Germany is famous for its accuracy and order. Everything possible is documented and analyzed. But nobody knows exactly how many mosques there are in Germany – the estimates range from 2350 to 2750. In 2019, these mosques were visited by 24 percent of the 5.5 million Muslims living in Germany at least once a week, as a Study by the German Islam Conference figured out.
On the Day of the Open Mosque, which has been held annually on October 3 since 1997, around 1,000 mosques across Germany open their doors to bring Muslim and non-Muslim people together. The motto this year is “Scarce resources – great responsibility”. The “impact of the climate crisis can be observed here and in many parts of the world, as was the case recently with the devastating flood disaster in Pakistan,” says Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD).
We used the Open Mosque Day as an opportunity to compile six facts about mosques in Germany:
1. Jihadists were trained in the first German mosque
The Wünsdorf Mosque in Brandenburg was built in 1915 at the request of the Mufti of Istanbul and is considered the oldest Islamic building in Germany, and even in all of Central Europe. The mosque was at the center of a POW camp for Muslims, the so-called “Crescent Camp”. Not only was prayer peacefully practiced here, but the Empire also used the mosque to incite Muslim prisoners against their colonial powers: France and England. The German Empire called it a “revolutionary strategy”. Here jihadists were sworn in and finally sent to the “holy war”.
Prison camp for Muslim soldiers in Wünsdorf-Zossen with the mosque in the center (digitally colored photo)
But the Muslim prisoners were also misused for research purposes: voice recordings and anthropological measurements were carried out with and on them. These later flowed into the so-called “race research” of the National Socialists. With the construction of a mosque in Berlin-Wilmersdorf in 1928, the Wünsdorf Mosque lost its importance and was demolished again in 1930 – not even 15 years after its inauguration.
2. Germany’s oldest mosque resembles the Taj Mahal
The said mosque in Berlin-Wilmersdorf is today the oldest still existing mosque in Germany and is strongly reminiscent of a world-famous monument from India: the Taj Mahal. Two more than 30 meters high minarets frame the building. It was designed by the German architect Karl August Herrmann for the Islamic community of the Ahmadiyya-Lahore from today’s Pakistan, whose members came to Germany in 1920. Together with German Muslims, they founded the German-Muslim Society. The mosque in Berlin-Wilmersdorf became the center of Muslim life.
3. Women also preach in a Berlin mosque
In 2017, a very special Muslim place of prayer was built in the German capital: in the Ibn Rushd Goethe Mosque, all genders pray together, women are allowed to preach and queer people are not excluded. “The Ibn Rushd Goethe Mosque represents a progressive, contemporary Islam that is compatible with democracy and human rights. We live an Islam in which women and men have equal rights and are of equal value,” says the website. All denominations of Islam are also very welcome: “Sunnis, Shiites, Sufis and Alevis feel they belong to our community.”
The initiator and co-founder of the mosque, the lawyer, author and women’s rights activist Seyran Ateş, pays a high price for this: she receives death threats and is under police protection around the clock.
4. Mosque associations are under criticism
In Germany, mosque associations operate the mosques. Probably the best-known and largest Islamic association in Germany in terms of the number of mosque communities is the “Turkish-Islamic Union of the Institute for Religion”, or DITIB for short. The association has been criticized because it reports to the Turkish religious authority Diyanet, the state bureau for religious affairs. Their imams are mostly trained in Turkey, paid by the Turkish state and preach in German mosques for a few years. Critics have been warning for years that the Turkish state is influencing believers. The fact that the Turkish President has many supporters in Germany was shown most recently in the Turkish presidential elections in 2018, but also during his visits to Germany, where he was always warmly welcomed by his supporters and enthusiastically cheered.
5. Mosques in Germany are mostly invisible
While Christian sacred buildings characterize the cityscape in Germany and the vast majority of villages were built around a church, mosques are hardly noticeable. Most mosques are hardly recognizable as such from the outside. Often just a sign indicates that there is a mosque behind an inconspicuous house entrance in a residential area or outside the city center in an industrial area. The not exactly appreciative but apt term “backyard mosque” describes such a building.
An exception is the DITIB central mosque in Cologne, which was designed by the German star architect Paul Böhm and opened in summer 2017. The modern and imposing Islamic sacred building, primarily made of glass and exposed concrete, is flanked by two 55-meter-high curved minarets, which rise significantly above the surrounding houses. It was originally intended to be the largest mosque in Germany, but the design was changed after criticism of the building plans. Today it offers space for 1,200 believers – just as many as the Ditib Mosque in Duisburg’s Marxloh district.
6. Mosques generally do without the muezzin call
In Islamic countries, a muezzin traditionally calls for Friday prayers from the minaret. Although this is generally permitted in Germany, it is only rarely practiced. It’s also difficult because most mosques don’t even have a minaret. Added to this is the lack of social acceptance. Opponents of the muezzin call consider it a noise nuisance and criticize the religious belief that is being expressed. Unlike church bells, the call has a theological meaning and is therefore not comparable to the ringing of bells. In fact, the call of the muezzin can only be heard regularly from around 30 mosques in Germany.