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Row between German Muslim leaders amid push for higher status for mosques

Fractures are showing between the different major Muslim organizations in Germany after one leader attended a rally against anti-Semitism alone. He is making the other groups look intolerant, his critics say.

Shortly after the violent attacks at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher super market in Paris at the hands of Islamist terrorists in January, Aiman Mazyek stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate next to Chancellor Angela Merkel, condemning anti-Semitism and calling on Germans to be tolerant and embrace diversity.

Mazyek is head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), one of the organizations represented by the national umbrella group Coordination Council of Muslims (KRM). The other groups in the KRM are now accusing Mazyek of not only going against the decision of the group at the last minute by attending a separate anti-Semitism event last September 14, but also of giving the false impression that the other groups in the KRM do not care about fighting the hatred of Jews.

Critics say Mazyek perpetuating false impression

The most serious criticism comes the Cologne-based group Ditib - a Tukish acronym standing for "Turkish Islamic Union of the Institute for Religion". Their leader, Bekir Alboga, told reporters that Mazyek was making it seem like the Muslim community, with the exception of the ZMD, was "uncritical of and insensitive to the issues of anti-Semitism."

Yet Alboga also said: "This is not a fight, just a clarification, so that there is no false impression." The umbrella organization has made it clear in the meantime that is against all forms of hate and anti-Semitism.

Ditib further criticized Mazyek for posting a link on his Facebook to an article from the newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau which claimed that he participated in the September 14 rally for religious tolerance against the wishes of the KRM, as if to say they did not want him to attend because they did not support the cause.

According to Ditib, the members of KRM had discussed attending an the anti-Semitism event in the fall, but as there was no way for the groups to attend in a united position, they declined the invitation. Ditib claims that Mazyek then called the KRM members merely an hour before the event to say he would participate on his own, as he happened to be in Berlin.

Deutschland Sigmar Gabriel in den Vereinigten Arabischen Emiraten

Mazyek was part of the entourage German Vice Chancellor Gabriel (center) took with him on his Middle East tour

Push for equal status amongst religious institutions

The row comes at a crucial time for the German Muslim community as the push for mosques to gain equal status with churches and synagogues gains momentum. Raed Saleh, the Social Democrats' parliamentary floor leader in the regional parliament of the city state of Berlin, renewed the call on Tuesday for Germany's church tax law to apply for mosques as well. Currently, Germans who indicate their faith as Jewish or a major Christian denomination automatically pay a tax to that institution, unless they specify they do not wish to, or are not religious.

Austria recently forbade foreign financing of certain Muslim organizations, fearing too close ties to foreign governments or the promotion of radicalization by foreign preachers. Saleh said that something similar was necessary in Germany, because "when money flows in from abroad, that means influence is flowing with it. We don't want that."

Even the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan had words of warning about radicalization happening in German mosques during Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel's recent trip the United Arab Emirates. "He asked us not to look away," Gabriel told the press, "because in the end it affects us all."

Gabriel said the German community needed to be aware of what was being preached in the mosques, and that mosques needed the opportunity to train their own German imams - rather than being forced to recruit foreign preachers.

es/msh (dpa, KNA, epd)

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