In Germany, suspicion follows growing Muslim population - Kansas City, USA
- In Germany, suspicion follows growing Muslim
BY TOM HUNDLEY
BERLIN - (KRT) - In the converted loft that serves as
his studio, architect Mehmet Bayram unrolls the
blueprints that give form to the new demographic
reality of the German capital.
Bayram has no less than eight new mosque projects on
his drawing board.
"It's better to call them cultural centers since only
about 25 percent of the floor space is for the
mosque," he tells a visitor.
Whatever one chooses to call them, they are
brick-and-mortar markers of a changing urban
landscape. Germany's 3 million Muslims - second only
to France among West European nations - are making
their presence felt in ways that not all Germans find
The past decade has witnessed a surge in the number of
mosques across Germany and other European countries.
Germany has about 2,400 mosques, but more
significantly, Germany's mosques have been emerging
from nondescript storefronts and inconspicuous
basements into more visible and recognizable quarters.
Last year the number of mosques readily identifiable
as such by domes and crescent-topped minarets nearly
doubled from 77 to 141, according to the German
Central Islam Archive, a research group. Most of the
mosques serve Germany's large Turkish population.
"I personally feel it is important that mosques get
out of the backyards and into the open," said Gunter
Piening, who heads the Berlin city office that deals
with integration and migration issues.
"If a group builds a mosque, it shows a will for
integration. When people build their house of God, it
means they feel at home," he said.
But other public officials and many ordinary Germans
worry that the elaborate new mosques will turn Muslim
communities inward and give encouragement to
fundamentalists and radicals.
"The mainstream opinion in this country is still
influenced by Sept. 11," said Stefanie Vogelsang,
deputy mayor of the Berlin borough of Neukoelln.
She was referring to the fact that Mohamed Atta and
the al-Qaida cell that carried out the Sept. 11 terror
attacks hatched their plans in a Hamburg mosque.
Those anxieties were heightened in the wake of the
Madrid train bombings last month. German media
recently reported that an apparent al-Qaida cell
operating out of a small Neukoelln mosque was planning
an attack a year ago with a bomb nearly identical in
design to the ones used in Madrid. Police foiled the
plot and arrested the ringleader, a Tunisian national.
Also, Spanish police last month arrested a Moroccan
resident of Darmstadt, Germany, as a suspect in the
Neukoelln, one of Berlin's most ethnically diverse
districts, has a Muslim population of 75,000. In some
of its neighborhoods, according to Vogelsang, the
number of foreigners enrolled in schools has risen to
98 percent, even though many of the "foreigners" have
Vogelsang said she had observed a dramatic increase in
the number of women wearing headscarves over the past
three or four years and said she feared that mosques
were creating a kind of parallel society outside the
"I support the idea of bringing the mosques out of the
backyard, but these people have to respect that
Germany's roots are Christian," she said.
"Everybody in Germany has the right to pursue
happiness in his own way. You can have sex with whom
you want and practice religion as you like," she said.
"But the goal of these Islamic fundamentalists is to
use the legal ways of our democratic country to
actually do away with liberalism and democracy."
Three of the new mosques that Bayram has designed are
planned for Neukoelln, but Vogelsang, who oversees
building projects in the borough, says she will block
construction until she receives more information on
who is funding the projects.
Piening, the immigration official, agreed that the
source of funding was a legitimate concern.
"It's not easy to define who is behind each individual
project. This is where transparency is required. It
has to be similar to the Catholic Church or Protestant
Church," he said.
But he also worried that there was a "xenophobic
aspect" to some of the objections concerning the new
"It has become clear that some people do not want
visible Islam to be integrated into the architecture
of the city ... (and) the effect of this is that the
Muslim community will draw back into itself and not
integrate," he said.
One of the most impressive new mosques in Berlin is
found in a parklike area of Neukoelln adjacent to an
old Turkish cemetery. With its distinctive dome and
towering minarets, it is a replica of the 18th century
Ottoman mosques found throughout Turkey.
Tarkan Akarsu, an engineer who donated his services to
the nearly finished project, said the construction was
paid for entirely by the Turkish community of Germany.
Akarsu is an immigrant from Turkey who came to Berlin
13 years ago.
Bayram, the architect, was not involved in this
project, and his praise is only polite.
"It's very nice, a unique thing for Berlin. People
don't have to travel to Istanbul anymore to see
Ottoman architecture. They can see it here in Berlin,"
Bayram's designs attempt to integrate with the
existing urban landscape.
"The idea is that these buildings are not just for
religious purposes but for social and cultural
purposes also. I see them as a bridge between two
cultures," he said.
Bayram, 41, who immigrated to Germany from Turkey when
he was 10, said that moving mosques out of the shadows
would foster a sense of self-confidence and belonging
among Berlin's 220,000 Muslims.
"Their identification won't be with their (previous)
nationality; it will be a healthy, self-confident
identification with Islam," he said.
"My theory is that every immigrant, sooner or later,
gets into this conflict of two cultures. If he knows
where he comes from, knows his identity, then I think
it is much easier to present himself in the host
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