Pause for Reflection

The Mosques' Day of Open Doors is meant to be a symbolic gesture of promoting cultural exchange. An actual dialogue, however, is taking longer than expected. An example from Duisburg.

For the last seven years, mosques in Germany have held an annual Open Day. After the September 11th attacks, there was a huge increase in the number of visitors. They were motivated by a desire for information and a need to orientate themselves, and they also wanted to regain a feeling of safety in their own neighbourhoods.

The organisers, in turn, wished to demonstrate their will to integrate. Yet, a year after the terrorist assault on New York, fear and mutual distrust are still present. In some parts of Duisburg, a city in the central German region of North Rhine-Westphalia, immigrants make up 30% of the population. Here, the Mosques' Open Day also gives pause for reflection on a none-too-joyous year.

Open doors in Duisburg - but interest is limited

On Open Day, only some of the 60-odd mosques in Duisburg were actually accessible to visitors, for not every mosque community has the financial means to provide hospitality to guests, as required by oriental etiquette. Moreover, not all communities can supply a member who speaks fluent German and is capable of organising guided tours. For these reasons, some mosques have joined together to pool their resources.

Lack of trust

Mohammed Saidi is a qualified medical doctor and deputy leader of the Islamic community at the Aly mosque in Duisburg-Hochfeld. As he sees it, poor participation is clearly linked to problems with integration. "Muslims are now withdrawing more, because they can see that dialogue hasn't produced the results that were hoped for. On both sides, there's currently a little less trust than there used to be."

Historical hurdles - the "call to prayer" controversy

For six years now, Saidi has played an active role in the dialogue amongst Muslims, churches, citizens and the government. In 1996-97, Duisburg hit the headlines with a fierce dispute that has since marked the city out as a poor example of integration and multicultural co-existence.

At that time, two Islamic communities applied for official permission to broadcast their mosques' call to prayer once daily via loudspeaker. This led to such vehement protests from some segments of the population - led by the outraged protestant pastor Dietrich Reuter - that the application was rejected. It was agreed to intensify work on promoting understanding between Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbours, with the prospect that the application would be reconsidered as soon as there had been a perceptible improvement in community relations.

After years of efforts at a community level and through official corridors, Mohammed Saidi has lost some of his original optimism. "In some ways, I have the feeling that Muslims in Duisburg are getting tired of pursuing dialogue." Even after a recent party to celebrate 20 years of Muslim-Christian dialogue, Saidi's conclusions are sobering. In his view, there is no basis for the claim that communications are generally good between all Muslims and all institutions in Duisburg. In fact, he says, the intercultural dialogue is still marred by prejudices and inhibitions.

Mahmoud Tawfik, &copy Deutsche Welle

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