For the sixth time in a row, the Central Council for Muslims in Germany has opened its mosques and invited visitors to take a look at how they worship. The goal is the promotion of inter-cultural understanding.
Muslims at the Mevlana-Mosque in Konstanz, southern Germany
More than 3.2 million Muslims live in Germany. Many were born here, others immigrated to the country only recently. But all have a similar position: they are non-Christians in a predominantly Christian country. As a result many of the Muslims often feel misunderstood by their German neighbors.
This has become especially pronounced since the terrorist attacks against the United States last year. Nadeem Elyas, director of the Central Council for Muslims in Germany, one of three large umbrella organizations operating in the country, told DW-RADIO that Muslims in Germany feel themselves increasingly ostracized from the German community, often becoming the subject of discrimination and racism.
A year after September 11, Muslims are still being lumped together under the stereotype of extremists, and they are being held collectively responsible for the terrorist attacks, Elyas said. The German authorities and the public in general regard the religion of Islam with skepticism. "But not every mosque is a front for an extremist organization," Elyas said.
In order to prove this point and to combat this type of us-against-them thinking, the Central Council for Muslims in Germany has called upon all non-Muslims to join them in the "Day of Open Mosques." On October 3, some 1,000 mosques throughout Germany will open their doors, give tours and host podium discussions in the hopes of forming a bridge of dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
Opening doors for cultural exchange
The idea behind the project, which has been in existence since 1997, is to teach non-Muslims about the culture and religion of one of Germany’s largest minorities. Last year 200,000 visitors took advantage of the day’s activities to gain a rare inside look into the Muslim community.
The Day of Open Mosques presents a good opportunity for non-Muslims to learn about Islam, to talk with Muslims and exchange ideas, and most importantly to break down prejudices they might have against one another, Elyas said in DW-RADIO.
"The hundred thousand exchanges that we hope will take place between the cultures on this day, should build a bridge of dialogue and improve our understanding for one another," said Elyas. "We can neither accept that we as Muslims will be pushed to the edges of this society, nor can it be in the best interest of this society that a parallel society exists along side it."
For this reason, this year’s Day of Open Mosques takes place under the motto "Muslims – in the midst of society."
And the choice of October 3, the Day of German Unity, further emphasizes the role the Muslim community sees itself playing in Germany, as Elyas explains: "We intentionally selected the Day of German Unity, because we wanted to show that Muslims regard themselves as an integral part of this community, and that German unity is not only something one sees from the outside, but rather from the inside. Social cohesiveness is an important aspect, and the Muslims are a part of this togetherness."
The Federal Commissioner for Foreigners’ Affairs, Marieluise Beck, has also praised the Day of Open Mosques as a much-needed project for increasing inter-cultural dialogue. "This is a good initiative," Beck said at a press conference prior to the start of the event. "In Germany, which is primarily influenced by Christianity, few people really understand much about Islam. And what little they know is mixed together with the extreme political messages sent by countries such as Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. But it is exactly this mixture that is so unhealthy for an open exchange between Germans and Muslim immigrants."
Although the Day of Open Mosques is only one day in the year, the Central Council for Muslims in Germany hopes it will start a process to improve the integration of the millions of Muslims living in the country. As Nadeem Elyas says, "there is a great need more togetherness in society, and the Muslims can play a big role in this."