Muezzin calls and bell-ringing during the corona crisis: signs of Muslim-Christian solidarity in Germany

01.05.2020

"Allahu Akbar" - God is greatest - is the opening phrase of the Islamic call to prayer. Since the closure of churches and mosques due to the corona pandemic, it has been heard in many places throughout Germany. The Duisburg Central Mosque of the Turkish-Islamic Union (Ditib) was probably the first in Germany to allow the call to prayer be heard in March.

Encouraged by neighbouring churches, it can now be heard every day at 7 pm together with the ringing of the bells as a sign of solidarity, says Hulya Ceylan, chairwoman of the Ditib regional association in North Rhine-Westphalia. Hannover, Dortmund and Wuppertal with 18 mosque associations alone, Munich and numerous other places have followed Duisburg's lead. Some have allowed the muezzin call especially for the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

Cities and communities handle the requests for the Islamic call to prayer differently: Cologne grants the call to prayer to the Ditib Central Mosque and other mosques. Bremerhaven and the Hessian town of Haiger, for example, do not. A Facebook debate between the local CDU and the Foreigners' Advisory Council took place there.

The city of Mannheim also rejected the request of Islamic communities for a call to prayer from the minaret of the Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque. The Lord Mayor Peter Kurz (SPD) explained that a public discussion on the call to prayer was needed first.

The Protestant pastor Ilka Sobottke, chairwoman of the Christian-Islamic Society Mannheim e.V. and spokeswoman of the "Wort zum Sonntag", sees this differently: "There is no legal basis for us not hearing this call long ago." Muslims have the same right to sound this call as Christians have the right to ring the bells.

Legally speaking, a muezzin call by loudspeaker is allowed in principle. However, one must weigh different basic rights and interests in each individual case, explains Mathias Rohe, a law professor from Erlangen. In each individual case, fundamental rights such as freedom of opinion, freedom of religion and also negative religious freedom - i.e. the right not to be confronted with religion - must be weighed against each other, says the expert in Islamic law.

When the muezzins call the faithful to prayer, they quote, among other things, the Islamic creed, in which it says: "I testify that there is no deity except Allah and Muhammad is his messenger." It is therefore also a question of whether the non-Muslim majority society in a pluralistic society can be expected to "endure" such an expression of faith or not.

In Germany the call to prayer is usually conducted at room volume inside the mosque. After a successful lawsuit in 1985, the Fatih mosque in Duren, North Rhine-Westphalia, became the first in Germany where a muezzin could call for prayer three times a day via loudspeaker. In the meantime, the loudspeaker-amplified call to prayer has been introduced in at least 30 mosques nationwide.

Muslims emphasise that the call to prayer is intended to demonstrate solidarity in these challenging times. But not everyone seems to understand that the call to prayer combined with the joint ringing of bells is often supposed to be a Christian-Muslim action of solidarity - for some Muslims the loud call seems to be rather a triumph for their religion.

For example, a YouTube video, with more than 276,000 views, which recorded the first call to prayer from the minaret of the Central Mosque in Duisburg-Marxloh, received more than 1,500 comments - including numerous voices praising God for the call to prayer. One user under the pseudonym "Great Expectations" writes in Turkish that he hopes that Germany will convert to Islam. In return he receives more than 150 Likes.

Friedemann Eißler of the Protestant Central Office for Worldview Issues (Berlin) also hopes for a broad social debate. Such decisions should perhaps not be made in the slipstream of the crisis, he thinks.    (epd)

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