German mosques should forgo foreign funding, says German interior minister


German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has demanded that the country's mosques be more independent of foreign donors.

Mosque communities should "largely" organise and finance themselves and the training of preachers, Seehofer said at the start of the fourth German Islam Conference in Berlin on Wednesday.

"Of course, Muslims have the same rights and the same responsibilities as everyone here in Germany," Seehofer said. As to how the financing should specifically be assured, Seehofer did not say. Existing support programmes for integration projects within mosque communities would be expanded, he said.

Seehofer, a hardline conservative and acrimonious ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, was criticised in March for rejecting Islam's role in Germany.

"Islam does not belong to Germany," he told the popular tabloid Bild at the time. "Germany has been forged by Christianity."

"The Muslims who live here are naturally part of Germany," he told the paper. "That does not of course mean that we therefore give up our country-specific traditions and customs out of false consideration."

Seehofer had made changes to this year's German Islam Conference, inviting liberal theologians, activists and scientists in addition to Islamic associations in Germany. Some of Seehofer's new invitees have harshly criticised the other associations in the past for their conservative understanding of Islam.

"The participation is more colourful this time. I think that's good," said Seyran Ates, the founder of the liberal Berlin Ibn Rushd Goethe Mosque.

The conference brings together German Muslims and representatives of federal, state and local governments. In recent years it has discussed issues such as religious education and Islamic pastoral care.

Seehofer and other politicians have criticised foreign influence in Germany's mosques and Islamic communities, mostly from Turkey.

The Turkish-Islamic Union for the Institution of Religion (DITIB), Germany's largest Islamic organisation, is under the control of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) in Ankara, which provides and pays for the imams at some 900 mosques in Germany. DITIB has shifted from being a useful point of contact for German politicians to being the object of harsh criticism for its closeness to autocratic Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Central Council of Muslims in Germany called for more trust in mosque congregations ahead of the conference.

"I can only warn against considering the mosque community as a problem; On the contrary, it is part of the solution," central council Chairman Aiman Mazyek told Germany's Redaktionsnetzwerk group of publications on Wednesday.

At the same time, Mazyek acknowledged "considerable deficits" and errors in Muslim religious communities.

Health Minister Jens Spahn, who is campaigning to replace Merkel as leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has demanded binding rules for Muslims to integrate in German society.

"We have religious freedom and there should also be mosques in Germany," Spahn told Wednesday's Rheinische Post newspaper. "But integration only succeeds if these mosque communities see themselves as German mosque communities and not, for example, as Turkish."

Mosques should not be financed from abroad, he said. The imams have to be trained in Germany and also speak German.

The federal integration commissioner, Annette Widmann-Mauz, also demanded "emancipation" from foreign influences for German mosques.

"Anyone who wants to be part of Germany as a mosque association can not remain part of Riyadh or Ankara," she told the Bild newspaper.    (dpa)

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