Open Mosques against Prejudice
Open doors help build open communities.
The unknown, here symbolized by the distinctive architecture of religious buildings, can be intimidating. Whether it is the unfamiliar, or an innate respect for another culture’s sacred spaces, most of us hesitate to enter unfamiliar religious buildings. As a non-member without an open invitation or reason to attend, or who is unfamiliar with the customs or the reception they might receive, most will just stay away. As a result, religious buildings can become barriers to intercultural connection in a community and symbols of division and difference.
In the German city of Rheine, municipal leaders realized that the local Muslim community was becoming increasingly insular and alienated from the larger community. The city instituted its “Open Mosques Against Prejudice Program” with the goal of eliminating prejudice and fear on both sides, and building trust and openess in their place. How? By creating a two-way dialogue between Turkish Muslims, local Christians and the larger community.
Rheine is located on a historical trade route near the German-Netherlands border and has been a destination point for immigrants since early 20th century industrialization. Currently, the largest groups of foreign born residents are from Turkey and the former Yugoslavia. Both these communities are primarily Muslim. The city’s growing immigrant population is typical of Germany as a whole, which has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe after France, and has embraced a modern vision for itself as a “nation of immigrants.”
An Invitation to Participate
The City of Rheine directly approached the mosques in town to persuade the religious leaders to open their buildings and communities to all the residents in the city.
The request was a seemingly simple idea that achieved significant results and success.
With the support of the City, the mosques held “Open House” days for visitors from all parts of the community. Visitors learned the significance of the different religious ceremonies and heard about Islamic beliefs and cultures. In return, the Protestant and Catholic communities invited the Turkish community to participate at Christian church services So successful was this intercultural exchange that In a couple of instances interreligious worship services were given jointly with the imam and priest.
Opening up the local mosque allowed ordinary prejudices to be broken down built trust between the two communities. The program’s success prompted additional initiatives designed to deepen intercultural communication and strengthen connections between the various religious communities.
Local schools began celebrating Islamic holidays in the classroom, and invited all parents to attend in order to share the learning experience and further extend the integration opportunity. In other instance, a Christian-Islamic peace prayer was jointly organized and celebrated. Several mosques started printing copies of the Friday sermons in German to make their content accessible to the community at large – eliminating unsubstantiated fears about what was being preached within the mosque.
To build on grassroots community efforts, the Mayor’s office instituted a special relationship with the offices of the imams, reaching out to formally welcome and celebrate each new appointment. This inclusive attitude has now moved beyond just the Muslim and Christian communities. Most recently, Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, is being celebrated in Rheine by the town at large.
Making it Work for You:
- Look for simple solutions first. They can unlock larger challenges.
- Building trust is critical to healthy relations between community groups.
- Is your organization open or closed to non-members or individuals outside your community? What can you do to foster a culture of openness?
- A neutral third party such as a city government official is often best placed to facilitate relations between religious and cultural communities.
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