Men and women pray together at the new liberal Ibn Rushd-Goethe Mosque in Berlin on June 16, 2017. Photo courtesy Reuters/Hannibal Hanschke

A progressive German mosque draws condemnation at home and abroad

BERLIN (RNS) The Ibn Rushd-Goethe Mosque opened its doors less than two weeks ago. But it’s already fielding death threats and heaps of hate mail from Muslims and others in Germany and abroad.

"Of course, we're scared," said the mosque's co-founder, Islamic scholar Abdel-Hakim Ourghi. "But we won't allow ourselves to give up. We live in the West and cannot be any other way."

Named after the Arab scholar Ibn Rushd and the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the mosque opened in a modest space on the third floor of a Protestant church in Berlin's central Moabit district on June 16. It soon garnered international headlines for permitting men and women to worship together in the same space instead of segregating them in line with Islamic tradition.

Muslims from all walks of life are welcome to worship at the mosque, which practices a "historically critical understanding" of the Quran, said Ourghi, by which he means it is critical of historical practices such as those separating the sexes.

Burqas and niqabs are banned.

Women aren't required to wear a headscarf.

Members of the LGBT community are encouraged to attend.

Both male and female imams lead Friday prayers, at times preaching in tandem.

Men and women pray together at the Ibn Rushd-Goethe Mosque in Berlin's Moabit district. This mosque, housed on the third floor of a Protestant church, welcomes Muslims of all walks of life, including LGBT individuals. Photo courtesy of Marlene Löhr

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This departure from traditional norms has some Muslim communities reeling. State-funded religious organizations from Egypt and Turkey have already called for the mosque to cease its "experimental" interpretation of Islam.

German politicians, meanwhile, have rushed to the defense of the mosque, making it a symbolic flashpoint in long-running debates about Islam in the country.

"This is now primarily a political signal, especially in Germany, where the danger of political Salafism has become evident," said Mathias Rohe, director of the Erlangen Centre for Islam and Law in Europe at the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg. Salafism is an ultraconservative branch or movement within Sunni Islam.

Germany has long struggled with integrating Muslims, who comprise more than 5 percent of the country’s population. Since 2015, the refugee crisis has brought more than 1 million refugees and asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa into the country.

In the past, German politicians have criticized some Islamic organizations for promoting more conservative interpretations of Islam they believe hamper integration efforts.

The Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, known locally as DITIB, for example, came under fire earlier this year amid accusations that its federation of some 900 mosques in Germany spied for the Turkish state and used its mosques to indoctrinate Muslims to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's brand of Islam.

DITIB is funded by the Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate, or Diyanet, a state religious oversight authority in Turkey.

“How can we ensure that an Islam develops that respects the German Constitution and does not depend on Mr. Erdogan? There is still a lot to discuss here," Cem Özdemir, co-chair of Germany's Green Party, told RNS in April at the height of the scandal.

The new mosque is posing a different kind of challenge for Germany.

The Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate voiced its disapproval of Berlin's new liberal mosque just days after its first Friday prayer and accused the mosque and its imams of affiliating with the movement headed by exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The Turkish government claims Gulen, who lives in Saylorsburg, Pa., was behind last year’s failed coup attempt.

Meanwhile, Egypt's Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah, a state-run Islamic institution that issues religious edicts, also released a statement that condemned the mosque's egalitarian prayers. The legal department of Egypt's Al-Azhar University even issued a fatwa on the mosque for what it calls practices incompatible with Islam.

German politicians quickly sought to tamp down the religious strife.

"It cannot be ruled out that such statements have the potential to threaten social harmony within German society," German broadcaster Deutsche Welle quoted German Interior Ministry spokesman Tobias Plate as saying in reference to comments from Ankara.

With some 4 million Muslims living in Germany, according to the Pew Research Center, Islamic scholar Rohe views an ongoing debate to resolve qualms between traditional Islamic beliefs and Western ideals as a "good thing."

Ourghi, the mosque’s co-founder, isn't surprised at the reaction from more conservative sects of the Muslim community in Germany and elsewhere. His liberal concept of Islam isn't new in Germany, but his mosque is the first of its kind in Berlin.

"We try to give people a sense of freedom," Ourghi said. "We challenge male domination and control and are now competing with the conservative forces purely by offering a very modern interpretation of Islam."

Ourghi is hoping to open a mosque with a similar concept in the southern German city of Freiburg.

That progressive worship style attracted Berliner Lindita Ljikovic, 45, to Ibn Rushd-Goethe Mosque during Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan. As a liberal Muslim woman who doesn't wear a hijab, she often felt discriminated against at other mosques around town.

"They are all men's clubs," she said of Berlin's many mosques, all of which separate worshippers by gender. "Their rules are antiquated and contradict the inclusive interpretation of Islam that I follow."

(Austin Davis writes for the ARA Network)


  1. Trying to make Islam ‘tolerant’ and ‘progressive’ is like trying to make the KKK multiracial.

  2. Or getting fundamentalist Christians to embrace same-sex marriage.

  3. So where can ISIS send the check for your support.

  4. Just one small error, Jim, just a small one. It is Christians who do not endorse homosexuality. Anything else calling themselves “christian” is defying God

  5. So, this assembly loves homosexuals, Jews, Christians, won’t cut the fingers off anyone who disagrees with their beliefs, doesn’t try to kill people who disagree with their beliefs, let’s people walk away from Islam without threatening to kill them, respects women, doesn’t endorse FGM, doesn’t throw homosexuals off of buildings…..right?

  6. …or like trying to make a 1960s Southern Democratic president sign a bill giving equal rights to Black people.

  7. Sorry but I believe fundamentalists represent a minority of Christians so when I use the term “Christian” that implies mainstream and I use a qualifier for fundamentalists. I do not want to get involved in your fight as to who are the true christians.

  8. There are many parallels between this mosque and the Reform Judaism that developed and flourished in the mid- to late 19th century in America. Men and women sitting together, the banning of certain religious garb. If anything, this mosque is even more liberal, as men and women participate equally, something unheard of 150 to 200 years ago. I have been thinking that something like this is overdue in Islam.

  9. No need to fight. Christians support Christ and what He taught. He taught that homosexuality is a sin and anything else is immorality

    1 Corinthians 7: 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.

  10. Don’t think Jesus said anything about homosexuality….You are quoting Paul….

  11. You know that Jesus is the Christ and that is God, eh? (Isaiah 9:6)
    If you read Leviticus 18:2 – The Lord tells Moses to repeat what He has said. That was Christ, my friend. He is the Word of God (John 1:1-5)
    He condemned homosexuality from Genesis to the Book of Revelation.
    Also, Paul was taught through revelation by Jesus for 3 years (Galatians 1:11-18) because Paul was to set up His church. Paul taught what Jesus taught him
    .2 Timothy 3:16-17English Standard Version (ESV)
    16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

  12. What ball of confusion, this, Austin Davis. Damned if you liberalize, revolutionize, progress, pluralize – as in the case of Christianity. But damned as well if you suppress, oppress, threaten, “fatwa-tize” (not assassinate, if I grasp the term, but execute since “God” has so decreed and only “God” can assassinate in a “holy” way) – as in the case of Islam. I think I know why that is. No, Satan’s not the culprit; it’s not that omni-powerful. The one true God is the brain behind this end-times Tower of Babel. He loves it that humanity and all its religions, and all its politics, and all its economics, are in conflict with each other, in tension, in war, in an utter mess. He creates all things good originally; He now sustains them all in topsy-turvy. Just because He can! And because one day in the end-times He’s going to let all of humanity have their way and He won’t lift a finger. He’ll disappear Himself until the entire human race and universe run their course. Finally – finally – there shall be the long-anticipated and much-longed-for one-world religion, politics and economics. With only one enemy group left behind to be assassinated and massacred. God’s only true and faithful children who call upon the name of Messiah Jesus. Then damned the rest. I love it! I love it to death!

    Just a theory anyway. Maybe not. Who can fathom Daniel & Revelation anyway, right? So never mind me. As you are, soldiers of democracy everywhere. I’m just glad to read this wonderful, wonderous report and think on its ramications on this a Saturday morning still in bed. Carry on with your topsy-turvy, loyal readers! God don’t care 1 way or the other.

  13. There has to be a start though I believe it’s going to be a perilous journey. I expect to see the Mosque or its organizers threatened and harmed.

  14. You’re free to believe as you please but US laws are not beholden to fundamentalist Christian, Jewish or Muslim standards.

  15. Actually, the stem from the Bible, Jim.

  16. There are at least 2 mosques in North America led by gay Imans. Fundamentalism thrives if the broader culture supports it. Interacting with different cultural and political norms ultimately will transform the Muslim faith.

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