BERLIN // The founders of a new liberal mosque that opened in Berlin this month allowing men and women to pray together have received death threats.
The Ibn Rushd Goethe Mosque, named after the 12-century Andalusian philosopher and Germany’s most illustrious writer, was inaugurated on June 16 on the premises of a Protestant church in a working-class area of Berlin with a high migrant population. Prayers can be led by female as well as male imams, worshippers from the different branches of Islam are welcome, and full face veils are forbidden.
Seyran Ates, a lawyer, women’s rights activist and leader of the mosque initiative, said she had received many threats and abusive messages and was under police protection.
“I take it seriously. I’m not ignoring it but I’m not going to be driven by fear, I’m trying to deal with it sensibly,” she said.
Police were also on guard for Friday prayers at the mosque, a 90-square-metre room with a plain white carpet and green prayer mats rented from the church. Ms Ates said seven or eight people attended.
The mosque is aimed at countering fundamentalism and catering for what the mosque’s founders said was the silent majority of Muslims in German who want a modern interpretation of Islam.
But in many Muslim countries most men and women say they prefer to be divided when praying at a mosque or prayer hall.
The Islamic authorities in Egypt and Turkey have both said they disagree with the founders of the Berlin mosque.
Diyanet, Turkey’s main Muslim religious authority, dismissed the mosque’s practices as “experiments aimed at nothing more than depraving and ruining religion” and accused the founders of the mosque of being followers of Fetullah Gulen, the US-based cleric whom Ankara accuses of running a terrorist network and masterminding the attempted coup in Turkey in July 2016.
The seven founders of the Berlin mosque, who include a male and a female imam, argue that some scholars over the centuries have said it is permissible for men and women to pray together.
“There is a reality that no one can deny, and it’s that for the last 1,400 years in Mecca, where the religion was founded, men and women have prayed together and they still do so at the hajj, shoulder to shoulder, and it’s the same on the Temple Mount,” said Ms Ates, a German citizen of Turkish-Kurdish descent.
The dispute over the mosque could further sour already difficult relations between Germany and Turkey. Berlin on Friday rejected the Turkish criticism of the mosque.
“I would like to clearly reject statements that obviously aim to deny the right of people in Germany to freely exercise their religion and limit their right to freedom of expression,” said Martin Schäfer, spokesman for the German foreign ministry .“How, where, when and in which manner people worship is not a matter for the state.
Germany has about four million Muslims, of whom around three million are of Turkish origin. They are served by Germany’s biggest association of mosques, Ditib, which brings in imams from Turkey.
Deutsche Welle, a German public media organisation that publishes in 30 different languages, said its Arabic article on the opening of the mosque was clicked on 1.7 million times by last Monday afternoon, and provoked many angry responses.