam (FFGI) at the University of Frankfurt, also signed the protest letter. "According to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, there has been evidence for years that the center is not only anti-Semitic, anti-democratic and misogynistic, but also that it has ties to the terrorist Hezbollah militia," she says. "I have little understanding for the fact that people aren’t setting boundaries here."
The IGS umbrella organization, on the other hand, feels unfairly treated and is denying all accusations. "Our members are mosques and congregations that exclusively deal with religious matters," it stated in a press release. "As we have laid down in our statutes, we are committed to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany." It adds, "For us, as the umbrella organization, Iranian politics are not relevant." The IZH itself also writes: "Our only connections abroad are with the offices of the great scholars of the Islamic world."
"Repression and Disregard for Human Rights"
Despite these denials, authorities at Hamburg’s state Interior Ministry have taken action against one of the IZH’s top officials. The deputy head, whom the security authorities accuse of maintaining contacts with the Islamist Hezbollah organization, has been ordered to leave Germany. If he doesn’t do so on his own accord, he will face deportation.
On Thursday afternoon, the city’s deputy mayor, Katharina Fegebank of the Green Party, also expressed her opposition to the center. "As I see it, the IZH’s participation in the city’s contracts with the Islamic religious communities is no longer imaginable," she told DER SPIEGEL. "The IZH is the antithesis of our free and democratic basic order. In Iran, you can see every day what the mullahs’ regime stands for: repression and disregard for human rights."
Hamburg Mayor Peter Tschentscher of the center-left Social Democrats has been more reserved in his public statements, but he has said that he does believe that representatives of the IZH "in the past have repeatedly and blatantly violated the spirit of the state treaties with the Islamic associations" in the city-state. "I expect Schura to take this into account, as it has announced, when deciding whether the IZH can remain part of its association."
Fegebank views the calls to close the IZH as "an understandable reaction." The authorities in Hamburg, she continues, are keeping a very close eye on the IZH and have been informing the public transparently for years about the organization’s anti-democratic, misogynist and anti-Israeli sentiments. "The deputy head’s expulsion demonstrates once again how consistently Hamburg takes action against enemies of the constitution," she adds, although she also notes: "I don’t think an association ban is going to be easy to do because of the high legal hurdles. In our constitutional state, a ban is preceded by, among other things, intensive investigative work."