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Cologne mosque

November 7, 2009

After years of controversy, the Muslim community in Cologne have taken the first concrete step towards building a mosque in the western German city.

Turkish Minister for Turks , living abroad, Faruk Celik, and Cologne city officials hold spades at a ceremony for laying the foundation stone for a mosque
Some say the ceremony indicates that Muslims have arrived in German societyImage: AP

Members of the Turkish Islamic organization, Ditib, laid the corner stone on Saturday for what is expected to be one of Europe's biggest mosques

"This building is one of the most modern mosques, not only in Cologne but in all of Germany," Ditib spokeswoman Ayse Aydin said, welcoming people to the ceremony. "You are all part of what is an historic moment for us," she added.

Fritz Schramma, the former mayor of Cologne, who is from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Party (CDU), said that the architecture of the mosque was "a symbol of a budding flower," inviting people in.

The futuristic design is said to include a large dome and two 55-meter minarets.

The construction of the mosque, which is expected to be completed in two years' time, is set to begin after a long and acrimonious dispute between Ditib and non-Muslim residents of the city which is home to the Cologne cathedral, one of the most renowned cathedrals in the world.

The right-wing ProKoeln holding placards at a protest in Cologne
The right-wing ProKoeln group held a demonstration against the mosqueImage: DW/Borgers

Opponents of the mosque say it will spoil Cologne's skyline, by diverting attention from the Gothic cathedral. Right-wing extremists have been particularly vocal in their opposition to the construction of the mosque and staged a small protest on Saturday.

The heated debate leading up to the ceremony echoes the tensions that emerged in Berlin where a mosque was constructed in recent years. Some analysts say it points to the intensifying conflict between a growing Muslim community in the country and across western Europe.

In the end, Ditib struck a compromise, agreeing not to broadcast the call to prayer in order to avoid friction with the non-Muslim residents of the neighborhood.

At the ceremony, Thomas Kufen, integration commissioner of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, described the Islamic house of worship as a sign that Muslims "had arrived" in the German society. "This mosque will be a piece of jewelry," he added.

"It has been a long road," Kufen said, referring to the difficult and prolonged discussions over the construction of the mosque. "It gave rise to hostility and hurt."

However, he said the fact that the foundation stone had been laid was a sign that xenophobia stands no chance.

Editor: Andreas Illmer

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