Duisburg, Germany

The Miracle of Marxloh: Bringing A Community Together Around A New Mosque

The Duisburg Merkez Mosque

November 18, 2008

Participatory planning means social inclusion for all residents and cause for celebration for the community at large

The tent next to the mosque in the Marxloh district of Duisburg, (an industrial and mining town in the Ruhr region of Germany), can accommodate over 3,500 people but even this wasn’t big enough for the crowd that turned out on Sunday. On October 26, 2008, the biggest mosque in Germany was opened and it includes a meeting center for the whole district – an unprecedented project in Germany. Thousands of Duisburg citizens had to stand outside to witness this historic day on a giant public viewing screen. The new building sends out a signal in the urban landscape of the Ruhr that migrants, once known as “guest workers”, are no longer guests in the Ruhr but have found a new home here.

In addition to its size (the dome is 23 meters high and the interior can accommodate up to 1,200 worshippers) what distinguishing feature of the new Duisburg mosque from other mosque constructions projects in Germany: is that in Duisburg, there was no virtually no protest against the construction of this religious building.

In contrast, recent mosque buildings projects in both Cologne (just an hour drive away from Duisburg) and Berlin, resulted in fierce local campaigns against the proposed buildings – with far right parties seizing on the issue to stir up anti-Islamic sentiment and the Pro-Cologne Party making opposition to the mosque its main political issue.

The ease with which the mosque in Marxloh was built is due to the collaborative way in which it was planned. Cynics have suggested that in part everything passed off so smoothly in Marxloh because the 34 meter minaret is only half as high as the spire of the Catholic church and that that the Islamic community decided from the start to do without the muezzin call.The designers also forestalled potential criticisms by including plate-glass windows to make the mosque’s inner workings more open and visible.

However, far more important is the simple fact that the people of Marxloh sat down and talked to each other. Zuelfiye Kaykin, head of the Turkish community centre, says that there was no divisive debate there because German politicians, church and community leaders were invited to advise on the project early on. “These are the people that the public trusts. Having them participate in developing the concept and the building is one reason why there wasn’t any loud, public criticism,” she says.

The plans for the mosque included a meeting center and venue for the local people. The community center has a separate entrance from the prayer areas, designed to make non-Muslims feel more comfortable coming in. The mosque also has extra large windows (as suggested by a Catholic priest on the consultative panel) as a detail intended to promote transparency. The entrance hall includes an open arena for dialogue between the Muslim community and followers of different faiths as well as an information centre, an internet caf? along with a conference and reading halls for both Muslims and non-Muslims.

“The fact that we can all come together to mark the opening is really like the small miracle of Marxloh,” said Elif Saat, chairwoman of the Ditib Turkish-Islamic Union’s education and meeting centre in Marxloh. At a party breaking the daily fast of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Germans and Turks share round tables in a large white tent across the street from the mosque. Banners advertising Mercedes and a national bank hang on either side of a small stage. It is first time local branches of such big German companies have sponsored a Ramadan event there. “In my eyes, it’s sending out a clear signal that they recognize the Turkish potential. They see opportunities here,” she says.

The building already appears to be benefiting the district. As soon as construction work had begun, the newly built residential houses on the other side of the street suddenly became easier to sell, and real estate prices in the area, which is marked by high unemployment and a high share of immigrants, is rising. Of the more than 18,000 people living in Marxloh, more than 6,000 have an immigrant background. Many are second generation immigrants, children of Turkish “guest workers” who were invited to Germany in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s to overcome labour shortages as Germany performed its economic miracle.

A place for learning and intercultural dialogue

Where Marxloh’s Muslims once had to make do with a disused cafeteria as a place of worship, an internationally acclaimed structure stands. But German and Turkish classes will also be conducted at the mosque, and, ideally, Germans and Turks, Muslims and non-Muslims will congregate there. For this reason, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the European Union supported the 7 million euro construction with 3.2 million euros for the meeting space. The balance of the building costs were being funded by donations. The Turkish-Islamic Union (DTB) was also involved. Around 600 companies make up the mosque’s community significant employers in a community of 496,000 inhabitants, of which 60,000 are Muslim.

The chairman of the Marxloh mosque, Mehmet Ozay emphasized the unity it represents at the opening ceremony, ” I can assure you that this beautiful new mosque is quite safe, it is not a symbol of social division in Germany but a symbol of the benefits of human, religious, cultural and social interaction.” he said.

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Making it Work for You:

  • New communities, like new ideas, may need effective communication, consultation and discussion with a wide cross-section of community leaders to gain acceptance in the mainstream.
  • Participation and its public recognition is a fundamental component of a successful integration process.
  • Tensions between ethnic groups can arise when opportunities for intercultural meeting and exchange are limited - what can your community do to create spaces and forums for dialogue and interaction?