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An Islamic group laid the foundation stone for east Berlin's first mosque on Tuesday amid protests reflecting Germany's difficulty in integrating its 3.2 million Muslims.
The spiritual leader of the Ahmadiyya community laid the foundation stone
Scattered protests Tuesday accompanied a ground-breaking ceremony for the first-ever mosque in what used to be Communist East Berlin.
The two-story building with a 12-meter-tall minaret is being built for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community on the site of an old sauerkraut factory in the east Berlin suburb of Pankow-Heinersdorf.
The mosque, which will be able to accommodate 500 worshippers, is expected to be completed by the end of next year or in early 2008, said the chairman of the sect's Berlin branch, Abdul Basit Tariq.
An opponent of the mosque sports a placard on Tuesday
Around 50 protesters were at the ceremony, some carrying placards reading, "No Mosque in Pankow."
"A place of worship -- be it a mosque, church or synagogue -- should be at the heart of a community," Joachim Swietlik, head of the campaign against the mosque, told news agency Reuters.
Police evicted three left-wing demonstrators after a scuffle over a placard in support of the mosque.
Sect considered peaceful
Residents of Pankow-Heinersdorf have been protesting for months against the planned mosque, arguing that the sect had no members living anywhere near the site. Some of those protests have been attended by members of the far right National Democratic Party (NPD).
Berlin authorities gave permission to build the mosque just before Christmas after a months-long battle with opponents.
The Muslim group said it had been looking to build a new mosque because it had outgrown its present community center in the west Berlin suburb of Reinickendorf.
The Ahmadiyya community was founded at the end of the 19th century in what was then British India. It claims to represent the latter day renaissance of Islam.
Members of the Ahmaddiya community pray at the planned mosque's site
The sect, which is classed as peaceful by the German domestic intelligence service, has some 30,000 members and operates more than a dozen mosques in Germany. At the ceremony, members held up placards reading, "Islam means peace, Love for all."
Abdul Basit Tariq, chairman of the sect's Berlin chapter, said the mosque was being financed by the sect's women's organization and would bear the name Khadidja, after the first wife of the Prophet Mohammed.
Abdullah Uwe Wagishauer, head of Germany's Ahmdaiyya's, said he hoped for good ties between his community and opponents of the mosque.
"There are no difficulties with neighbors of Ahmadiyya mosques built elsewhere," he told Reuters. "Our mosques help interreligious dialogue and mutual understanding."
Mosques not new in Germany
Mosques are by no means a new development in Germany. As far back as the 16th century, Prussian king Frederick William I had the first mosque built in Potsdam for his Turkish soldiers.
The Sehitlik Mosque in west Berlin's Neukölln neighborhood
In Berlin, the first mosque was constructed in 1924.
Now there are some 30 Muslim places of worship in the German capital. But most of them are in Neukölln and Kreuzberg, in the western part of the city.
These are the neighborhoods in which guest workers, mainly from Turkey, moved to when they first arrived in Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. Today the multi-ethnic districts are still home to Berlin's largest Turkish community as well as to large numbers of Arab and east European immigrants.
In the former Communist and, at the time, internationally insular East Berlin, there were no mosques which might explain the protests, Tariq says.
"These are unfounded fears," Tariq says. "People listen to the news, see scenes on television and that's why they're scared of Muslims. They think Muslims are terrorists and suicide bombers. Their heads are full of these things."
Opposition to the planned mosque has underlined Germany's problems in integrating its 3.2-million strong Muslim community. The problem is especially acute in formerly communist-ruled east Germany where few Muslims and other immigrants have settled.