In Cologne, over forty Muslim communities are to be allowed to publicly call out to Friday prayers. The decision of the independent mayor of Cologne, Henriette Reker, to start the pilot project has become a nationwide controversy.
According to the latest estimate, the megacity of Cologne has around 120,000 inhabitants who come from Islamic cultures. This estimate is based on a micro-census from 2011 and allows a more precise recording than the estimates that are based only on the country of origin of migrants and their predominant religious orientation. The overwhelming majority of Cologne’s Muslims are Sunni and primarily of Turkish origin. The large central mosque is run by the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), the German branch of the Turkish state’s Diyanet (Directorate of Religious Affairs).
This mosque, which dominates the city skyline, was built with the support of local politicians and church representatives, though once it was constructed this local support was somewhat disregarded: the inauguration in September 2018 was attended by Turkish President Erdogan; the Cologne politicians were given no significant role in the ceremony. Ms. Reker was invited to play the part of an extra in the ceremony, and therefore canceled at short notice. Her predecessor, former Mayor Fritz Schramma, who advocated the building’s construction for years against the will of his Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, was not even officially invited at all.
In January 2019, a large conference of representatives of various Muslim currents and organizations took place in the central mosque, at which a moderate “Euro-Islam” and integration were clearly rejected.
Despite these incidents, the approval is now to be used again to woo Muslim voters. Reker describes this as equal treatment. On Twitter, Reker described the project as a “sign of respect”, showing that Cologne is “the city of [religious] freedom and diversity”. Cologne has a large and world-famous cathedral, and of course the church bells ring in Cologne, so why not a mosque?
The mayor, however, has made the mistake of many liberals in seeing a superficial similarity between aspects of the two largest world monotheisms and assuming that all religions are basically the same. But the Adhan is not comparable to the ringing of church bells; it does not, as she presumes, symbolize religious freedom and diversity. Church bells are a purely acoustic signal that in earlier times, when few people had their own timepieces, had the social function of structuring the day in this country. The Islamic call to prayer does have a similar function in this respect, marking daily prayer times. The Adhan, though, also has a substantive message that is quite different from the ringing of church bells.
The Adhan says that God is great, greater or the greatest of all, that there is no other God than the one (Allah), that Muhammad is His messenger, and that only through the worship of this God can there be salvation. Thus, the Islamic call to prayer is in a certain way directed against the Christian image of God. The Christian conception of the Trinity of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is often despised as polytheism by devout Muslims. The origin of this attitude is to be found in the Qur’an. In Sura 4: 116 says: “Surely, Allah does not forgive that a partner is ascribed to Him, and forgives anything short of that for whomsoever He wills. Whoever ascribes a partner to Allah has indeed gone far astray”. This notion of the oneness of God (tawheed) is a very essential part of the Muslim faith, and from early in Islamic history—notably the inscription on the Dome of the Rock—this affirmation was a polemical weapon against Christianity. Violation of this central concept is unbelief, and apostasy can have dire consequences.
The mayor’s intentions are clearly benign; it is not clear the effects of her actions will be. Conservative and fundamentalist Muslims will see this as a victory of their faith over Christianity, and they will note how easy it was to advance their cause under the colorful diversity rhetoric. This is not only a problem for the broader society, but within the German Islamic community. Liberal and cultural Muslims are, despite the fundamentalist propaganda, far larger in numbers than the reactionaries, yet they are now faced with the surprise of the government siding with their intra-community opponents. Tolerance and multiculturalism is not a one-way street, and nor can it work without first being honest—even when it comes to unpleasant truths. Reker has made a show of respect, but she never stopped to consider whether there was reciprocation in this gesture.
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