Staying in Dialogue
A large tent laid out with rugs, a white nylon tarpaulin draped behind the lectern, behind that a buffet set out on folding tables and paper tablecloths – a makeshift arrangement for the approximately 200 guests invited to the groundbreaking ceremony for the Hazrat Fatima Mosque in Frankfurt's Hausen district.
The mosque's congregation of more than 1,000 members wanted to escape the dreariness of their courtyard mosque and move into an impressive new building, thereby fulfilling a long-time dream.
Battling with good arguments
The Hazrat Fatima Mosque Association, a union of Shiite Muslims of Turkish and Pakistani descent, spent many years fighting for the construction of a mosque. In the process they constantly strove to enter into dialogue with their opponents, many of whom were also invited to the groundbreaking ceremony.
"We want to feel that we have finally arrived in Germany and to have this confirmed in architecture," said Ünal Kaymakçı, lawyer and Secretary General of the Hazrat Fatima Mosque.
What matters for him in constructing the mosque is sending a signal of peaceful co-existence. This is why it was important to compromise with the critics of the construction project. For instance, the height of the minarets was set at 16 metres so they would not tower over the spire of the Russian Orthodox church across the street. The association also agreed to refrain from issuing the call to prayer.
Fear of being overrun by foreigners
It is an Islamic tradition to recite a prayer from the Koran before breaking the ground at a construction site – alien to the ears of German citizens attending the ceremony; and for some of them the Imam's recitation may have evoked diffuse fears.
But such fears are unfounded, as the mosque's congregation has sought out dialogue from the beginning and was able to convince many sceptics.
"We must take these fears seriously", emphasised Frankfurt's Integration Commissioner Nargess Eskandari-Grünberg. "We must meet sceptics with respect and seek dialogue with them. Tolerance grows through familiarity with the other's religion and culture as well as through encounters."
Eskandari-Grünberg says that dialogue should be continued even after the construction of the mosque.
United against right-wing populists
"A friend in need is a friend indeed" is also a Turkish saying. And Ünal Kaymakçı talked of such a "friend" when he called Roman Catholic dean Raban Tilmann to the lectern at the groundbreaking ceremony.
Emotionally and proudly, Kaymakçı recounted how Tilmann and other Frankfurt citizens came forward to defend the congregation by organising a counter-demonstration to the right-wing populist rally against the construction of the mosque.
Tilmann relied on more rational than symbolic words to explain his commitment: "As a Catholic dean I observe the decree of the Second Vatican Council that calls on us to have respect for Muslims – and to end old hostilities and start building the future together."
A new home for the Shiite community
The imposing mosque with its commercial and cultural centre is scheduled to be completed by mid-2011. Kaymakçı gave an estimate of 3 million euros for construction costs. The mosque association has collected around 300,000 euros in donations. The remainder will be financed with a bank loan.
Appearing together with representatives from churches and other religious communities at the groundbreaking ceremony were a good number of prominent local and state politicians.
Hessian Justice and Integration Minister Jörg-Uwe Hahn welcomed guests with his opening remarks: "He who builds a house intends to stay. You are sending a clear signal that the City of Frankfurt has become your home."
© Deutsche Welle 2009