German Muslims call for solidarity over mosque attacks

Three major German Muslim associations have demanded that politicians and media pay more attention to violence against mosques. They said the recent spate of arson attacks were an attack on society at large.

Representatives of Germany's three biggest Muslim organizations joined forces on Thursday to call for more solidarity from German politicians, media, and society at large in the face of a recent spate of attacks on mosques in the country.

The leaders of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), the Turkish Muslim organization DITIB, and the Islamic Council also condemned attempts in the media to depict threats from foreign terror groups as an imported foreign conflict irrelevant to German society.

"Muslims have already been under constant threat by far-right extremists for decades anyway," a joint statement from the organizations read. "This dangerous situation has been further heightened by foreign terrorist groups."

Read also: Mistrust, Islamophobia rise dramatically in Germany's melting pot

Open house at Germany's mosques

German mosques - German unity

The "Day of Open Mosques" has taken place since 1997 on the Day of German Unity – Germany's national holiday. The date was deliberately chosen to express Muslims' connection to the German people and how they consider themselves part of German Unity, the Central Council of Muslims explains. About 100,000 visitors are expected – here, some are seen standing in front of Berlin's Sehitlik Mosque.

Open house at Germany's mosques

Mosques for all

On this day, Muslim communities want to give visitors an understanding of Islam, so where better than an actual mosque? Far more than just places for prayer, mosques also serve as gathering points for creating community and social interaction. The word "mosque" derives from the Arabic word "majid," which means "place for prostration in prayer."

Open house at Germany's mosques

Rituals and rules

Part of getting to know Islam is becoming familiar with its rituals and rules. One initial ritual before entering the mosque involves removing one's shoes before entering the prayer room. There is a focus on cleanliness and purification: before each prayer, Muslims carry out a ritual ablution. Because worshipers touch the prayer rug with their foreheads, the carpets must always be clean too.

Open house at Germany's mosques

Architecture and history

Most mosques offer guided tours, as seen above with this mosque in Hürth near Cologne. Here, visitors can get a picture of Islamic architecture, history and day-to-day life in a mosque, and hence understand more about how Islamic communities in Germany gather and build community.

Open house at Germany's mosques

Sharing spirit

The Merkez mosque in Duisburg, opened in 2008, is the largest mosque in Germany. Integration work is one of the focal points for Duisburg's Muslim community. Besides guided tours through the mosque, visitors get the chance to attend noon and afternoon prayers. Afterwards, visitors are invited for a cup of tea.

Open house at Germany's mosques

Sharing salah

Experiencing an Islamic prayer is one point of the agenda for the October 3 event. But the actual area for prayers is off-limits for visitors. As can be seen in the Sehitlik mosque here, visitors listen to prayers from a grandstand. The word for prayer in Arabic is "salah" or "salat," which literally means "connection to God."

Open house at Germany's mosques

Misbaha and rosary

This boy was given a chain with prayer beads during the Day of Open Mosques at the Frankfurt. The faithful move the beads through their fingers to repeat prayers and chants, just as is done in Christendom and Buddhism. This chain, consisting of at least 33 beads, is called "tasbih" or "misbaha" in Islam. The beads prove to be useful when reciting Allah's 99 names.

Open house at Germany's mosques

Intercultural dialogue

Mosques in Germany open their doors for cultural understanding on other occasions, too. For instance, during the German Catholic Convention, Catholic nuns take part in guided tours, as seen here in the Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque in Mannheim. Such occasions offer an opportunity for Catholicism and Islam to cultivate a close relationship.

Open house at Germany's mosques

Breaking down prejudices

Mosques in Dresden invite visitors to cultural exchange as well. The Al-Mostafa mosque has already published a schedule of events: there will be lectures held by the imam about Islam, the Prophet Muhammad and the Koran, as well as conversation hours to share refreshments, learn and discuss. In a city where the Islamophobic PEGIDA group made headlines, this offering is especially important.

The number of attacks on mosques and Muslims in Germany has been climbing over the past few years. Federal police statistics for "politically-motivated crimes" registered some 73 attacks on mosques in 2017 (out of a total of 950 Islamophobic crimes) but the Muslim organizations have counted 27 this year alone. By comparison, official stats counted only 23 attacks on mosques in the whole of 2010. The organizations added that the number of actual attacks was likely much higher, since many mosques only report incidents to police if they've happened repeatedly.

Three attacks on mosques were reported in Germany just last weekend. In one incident, three youths were seen throwing a Molotov cocktail through the window of a mosque in the early hours of Sunday morning in the Reinickendorf district of Berlin; an attack in Baden-Württemberg also was carried out with the explosive devices.

An attack on democracy

ZMD chairman Aiman Mazyek was particularly vociferous at Thursday's press conference in Berlin. "Any attack on a church, a synagogue, or a mosque, is an attack on our democracy, on our country," he said. "When mosques in our country burn, then our country burns. We need to stick together as a society. Mosques are on fire - we can't just go back to the everyday routine."

Mazyek said this was not a Turkish-German conflict, or a Turkish-Kurdish conflict, but an attack on German social cohesion

Mazyek also objected to the way German media, attempting to emphasize that fact that the attackers were suspected of being of Kurdish descent, described the mosques in Germany as "Turkish."

"A mosque is a German mosque, attended by people of many different ethnicities," he said. "An imam, regardless of what origin he has, is a spiritual leader here in this country. Houses of God, regardless of what kind they are, need to be protected, regardless of who the attacker is - whether it's far-right extremists, or Muslim extremists, or Turkish nationalists, or Kurdish nationalists. That's a discussion that needs to be had, but it's nothing to do with whether these mosques need to be protected."

That sentiment was echoed by Zekeriya Altug, board member at DITIB, the religious organization in Germany financed by the Turkish state. "The media awakens the impression that there's a Turkish-Kurdish conflict that is being fought out here in Germany," he said. "But in the vast majority of attacks on mosques are attacks from far-right extremists."

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But rival pro-Kurdish and pro-Turkish protesters have clashed in recent days. Violence broke out at Düsseldorf airport on Sunday over Turkey's military offensive in the Kurdish region of Afrin, Syria.

When asked why no specific German Kurdish organizations had been invited to the press conference, Altug said that his organization had many Kurdish members, and that the three groups had meant to emphasize the religious unity of all Muslims. Altug also pointed out that the leading secular German Turkish association, the TGD, was not there either.

A demonstration at Düsseldorf airport turned violent

German-Turkish conflict?

It was left to Mazyek to point out that statements from the Turkish government were not exactly making it easier to get this message across, however.

The Turkish government recently summoned the German ambassador over the attacks on mosques – rather undermining the message that Mazyek was trying to get across: "This is not a German-Turkish conflict, this is about German institutions that have to be protected by German authorities," he said. "That's our position, and that needs to be underlined in the face of Turkish policy too."

The three groups also criticized some German security forces for failing to take attacks on mosques seriously enough. Altug said that while many police forces reacted very professionally, some chapters of the DITIB reported that local police have to be reminded by their state colleagues to be aware of the threat to mosques. All three organizations also said that they had begun putting together courses to help mosques to protect themselves better.

Eight young people answer eight tough questions about Muslims in Germany

Do you feel German?

Aya (18 years old from Bielefeld) is one of the participants in the 2017 Young Islam Conference in Berlin. She says: "I feel more German than Moroccan. I grew up with German culture and have a much greater connection to it than to what you could call my other country." So what did some of her fellow participants say about other questions concerning Islam in Germany?

Eight young people answer eight tough questions about Muslims in Germany

Is Europe being Islamified?

Martin (22, Flensburg) says: "No. Europe is getting more culture. I think Europe is going through some painful learning phases at the moment - the Brexit is an example of that. But if you look at the statistics and facts, Europe is not being Islamified. That's just false. You can't support that thesis. It's nonsense."

Eight young people answer eight tough questions about Muslims in Germany

What does integration mean for you?

Volkan (24, Siegen) says: "For me it's mainly the feeling of belonging, of not being excluded. As someone from an immigrant background, you get asked a lot of questions that make you realize that you don't really belong. That really bothered me as a child. No matter where I was or what I did, I was always the outsider."

Eight young people answer eight tough questions about Muslims in Germany

What needs repairing in relations between Muslims and non-Muslims?

Hannah (Kiel, 21) says: "I think the problem in Germany is that people talk a lot about one another instead of talking to one another. We've never learned how to go up to someone and ask: 'Why are you wearing a headscarf?' If you don't take an interest in Islam, you'll never be able to answer such questions. It's so easy to approach someone with a headscarf and ask her to explain."

Eight young people answer eight tough questions about Muslims in Germany

What bothers you most about media depictions of Muslims?

Merve (19, Duisburg): "What irritates me about how Muslims are portrayed is when we're reduced to one single external attribute. For instance, I choose to wear a headscarf. But that doesn't mean I'm some poor helpless thing. And there's much more to me than that. For instance, I'm someone who's proud to be from Duisburg."

Eight young people answer eight tough questions about Muslims in Germany

What should be done about anti-Muslim hate speech and fake news?

Ahmed (25, Cologne) says: "The most important thing is always dialogue. With fake news or hate speech on social media, I'd always be ready for a discussion. Especially with Facebook, I'd have the courage to comment on things. I'm very active. I reactivated my facebook account one month ago to take part in the debate about Turkey. It's important for me to discuss things rationally."

Eight young people answer eight tough questions about Muslims in Germany

What would you say to anti-immigrant movements like Pegida or the AfD?

Aylin (19, Selent) says: "I wouldn't say anything. It would make no sense to talk to these groups. Some people are unwilling to change their minds. The AfD are very convinced of their views, and those left in Pegida must be as well. Those views are, in part, forbidden by the constitution. But I think that at the moment this is just a trend and that many people will come to their senses."

Eight young people answer eight tough questions about Muslims in Germany

Is Islam part of Germany?

Paul, (19, Kiel) says: "Definitely. Germany is a geographical area in which one society lives and acts. Every group that lives in this area is part of Germany. If I live in Germany, I'm part of Germany, and I have the right to say 'I'm German.' As far as I'm concerned people don't even have to speak the language."