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Syrians at mosque
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Berg

Becoming German at the mosque

Andreas Gorzewski / dc
October 4, 2015

Mosques in Germany are exploring ways to accommodate new residents from mostly Muslim countries. The mosques don't just offer humanitarian aid - they influence the ways that Islam is practiced and perceived in Germany.


Islam in Germany could become much more multifaceted as new residents arrive in large numbers from mostly Muslim countries. Until recently, Turkish-influenced Islam was the dominant practice, with two-thirds of the estimated 4 million Muslims in Germany having Turkish roots. The numbers of Arabs, Bosnians, Albanians and migrants from other mostly Muslim countries have been much smaller. But, month after month, tens of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis are arriving in Germany. Integration authorities have called on mosques to take an active role in assisting newly arrived Muslims, and Islamic associations in Germany appear keen to meet the challenge. Aiman Mazyek, the head of Germany's Central Council for Muslims, told the public broadcaster ZDF that mosque communities could take on a "key role" when it comes to integration.

Germany currently has some 2,400 mosques, most of which belong to Turkish organizations. For Syrian or Iraqi Sunnis, praying toward Mecca behind a Turkish imam is no problem. The language of prayer in mosques all over the world is Arabic. The problems start when it comes to the Friday sermon, which is given in the congregation's language. And that is mainly Turkish.

Arabic is mainly spoken in the Moroccan mosques. Abdelkader Rafoud of the Central Council of Moroccans in Germany estimates that there are approximately 155 nationwide. He told DW that newly arrived refugees are quick to find the whereabouts of the nearest Arabic-speaking community. Arabic-speaking refugees can understand both the prayers and the sermons, and the men can also meet and converse in the tearooms that are a feature of almost every mosque in Germany. The women have other places to meet. Language problems can also arise, with various Arabic dialects spoken in North Africa and the Middle East. Ahmad Aweimer, spokesman for the Muslim community in Dortmund, doesn't see that as a huge barrier, however, as most people can make themselves understood in Modern Standard Arabic.

It's still not clear whether the conflicts from migrants' countries of origin will carry over to German mosques. There are Sunnis, Shiites, Syrian Alawites and other Muslim communities among the refugees. There are Arabs, Kurds, Afghans and members of many more ethnicities. And their presence in Germany's mosques is only now becoming noticeable, Rafoud said.

Conflicts such as those recently reported in refugee accommodation centers are certainly possible. But Rafoud said he does not think that these will play out in the mosques themselves. As to how these new groups will mix and integrate with the existing Muslim community remains to be seen, however. "We have yet to be confronted with the differences," Rafoud said.

Tag der offenen Moschee
On October 3, mosques across Germany opened their doors to non-Muslims, as wellImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Skolimowska

Acceptance by Turkish groups

Thirty years ago, Moroccans did not have their own mosques in Germany; there were almost exclusively Turkish mosques. "The Turkish communities took us in," Rafoud said. It took a while for Moroccan Muslims to gather the money to establish their own mosques. He said it would be the same now for Syrians and Iraqis. However, linguistic and sectarian similarities don't necessarily mean that Syrians and Iraqis will feel at home in German-Moroccan organizations. "People who have lived here for years are influenced by the local culture," said Rafoud. He said many who have attended Moroccan mosques for years have found their own way to combine religion with everyday life in Germany.

Some mosques have been offering German language and integration courses for years now. But the funds available to them are limited. Recently, Salafist groups, which often promote an extremist interpretation of Islam, have also gotten involved - a development that has worried German domestic security experts. There is even greater support now for Islamic organizations that can be trusted to play bridge-building roles to German society. And the emphasis is often on members of the relevant organization or congregation, who often speak better German than the imams.

Ramadan in Köln
Syrians join the Ramadan feast at this Cologne mosqueImage: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Berg

"They are more or less German," Dortmund's Aweimer said of Muslims who have grown up in or lived in the country for a long time. He added that contact with local mosques represented a real opportunity for newly arrived Muslims. "They have to adjust to the values that we in this society share," he said. In past decades, integration took too long, he added: "The people who are coming now have role models in the mosques. I think they'll have a much easier time than my generation had."