Sunday, March 18, 2012

Şehitlik-Moschee - Berlin, Neukölln
Foto: Steffen Pletl, via
Today Michael and I participated in a tour of Neukölln's Şehitlik mosque, the largest mosque in Berlin, which belongs to the Turkish-German community. We bike/jog by here all the time, but had never been in (and didn't even know whether it was possible to visit). So when Fulbright listed it as one of the possible free tours offered as part of their annual meeting, we definitely wanted to sign up.

On the website of the mosque (and also here) you can also find out more information about visits.

They list the following reasons for wanting people to visit:
  • Islamische Architekturkunst aufzeigen und erläutern [show and explain Islamic architecture]
  • Muslimisches Leben im Berliner Alltag vorstellen [introduce Muslim everyday life in Berlin]
  • sich gegenseitig kennenlernen [get to know one another]
  • Vorurteile abbauen und Gemeinsamkeiten entdecken [break down stereotypes and discover commonalities]
  • Steigerung gegenseitiger Wertschätzung [increase appreciation of one another]
  • Fragen (auch kritische) zum Islam authentisch beantworten [answer (also critical) questions about Islam in an authentic way]
  • Perspektivwechsel ermöglichen [make possible the exchange of perspectives]
  • Dialoge und Freundschaften fördern [promote dialogue and friendships]
Foto: picture-alliance/ dpa (
We learned that there are about 300,000 Muslims in Berlin, and about 80 mosques and/or prayer rooms. Most are the so-called "Hinterhofmoscheen", or "courtyard-mosques," hidden away in apartment buildings. There are no outer signs that there is a mosque there. Only a few are free-standing buildings, visible as mosques, and this is the largest. Our guide told us that the Muslim community in Berlin is very ethnically divided, so you have a Turkish mosque, a Bosnian, an Arab mosque. He also said that there is no official organization, with a "head" of the Muslim community in Germany. This is difficult because in Germany there is no real separation of church and state, and without this kind of organization, the Muslim community cannot get the equivalent of the Christian "church taxes," or religious education in the schools. (In German schools, kids have to have either "religion" class (Protestant or Catholic), or they take "ethics." There is no option for Islam.)

This mosque is very new: finished in 2005. It was built to resemble Ottoman mosques in Turkey from the 16th and 17th centuries, with the minarets. This mosque was built on a piece of ground that actually belongs to Turkey. Back in the days of Prussia and the Ottoman empire, the Prussians gave the Turks this piece of ground for a cemetery, and the mosque is built on this piece of land.

In this particular mosque, the prayer is read in Turkish (sometimes also Arabic), but the Friday sermon is read in German. We got to sit in and listen/watch a prayer service. It lasted about 10 minutes and the prayer was more sung than read. The men and women were separated, the women prayed in the balcony (where we also sat). The men prayed with the imam below. It's a very physical way of praying. They kneel down, sit on their heels and touch their forehead to the ground, and repeat this motion. Their bodies are very close, and at the end of the ceremony they all moved towards the front, and made sure everyone in each row was touching, so no one stood alone. Our guide explained that for this reason men and women are also separated, because when you bow down your head is very close to the rear of the person in front of you.

It's not only a place of prayer, but a community center. While we were there, there were constantly children running around. I noticed a few men holding cups of tea when we came in, and women sitting around in the courtyard talking. Michael also pointed out to me they have a Reisebüro, travel agency. The woman from the board of the mosque as well as the imam came to us and introduced themselves.

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