Mosques in Germany: Statistics hard to come by

In a country that diligently makes note of its statistics, it may seem rather puzzling that no one knows the exact number of mosques in Germany. Differing laws and a lack of top-down organizing are largely to blame.

Exactly how many mosque buildings, and how many mosque associations, are there in Germany? No one in the country knows for sure.

Ever since the opening of a Turkish state-financed mosque in Cologne, Islamic houses of prayer have been a frequent topic of discussion in Germany. In a country and city with a large Turkish minority, many people see the public presence of these buildings in Cologne as a display of power by the Turkish state.

There are only estimates of how many mosques, houses of worship, and mosque associations there are in Germany. This has, according to Islam scholar Michael Blume, a simple, legal reason behind it. "According to the German constitution, there is no registration requirement for religious associations," he said. "That means: As long as a religious community or religious association isn't a public body, it isn't registered."

Mosques, just like temples

That's also why, according to Blume, no one knows exactly how many Buddhist temples there are in Germany. Mosques in Germany register according to laws governing the formation of associations. And it's up to them whether they are affiliated with a larger umbrella association of mosques or are completely independent.

Read more: Open Day at the mosque: 'Everyone must contribute'

On the other hand are the mainstream churches. They are listed in the Federal Statistical Office's comprehensive "Yearbook," as are Jewish communities. Churches and Jewish congregations in Germany have agreements with the state governed by constitutional laws on church-state relations. By contrast, the statistical yearbook lacks categories such as "Islam," "Mosque" or "Muslims."

At the Ibn Rushd Goethe mosque in Berlin, men and women worship together

2,500, 2,600, 2,700

Some figures on mosques in the country do exist. The Central Council of Muslims in Germany announced in early October that there are roughly 2,500 mosques. Many of them are tucked away from the street in courtyards, around 900 would be recognizable as mosques to passersby. The lack of exact figures is explained in part by the fact that Islam is much less hierarchically organized than other monotheistic religions. A few friends can simply set up a prayer room together — or, as in Berlin, a feminist lawyer can set up her own "liberal mosque."

Up until May of this year, researchers at Germany's Parliament, the Bundestag, had been investigating the "financing of mosques and 'mosque associations,'" and had similar issues ascertaining concrete numbers.

Read more: Germany tolerant of LGBT neighbors, but not Muslim ones

"Estimates suggest that between 2,600 and 2,700 Muslim places of worship, of various arrangements, exist," Blume said. However, he cautioned, few would be perceived as "mosques in the traditional sense." Only the new, larger and more public buildings are adorned in "neo-Ottoman to a post-modern glass and concrete architecture," Blume explained. The vast majority of the community buildings, sometimes referred to as "courtyard mosques," are located in courtyards, industrial districts and converted factory buildings.

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According to the Bundestag researchers, Germany is home to "at least 2,350 to 2,750 mosque congregations or associations," serving between 4.4 and 4.7 million "Muslims of different faiths, denominations, ethnic groups and political views." Only a minority — between 15 and 30 percent — of Muslims belong to a congregation or association.

"We do not even know exactly how many Muslims there are, because it is not recorded," said Blume, who published the book Islam in Crisis in 2017. "We know roughly the number of people of Muslim background who come from Muslim-majority countries, but a portion of that figure — a growing portion of it — say: 'Me, I am not religious at all, I have nothing at all to do with religion.' There are others who say: 'Yes, I am Muslim, but I don't belong to a congregation or association.' And only a very small portion of them join religious associations, which then found mosques."

From the outside, many mosques in Germany do not necessarily appear to be houses of worship

International connections

Many new publicly visible mosques in Germany tend to be financed from abroad, be it from Turkey — the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, or DITIB, claims to represent more than 960 formally independent associations — or from Saudi Arabia.

Read more: What you need to know about DITIB mosque association

"The big problem of Islamic congregations is that they do not have enough money," said Blume. "Because very few Muslims see themselves as members of mosque congregations."

It might be possible to raise enough donations to fund the construction of a small mosque, he explained, but it is less clear how one should find money to pay the imams and the youth ministry. "And that's why the Turkish state is so strong," within Germany's Muslim community, said Blume, because it pays the imams.

The German Islam Conference is due to meet this autumn, for the first time since the 2017 national elections. An agreement on better statistical data could well be a topic of conversation.

Cologne's central mosque: A troubled symbol of unity

Inspired by a flower bud

The building was designed with glass walls and a staircase accessible from the street, symbolizing openness to people of all religions. It features two 55-meter (60-yard) minarets and a dome of glass and concrete which appears to open like a flower bud.

Cologne's central mosque: A troubled symbol of unity

Ehrenfeld's mix of cultures

The mosque is located in Cologne's Ehrenfeld district, a formerly a working-class quarter. Ehrenfeld suffered a rise in unemployment and poverty when factories closed in the 1970s. Some time later, however, low rent prices lured in artists, galleries and theaters, ultimately gentrifying the area. Today, 35 percent of locals there have an immigrant background.

Cologne's central mosque: A troubled symbol of unity

Impressive plans

The construction was funded by hundreds of Muslim associations, but also bank loans and donations from the Turkish government's religious affairs authority in Germany, DITIB. Cologne city council approved the plans in 2008, despite Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, the conservative Christian Democrats, voting against it.

Cologne's central mosque: A troubled symbol of unity

Architect drops out after row with Turkish association

Architect Paul Böhm, who specializes in building churches, won the contract in 2005. He saw the building as an act of integration. He later fell out with the new leadership of DITIB and stopped working on the project in 2011.

Cologne's central mosque: A troubled symbol of unity

Doors opened in 2017

The mosque first opened for prayer during Ramadan in 2017, but was only officially opened by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his visit to Germany in September 2018.

Cologne's central mosque: A troubled symbol of unity

Room for 1,200 worshippers

Inside the mosque, there's a prayer area which takes up both the ground and the upper floor, with the two sections connected by a well in the center of the building's glass front. The compound houses an Islamic library. There are also shops and sports facilities intended to foster interactions among people of different faiths.

Cologne's central mosque: A troubled symbol of unity

New skyline

Some residents were shocked by the sheer size of the construction when the plans were first presented, especially the height of the minarets, and feared a change in the skyline of their "Christian city." Then-Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the archbishop of Cologne, admitted to having "an uneasy feeling" about the project.

Cologne's central mosque: A troubled symbol of unity

Right-wing protesters oppose the mosque

Right-wing politicians picked up on the sentiment and launched a heated debate about the integration of Muslims in Germany. Author Ralph Giordano said the mosque would be "an expression of the creeping Islamization" in the country.

Cologne's central mosque: A troubled symbol of unity

Imams or spies?

In 2017, German authorities launched an investigation into the activities of DITIB imams, who are schooled in Turkey and paid by the Turkish state, as well as other people working in the Cologne complex. Mosque employees were suspected of spying against Turks living in Germany on behalf of the Turkish goverment.

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