Within the course of my travels through Europe this semester, I have visited an immense number of churches and cathedrals—so many that I would probably be better off writing a book about them than a blog post. I recently got to see something a bit different though, when my Contemporary German Society class took a field trip to a Turkish mosque in Berlin. Having never been inside a mosque before, I didn’t really know what to expect. We were shown around by a member of the community who talked to us about the design of the mosque, what goes on during a prayer service, basic information about the practice of Islam, and also some contemporary issues surrounding Islam in Germany.
I was immediately blown away by the beautiful architecture of the mosque, both on the outside and inside of the building. Our guide explained to us that the design of the inside of the mosque is inspired by a great deal of symbolism. The mosque is made to emulate the natural world: the green carpet represents grass, the pillars running up the sides represent trees, the blue details on the walls and ceiling represent the sky, and the large central chandelier represents the sun. As a rule, there are no images on the walls of the mosque, and hence all decorations are patterns, designs, or artistically drawn Arabic characters.
Muslim immigrants began to arrive in Germany in significant numbers for the first time in the 1960s and 1970s as guest workers. When the first guest workers arrived there were virtually no mosques in Germany, as the country had not made provisions for the religious needs of the labor force. On top of this, a majority of the guest workers were not to a great extent strongly religious. Although they came from Muslim backgrounds they were mainly focused on spending their time working rather than establishing religious institutions. Small scale areas for daily prayer were set up primarily in the hostels and factories that the workers lived in and worked at. Those serving as Imams were mainly workers with no special religious training. (Goldberg).
The ways in which Islam was practiced in Germany began to change with the beginning of family reunifications in the 1970s and 1980s. As the families of workers arrived in Germany a greater call for places of worship began to appear. The first mosques were set up in former factories and office buildings along with backyards. Imams began to arrive from Turkey to lead religious services. Muslim communities began to grow and those practicing Islam clung to their religion as a strategy to maintain their culture and values in a new unfamiliar society (Goldberg).
Today, Islam is the second largest religion in Germany, after Christianity. There are currently over four million Muslims living in the country, giving Germany one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe, second only to France (Rogers). There are at least 2,500 Muslim places of worship in Germany, including around 140 purpose-built mosques with domes and minarets (Euro-Islam).
It was very interesting to visit the Turkish mosque and learn about a culture that is so prominent in German society and yet often overlooked. It was a great experience that I’m very glad I had a chance to take part in.
Goldberg, Andreas. “Islam in Germany” in Islam, Europe’s Second Religion: The New Social, Cultural, and Political Landscape ed. Hunter, Shireen T. Praeger Security International. 2015. Accessed October 13, 2015. http://psi.praeger.com.watzekpx.lclark.edu/doc.aspx?d=/books/dps/20008413/20008413-p200084139970029001.xml
“Islam in Germany.” Euro-Islam: News and Analysis on Islam in Europe and North America. 2015. Accessed November 15, 2015. http://www.euro-islam.info/country-profiles/germany/
Rogers, Simon. “Muslim populations by country: how big will each Muslim population be by 2030?” The Guardian. January 28, 2011. Accessed November 19, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2011/jan/28/muslim-population-country-projection-2030