An unassuming former cinema opposite a giant steelworks on the banks of the Saar river is at the centre of a stand-off over plans for a minaret to mark its new role as a mosque. The row highlights concerns about the spread of Islam in Germany’s traditionally conservative rust belt.
In a confrontation reminiscent of the debate in Switzerland, which led to a national referendum verdict banning new minarets, the 40,000-strong town of Völklingen has become divided over plans by the Selimiye mosque for three domes and an 8m (26ft) spire.
It would be the first minaret in Saarland, which has fallen on hard times since the heyday of steel production in the 1960s and 1970s, leaving many of the Turks who arrived to work in the smelters unemployed.
Although Germany has about 170 mosques, a further 200 are said to be under construction and tensions are beginning to show in communities such as Völklingen, where about 5 per cent of the population are Muslim.
“We are being quietly infiltrated by the Turks,” said one resident at a meeting called last month, according to Die Tageszeitung. The audience of 250 was asked to fill in forms, with one stating: “Minarets have nothing to do with Gemany.”
The council rejected the first proposal for twin minarets as out of keeping with the area and Klaus Lörig, the Mayor, appealed to the mosque to withdraw the plan. The mosque committee said that there were no legal grounds to reject its plan and warned that it was prepared to go to court.
“I see a link with the Swiss situation,” Mr Lörig, 59, a representative of Angela Merkel’s CDU party, said. “Many people saw it on TV and they ask me, ‘Why are we not allowed to decide on our city?’ and I try to argue this is a city for everybody. But if they [the mosque] try to reach their goal by legal means it would be, in my eyes, the wrong way because people in that borough would not accept it.”
The mosque is in Wehrden, the district that was home to many steelworkers when the plant employed 17,000 men. The six furnaces across the river from the mosque fell silent in 1986 and are now a Unesco World Heritage site, with a sign that says: “The Völklinger Hütte, one of the most exciting places in the world. Today it is equal to the Cheops Pyramid in Egypt, the Great Wall of China and the Acropolis at Athens.”
Adnan Atakli, the head of the town’s Turkish community association, said: “This is our democratic right, to have our places of worship just like there are churches. Churches have a tower. I live here, we have a mosque and a mosque should have a minaret.” He said that it would be decorative only.
The Saarbrücker Zeitung, the local newspaper, carried an article calling for it not to be built: “It symbolises Islam’s quest for power and is nothing less than a provocation.”
Although it has only two members of the council, the nationalistic NPD party has called for a referendum.
Christoph Gottschalk, a 60-year-old steel trader, said, however: “If their building is within the rules, then nobody has the right to stop them in Germany. Some people say they are against for aesthetic reasons, which I think is a stupid argument because Völklingen is one of the ugliest towns perhaps in the whole of Europe.”
Mr Lörig will meet Muslim community leaders next week. If the plan is not withdrawn he will put it to a vote at the 51-member council in March.
About 3 million people of Turkish origin live in Germany out of a population of 82 million
During the economic boom of the 1960s and 1970s Turks and Kurds were invited to become “guest workers”. More than 7,000 arrived in 1961
Germany granted work stays of up to five years. In 1999 it allowed the children of immigrants to obtain German citizenship
A report in 2009 found that Turks were seldom integrated with German society.
– From Prophecy News Watch