What do Colombians think of Islam?

German mosques
Modern Islamic sacred buildings in Germany

When representative mosques are built in Germany, there is always a potential for conflict. The Euro-Islam architecture shows how bridging the gap between cultures can be achieved.

German mosques are seldom splendid: In this country, an Islamic house of worship is often a hidden backyard building in an industrial area that has absolutely nothing in common with the impressive buildings in their countries of origin. Of the roughly 2,800 mosques and Islamic places of prayer in Germany, only 350 are recognizable as such, as they follow the Turkish-Ottoman architecture with a dome and minaret. All others have dispensed with these identifying marks, which contrary to popular opinion are not absolutely necessary - a mosque only has to face Mecca.

One reason for this was and is the sometimes negative, suspicious attitude of many Germans towards the elaborate mosque buildings that can be found in Muslim countries. For fear of an alleged Islamization, they do not want magnificent Islamic buildings to have too great a visual impact on the cityscape. On the other hand, there is the desire of many Muslim communities to break out of the little confidence-inspiring backyard atmosphere. For them this is a question of integration and is based on a self-confidence for the Muslim identity in their new homeland. They identify with the country in which they live and demand an equal place in this society.

The issue of minarets and domes

In addition to the countless backyard mosques, there are now a number of large buildings in Germany that offer space for more than 1,000 believers, such as in Duisburg, Mannheim, Cologne or Bremen. In most cases, however, the development process has not gone smoothly: Due to the reservations in society - which have even increased recently due to the fear of terrorist attacks - Muslim believers often had to do without architectural elements such as minarets, decorative facades and domes, even though they have one are just as important for the predominantly Turkish-born Muslims as the presbytery, crypt and chancel are for the Christians in their houses of worship. The resentment of residents began with concerns about noise pollution - around 30 mosques now sound the muezzin call at least during the day - and not infrequently resulted in a bitter dispute about the structural height of the minaret towers. Thus, the construction of mosques repeatedly tests the relationships between Muslims and the non-Muslim majority society.
 
The discussions about mosque architecture also deal with the question of what kind of Islam should be manifested. Should an Islam be practiced here as it was originally understood, or as it is lived by Western Muslims? Or is it even a matter of assimilation and rapprochement with the new homeland with mosques that completely correspond to western architectural ideas?
 
In general, the style of Euro-Islam architecture, which describes a secularized form of Islam in Europe, is currently seen as a viable middle ground. In this Islamic movement, the rights and duties of Islam are to be brought into harmony with European values;
Architecturally, eclectic designs are often combined to form modern architecture. The credo hovers over many new buildings and designs: This church should be a place of encounter.

Synthesis of Orient and Occident

The facade of the central mosque in Cologne: There was public controversy about the building design and tower height of the minarets. | Photo (detail): © picture alliance / Rainer Jensen / dpa An example of modern Euro-Islam architecture is the prestige building of the central mosque in Cologne. The Turkish-Ottoman domed mosque with broken walls and many window elements not only allows a view from the inside to the outside, but also vice versa. This should be understood as an indication that one wishes to have open communication with people of different faiths. The centerpiece is the generous open staircase that leads into the 36-meter-high dome hall with its curved concrete shells and glass facades, which can hold around 1,200 visitors. The stairs are an architectural trick intended to point out the intercultural character of the mosque.

Project manager Selim Mercan is concerned with combining oriental elements with modern Islam that fits in with cosmopolitan Cologne. He points to ceiling medallions with Arabic gold leaf inscriptions: They are dedicated to Abraham, Moses, Noah and Jesus, among others - personalities who are important for Christians as well as for Jews and Muslims. “That's a very nice sign,” says the civil engineer. The builders of the central mosque were nevertheless accused of a lack of innovation, since the impressive dome and the minarets can also be interpreted as too strong a connection to traditional Ottoman architecture.

In Cologne, too, there were discussions during the construction phase: A major point of contention was the height of the two minarets. They bring it to a height of 55 meters and thus to about a third of the 157 meter high Cologne Cathedral, which is still the measure of all things in Cologne. Finally, an image campaign courted the controversial building project with the motto “Our mosque for Cologne” and relied on a religious unity.

Bavaria and the modern age

More sensitivity was demonstrated in a construction project in Penzberg, Upper Bavaria. In the small town near Lake Starnberg, the multiethnic community had a building built which, with its simple aesthetics, is committed to modernity. A stainless steel minaret only 15 meters high reveals the building as a mosque. The entrance portal, on which verses of the Koran are engraved in German and Arabic, directly follows elements of the Euro-Islam Islam architecture.


The prayer room of the Penzberg mosque is bathed in blue light by the deep blue shimmering facade made of thousands of broken glass. | Photo (detail): © picture alliance / Frank Mächler / dpa The architect of this modern mosque, Alen Jasarevic, is firmly convinced that a Central European type of mosque will develop with which Muslim immigrants, especially third and fourth generations, as well as non-Muslims will develop Citizens can identify more easily than with traditional types of mosques from the Islamic world. In addition to the church and the town hall, the mosque and synagogue will establish themselves as a natural part of our cities, so Jasarevic believes.

Mosques in Germany: Architecture in Transition

  • Photo (detail): © picture alliance / Bildagentur-online / Schöning
    The oldest German mosque is located in the middle of residential buildings in the Berlin district of Wilmersdorf. In 1924, the German architect Karl August Herrmann based the architectural style on the Indian Taj Mahal. The largest Islamic church in Berlin can accommodate up to 1500 people.
  • Photo (detail): © picture alliance / Daniel Reinhardt / dpa
    The first building projects that wanted to see Ottoman architecture realized were designed by non-Muslim, mostly German architects as early as the 1960s. These include the Bilal Mosque in Aachen and the Imam-Ali Mosque in Hamburg, here in the picture. Both examples show a conservative style.
  • Photo (detail): © picture alliance / Emmanuele Contini / NurPhoto
    The German architects largely followed the client's wishes and, out of consideration for religious emotions, brought in fewer of their own influences. Further examples of these classic buildings can be found in Lauingen, Pforzheim, Wesseling, Marl, Darmstadt and in Berlin in the Sehitlik Mosque shown here. New paths were not broken with these buildings.
  • Photo (detail): © picture alliance / Axel Heimken / dpa
    The minarets of the Hamburg Centrum Mosque on Steindamm were redesigned in 2009 in a sensational campaign by the German-Turkish artist Boran Burchhardt. At first glance, the redesign may satisfy Islamic viewing habits, as the towers are adorned with a green and white hexagonal pattern. The color green is reminiscent of the prophet, the hexagonal shape is a basic form of Islamic ornamentation.
  • Photo (detail): © picture-alliance / dpa
    But the hexagons also suggest another association: the sports-loving observer may notice a resemblance to soccer balls. This ambiguity is not inadvertent. "It plays with a false association that happens just as quickly as the one that automatically associates mosques with terror," explains Burchhardt.
  • Photo (detail): © AlterVista / Wikimedia Commons
    One example of Euro-Islam architecture is the mosque in Mosbach, Baden-Württemberg, which has typical local designs with alpine influences. The result is an innovative architecture that is adapted to the style of the surroundings.
  • Photo (detail): © picture alliance / Rainer Jensen / dpa
    The new construction of the central mosque in Cologne shows that the architecture for mosques has outgrown the backyards. In the interior, 1,800 stucco panels form geometric patterns on the walls. A huge chandelier stages Arabic calligraphy.
  • Photo (detail): © picture alliance / Rainer Jensen / dpa
    The mosque built in the Ehrenfeld district of Cologne has space for shops in addition to prayer rooms.
On the dossier "Islam in Germany and in Bosnia and Herzegovina"