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Berlin's First Grand Mosque, Germany





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BERLIN, December 6 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) - Muslims in Berlin let out a sigh of relief as the first ever grand mosque has just opened in the German capital after prayers were usually performed in apartments, halls and courtyards. Berlin Mosque

The unmistakable twin minarets, the domed roof and the marble staircase of the Pehitlik leaves the impression that it could be in Cairo, Beirut, Damascus or a thousand other cities and towns dotted with mosques, but it is not, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP) Friday, December 5.

"It's good to have a representative place," said Recep Turkogu, a member of the Turkish-Islamic Union for the Office of Religion (DITIB) which supervises 600 of the 2,200 Muslim prayer centers in Germany.

"We chose to stay in Germany," said Turkogu, who moved to Germany 34 years ago, "so we want convenient places to pray."

Countrywide, the Muslim community has 77 mosques. In Berlin, the prayers have been performed in apartments, halls and courtyards.

"Normally we pray in a flat," said three Turks arriving for midday prayers at the new grand mosque.

"Praying here is a chance to socialize, but we prefer to pray at our homes," they told AFP.

The city already boasts more than 70 places of prayer for Muslims, but not until the Pehitlik opened in Columbiadamm, a well-known street in southern Berlin.

Controversy

The building on the Columbiadamm has excited little controversy, apart from a dispute over the size of the minarets.

Additionally, news of a dozen similar plans to build mosques or Islamic centers in Berlin, notably in the Turkish-dominated areas of Kreuzberg and Neukoelln, have raised concerns.

"Generally, people think that, Islam being embedded in these districts, it's legitimate that there are representative buildings," said Guenther Piening, a Berlin city official responsible for matters of racial integration.

"But they fear mosques will encourage a radicalization that would threaten the liberal atmosphere of those districts," he claimed.

Neukoelln's conservative mayor Heinz Buschkowsky said the best way to ease concerns was to ensure transparency, notably on how a project is financed, as well as ensuring the building fitted into the local environment.

Buschkowsky is battling against a plan by a little-known group, Inssan. It was set up two years ago and has only 40 members, yet has submitted proposals for what would be one of the biggest Islamic centers in Germany, complete with cafe, crèche and library as well as a prayer room.

The mayor is concerned about Inssan's credibility and source of funds, and says it was a mistake to grant it provisional planning permission.

There are some 3.4 million Muslims in Germany, including 220,000 in Berlin. An estimated two thirds are of Turkish origin.