Syr­i­ans find Ger­man mosques too con­ser­va­tive

‘Good Mus­lims grow beards, not mous­taches’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

COLOGNE:

Hani Salam es­caped civil war in Syria and sur­vived the jour­ney from Egypt to Europe. But when he saw men with bushy long beards at a mosque near his cur­rent home in Cologne last Novem­ber, he was wor­ried. The men’s ap­pear­ance re­minded him of Jaish Al-Is­lam, the Is­lamist rebels who took over his home­town near Damascus, said Salam, 36, who wears a mous­tache but no beard. One of them told Salam that “good Mus­lims grow beards, not mous­taches,” he re­called - a cen­turies-old idea that he dis­misses. “Ev­ery­thing about this mosque made me feel un­easy,” he said. Syr­i­ans in Ger­many say many of the coun­try’s Arab mosques are more con­ser­va­tive than those at home.

Over two months, a dozen Syr­i­ans in six places of wor­ship in three cities told Reuters they were un­com­fort­able with very con­ser­va­tive mes­sages in Ara­bic-speak­ing mosques. Peo­ple have crit­i­cized the way the new­com­ers dress and prac­tice their re­li­gion, they said. Some in­sisted the Ko­ran be in­ter­preted word-for-word. It is a highly con­tentious is­sue in a coun­try where Europe’s mi­grant in­flux is al­ready hav­ing deep po­lit­i­cal and so­cial con­se­quences. In Ger­many this year Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many, a pop­ulist party that says Is­lam is in­com­pat­i­ble with the Ger­man con­sti­tu­tion, has gained ground. There have been sev­eral at­tacks by mil­i­tant Mus­lims. Syr­i­ans and others say the mosque prob­lem is adding to mis­trust.

In Ger­many, other dif­fer­ent faiths are tra­di­tion­ally sup­ported by the state. But most of the coun­try’s four mil­lion Mus­lims orig­i­nally came from Turkey and at­tend Turk­ish-speak­ing mosques which are partly funded by Ankara. Last year around 890,000 asy­lum-seek­ers, more than 70 per­cent of them Mus­lims, en­tered the coun­try. Around a third came from Syria. Many of them do not want to go to Turk­ish mosques be­cause they do not un­der­stand the ser­mons. They pre­fer to wor­ship where peo­ple speak Ara­bic.

Yet in these mosques, other prob­lems arise. They are of­ten short of funds, or else sup­ported by Saudi Ara­bia and the Gulf states. Some back ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive or highly lit­eral in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Is­lam, such as Wah­habism or Salafism. “Un­for­tu­nately it is true that a large ma­jor­ity of Ara­bic-speak­ing mosques are more con­ser­va­tive than Turk­ish mosques,” said Pro­fes­sor Mouhan­nad Khorchide, who heads the Cen­tre for Is­lamic The­ol­ogy at Muen­ster Univer­sity. That poses prob­lems for in­te­grat­ing those who are less con­ser­va­tive. “How can one ab­sorb these peo­ple if they are in­ter­ested in their re­li­gion?” said Khorchide. “When there is a short­age of of­fers the Salafists try to fill the gap.”

‘Pure Is­lamic teach­ings’

In Cologne, Salam said that 75 Syr­i­ans live in the same ho­tel as his fam­ily. Of them, only one veiled woman prays at the near­est Ara­bic mosque. “One time when I was there, a Salafist asked a young Arab man to leave be­cause he was wear­ing shorts,” he added. “At the Turk­ish mosque no one cares what you’re wear­ing.” In a win­dow­less ground floor room in­side the Ara­bic mosque one Fri­day in Au­gust, some 200 men, in­clud­ing about two dozen with bushy beards and trimmed mous­taches typ­i­cal of ul­tra-Ortho­dox Mus­lims, crowded for prayers.

Af­ter­wards, a wor­ship­per scolded three Le­banese men for salut­ing him when he en­tered the mosque. They had in­ter­rupted the ser­mon, which he said was for­bid­den. “Your Fri­day is gone!” he told them, lift­ing his hands to­ward his face and press­ing his fin­gers to­gether to em­pha­size that their ac­tions had made their prayers void. The imam who led the prayers said the com­mu­nity is not po­lit­i­cal or vi­o­lent. Asked about the Syr­i­ans who felt un­com­fort­able at mosques like his, he said: “It’s an honor to be called a Salafist. We are only in­ter­ested in giv­ing mem­bers of our com­mu­nity pure Is­lamic teach­ings.” Even though Salam can’t un­der­stand the ser­mons in Turk­ish, he said he has started go­ing to a Turk­ish mosque in­stead. A 2008 sur­vey of Mus­lims and Chris­tians in Europe by the state-funded WZB Ber­lin So­cial Sci­ence Cen­tre found fun­da­men­tal­ist at­ti­tudes were less preva­lent among Ger­man Mus­lims than else­where in Europe, but still quite wide­spread: For ex­am­ple, nearly half the Mus­lims it sur­veyed in Ger­many felt re­li­gious law to be more im­por­tant than sec­u­lar law. Ger­many’s do­mes­tic in­tel­li­gence agency has recorded more than 320 at­tempts by Salafist Mus­lims to con­tact refugees last year, of­ten by of­fer­ing food, clothes, free copies of the Ko­ran and help with Ger­man to asy­lum seek­ers liv­ing in shel­ters. —

‘Brain­washed’

AFP

DIDYMOTEICHO: Adan’s fam­ily mem­bers from the Syr­ian city of Aleppo cross the rail­way as they ar­rive at the train sta­tion of Didymoteicho some 400 km North-East from Thes­sa­loniki, near the Greek-Turk­ish bor­der. —

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