With a mission to spread a liberal form of Islam, a mosque where men and women pray side by side, has opened its doors in Berlin, complete with female imams. (AFP Reported)
The Arabic phrase “Allahu Akbar” (‘God is great’) resonated through the crowded Ibn Rushd Goethe Mosque on Friday, as Malaysian-American Ani Zonneveld, one of the world’s few female imams, launched the call to prayer.
Then one of the founders of the new place of worship, lawyer and women’s rights activist Seyran Ates, opened the event with words of welcome before Christian and Jewish guests and a large media contingent.
“We want to send a signal against terror and the misuse of our religion,” said Turkish-born Ates, 54, dressed in a long white robe. “We want to practise our religion together.”
Ates — no stranger to breaking taboos, having called for a “sexual revolution” in the Muslim world – vowed she would not allow ultra-conservatives “to rob me of my right to be Muslim”.
Kneeling on green carpets, the faithful – men and women, side by side – bowed to Makkah for the traditional prayer as the imam spoke in German.
Some of the women wore veils or head coverings, others did not.
“I couldn’t be more euphoric, it’s a dream come true,” Ates, the 54-year-old daughter of Turkish guest workers in Germany, told The Associated Press this week with a smile.
The seven founding members said they want to open their prayer hall to all groups, including gays and lesbians.
“This project was long overdue,” Ates said. “There’s so much Islamist terror and so much evilness happening in the name of my religion … it’s important that we, the modern and liberal Muslims, also show our faces in public.”
The mosque is named Ibn-Rushd-Goethe-Mosque, combining the names of medieval Andalusian philosopher Ibn Rushd and German writer Johann Wolfgang Goethe. It is located on a busy shopping street in the immigrant neighborhood of Moabit, which is dotted with Indian and Vietnamese restaurants and Middle Eastern cafes.
Visitors looking for a minaret or trying to follow the call of the muezzin will search in vain. For now, the mosque occupies a big room on the third floor of an old red brick Lutheran church.
“To get started, we’ve rented this room for one year,” Ates said.
“This mosque allows Muslims to define themselves in a new way,” said co-founder and German Islam scholar Abdel-Hakim Ourghi.
He added that “we will try to depoliticise Islam”, as the religion was being torn by rival political movements. “Because religion is a private matter.”
Police stood guard outside the entrance of the building. The founders said they had not received any threats or insults, but that they fully expected not everyone would be happy.
Germany, with some four million Muslims, has been the target of jihadist attacks, the deadliest last December when a truck tore through a Berlin Christmas market crowd killing 12 people.
The arrival of more than one million refugees, most from mainly Muslim countries, since 2015 has worsened the fears of some Germans.
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Ates — who has campaigned against forced marriages, domestic violence and so-called “honour killings” among Muslim migrants – said the project was eight years in the making.
“Many left along the way,” she said. “They told us it was dangerous, that they were afraid.”
Elham Manea, a Swiss political scientist of Yemeni background, said the time had come for change, with other so-called liberal mosques having also opened in the United States, Britain and Switzerland.
The Berlin mosque, financed by private donations, is located in the Berlin district of Moabit, which has a large immigrant population.
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Turks, Kurds and Arabs alike have donated money, businesspeople have called to offer help with creating signage and advertisements and several Middle Eastern restaurants were delivering free food for the iftar, the breaking of the Ramadan fast on Friday night, she said.
“I will start studying Islamic theology and Arabic in Berlin this fall,” she said. “I want to become an imam myself.”
Turkey says liberal German mosque ‘incompatible’ with Islam
Turkey’s religious affairs agency has expressed distaste over a new mosque in Berlin where men and women mingle freely, saying it was incompatible with the principles of Islam.
Diyanet, which oversees religious activity in Turkey, said that such ideas were in line with projects led by the group of Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey blames for the July 15 failed coup.
Berlin’de gerçekleştirilen girişimin FETÖ ve benzeri menhus yapıların öncülüğünde yürütülen bir din mühendisliği projesi olduğu açıktır. pic.twitter.com/lM0WwdQYTQ
— Diyanet (@diyanetbasin) June 20, 2017
It said that the mosque “neglects” the basic principles of Islam and was “incompatible with the worship, knowledge and methodology” accumulated since the faith was founded by the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) 14 centuries ago.
“It is clear that this has been a project carried out for many years by FETO and other ill-gotten structures for the engineering of religion,” it added.
“We are convinced that all fellow believers will keep their distance from such provocations and show wisdom in the face of this,” Diyanet said in the statement published late Tuesday.
Turkey says that the failed coup was carried out by the Fethullah Terror Group (FETO) led by the US-based Gulen. Gulen denies leading any terror organisation and rejects having any hand in the coup bid.
Diyanet has influence over Muslim worship among the Turkish diaspora through the Ditib organisation controlled by Ankara that manages some 900 mosques or religious communities in Germany. Diyanet sends clerics to work in its mosques.