The newly unveiled 'liberal mosque' in Berlin was supposed to showcase a 'gentler' Islam. An Islam that could be reformed and modernized while it emerges as the dominant demographic force in Europe. German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle touted the opening of the mosque as a "world event in the heart of Berlin."
"Everyone is welcome at Berlin's Ibn Rushd-Goethe Mosque," Deutsche Welle wrote, announcing the grand opening last month. "Women and men shall pray together and preach together at the mosque, while the Koran is to be interpreted 'historically and critically.'"
German reporters and press photographers, eager to give glowing coverage, thronged to witness the mosque's opening on June 16 and easily outnumbered the handful of Muslim worshipers. Deutsche Welle reported: "fervent enthusiasm in the media and political realm."
"For me there is no contradiction in being a Muslim and a feminist at the same time," Seyran Ates, the mosque's female imam told the German reporters.
"With Islam against Islamism," wrote Germany's leading weekly Der Spiegel. "Society in general will lionize [Imam Ates] as the long-awaited voice of Muslims that speaks clearly against Islamist terror," prophesied another German weekly, Die Zeit.
The Washington Post, not to be outdone by German newspapers, hailed the mosque's female founder Ates for "staging a feminist revolution of the Muslim faith."
In what can only be described as one-way multiculturalism, a Protestant church in Berlin's Moabit district had vacated its prayer hall to make way for this new mosque.
Prayers at the opening of the Ibn-Rushd-Goethe Mosque in Berlin, Germany on June 16, 2017. Seyran Ates, the mosque's female imam, is pictured in the second row, wearing a white robe. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
However, the media-driven PR campaign backfired, as the news of the opening of the Berlin 'liberal mosque' reached Muslim communities in Germany and abroad. The liberal utopian dream quickly turned into an Islamist nightmare. Islamic fanatics from near and far started flooding the Berlin mosque with death threats. Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the foremost authority on Sunni Islam, issued a fatwa forbidding the 'liberal mosque.'
The British newspaper The Guardian reported:
[The mosque's Imam Ates] said she had received "300 emails per day encouraging me to carry on", including from as far away as Australia and Algeria, but also "3,000 emails a day full of hate", some of them including death threats.
Egypt's Dar al-Ifta al-Masriyyah, a state-run Islamic institution assigned to issue religious edicts, issued a statement on Monday declaring that the Ibn Rushd-Goethe mosque's practice of men and women praying side by side was incompatible with Islam, while the legal department of Egypt's al-Azhar university reacted to news from Berlin with a fatwa on the foundation of liberal mosques per se.
After countless death threats, the newspapers reached out to Aiman Mazyek, head of the Central Council of Muslims. He shrugged his shoulders and said there were 2100 mosques in Germany and he "doesn't need to comment on each and every one of them." As the Berlin-based newspaper Der Tagesspiegel reported this week, the 'liberal'
Mosque's Iman was finally granted "around-the-clock heightened police protection."
Within days, this was the second establishment-backed project devised to spruce up the image of Islam in Germany, to go up in flames.
Recently, after dragging its feet for years, the Central Council of Muslims in Germany had agreed to call a march against Islamist terror. The Muslim organization boasted 10,000 registered participants for the "Not with us -- Muslims and friends against violence and terror" rally, scheduled for June 17 in Cologne. On the much awaited day, only a few hundred people turned up, many of them ordinary Germans flanked by a huge media entourage. "Many Turkish weddings are larger than this demonstration," wrote Robin Alexander, columnist in Die Welt.
Germany's largest Islamic organization, the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, DITIB, decided to skip the anti-terror demonstration. DITIB stated that Muslims fasting in Ramadan cannot be expected to "march and demonstrate for hours." DITIB controls about 900 mosques in Germany and has 800,000 members.
The German daily, Die Welt, reported on DITIB General Secretary Bekir Alboga's stated reason behind their withdrawal from the anti-terror march:
"We Muslims are striving to feel the spirituality of the special month that gives us power for the rest of the year." Through the daily Quran recitation, fasting and helping the needy -- in addition to the physical exertion from such a demonstration -- political initiatives such as the planned anti-terrorism march are minimized during Ramadan.
"Had we been informed early enough about the rally and its date we would have suggested planning it for after the Ramadan and roping in other Muslim -- and also non-Muslim organizations -- because international terrorism should not be depicted as a problem belonging to Muslims alone."
DITIB evidently did not want to divert fasting Muslims away from their spiritual pursuits, but it had no problem using its mosques and preachers to spy in Germany on behalf of Turkey's Erdogan regime. In January, DITIB officials admitted that their preachers acted as informants for the Turkish regime.
This is not the first time in Germany that Muslim leaders thwarted an "anti-terror march". The so-called "vigil of Muslims" at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, after the Islamist terror attack on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, was also apparently a disappointment. As it turned out, the "vigil" was not even "Muslim". It had been financed and stage-managed from the chancellery of Angela Merkel. As Die Welt revealed:
"That time, too, painfully few Muslims turned out. It later emerged that that Muslim organizations only called the vigil after the initiative of a staffer from Chancellor's office and gentle pressure from the Minister of Interior. The expenses of the 'Muslim vigil' were borne by the Christian Democratic and Social Democratic Parties."
Why do Muslim organizations in Germany fail to mobilize within their communities and denounce Islamist terrorism? Because, if there really is a belief that "international terrorism should not be depicted as a problem belonging to Muslims alone" this view seems to indicate that, in general, Muslims do not see it as their problem.
The Turkish-Islamic organization DITIB would, it seems, prefer to see Christian, Hindu and Jewish organizations address the non-existent problem of terrorism within their communities, than to address the real issue of radicalization of youth within its own congregations or the recruitment by Islamists insides its mosques.
Do not, however, expect the German state to make the Muslim leadership responsible for its failings. The Merkel government continues to hand over millions of euros to DITIB despite what critics regard as behavior that is "unacceptable."
These stage-managed campaigns to fix the image of Islam in Germany come at an interesting time. With less than three months until the German general election, Chancellor Merkel's government, with her career at stake, is probably hesitant to take on Islamic organizations with ability to mobilize the "Muslim vote". Last year's state election in Berlin already saw such a mobilization.
The September election will effectively be a referendum on Merkel's "open door" migrant policy. The media's peddling the liberal, gentler Islam will definitely help ease the German voters' anxiety, given the ongoing demographic transformation of the country in the wake of the continued mass-migration from Arab and Muslim countries.
Merkel and Germany's establishment have their ground game covered ahead of the election, and know full well where their political interests lie. The question is, do the German voters know where their best interests lie?
Vijeta Uniyal, a journalist and news analyst, is based in Germany.