Media tour “german islam”: the “poles of the mosque landscape

"Islam" is an irritant topic in Germany. But Muslim communities are very diverse. A visit to two mosques in Frankfurt.

The imam of the Abu Bakr mosque prepares for the midday prayer Photo: dpa

"What is a German Islam?" – under this question the Berlin media service Integration had invited journalists on Tuesday to two of the approximately 50 mosques in Frankfurt am Main. The "German Islam"; it was the common thread that had recently run through, for example, the German Islam Conference organized by the Federal Ministry of the Interior at the end of 2018. What it might look like was controversially discussed.

The same applies to the program of the media tour. The feisty blogger Sigrid Herrmann-Marschall had attacked the selection of the mosques: Representatives of both institutions had attended seminars of the European Institute for Human Sciences, according to the 2017 Hessian report on the protection of the constitution a "cadre school for Muslim Brotherhood functionaries," she criticized.

Daniel Bax of the organized media service, on the other hand, had argued that the mosques were chosen for their social commitment, saying they "represent the different poles of the mosque landscape."

Hohenstaufenstrasse 8: An aging functional building near Frankfurt’s main train station, the address of the IIS mosque. IIS stands for "Islamic Information and Services." Through a backyard, one enters an unadorned prayer room on the first floor. A shelf for shoes is set up in the vestibule in front of the door. Inside, only the carpet, a miniature wooden minaret leaning against the wall, and a bright green, crenellated wall remind one of a place of worship.

Emerged from a "grassroots" movement

You can tell the facility was largely homegrown. "Finances are a problem," says Mohammed Johari of the IIS board of directors. "We are honored by our difficulties," he says, "because independence is our credibility." Johari holds a degree in social work and a doctorate in Islamic studies.

The IIS mosque is considered one of the largest German-speaking multicultural mosques. It grew out of a "grassroots movement" in 1995, initially primarily for young German Muslims who had not found a home in the mosques of their fathers, which were oriented toward their countries of origin, Johari reports. People from "50 to 60 ethnic groups" gather here for Friday prayers. Women have a responsibility in the community.

The community regularly invites people to feed the homeless, and in 2015 it provided massive relief to the city in refugee management and opened its rooms when hundreds of people were stranded every day at Frankfurt’s nearby main train station. In 2016, it was awarded the city’s Neighborhood Award for its community work.

The guest that day is Said Barkan, state chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Hesse. He, too, had been suspected of being close to the Muslim Brotherhood because of his participation in a seminar. "Why don’t you judge mosque communities by what they say and what they do, and not by who they had ‘contacts’ with?" he asked. He said he attended the controversial seminar because, as a lawyer, he was interested in the jurisprudential issues, not the people who hosted the seminar.

No compulsion to wear a headscarf

They also have to take a stand on the headscarf debate. On Wednesday, the day after the tour, the provocative topic will be discussed at Frankfurt University on a panel that had sparked fierce controversy in advance. The organizing professor, Susanne Schroter, had heard that she was promoting "anti-Muslim racism".

Among those present at the IIS mosque, the position is clear: no woman should be forced to wear a headscarf, and certainly no girl. "There is no theological justification for this," said Barkan of the Central Council of Muslims.

Diether Heesemann from the city’s Council of Religions also came. Until his retirement, he was the commissioner of the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau for intercultural educational work. Heesemann praises the contribution of this mosque community to interreligious dialogue in the city.

He personally tried to mediate when ISS had problems with assessments by the Hessian Office for the Protection of the Constitution. However, Heesemann says, the agency "did not even begin to provide insight" into the facts and observations on which it based its assessments. Host Johari speaks of "cascades of scandalization."

Glamour instead of backyard

Then it’s off to the second stop on the media tour: the Abu Bakr mosque in the Hausen district. This mosque is a magnificent building with a minaret visible from afar. All the walls, outside and inside, are covered with colorful faience, and ornately forged brass chandeliers shine from the ceiling and in the central dome in the spacious interior.

Immigrants from Morocco founded the association in the 1960s that was able to realize this magnificent building at the turn of the millennium. This mosque community also actively participates in the city’s interreligious dialogue, says managing director Mohamed Seddadi.

The congregation is also active in community work: it offers tutoring for schoolchildren. The youth work is organized largely independently of the board, says the managing director.

The "weaker sex

There are also conflicts, Seddadi says, between the generation of the founding fathers and the young people who have been socialized in Germany and are at home here. The two imams of the congregation come from Arab countries and hardly speak German; prayers and sermons are in Arabic.

Seddadi presents himself as open-minded and ready for dialogue. Then he is approached by journalists about the mosque’s website. On their homepage it can be read that in the case of differences of opinion in the family "ultimately the man" has to decide, "since the woman is regarded as the ‘weaker sex’, so to speak. Seddadi is asked how this position can be reconciled with the Basic Law, which he nevertheless refers to.

As far as he knows, the website has been switched off for years, Seddadi says in a friendly manner, and he is not the right contact person for theological questions anyway. However, the taz still finds the sentences on the role of women on the mosque’s website in the evening, together with the daily prayer times. Only the next day the page is no longer available.

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