Mosque closures in Munich highlight lack of Muslim prayer spaces in Germany

The Bavarian capital of Munich is one of Germany’s boom towns: rapid population growth in the past few years has driven up rents and strained public services.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/einwohnerprognosen-warum-das-bevoelkerungswachstum-in-muenchen-probleme-macht-1.2984306 )) Now, another consequence of the city’s expansion has become clear: a lack of mosques and Islamic prayer spaces.

Growing Muslim population – and mosque closures

By 2014, 100,000 of Munich’s 1.5 million inhabitants were Muslim.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/moschee-projekt-in-muenchen-schmid-will-idriz-unterstuetzen-1.2061937 )) This figure has only been on the rise since then, due to the arrival of large numbers of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the city.

In spite of the increased demand for Islamic religious spaces and services, mosques within Munich’s city limits have, in fact, been closing down in recent years. At the end of March, 2017, the Kuba mosque, the last of what used to be nine mosques in the area surrounding the central train station – home to many Muslim shopkeepers and employees – shut its doors.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/moscheen-muslime-haben-in-muenchen-kaum-platz-zum-beten-1.3445341 ))

The stories of mosque closures tend to mirror each other: local Muslim associations have their rental lease agreements cancelled since their premises are overcrowded and hence violate fire safety regulations. In the case of the Kuba mosque, at Friday prayers up to 450 believers had crammed into a room designed to hold a maximum of 90.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/moscheen-muslime-haben-in-muenchen-kaum-platz-zum-beten-1.3445341 ))

Plans for a larger mosque

In the case of Munich, plans to build a larger mosque have been mooted for years without ever coming to fruition. The Munich Forum for Islam (MFI), an association bringing together Muslim representatives as well as local politicians from various political parties, had proposed the construction of a representative mosque north of the city centre.(( http://www.islam-muenchen.de/ ))

The project was set to include not only an Islamic house of prayer, but also training facilities for Imams, a library, a cultural space, and a café grouped around a public plaza. However, the project failed to gather the necessary funds to acquire the plot of land on which it was to be built.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/moschee-fuer-muenchen-muenchen-bekommt-kein-islamzentrum-zumindest-erst-einmal-1.3055209 ))

Reasons for the failure

The reasons for this failure were manifold. The notoriously divided and financially weak Muslim associational scene did not always speak with one voice and did not manage to function as a convincing lobby for the project.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/gescheitertes-projekt-mit-dem-aus-fuer-die-muenchner-moschee-scheitert-mehr-als-eine-idee-1.3055211 ))

What is more, the MFI always put great stress on the need to emancipate itself from any ties to the countries of origin of Muslim immigrants. Such ties have emerged as a core obstacle to the political and societal recognition of existing Muslim institutions in Germany. At the same time, however, the MFI’s attempts to gather donations focused mostly on attracting Arab funds from the Gulf. For many outside observers, this approach was not conducive to building confidence and trust.

Some commentators have pointed out, however, that another reason for the project’s miscarriage was a lack of political will on the part of the local administration: when it came to the crunch – notably the acquisition of the plot for the construction site – the political support on the part of the city’s decision-makers was lacklustre at best.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/gescheitertes-projekt-mit-dem-aus-fuer-die-muenchner-moschee-scheitert-mehr-als-eine-idee-1.3055211 ))

Enduring political dilemma for mosque communities

The fate of the MFI mosque highlights the enduring dilemma faced by comparable efforts elsewhere in Germany: a lack of financial and political capital confines Muslim prayer to the outskirts of town – Munich’s largest mosque is located on the city’s northern edge next to a sewage treatment plant – or to small and often insalubrious prayer spaces in apartments, ancient warehouses, or disused factories – so-called ‘backyard mosques’ (Hinterhofmoscheen).

Whilst politically ostracised as tools of authoritarian Middle Eastern governments, only those mosque communities backed by wealthy donors or state agencies from Turkey and the Gulf are, as of now, capable of building appropriate houses of worship. Any community wishing to emancipate itself from these backers – such as Munich’s MFI – is thus caught in a real bind.

Backlash against public prayer

To draw attention to this state of affairs, a number of Munich’s Muslims got together on social media and sought to organise a public Friday prayer at Marienplatz square, the city’s historical heart in front of the town hall.

Yet the right-wing backlash online against the planned public prayer was so fierce that the organisers decided to cancel the event. They feared both that they would not be able to guarantee the safety of potential attendees, and that such a highly public demonstration would make their attempt to raise awareness of the lack of prayer space seem too confrontational and thus counter-productive.(( http://www.br.de/nachrichten/moscheen-muenchen-demo-100.html ))

This week, the local Jesuit community of Saint Michael offered a pray er room to all those who had wished to attend the event at Marienplatz. Whilst this amounts to a precious gesture of interreligious dialogue, the picture of Munich’s Muslims having to pray under an almost life-sized crucifix struck many belivers and observers as at the very least odd.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/raumnot-moscheenot-in-muenchen-muslime-beten-in-der-michaelskirche-1.3513855 ))

Islamophobia Threatens Democracy in Europe, Report Says

In a report on the health of democracy in the post-Soviet world, Freedom House painted a bleak picture of the state of liberal values in parts of Europe. The Washington-based human rights advocacy organization, which publishes a global freedom index every year, highlighted a number of worrying trends in 29 countries in Eastern and Central Europe, the Balkans and Central Asia.

Chief among them was the strengthening of authoritarian politics in a number of countries, as well as the rise of “illiberal nationalism” in others, particular European Union democracies like Poland and Hungary. The European struggle to come to grips with the migrant crisis on its borders, as well as ongoing economic turmoil, are the leading causes of this democratic malaise, according to Freedom House.

The new assessments were published this week in Freedom House’s annual Nations In Transit report, focused on the countries that started transitioning toward democracy after the fall of the Soviet Union. It usesthe organization’s specific ratings that evaluate nations across a range of criteria, from corruption to the strength of electoral institutions to the independence of the media. Weighted for population, the average Democracy Score in the 29 countries profiled by Freedom House has declined for 12 years in a row.

“The biggest challenge to democracy in Europe is the spread of deeply illiberal politics,” details Freedom House’s press release. This, as WorldViews has charted over the past year, has been very much on display in the response to an influx of refugees and migrants from Syria and other countries. Right-wing politicians, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, fanned populist flames by grandstanding over the threat of Muslim migration.

Their rhetoric, garbed in ominous declarations of a clash of civilizations, played to domestic audiences and, in a few cases, boosted the political prospects of some ruling parties. Governments from Poland to Slovakia to Hungary rejected E.U. proposals to accommodate tiny numbers of refugees.

Leaders in these countries, the report states, “exploited the crisis to strengthen their populist appeal, disregarding fundamental humanitarian principles and the ideals of democratic pluralism for short-term partisan gain.”

The mood exacerbated wider strains within the European Union, whichfaces an existential moment in June as Britain votes in a referendum on its membership in Europe.

“Claiming that Europe faces a Muslim invasion has become standard fare for a range of politicians and political parties in Europe,” Nate Schenkkan, project director of Nations in Transit, said in a statement. “This kind of speech undermines democracy by rejecting one of its fundamental principles—equality before the law. There is a danger that this kind of hateful, paranoid speech will lead to violence against minorities and refugees.”

The report also digs into various social and political crises in Eurasia sparked by the drop in global oil prices, the scourge of corruption in Ukraine and the deepening dictatorships of Central Asia. You can read it in full here.

The Union of French Muslim Democrats Presents Eight Candidates

Established in November 2012, The Union of French Muslim Democrats (UDMF) claims more than 900 members and 8,000 supporters. Most are Muslims who do not identity with the current political parties and who are “fed up” with bipartisan politics. This year, the party will present eight candidates in departmental elections in Lyon, Nice, Pas-de-Calais, and others.

Directed by Najib Azergui, the party hopes to promote Islamic finance, an alternative form of traditional finance, as a method to avoid future economic crises. The party also hopes that certain “tragic chapters” in French history (Algeria, colonization, etc), which are “silently passed by” in certain schools, will be made part of their curricula. They also hope to provide Arabic classes, which are “unfairly banned” in secondary schools.

The party most notably defends the right for girls to wear headscarves in schools, as well as civic and philosophic education to teach students to “think and debate.”

Prominent Dutch academic critiques minister’s plans to ban “sharia parties”

A majority of parties in the Dutch House of Representatives have agreed on the desirability of a ban for political parties based on the Islamic sharia law. A bill that suggested so was put forward by the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and supported by the two parties currently in the government, the Labour Party (PvdA) and the Peoples Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). It was also supported by the Christian Union (CU) and the Political Reformed Party (SGP). The Minister of Social Affairs Lodewijk Asscher has expressed his willingness to investigate possibilities within Dutch law that would support such a ban.

The bill has been criticized by emeritus professor of integration and migration studies Han Entzinger. He posed that it is unclear what Muslims mean by sharia and that many diverse interpretations of it exist. He suggested that some interpretations of sharia might contain aspects that are in conflict with democracy. Alluding to the ban on extreme right parties such as the Centre Party ‘ 86 (CP ’86) in the nineties he suggested that it might in fact be possible to ban parties with an undemocratic character.

Entzinger suggested however that it remains questionable if such a threat is really at hand. He maintains that the majority of Dutch Muslims are not proponents of the implementation of Islamic sharia law in the Netherlands. He fears that the current discussion on a ban will unnecessarily enhance the already existing polarization in Dutch society, thus enhancing stigmatization of Muslims and xenophobia amongst Dutch natives. Entzinger also suggested that since such political parties are currently not in existence in the Netherlands the whole discussion could be seen as an example of “symboolpolitiek” (politics based on symbolism) as a prelude to the Dutch elections.

The spokesman of the Muslims of Ceuta criticizes “scoundrels” politicians who wear the veil “as electoral strategy”

21 August 2012

The president of the Union of Islamic Communities in Ceuta (Ucidce) Laarbi Maateis, has censored the  “scoundrels political parties and associations ” who “used the hijab – the headscarf – as decoy during electoral campaigns and cause alarm for the rest of the year “after an association that works in defense of gender equality in the two autonomous cities, ‘Búscome’, has termed as “macho” the expressions allegedly discharged by imams who led the prayers at the end of the month of Ramadan.
Maateis has denied, however, that during the prayer such assertions had been made. “During the prayers [attended by about 3,000 people], the imam asked Allah to give our children the faith to wear the hijab according to the conviction and education of each family, no more, because nor a father, or an imam or a head of state may force it to anyone, “warned the President of the UCIDCE.

UK Parties are trying to gain Muslim vote

23 July 2012

After the George Galloway’ historic victory of in Bradford by-elections British political parties have realized the significance of the Muslim vote and have been trying to gain support of Muslims. IN this regard, following Labor Leader Ed Miliband, Conservative Party Chair Baroness Warsi has visited the city to meet Muslim women.

Local Muslim Women’s Council members who were the organizers of the event challenged influential Muslim politician Baroness Warsi about immigration policy, education, the impact of cutbacks and austerity and the role Government has played in fuelling Islamophobia.

IFOP REPORT: The perception of Europeans on Islam

Over the past several years polemical and controversial issues related to Islam have emerged in European societies. Amidst a number of highly mediatized fundamentalist attacks, tensions have focused in recent years on debates about the wearing of headscarves, mosques being vandalized, and the integration and naturalization of immigrant populations, all of which are also mobilized by extreme right political parties.

Approximately 12-13 million of Europe’s 377 million inhabitants are Muslim (4% of the population), and most live in large cities. France has the largest population, followed by Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. These four countries have very different models with which to frame the aforementioned debates. This study examining the perceptions of Europeans in these countries on Islam had five principal findings:

That concern with Islam is present but secondary
That Muslim populations are perceived to have largely failed to integrate
That the visibility of Islam is a principal issue
That there is a general rejection of political Islam but an acceptance of private beliefs
That there are important generational differences in how Muslims integrate

Dutch Organizations Launch Online Vote Compass for Morocco

31 October 2011

In advance of parliamentary elections in Morocco on 25 November, in which the king will transfer his governmental authority to a prime minister, Dutch organizations have created an online ‘Vote Compass’ for the country. The Compass, available in French and Arabic, enables participants to respond to a series of questions, indicating which of the competing political parties’ views most closely reflect their own. The Compass was created by the Free University of Amsterdam and was launched in association with Radio Netherlands Worldwide; it has no links to any party, candidate or government body.

Enzo Traverso: rise in right-wing political parties in Europe and Islamophobia

In this opinion piece, French philosopher Enzo Traverso links recent movements in right wing political parties in Europe with the violent rejection of immigrants and Muslims in particular. He warns of similarities of these politics with the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe before the Second World War.