BERLIN - Turkish Daily News

The building of mosques is a fierce controversy that splits Germany and showcases the problems of integrating Muslims into mainstream society.
Opponents argue religious freedoms are abused, saying there is plenty of religious freedom in Germany and that building more mosques is an exploitation of liberties. Meanwhile, proponents maintain mosques will help Muslims regain confidence in society, make their religious practices more transparent and contribute to integration.
Germany is home to 2,600 mosques, but there are a number of covert centers of worship in garages and basement stores of apartment buildings in areas densely populated by Muslims, brewing suspicion among Germans about the transparency of religious activities. Supporters of mosque construction assume mosques will decrease the number of covert centers, hoping eventually to halt them all.
The groundwork of Germany's largest-ever mosque in Cologne, home to 120,000 Muslims, will be laid in coming weeks because a compromise has been reached between the Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, or DİTİB and the local City Council, officials say.
�We are reading the message of this society. We are neither provoking nor challenging it,� said Bekir Alboğa of DİTİB.
In an attempt not to draw harsh reactions from the public, DİTİB went ahead with the mosque plans in close cooperation with German politicians at every phase of the project, said Alboğa.
He said DİTİB launched a competition, open to all, for the building of the mosque and that a selection panel picked a German architect, Paul Böhm, from among the contestants, more than 50 percent of whom were non-Muslims.
�We have taken timely and transparent steps. And a Christian architect has been selected to build a mosque,� said Alboğa.
German officials and top Christian clerics say they want Muslims to enjoy the same equality of rights with Germans, adding permission to allow the construction of the mosque in Cologne is an example of that policy.
The head of the Christian Democrats at the local city council, Niklas Kienitz, said the debates over Germany's largest mosque dated back to 2001 when his Christian Democratic Union, or CDU, agreed to support the construction of two mosques.
�This is a consensus and it is still valid,� he said.

'Islamic Disneyland'
The more concrete the mosque plans became, however, the more controversy they created in society, carrying the heated debate to national television. Kienitz said some German politicians called the initiative to build mosques a creation of an �Islamic Disneyland� in Germany.
The Muslim drive saw harsh reactions from residents and far-right groups in a massive demonstration last year. The group �Pro Cologne� took to the streets to stop the mosque construction with the backing of right-wing activists across Europe. The protest was a part of the all-out battle against the �Islamization of Europe.�
Alboğa called the Pro Cologne movement racist.
�They are racists and will never be convinced by whatever we do,� he said.
The CDU held a party congress in August 2007 and declared their conditions for building a mosque, including those relating to size, architecture and the height of the minarets. Kienitz said the CDU voted against the construction because their conditions were not fulfilled.
�We voted the project down because it was going to be a glorious building that could have been deemed overwhelming by the neighborhood,� he said.
He said the CDU was concerned about the external makeup of the mosque and the public's reaction. �Our objections were not against the idea but as a conservative party it was our mission to draw into the process those people who were hesitant,� said Kienitz.
After much controversy, DİTİB bowed to the conditions, including a ban on broadcasting the call to prayer over loudspeakers. The minaret of the mosque will not be taller than any other building in its neighborhood, including the Gothic cathedral of Cologne. That in itself is such a delicate issue, enough to create a storm in a teacup, in Germany. A politician once said that the height of a minaret could not pass the height of a cathedral.
Holding religious sermons in German for transparency was another condition that split the Muslim community.
The secretary-general of the Islamic Association Milli Görüş, or National View, criticized DİTİB for making �too many concessions.�
�There is no need to hold sermons in German. 90 percent of worshippers will be of Turkish origin,� said Oğuz Üçüncü.

Mosque will be financed by donations
The mosque is expected to cost 20 million to 25 million euros. Alboğa said it would be entirely met by donations collected from the Muslim community.
The question lingers as to whether the donations will be enough after the Lighthouse e.V. case in Germany. Directors of Lighthouse e.V. in Germany confessed they had embezzled 41.6 million euros of charity money collected mainly from Turks living in Germany, by transferring it to various companies there and in Turkey. The controversial case led to concerns that it could deliver a blow to the charity tradition among Muslims.
�Our largest resource is our (Muslim) community,� said Alboğa. �We will solve this issue.�
The construction of the mosque is expected to be completed in two years.
Tomorrow: Barrier to immigration