Reactions to ‘gender-equal’ mosque in Berlin: anger from abroad, limited impact at home

As Euro-Islam reported, lawyer and women’s rights activist Seyran Ateş has opened a gender-equal mosque in Berlin. After the first Friday prayers on June 16, co-led by Ateş and an openly gay French guest Imam, reactions to the Ibn Rushd-Goethe mosque have been strong, especially from Islamic authorities in Turkey and Egypt.

Reactions from Turkey

The Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs – Diyanet – mounted a fierce attack on Ateş’ project, describing it as “un-Islamic” and as an attempt to “undermine and destroy” religion. In a press release, Diyanet went on to declare that the mosque violated “the foundations of our sacred faith that are determined in the Quran and the sunna.”(( http://www.fr.de/politik/berlin-moabit-eine-moschee-fordert-den-islam-heraus-a-1300030 ))

Yet in keeping with the current political climate in Turkey, Diyanet’s most vociferous criticism was reserved for the alleged connections of the new mosque to the Gülen movement: “It is clear that this is a project of religious remodelling that has been implemented for many years under the leadership of Fetö [The Gülen Movement] and other nefarious organisations” – or so Diyanet argued.(( http://www.fr.de/politik/berlin-moabit-eine-moschee-fordert-den-islam-heraus-a-1300030 ))

Fake news of a Gülenist conspiracy

These allegations of Gülenist sympathies or influences were swiftly rejected by Ateş, who called the accusations “absurd”.(( http://www.ndr.de/kultur/Seyran-Ate-zur-Kritik-an-liberaler-Berliner-Moschee,journal888.html )) The Chair of the Gülenist Foundation for Dialogue and Education, Ercan Karakoyun, also denied any involvement with the mosque. He pointed out that while in a pluralist society his movement would tolerate Ateş’ initiative, her mosque “does not correspond to our vision of Islam”.(( http://www.berliner-kurier.de/berlin/kiez—stadt/ibn-rushd-goethe-moschee-morddrohungen-wegen-liberaler-moschee-in-berlin-27820764 ))

Karakoyun’s denial of any involvement with the new mosque came after Turkish TV channel AHaber had falsely named him as a confidant of Ateş’ and her mosque project; a claim that had resulted in death threats being uttered against Karakoyun. AHaber went on to label the opening of the mosque an act of “treason”.

Turkish newspaper Sabah spoke of the “liberal mosque madness” while also zeroing in on Ateş’ supposed links to Gülenism. The Star network described the mosque as a “Fetö-church” where women with headscarves would not be allowed to enter.(( http://www.fr.de/politik/berlin-moabit-eine-moschee-fordert-den-islam-heraus-a-1300030 ))

Reactions from Egypt

That Ateş’ initiative would be met with criticism from certain Turkish actors was, in many ways, to be expected: over the course of her career, the activist born to a Turkish mother and a Kurdish father had repeatedly been accused of fouling her own nest by Turkish media and decision-makers.

However, the opening of the Ibn Rushd-Goethe mosque also brought to the scene the Egyptian state fatwa office, Dar al-Ifta’: “no to the violation of religious foundations – no to the liberal mosque”, the Office wrote in an official statement on Facebook.

The Cairene institution was particularly incensed at the gender aspect of the project, criticising the mixing of the sexes at the mosque, the fact that women were not obliged to wear a hijab while praying, and the fact that female Imams were leading the congregation. Dar al-Ifta’ denied that the project would combat religious extremism: “to the contrary – the disrespect of the foundational rules of a religion is extremism, too. This is an attack on the religion.”(( https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/fatwa-moschee-berlin-101.html ))

Reactions in Germany

The echo in Germany has been much more restrained. The main Islamic associations have kept a guarded silence vis-à-vis the new mosque, although the chairman of the Islam Council (IR) stated that he did not believe that the mosque’s approach was in accordance with the basic tenets of Islam.(( https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/in-germany-a-new-feminist-islam-is-hoping-to-make-a-mark/2017/06/16/fc762d00-529c-11e7-b74e-0d2785d3083d_story.html?utm_term=.fcc83e557c0f ))

The Frankfurt-based hardline organisation “Reality Islam” castigated the mosque as an example of “the disfigurement of Islam and its emptying of all meaning in Germany”. Ateş project, for them, is a form of “intellectual colonisation” that seeks to illegitimately “redefine Islam in accordance with Western ideas of gender equality.”(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/themen/reportage/berliner-moschee-fuer-liberale-muslime-der-islam-gehoert-nicht-den-fanatikern/19919994-all.html ))

Ateş defends herself

Againt this backdrop, Ateş sees her long-standing criticism of conservative Islamic associations as vindicated: in an interview with the NDR network, she – perhaps somewhat simplistically – stated that authorities such as Egyptian Dar al-Ifta’ had not criticized and attacked al-Qaeda or the Islamic State as they had attacked her. “This shows the true face of the fundamentalists”, she asserted.(( http://www.ndr.de/kultur/Seyran-Ate-zur-Kritik-an-liberaler-Berliner-Moschee,journal888.html ))

Ateş also expressed dismay at the fact that many deem her commitment to an Islamic religiosity to be disingenuous. Her initial announcement that she would open a mosque had been met with surprise, given the fact that in the public’s perception her persona had been associated with a critical – even hostile – stance towards Islam and an atheist positioning.

In an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio, Ateş highlighted that already in her 2003 autobiography she had stated that she did not fight Islam but patriarchy. “Yet there are people who have never bought that I’m a believing Muslim.”(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/imamin-seyran-ates-muslime-organisiert-euch.886.de.html?dram:article_id=388789 ))

Positive yet muted feedback

According to Ateş, “95 per cent” of the feedback she has received for her mosque initiative has been positive, especially from the Kurdish community. Nevertheless, participation at the first Friday prayers has been somewhat muted: at the congregation on June 16 there were more journalists than worshippers.(( http://www.berliner-kurier.de/berlin/kiez—stadt/allah-fuer-alle-hier-beten-maenner-und-frauen-gemeinsam-27808522 ))

The mosque has nevertheless sparked some interest from elsewhere: Muslims from Hamburg and Bremen have established contact with Ateş; they seek to open their own mosques and to join forces in a new, liberal Islamic association.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/themen/reportage/berliner-moschee-fuer-liberale-muslime-der-islam-gehoert-nicht-den-fanatikern/19919994-all.html ))

Video: women ‘shunned’ in certain Paris suburbs

The investigation was launched by France 2 TV with the aid of Brigade Des Mères (BDM) group which aims to restore gender equality across France.

Two BDM representatives – both women – carried out a social experiment. They chose Sevran commune in the northeastern suburbs of Paris and analyzed the reaction of local men towards women. The response was probably well-suited to some neighborhood in Saudi Arabia, the women later said.

In one café, which solely consisted of male customers, they received a cold welcome. The women were asked if they were looking for a man.”

“There are men in the café,” explains one of the men to them, while the women respond: “It’s OK, in the world there are men and women.”

Answering the question if such behavior is normal, the men in the café answer: “It’s Sevran, not Paris. We have a different mentality.”

“It’s not like in France, it is like back home!” one of the men says.

“But it’s France,” one of the women replies. Sevran is located 16km from the center of the French capital.

Later in the video the camera captures a woman dressed in burqa, a full-body cloak worn by some Muslim women.

All dialogues were filmed with secret cameras. BDM later wrote that in some neighborhoods in France women have become “undesirable in public places.”

Walking in a skirt or having a coffee on the terrace can become a real challenge for them,” the group said.

 

 

She’s an imam in LA and doesn’t have patience for a strict interpretation of Islam

Ani Zonneveld is an imam, and yes, also a woman. She qualifies that she is “an imam with a small “i” — though her reluctance to go with a capital “I” says more about her democratic approach to worship than any deference to Islamic tradition, one that has been and still is very male-dominated. She has no patience for that Islam.

Instead she founded a Muslim community — Muslims for

Credit: Arzeen Photography/Muslims for Progressive Values
Credit: Arzeen Photography/Muslims for Progressive Values

Progressive Values — that embraces gender equality, gay rights and interfaith marriage. And although it is based in Los Angeles, it has spread — often quietly — across the world.

European Human Rights Court Upholds France’s Burqa Ban

July 1, 2014

On Tuesday, July 1 the European Court of Human Rights voted, by a large majority, to uphold France’s ban of the full veil. A young Frenchwoman challenged the law that was instituted in 2010 and which calls for a 150-euro fine for anyone wearing the full veil in public. The decision is largely viewed as a triumph for France and Belgium, which are the only two countries in Europe to institute such legislation. The victory gives other countries the right to enact similar laws.

The French government had argued that the ban was in the interest of public safety and in support of women who may be forced to wear the full veil. However, many critics contend that the law is discriminatory and targets Muslims and religious minorities, violating the principles of freedom of religion and freedom of expression. In response to the ruling Elsa Ray, spokeswoman for the Muslim advocacy group CCIF argued, “Some people now feel entitled to attack women wearing the veil even though the infringement is no more severe than, say, a parking ticket.”

The law was challenged by a woman only identified by her initials, S.A.S., who decided to wear either a niqab or a burqa without any pressure from her family. S.A.S. contends that the French ban constituted a violation of her religious freedom, and could potentially lead to “discrimination and harassment.”

The French government argued, “showing one’s face in public was one of the ‘minimum requirements of life in society.’” The court decided that the ban cannot be justified as a public safety measure or as a protector of women’s rights, but that “the barrier raised against others by a veil concealing the face was perceived by the respondent state as breaching the right of others to live in a space of socialization which made living together easier.”

The highly contentious decision, which cannot be appealed, has already sparked protests from several groups. James Goldstone, executive director of the Open Society Justice initiative, filed a third-party intervention on the ruling and said, “Coming at a time when hostility to ethnic and religious minorities is on the rise in many parts of Europe, the court’s decision is an unfortunate missed opportunity to reaffirm the importance of equal treatment for all and the fundamental right to religious belief and expression.” He continued, “The majority has failed adequately to protect the rights of many women who wish to express themselves by what they wear.”

However, a spokesman for the French foreign ministry confirmed that the government viewed the ruling as a success because it “reflected France’s commitment to gender equality.”