|Muslims plan to construct over 180 mosques in Germany. The birthplace of the Protestant Reformation, Neo-Orthodoxy, Dietrich Bonheoffer's Confessing Church and Pope Benedict XVI, it is also the location of almost 1,000 Baptist churches and the Baptist World Alliance's 2008 youth conference.
"No fewer than 184 new mosques, some with domes and minarets, are currently being built or planned throughout Germany. That's considerably more than the 163 existing traditional mosques (along with around 2,600 prayer rooms mostly hidden within secular buildings)," reported the German magazine, Spiegel. "And that appears to be only the start of an expected wider European mosque-building boom."
Spiegel said that construction plans were "mobilizing right-wing xenophobes" and "an increasing number of leftist critics."
"Ill will over mosques…is spreading rapidly throughout Germany," noted Spiegel, pointing out that original plans for a mega-mosque in Cologne had to be scaled back.
The magazine reported that "Molotov cocktails were thrown through mosque windows" in Bavaria, construction trailers were torched in Berlin and "Christians set protest crosses inscribed with 'Terra christiana est,' or this is Christian land, on the grounds of a mosque in Hanover."
Provocative words by Muslims have aggravated the situation, according to the article, which noted that in 1997 Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, said, "The minarets are our lances, the domes our helmets, the believers our army."
Add to the mix the name of mosques. One is named after the Islamic leader who conquered Constantinople.
Protestant and Catholic leaders have questioned the size and number of mosques given the limited population of Muslims in Germany, which numbers some three million. Jewish leaders and members of the Green Party have also expressed concern.
"When a mosque is built," said Mina Ahadi, co-founder of Germany's Central Council of Ex-Muslims, "the result is that greater pressure is placed on women, and even more children are forced to wear a headscarf to school, which leads to isolation."
She said German politicians showed "boundless naiveté" in their involvement with Islamic groups.
Erich Geldbach, retired Baptist professor of church history and ecumenical studies at Philipps University in Marburg, Germany, told EthicsDaily.com that German Baptists should remember their heritage when they consider the mosque-building campaign.
"I think German Baptists should respond to the building campaign in terms of religious freedom, i.e., keeping in mind that in the 19th century Germany Baptists and other religious fringe groups (then called 'sects') coped with the same problems as Muslims today like zoning laws," he said. "In Berlin…Baptists were not allowed to build their houses of worship on the street, but only in the backyards so that they could not be seen. In my opinion this has caused what I have often called a 'backyard mentality' among Baptists which was felt until a generation ago, sometimes even today."
Geldbach, an active leader of the Baptist World Alliance, said: "The social marginalization has had a long-term effect. If Baptists were more conscious of their history, they would more generally see this parallel, but I am afraid that most Baptists would voice their opposition to the building campaign because there is, among evangelicals, a strange fear of Muslims."
Another German Baptist leader also noted that Baptists once received similar treatment as Muslims.
Michael Kisskalt, a lecturer of missiology and religions at Germany Baptist Seminary in Elstal, said Baptists should defend religious freedom for Muslims.
"I think that they should have the right to build representative buildings (mosques) where Muslims can gather. I also think that they should have the right to teach Muslim pupils in their religion at schools as Protestants and Catholics do it in Germany," he told EthicsDaily.com, adding that German Baptists should consider the degree of respect Muslims have for the human dignity of others.
Both Kisskalt and Geldbach addressed the issue of Muslim integration in Germany.
Speaking from first-hand experience with immigrant workers from Turkey, Geldbach noted that "it is quite true that a Turkish 'parallel society' developed in some major cities…. In some quarters of the cities…young people can learn a trade, older folks can go shopping, do their banking, live their lives until they die without ever having to speak one word of German. It goes without saying that German people in such neighborhoods feel as though they were strangers in their own land."
Yet Geldbach refused to blame the Turks. He said that Germany "has been very weak in welcoming foreigners" and has treated workers from Turkey "badly."
Kisskalt observed that Turkish Muslim residents were less integrated than Iranian Muslims.
"Among the Baptist Christians in Germany, you will find all attitudes towards Muslims which you see in the society in general," he said. However, he did contrast the more open perspective of German Baptists in big cities than those in rural communities where citizens had more uncertainty and "anxiety about the presence of Muslims in Germany."
As secretary for evangelism and international churches in Germany for the Union of Evangelical Free Churches in Germany, he explained that "Initiative Ishmael" was launched in 2006 to address the issue of Muslims in his country.
The initiative's intentions were to encourage Baptist Christians and churches to meet and engage Muslims; to sustain Christians and congregations with a cultural background of Islam; and to formulate Baptist positions related to Muslims in Germany.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
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