A Turkish mega-mosque in Cologne, a historic stronghold of Christendom in Germany, has for the first time begun sounding Muslim calls to prayer over outdoor loudspeakers. City officials say the move is aimed at promoting multicultural diversity and inclusion, but many worry that Cologne is establishing a national precedent, and that soon many of the more than 3,000 other mosques in Germany will also begin publicly calling Muslims to prayer.
The sounding of Muslim prayer calls in Cologne — famous for its cathedral, the largest Gothic church in northern Europe — marks a major victory for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his unrelenting effort to ensconce political Islam in Germany.
On October 14 at 1:24 pm, a muezzin at Cologne's Central Mosque (Zentralmoschee), one of the most prominent mosques in Germany, publicly called the Muslim faithful to midday prayer. Although public prayer calls have been authorized in other German municipalities, this was the first time the sonorous prayer call (known as the adhan in Arabic) was sounded in the downtown area of a major German city.
The prayer call is part of a two-year "pilot project" (Modellprojekt) that will allow all mosques and Islamic centers in Cologne to apply for a permit to call Muslims to prayer for five minutes every Friday between noon and 3pm. At the end of the project, city officials will decide on whether to make the Muslim calls to prayer a permanent feature of life in Cologne.
The pilot project is the brainchild of Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker, a political independent known for her pursuit of multiculturalism. She compares the Islamic prayer calls to church bells. "Cologne is the city of (religious) freedom and diversity," she tweeted. "Those who arrive at the central train station are greeted by the cathedral and accompanied by church bells. Many Cologne residents are Muslims. To allow the muezzin call is for me a sign of respect."
Critics counter that comparing Islamic prayer calls to church bells is a false equivalence because, unlike a bell, the muezzin proclaims the supremacy of Islam. The standard adhan consists of a series of absolutist religious proclamations, including, "there is no god but Allah" and "Allahu Akbar" ("Allah is the Greatest"). Others argue that public calls to prayer are unnecessary in a day and age when mobile devices are omnipresent and prayer reminders can easily be delivered by apps or text messages.
The controversy over the public call to prayer is magnified by the fact that Cologne's Central Mosque is no ordinary mosque. The mosque — a massive structure with towering minarets and a capacity for thousands of worshippers — is controlled by the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), a branch of the Turkish government's Ministry of Religious Affairs, known in Turkish as Diyanet.
In Germany alone, Diyanet pays the salaries of nearly 1,000 conservative clerics who effectively are Turkish civil servants and do the bidding of the Turkish government. Turkish-German politician Cem Özdemir, a senior member of the Greens party, has described DITIB as "nothing more than an extended arm of the Turkish state" and "a political front organization of Erdoğan's AKP party."
Erdoğan uses DITIB to exert control over Cologne Central Mosque and at least 900 other mosques in Germany. His stated aim is to prevent Turkish immigrants from integrating into German society. Erdoğan has characterized the assimilation of Muslims into a non-Muslim society as "a crime against humanity." DITIB has been surveilled by Germany's domestic intelligence agency for suspected "anti-constitutional activities" on behalf of the Turkish government.
In a lengthy article, Benedict Neff, the Berlin correspondent for the Swiss daily newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung, chronicled how DITIB repeatedly lied to German authorities with false promises that there would be no muezzin calls, that sermons would be delivered in German and that the mosque would become a meeting place for members of different religions. Now there are public calls to prayer, sermons are given in Turkish by imams who do not speak German, and the mosque is not an interreligious center.
"If you consider how DITIB tricked the Cologne politicians, their granting permission for the muezzin call seems particularly grotesque," Neff wrote. "What the city government doesn't seem to have understood, despite all its efforts to promote tolerance: This is about politics, territorial claims, access to people. DITIB proclaims Turkish Islamism and nationalism with Erdoğanesque characteristics." Neff concluded that the Cologne Central Mosque is nothing less than an "Islamist-nationalist center created in the spirit of Erdoğan."
German-Israeli Islamism expert Ahmad Mansour said that the Muslim call to prayer is a "demonstration of power by political Islam" and accused Mayor Reker of being "criminally naive." In an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur, he warned that the concession would embolden Islamists to expand their demands, including the recognition of Islamic public holidays. "That is exactly what will happen now: Islamic conservatives feel vindicated," he wrote. "They see this as an important step towards the Islamization of Europe and will keep demanding more and more."
The director of the Frankfurt Research Center on Global Islam, Susanne Schröter, warned that Islamists, including Erdoğan, will view the public call to prayer in Cologne as a victory for political Islam. In an interview with Westdeutscher Rundfunk, a Cologne-based television network, she said that while progressive Germans might see the muezzin call as a sign of tolerance for non-Christian religions in Germany, DITIB will not see it the same way.
"If you look at the history of the Cologne Central Mosque, it is anything but an integrative project," Schröter said. "When the mosque was inaugurated, German politicians were absent but Turkish President Erdoğan flew in from Ankara and celebrated it as a symbolic colonization (Landnahme). Erdoğan continues to instrumentalize DITIB-controlled mosques for political purposes and for anti-integration propaganda." She said that Islamists would be emboldened to redouble their efforts to spread Islam in Germany.
Necla Kelek, a Turkish-born German sociologist and Islam expert, accused Reker of reinforcing gender inequality. "When Allahu Akhbar is called, men come together, men who leave their wives at home," Kelek said in an interview with the German newspaper Bild. "According to these men, their wives have no place in public. A female mayor, of all people, confirms to these men that this image of society is okay — in our midst."
Abdullah Bozkurt, an expatriate critic of Erdoğan who was recently doxxed by the regime, warned that the Turkish strongman will now be emboldened ahead of the Turkish general election scheduled for June 2023. "The move may also carry the risk of emboldening operatives of the Turkish regime in Europe, especially Germany, where Diyanet-run mosques have effectively become platforms for Erdoğan's Islamist government to gather intelligence, collect information and spy on critics and opponents of the Turkish President," he told Focus on Western Islamism.
Soeren Kern is a contributor to Focus on Western Islamism.