A Turkish mosque in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia has begun sounding public calls to prayer from an outdoor loudspeaker system mounted on the roof of the edifice.
The mosque is one of a growing number of Islamic institutions in Germany (and other parts of Western Europe) publicly calling the Muslim faithful to prayer -- five times a day, seven days a week -- with cries of Allahu Akbar ("Allah is Greater").
Observers believe a precedent has now been established, and that many of the other 3,000 mosques in Germany will soon begin jumping on the muezzin loudspeaker bandwagon.
The sonorous prayer calls (known as adhan in Arabic) can be heard from great distances when amplified through electric loudspeakers; some German towns and cities are actually beginning to evoke the sounds and images of the Islamic Middle East.
The latest "muezzin event" involves the Fatih Camii Mosque in Wipperfürth, a factory town situated 40 kilometers (25 miles) north-east of Cologne, which, on June 21, began publicly calling the Muslim faithful to prayer during a formal "muezzin-induction ceremony" attended by local and foreign dignitaries, including the Turkish consul, Mustafa Kemal Basa.
The Fatih Camii Mosque -- run by the Turkish-Islamic Union for Islamic Affairs (DITIB), a branch of the Turkish government that controls over 900 mosques in Germany -- received municipal approval for a muezzin publicly to call Muslims to the mosque for prayer five times a day after Mayor Michael von Rekowski said he wanted to show the world that Wipperfürth "takes pride in being an intercultural and interreligious community."
At the request of the mayor, leaders of the Wipperfürth mosque met with representatives of the Protestant and Catholic churches in town to "integrate" the timing of the Muslim prayer calls into the traditional schedule for the ringing of church bells. Although many non-Muslim townspeople are opposed to the muezzin, local clergy say they are pleased with the "peaceful coexistence between religions and culture" in the town.
The mosque in Wipperfürth is one of several in Germany to obtain municipal approval for public prayer calls.
The Turkish-run Central Mosque in the northern German town of Rendsburg, situated 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Hamburg, has been calling Muslims to prayer since 2010, when Social Democratic Mayor Andreas Breitner authorized the muezzin to issue prayer calls through three loudspeakers mounted on the top of two 26 meter (85 foot) minarets attached to each side of the mosque. Prayer calls are permitted between 6AM and 10PM.
The German newspaper Die Zeit reported that Rendsburg was engaged in a "holy war" after a local citizen's group gathered nearly 1,000 signatures opposing the muezzin. The group, which goes by the name "No Public Prayer Calls" [Kein öffentlicher Gebetsruf], had argued that the construction of the mosque was more than sufficient to guarantee the Muslims their constitutional right to free speech, and that the subsequent demands for a muezzin publicly to call the faithful to prayer was excessive. Moreover, the group argued that the Koran makes no mention of the need for muezzin, making the position superfluous.
According to one woman interviewed by the newspaper, there was no mention of a muezzin when the mosque was inaugurated in October 2009; "But then it was proposed that a muezzin should call the faithful to prayer on Fridays only. After that it was three times a day, and now it is five times a day. The prayer calls last for three minutes and the content is a bit much, especially since we are told that 'Allah is the greatest,'" she said. (The adhan, which consists of 15 verses, some of which are repeated several times, lasts for about three minutes.)
Opponents of the muezzin also pointed to the fact that the mosque adheres to Milli Görüs, a neo-Ottoman political-religious Islamist movement that calls for the "establishment of a national-religious Turkish empire." Although Milli Görüs has been monitored by German intelligence for anti-constitutional activities, the group operates freely throughout Germany.
Despite the public opposition to the public prayer calls, Breitner said his hands were tied because there were no legal grounds to prevent the largest mosque in the northernmost German state of Schleswig-Holstein from doing so. According to Breitner, Article 4 of the German Constitution enshrines the freedom of religion, so "in my view there is no room for maneuver."
In the nearby city of Neumünster, the Turkish-run Fatih Mosque has been publicly calling Muslims to prayer three times a day for more than 15 years. According to the local imam, Celebi Kilicikesen, a Turk who speaks almost no German, "sometimes pranking children turn the loudspeaker volume all the way up and then the neighbors complain. Otherwise there have been no problems."
Back in North Rhine-Westphalia, the Turkish-run Kuba Camii Mosque in Eschweiler, a city situated along the German-Belgian-Dutch border and about 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Cologne, obtained municipal approval in December 2012 to begin publicly calling Muslims to prayer.
The first such public prayer call took place on Friday, January 11, 2013, amid considerable fanfare. The call to prayer, which was described as an "historical event," was attended by myriad dignitaries, including the Turkish consul, Mustafa Kemal Basa, and the Turkish attaché, Tayfun Keltek.
The Turkish imam of the Kuba Camii Mosque, Bahri Ciftci, declared: "May the public prayer call be a symbol of a tolerant, intercultural and interreligious common coexistence."
During the ceremony, the mayor of Eschweiler, Rudi Bertram, said, "Tolerance must be practiced on a daily basis. We are all responsible for ensuring that there is a co-existence."
Also present at the event was the head of DITIB [Turkish-Islamist Union for Religious Affairs], Izzet Er, who claimed that the Prophet Mohammed had himself had been a model of religious cooperation. Er added: "I have the desire and the hope that we can contribute something positive to the peaceful coexistence of all the people in Eschweiler. Ethical values are ultimately universal and valid for all."
Not surprisingly, Izzet Er failed to mention that the Turkish government is one of the greatest persecutors of Christians (and journalists) in the modern Middle East.
According to a new book entitled, "Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians," authored by three scholars from the Hudson Institute, "In today's Turkey, Christian communities confront two inter-related threats: First, they are suppressed by all-encompassing state restrictions on internal governance, education, houses of worship, and wider property rights, and the denial of legal status. They are in practice barred from operating seminaries and directly owning property. Largely through its Directorate of Religious Foundations, the state supervises and tries to control all Christian activity."
The book continues: "Second…social hostilities against Turkey's religious minorities run high. Such bigotry is reinforced by the official attitude of suspicion toward Christians. It is difficult even to have a frank national discussion about the plight of Christians in Turkey; those who have tried…can face charges for insulting Turkishness."
In fact, the book's section on the persecution of Christians in Turkey occupies more pages than the sections on the persecution of Christians in Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The book concludes: "Modern Turkey is home to remnant Christian communities who find themselves at risk of being extinguished altogether."
Also in North Rhine-Westphalia, a mosque in the Chorweiler district of Cologne regularly begins calling Muslims to prayer at 6AM, as per this video on YouTube. In the city of Krefeld, local politicians want to ensure that the Muslim calls to prayer have the same legal footing as Christian church bells in the city.
Elsewhere in North Rhine-Westphalia, the Turkish-run Selimiye Camii Mosque in the Eving district of Dortmund, the eighth-largest city in Germany, promised in 2009 that it would not demand the right to public calls to prayer for a period of six years, that is, until the year 2014.
Filled with a sense of foreboding, a protestant pastor in Eving, Friedrich Stiller, said many people forget that Muslims perceive that they have a legal right to public calls to prayer. Stiller added that the minaret is a symbol: "It stands for the arrival of the Muslims in our society."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.