Germany rejects Turkish office’s criticism of liberal mosque

The German government on Friday strongly rejected criticism from a religious authority overseen by the Turkish government of a new liberal mosque in Berlin where all Muslims can pray together.

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said officials were “very surprised” by statements from Turkey’s Diyanet, or Presidency of Religious Affairs, and others about the mosque where men and women can pray together that opened a week ago in the capital.

Diyanet said the project was “aimed at disrupting Islam’s basic sources of information, principles of worship and methodology.”

“We have no doubt that our faithful brothers will act with wisdom and stay away from all kinds of provocations,” it added.

Schaefer emphasized that, as Germany understands it, the state has no place in saying how, when and where people worship, but rather has “the obligation to protect the freedom of religion along with freedom of opinion and the press.”

“I would like to clearly reject statements that obviously aim to deny the right of people in Germany to the free exercise of their religion and limit their right to freedom of expression of opinion,” he said.

Relations between Turkey and Germany have been frayed by a range of issues over recent months including Turkey’s jailing of two German journalists and German local authorities’ banning of campaign rallies by Turkish ministers earlier this year.

Seyran Ates, a well-known women’s right activist and lawyer who helped establish the mosque, told German daily Die Welt Friday that the criticism shows there is still a “power struggle” between different schools and interpretations of Islam.

Ates, the 54-year-old daughter of Turkish guest workers in Germany, fought for eight years to establish a place of prayer where progressive Muslims in Germany can leave religious conflicts behind and focus on their shared Islamic values.

She said when she opened the mosque a week ago that she sees it as a place of liberalism where everyone — women and men, Sunni and Shiite, straight and gay — is welcome and equal. Since then, she told Die Welt, she has received many death threats.

“Someone sent me a photo of a pistol captioned ‘soon,’” she said. “The message is clear: These haters want to kill me because I’m doing something they’re uncomfortable with.”

David Rising contributed to this story.