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What you need to know about DITIB

Daniel Heinrich
September 28, 2018

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is opening a new central mosque in Cologne. DITIB, a controversial Turkish-Islamic umbrella group, provides the financing and imams. But what is DITIB?

Central mosque in Cologne
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Berg

The Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) is the largest umbrella organization of mosques in Germany. DITIB manages about 900 mosques in the country, including the central mosque in Cologne, and has about 800,000 members throughout Germany.

Its ties to Turkey are very strong. According to the official research service for the German Bundestag, which has created a register of Islamic organizations in Germany, its charter states that DITIB is "linked to the Turkish government's Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet)."

The Diyanet sends Turkish imams to DITIB mosques; the imams' salaries are then paid by the respective Turkish consulate general for the duration of their stay. In other words, the Diyanet determines the theological guidelines behind what is preached in the mosques.

Influential force in Ankara

The Diyanet is a state body for the administration of religious affairs in Turkey and answers directly to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Created in 1924 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish republic, the Diyanet was long known for its moderate interpretation of Islam and widely respected throughout Turkey. However, in recent years the Diyanet has shifted away from its previously rather restrained function. Under Erdogan and his Islamic conservative AKP government, the institution has gained considerably in significance.

Today, the Ankara-based organization has about 120,000 employees who, among other tasks, are responsible for the content of the weekly Friday prayers in Turkey's 85,000 mosques. With an annual budget of more than €1 billion ($1.17 billion), the Diyanet has more money at its disposal than either Turkey's Interior or Foreign Ministry.

Conservative structures

DITIB has come under repeated criticism in recent years, partly because of the Diyanet's influence. Following the Turkish army's invasion of northern Syria in January, the head of the Diyanet urged mosque worshippers to pray for Turkey's victory. DITIB mosques in Germany showed videos of preschoolers in uniform, and events held there in commemoration of World War I seem to have featured re-enacted battles and the praise of "martyrs" as part of proceedings.

Last year, DITIB refused to take part in a protest organized by Muslim associations in Cologne against Islamist terror. Also in 2017, the complete board of the national DITIB youth organization (BDMJ) resigned, accusing the association of suppressing any tendencies toward liberalization.

Muslim march against terror attendance short of expected

Authorities remain wary

The extent to which DITIB's internal structures have become aligned with domestic political events in Turkey became clear in the summer of 2016, in the aftermath of the failed coup. DITIB imams allegedly spied on backers of Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey holds responsible for the attempted coup, within their German congregations. In response, Germany's federal public prosecutor investigated 19 imams.

More recently, German media reported in September that the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), the domestic intelligence agency, was apparently considering keeping DITIB under observation.

For years, German authorities have regarded DITIB as an important contact concerning matters of faith and integration, and even provided it with state funding. But that perception has changed in the wake of recent events. Subsidies for DITIB have been drastically reduced. In 2018, the association received about €300,000 ($353,500) from the German government, compared to €1.5 million ($1.8 million) in 2017.

Clearly, DITIB is no longer the poster child for cooperation on issues around integration. When President Erdogan officially opens a new mosque in Cologne on Saturday Armin Laschet, the premier of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, will not attend the ceremony. While Laschet has often stressed the significance of open exchange and a critical dialogue in international relations, opening a DITIB mosque alongside Erdogan did not seem to be "the right place" for such things, he said.

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