"Criticism Is Allowed, But Not Hate Speech"
It is seen as the 'miracle of Duisburg': after a construction period of over three and a half years, Duisburg-Marxloh now houses one of Germany's largest mosques, without any neighbourhood protests. Ever since it was officially opened by the Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia, Jürgen Rüttgers, the Merkez Mosque in post-Ottoman style has stood as a symbol of the successful cooperation between a Moslem congregation and German neighbours. The mosque of the Turkish Ditib has a large dome and a 34-meter-high minaret; the congregation chose to forgo the call of the muezzin.
As a rule an understanding between the mosque association and the neighbours is not achieved as smoothly as in Duisburg, where the congregation allayed all the neighbours' concerns from the very start by prioritizing transparency and open communication.
At this time Germany houses around 160 mosques, with an additional 180 mosque projects in construction or in planning. In Cologne, Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin these plans have led to major conflicts with neighbours, and, in Cologne, to the anti-Islamic initiative 'ProKöln'.
Making the debate more objective
Given the many mosques in planning, further conflicts can be expected. This only increases the importance of all efforts to defuse the anticipated conflicts in advance. Now the Catholic bishops have shown what the churches can contribute. They have published guidelines on 'Mosque Building in Germany' as a contribution toward 'making the debate more objective', as stated in the publication from September 25. It is aimed primarily at municipalities and church congregations.
'The background is the often-heated debate on the construction of representative mosques in a number of German cities,' explained Robert Zollitsch, the chair of the German Bishops' Conference. 'However, in the affected neighbourhoods large mosques can markedly alter the urban landscape, and some of the long-time residents may fear that their familiar home is being called into question,' Zollitsch went on to say.
The bishops cite the document on religious freedom from the 2nd Vatican Council, 'Dignitatis Humanae', which justifies religious freedom on theological grounds. Then they declare: 'Unquestionably this view of religious freedom entails Muslims' right to build appropriate mosques.' And this right must 'not be tied to whether Christians in Islamic countries also enjoy individual and corporate religious freedom.'
Nonetheless the Muslims living in Germany are often expected to commit themselves to achieving comprehensive religious freedom in Islamic countries as well. 'Precisely because we Christians reject and condemn the restrictions on religious freedom in Muslim countries, we commit ourselves not only to the rights of the Christians there, but also to the rights of the Muslims in our midst.'
Controversies are legitimate and necessary
Of course it is a problem, when, for instance, Christians in Turkey have difficulties obtaining permission to build a church, says Jesuit Christian Troll from the college in St. Georgen, one of the most prominent experts on Christian-Islamic dialogue. 'But it would not be Catholic to allow the construction of mosques in Germany on the condition that the construction of churches be permitted in all Islamic countries.'
The guidelines go on to state that the controversies regarding the planned construction of mosques are legitimate and necessary in a society based on democracy and religious pluralism. However, the German bishops call for resolving the resulting conflicts jointly and peacefully, without overstepping the boundaries of respectful coexistence. 'There are also more than a few people who, in the context of growing fears about Islamic-motivated violence, take nearly every mosque construction project as an opportunity to criticize Islam,' the guidelines point out, 'and sometimes for hate speech against Muslims'.
'Spirit of flourishing coexistence'
Of course, they emphasize, all mosques must conform to relevant construction planning laws and construction regulations. In terms of city planning, the mosque ought to 'fit in with the existing surroundings and not compromise the building structures that have developed.' The bishops appeal to mosque associations and Muslim associations to report openly on 'the financing of their plan, on their support organization and accountabilities.' Transparency, they insist, is the key to disarming mistrust and reservations.
The bishops make no concrete statements on the height of minarets, but they emphasize that religious buildings must not be misused to 'express claims to power, rivalry or aggressive antagonism.' In addition, the public should be involved in the planning from the very beginning in order to combat fears.
Bishop Zollitsch summarized the guidelines as follows: 'Criticism is allowed, but not hate speech. Even amidst controversies, the spirit of flourishing coexistence must prevail.' With their guidelines the bishops reject all the self-appointed saviours of the Christian West who politically instrumentalize people's fears at Islam's growing presence.
© Qantara.de 2008
Translated from the German by Isabel Cole